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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Day 332: Black Friday

Today's Reading: 1 Corinthians 1-4

Right after Thanksgiving, on Black Friday, many people run to the stores to gather up all the high priced and desirable things of this world. Whether it be the most recent technological wonder, the most expensive designer handbag, the latest best seller or the most unique toy, we humans tend to be drawn to these things. We will drive distances, wait outside the doors of stores in the cold or rain, and even fight over the merchandise.

While we are doing this, today's scripture shares what God is choosing--the lowly and despised things.

So I started thinking about this. What do I consider low? What do I despise?

I don't like things that are stinky, dirty or used. I don't like stinky trash. I don't like dirty laundry or dirty dishes. I don't like used, stained or marred clothing or furniture.

We all have trouble engaging with people who are different, either in looks, mannerisms or customs. We despise people who are difficult, who disagree with us or make us uncomfortable. We long to be around people who will bump up our social standing and avoid those who would be "social suicide" to hang around.

God loves the ones who realize their spiritual decay, stink and dirt. God loves the broken, sick and lonely. God loves the poor, the outcast and the "least."

While we run after things which will not satisfy, God is running after us. For while we are yet sinners, Christ died for us.

It was on a Black Friday when God went out and bought the world. Christ traveled all the way from heaven, stood outside the door of our hearts in the rain and fought like the dickens to grab us out of the hand of Satan.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Day 331: Life Long Learner

Today's Reading: Acts 18:19-19:41

Today, it is very chic to claim the title of "Life Long Learner." We are impressed with people who read a lot, who expand their skills, who travel and meet new people, and who are open to learning something new which might change the way they think or act.

This idea of being able to change your mind, to be teachable, is a value indeed.

The Bible calls this process "conversion." Romans 12: 2 states it this way:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

One of the main characters in our text today had this wonderful attribute. Apollos was "teachable." We learn from 18:24-26 that even though he was "eloquent," "well versed in the Scriptures," "instructed in the Way of the LORD," and had great "enthusiasm," he was still open to what others had to teach him.

Priscilla and Aquilla pulled him aside and taught him more "accurately." The word here in Greek means more "exactly" or "more precisely." He knew "only in part."

As the Body of Christ, each of us as individuals knows "only in part." It is wonderful to have one another to sharpen us; "as iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend." (Proverbs 27:17)

Gisbertus Voetius, a Dutch Calvinist theologian coined this Latin phrase: "ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei" which means "the church reformed, always just about to be reformed according to the Word of God." It is important to clarify reformation. We are not to be reformed to any new idea but only to the word of God; the Word of God alone brings life.

So how do we interpret the phrase "Word of God?" Does this just refer to the closed canon of Scripture, or does it refer to the "Word who became flesh," even Jesus Christ; and is one more precise--accurate--from the other?

When Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, he warned them in chapter four:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

All of this, then, demands the question: What if believers disagree on the interpretation of scripture? What if one person wants to teach who, though eloquent and well versed, is not the most accurate? How does one discern if one needs to be reformed or if one is already standing with scripture?

These are hard questions for believers who face hard situations. The answers and the path are not always crystal clear. Verses 17-18 help us with this. We need to confess our weaknesses, our sins and our struggles to one another and be willing to be transparent with one another. We also need to be willing to "throw off" what we once held dear if the Holy Spirit so convicts us.

As we fellowship with one another and with Christ, the Holy Spirit will make the way clear. We need to speak the truth in love with one another. We need to be humble and teachable.
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
James 1: 19-20

Being a life long learner as a disciple is not always as easy as just picking up a newspaper to gain facts. It takes prayer to the Father for wisdom, listening to the Holy Spirit for discernment and trust in Jesus Christ for light upon the path.

Day 330: Work, Labor and Endurance

Today's Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1-5, 2 Thessalonians 1-3

Paul, educated in the very best schools of his day, is masterful in his writing. His letters each read like mini dissertations, encouraging, arguing, explaining and pointing people to a more accurate way of following Christ.

The letters to the church at Thessalonica is packed with information about life together, death, resurrection and endurance. One could spend a lot of time in these letters. One could stuff them in one's pocket and take them out, reading and re-reading them.

Once again, a phrase, or should I say, as trio of phrases lept out at me. Right from the start, I was blessed by this statement:
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For the early church, much of prayer was remembering each other before God. While in prayer, a parade of people marched through the disciples' minds. They lifted up these dear ones to "our God and Father."

I was fascinated by Paul's "faith, hope, love" trio in this verse. The order is changed from the 1 Corinthians 13 passage to "faith, love, and hope." These three seem to be the major attributes of Paul's understanding of discipleship.

As I pondered this phrase, I noticed something in the English translation which did not make sense to me. Paul remembers in prayer the "work," the "labor," and the "endurance." "Work" and "labor" seem synonomous to me. What is the difference?

Back to the Greek I go.

The word for "work" is ergon. This means what I would think the word "work" implies---enterprise, employment, business. The work of the disciple is "produced by" faith. In other words, as the disciple moves into the "harvest fields" (as Jesus called them), the work is not necessarily the sweat of the brow and the toil of the muscles, but the sweat of faith, the sheer belief in the power of Jesus Christ and the certainty of the backing of the throne of God. It is trusting that whatever is done in the name of Jesus Christ and by the will of the Father is not in vain. Faith is the fuel which powers the believer in their ministry of work.

So, then, what is "labor?" To the English ear, it sounds just like "work," but in the Greek it means "a beating," "trouble," "grief and sorrow," and "weariness." "Labor" was a constant in the early church. Persecution was on every side. Believing in Christ was dangerous to one's family, one's body and one's life. Sacrificial love sustained this kind of labor. As God birthed the church, the disciples labored like a womb's muscles. They were pressed, squeezed and cramped up at times. There was great pain which evoked great cries to God. Only love continued their participation--love for their Savior and love for the lost.

How could they continue in this "work" and "labor?" Hope. Hope inspired by the very person of their Lord Jesus Christ. Those who caught the vision and essence of the gospel knew the labors were not forever and the work was not in vain. Though they might not live to see the results, they knew by hope the fruits of their work and labor would come to full maturity. Thus, they could endure, patiently waiting with constancy and steadfastness.

Grow in me your faith,
and hope.
I long to be a part
of the birthing of your will.

Day 329: The Very Religious

Today's Reading: Acts 17-18:18

There is a difference between being "spiritual" and "religious," and being a "Christian."

Being "spiritual" means you have an intuition that something bigger and more complex is driving the universe and people's motives. Most spiritual people want to be kind, open and loving toward other people. They are seeking "truth" in many forms. They are also seeking pleasant and meaningful experiences. You can be "spiritual" and not be a Christian.

Being "religious" means you honor traditions, customs and rituals. You like the structure of a system which brings you to a place of worship. You have words and rhythms which are important to you. You seek order and want a moral code by which to live. You can be "religious" and not be a Christian.

The people of Athens were spiritual and religious. They were sensitive to the fact that there was an unexplained force in the world. They acknowledged many gods, even acknowledged there might be a god they did not know. They loved to offer their sacrifices and move through the practices of the religions around them. They appreciated objects of worship. But they did not know the one true God.

Paul noticed the idol to the Unknown God and used this as an entry point to speak about the gospel of Jesus Christ. He shared the story of God from creation through resurrection. He started where people were and shared the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Christians might be spiritual. Christians might be religious. Christians, though, always know their God is Christ.

Day 328: Abba, Father

Today's Reading: Galatians 4-6

Abba, Father,
I did not know
when I called you Daddy
it meant I no longer
held the place
of an ignorant child
unaware of her inheritance
but the place of
a daughter
with her eyes wide open
with a royal crown
on her brow.

Abba, Father,
I now know
when I call you Daddy
it means I forever
can throw away the status
of slave or servant
to the law of duty
and instead can
join in the household tradition
of serving and being
because I have grown
into full maturity in

Abba, Father,
thank you for including me
in your will and testament
to receive this great
Teach me to be
a good steward of your love;
investing it
sharing it
delighting in
giving it away
and realizing
how much is continually
poured into
my account.

Day 327: Pleased to Reveal

Today's Reading: Galatians 1-3

As a child, I liked watching Let's Make a Deal and To Tell the Truth. In both shows, the highlight would be when what was behind the chosen door or who the mystery person truly was was revealed. The waiting was over!

In today's gospel, Paul shares a very important idea: the concept of revelation. He shares how he was raised in a belief system and brought up in a tradition which was very near and dear to his heart until God "was pleased to reveal his Son in me." He says, "The gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from anyone, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ."

Paul did not know that he did not know until God opened his eyes to the gospel. Paul could not see what he could not see--Paul could not hear what he could not hear--until it pleased God to reveal it to him.

In many ways, this is helpful as we share our faith and live together in the church. We all need to share what we believe according to the scriptures and as we share, realize each of us must be open to the revelation from Jesus Christ.

God is pleased to reveal this to us in God's own time. This not only means God takes pleasure in the revelation, but God reveals when God chooses, determines or is willing to reveal his son and the gospel to us.

Therefore, we need to be patient with one another. God will choose when the door is opened or the truth is revealed.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Day 326: Sharp disputes and debates

Today's Reading: Acts 15-16

As God moves the community of believers forward in mission, there are times when the movement is so fast and great that many begin to complain, have trouble keeping up and/or begin to murmur. This happened as Moses moved the people in the wilderness, as Joshua moved the people into the promised land, as the prophets moved the people into faithfulness and as Jesus moved the disciples into sacrificial love.

We should not be surprised, then, as the Holy Spirit moves the young church into God's vision of salvation, "sharp disputes and debates" occur.

Some of the believers, holding to the Mosaic law, believed all the Gentiles who became converts to the gospel of Jesus Christ needed to be circumcised. As the understanding of "God's people" expanded, those who had been insiders, lovers of the law and faithful believers began to complain and murmur. Were the leaders of the disciples moving too fast, wandering off the path? Or were they following the leading of the Holy Spirit?

Change is hard.

When it seems as though God is changing, it is not only hard but confusing.

How does one discern when God is doing a new thing or when people of God are randomly doing their own new thing?

If the debate between the "certain people came down from Judea to Antioch" and the Paul/Barnabas team had been based solely on the scripture of the day, the "certain people" would have been claimed the winners of the debate. But Paul and Barnabas were the ones truly following the Holy Spirit.

This makes me uncomfortable. It's hard for me when the rules seem to change. It's hard for me to discern when a new wine skin is needed for new wine. This requires much fasting and prayer.

And might result in sharp disputes and debates...

Day 325: Balancing Act

Today's Reading: James 1-5

Do you remember learning to ride a bike? Going from a tricycle to a bicycle usually is helped by some "training wheels." I was one of those people who never had the luxury of the two mini wheels on the back of my bicycle's rear tire. I have skinned knee scars to prove it.

The dialogue of faith and works is one in constant tension in the scriptures. The story of Abraham and the writings of Paul speak strongly of "faith alone." Martin Luther attacked the church's use of indulgences with the mantra of faith and grace alone, claiming that the work of salvation was totally God's and God's alone. In his fervent belief in this, he looked at the letter of James and called it "straw." He said James' emphasis on works was heretical and wanted it ripped from the canon.

At the same time, whenever Jesus speaks about the final judgment, he speaks strongly of sheep and goats--those who do good works and those who do not.

Just as it takes effort and practice to learn to ride a two wheel bike, it takes effort and practice to gain wisdom in the practice of discipleship. Faith and works must together become balanced.

Evangelism without caring for needs is empty. Philanthropy without sharing the gospel is vanity.

Usually, most disciples prefer one "wheel" over the other. Some want to ride the unicycle of only belief in Christ. Others want to ride the unicycle of only meeting needs.

It is very hard to ride a unicycle a long distance into the future.

The balance of the bicycle speeds us forward on the path of life.

Day 324: All in the Life of a Disciple

Today's Reading: Acts 13-14

At the beginning of the book of Acts, Jesus charges his disciples to witness first in their home town, then ripple further out until the ends of the earth are reached. Jesus, having lived with them for three years, mentored them in what they could expect as his disciples.

Our passage today ripples out to us, letting us know what we can expect as disciples.

A disciple's ministry is grounded in the worship of the LORD God, in fasting and in prayer. In this posture, the Holy Spirit speaks.

As we listen, the Holy Spirit sets apart and calls disciples for work. Other disciples are to lay hands on them and then are called to fast and pray for each other.

Here is some of the work disciples can expect from our reading today:

We can expect to share the Word of the LORD. Our mouths will need to be opened to preach, proclaim and explain. Our hands will need to be ready to serve.

We can expect to be confronted by spiritual warfare. Just as movement creates a draft, the movement of the Holy Spirit creates a stirring. When God's people move, the enemy loves to chase them. We must be ready for spiritual resistance and battle at all times.

We can expect to welcome new believers. As we labor in the fields, our labors will not be in vain. The LORD will bring about fruit!

We can expect ourselves to speak boldly despite persecution. We are called to stand and stand more. Persecution will follow. When it does, we can rejoice and be glad as we join in the great company of prophets who have gone before us.

We can expect to perform signs and wonders. Miracles are part of the life of a disciple. The Holy Spirit uses miraculous power to open up new avenues of ministry.

We can expect division. Sad though it is, the Word of God is sharper than a two edged sword and it divides and cuts, sometimes in directions which surprise us.

We can expect being put on a pedestal. People just coming to the LORD might begin to idolize the messenger of the King who is in their midst instead of the LORD God King, himself. Beware, O disciples!

We can expect to share the testimony of God's mighty deeds as we witness to the believers and non believers alike.

The disciple's life is enveloped by the Word of God and the delighting of sharing His mighty deeds. These deeds are so powerful, they bring much blowing in their wake.

Expect it.

Day 323: The Power of Prayer

Today's Reading: Acts 11-12

Scripture, at times, reads like a comedy.

In our passage today, the disciples are gathered together, fervently praying, sustaining prayer. Some of their most beloved have been killed--Stephen and James, the son of John. Now Peter is in Herod's prison. They are imploring God to intervene.

Suddenly, there is a knock on the door. So wrapped up in prayer are they, they send a child to answer the door. The very one for whom they have been praying, Peter, is standing, miraculously freed from prison, waiting to be welcomed into the house. The girl runs in to tell the good news.

Despite their prayers, they are unbelieving.
“You’re out of your mind,” they told the girl. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”

The great news incarnate continues to knock at the door. The answer to their prayer is right in their midst. Despite Jesus' earlier statement, "Blessed is the one who has not seen yet still believes," even the most fervent pray-ers often need to see and touch the results of their prayers.

When we connect to God through fervent prayer, it is obvious that we are totally unaware of the "high voltage" connection. Our Heavenly Father is the designer, creator and ruler of all the universe. His power, majesty and resources are beyond our imagining.

I think if we really understood the power of prayer, we would either run from it...

or fall before the throne of God constantly, spilling forth our desires for the kingdom.

Day 322: Continual Conversion

Today's Reading: Acts 9-10

Our readings today begin with Saul, convinced of his righteousness, who is breathing murderous threats against the LORD's disciples. Along the way, he is struck down by the light of God and the voice of Jesus Christ. He experiences a conversion as he says, "Yes, LORD."

Ananias, who has had beloved friends who were tortured by Saul, is called by God to mentor his enemy. His answer to God's call--"Yes, LORD,"---not only leads to the raising up of a mighty leader for God, but a deepening conversion about the mighty will of God which were not even in his scope of possibilities.

Peter, a Jewish disciple of the LORD whose ministry was well defined in his mind, receives a vision from the LORD which widens his view of those worthy to be a part of the kingdom. As he says "Yes, LORD," he moves and sits at table with those whom he previously despised, and witnesses the work of the Holy Spirit in a new way. His boundaries are converted.

As believers in Christ, we experienced a conversion when we turned from the world and our idols to self and embraced Jesus Christ as LORD and Savior. But with every word from the LORD, we have the opportunity to respond, "Yes, LORD," as the LORD continually converts, shapes and molds us into the disciples and the church he is calling us to be.

May our response always be, "Yes, LORD."

Day 321: Trusting God without a foothold

Today's Reading: Acts 7-8

In the Indiana Jones classic Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jones gives us a true picture of faith. He is stationed on one side of a huge pit and needs to get to the other. He is told to walk across it, but there is no obvious place to put his foot. It seems, if he steps forward in faith, he will fall into a bottomless pit. In faith, he steps forward, and discovers he is standing on solid ground. He steps again, and again, finally crossing the bottomless pit.

As Stephen stands before those who would judge him, in fact stone him to death, it appears he has nothing to stand upon but the gospel of Jesus Christ. He speaks of how Abram stepped out into nothingness, trusting what God had told him, despite all odds.
"God gave Abraham no inheritance here, not even enough ground to set his foot on. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child."

Many times in our own lives we come to a place where the road is not clear, where the future seems uncertain, where there seems to be not enough ground to set our feet. It is in many ways a scary place to be. We fear we will fall, that all will collapse around us, that the promises of God are too unrealistic, that we must save ourselves.

Over and over again, the scriptures give us wisdom, mentoring us during these times of faith crisis. "Step forward in faith." Even when we can't see the outcome, even when we can't trust the circumstances, we can trust God.

I will rest in this knowledge.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Day 320: Turf Wars

Today's Reading: Acts 4-6

The disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit, are going forth in the name of Jesus Christ. They preach the Word of God, just as Jesus had commanded them, and signs and wonders follow in their wake. The crowds notice that common, uneducated people are speaking with authority, boldness and power.

The priests, Sadducees and temple guards notice, too.

Turf, power and authority once held by the religious officials is being challenged by these "Jesus followers." The priests and Sadducees thought they had dealt sufficiently with Jesus, but now, instead of one miracle worker and challenger to the status quo, disciples of this "rebel" are flooding the streets. It is as if by killing the leader, they have multiplied the power.

Why are they upset?

Two reasons.

The disciples are teaching the people. The religious officials once held the monopoly on this power. These disciples of Jesus, considered rejects at one time, unintelligent, unschooled, common folk, not only have the audacity to teach the people, they are teaching with power and authority. The people are flocking to them. It is as if the pastors of the old system are jealous because all their people are leaving their churches and going after something new. Jesus' disciples are moving in on their turf.

The disciples are preaching about Jesus' resurrection. Not only did the Sadducees preach against the concept of resurrection, the very people in this story--Annas and Caiaphas--were the ones who gave Jesus over to Herod and Pilate to be crucified. They were the ones who plotted. They were the ones who accused. They were the ones who stirred up the crowds against Jesus. The resurrection trumps their ace. The resurrection reclaims the temple, the traditions and the people of God. The resurrection of Jesus Christ storms the gates of a corrupt system and plants God's standard of victory in the hearts of his people.

A spiritual war has begun.

The disciples, armed with the Holy Spirit, are the heralds of Christ. They are marching into the holy city, Jerusalem, and setting captives free. They are proclaiming the good news of salvation and freedom.

And the prince of darkness does not like it.

The prince of darkness pulls out his greatest weapons and fires them at the disciples. He tells them to be quiet. He threatens their lives. He wants to strike their hearts with the fiery arrow of fear.

At one time, the disciples cowered and ran when this Goliath prince of darkness taunted them. Now, like their ancestor David, they stand proclaiming only the fear of God.
“Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

“We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

The reclaiming of God's people and God's turf which began at the cross is now spreading like wild fire.

And the prince of darkness and his followers can do nothing to stop it!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day 319: Theolphilus People

Today's Reading: Acts 1-3

The book of Acts has often been called The Acts of the Apostles. In it, we see the work of the church spreading the good news of the gospel, first in Jerusalem, then to Judea and all Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth.

The book is the sequel to the gospel of Luke. With the same care and attention to detail, Luke writes to Theophilus, perhaps a Greek official whom Luke is mentoring into discipleship.

I love the name Theophilus. It is the combination of two Greek words, theos, which means God and philus, meaning lover or friend. This book is written to the "Friend of God" or, in other words, "The One who loves God."

Right from the start, the friends, the disciples of Jesus, are asking about Jesus' return to them. It must be frightening to imagine life without Jesus' presence after spending the last three years having him right with them. This farewell is hard on them.

"Lord, at this time, are you going to restore the kingdom?" Will we be a part of the culmination of your ministry? Will we see your way ushered into our community? Are you going to set up your kingdom here, in Jerusalem? Will you continue your work of teaching us, reaching the outcasts, healing the sick and speaking truth to our leaders?

Jesus says to them, "Dear, dear friends, your focus is off once again. The time and date are not for you to know. But this is what you will know. You will be my witnesses. The kingdom will be ushered in by you and the acting of my Holy Spirit within you."

"You will receive power; power to be my witnesses."

The call of every Theophilus is to be open to the receiving of the Holy Spirit's power, to be drenched and filled with the Spirit! When this happens, the Theophilus people witness to Jesus. They witness in their own towns. They witness beyond their homes. They even witness to the ends of the earth.

Though this witness might appear to be the Acts of the Apostles, the Acts of the Disciples, the Acts of the Theophilus People, it is in fact the Acts of the Holy Spirit working through the redeemed.

So, dear Theophilus, how will the Holy Spirit act through you today? What will be written about what God is doing through you? Chapter 29 of Acts has not yet been written.

You are writing it today, dear Theophilus people!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 318: Too familiar?

Today's Reading: Luke 24, John 20-21

Has the "beauty of the earth"
and the "glory of the skies"
become for me
too familiar--
an expected grace--
like food on my table
and warmth in my bed
so much so
that I have lost
the awe
and wonder
and gratitude?

Has the joy of friendship
and the love of family
become for me
too familiar--
an expected gift--
so much so
that I forget
to cherish
to speak
my gratitude?

Has the suffering of Christ
and the miracle of resurrection
become for me
too familiar--
an expected season--
so much so
that I forget
the cost
the extreme surprise
the gratitude?

Has the splendor of the ascension
and the power of the King of Kings
become for me
too familiar--
an expected presence--
so much so
that I forget
to be dumb struck
to kneel and bow
in gratitude?

Day 317: Commissioned Officers

Today's Reading: Matthew 28, Mark 16

Last week, I attended a forty piece brass band Veteran's Day concert. My uncle, one of the founding members of the Old Crown Brass Band, was playing his new and very shiny tuba. During the Viet Nam War, he had played in the military band. He loves brass and marches and John Phillips Sousa.

One of the concert selections was a tribute to the armed forces during which veterans stood when their branch's theme was played. Just down the row from me, an older gentleman grasped the chair in front of him, supporting himself as he stood. As the band played, his bent back stretched to full height, straightening taller with each note. I caught a glimpse of the once strong and proud young officer. As tears streamed down his face, I found my eyes watering. I wondered what he had witnessed, how many of his friends had died and what memories were stored in his heart.

Witnessing this man's dedication changed how I read the passages assigned for today. I have known about the "Great Commission" most of my life...Go, make disciples, preach, teach, baptize. Suddenly, the word "commission" had new meaning.

I began to research the role and duty of a "commissioned officer." I found this definition:

Commissioned officers derive authority directly from a sovereign power and, as such, hold a commission charging them with the duties and responsibilities of a specific office or position. Commissioned officers are typically the only persons, in a military environment, able to act as the commanding officer (according to the most technical definition of the word) of a military unit. [10 U.S.C. § 101, US Congress, 2009-01-05]

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are commissioned officers, deriving our authority from the one sovereign power who claims "all authority in heaven and on earth." We have our "marching orders" to spread the good news. Our commander in chief has promised to provide amazing demonstrations of his power through us; he also promises his presence as we execute the mission.

After talking with some military personnel, I realized when a command is given, obedience is expected, even if one is ordered into the fray of battle. When storming the beaches of Normandy, the soldiers did not have the option to stay on the boats. When patrolling the coasts of Korea, the PT inhabitants were not offered the luxury of sleeping in. When in the jungles of Viet Nam, the foot soldiers were not offered comfort, but told to move forward and gain ground. When flying over the Middle East, the pilots were not on a joy ride. Each person, each unit, each branch of the service. dependent on the others, worked together under the commander to fulfill the objective toward a successful mission.

As a child, I memorized the following nursery rhyme:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

If I am slack in my Christian calling, if I do not respond to the Great Commission of my LORD, what will be lost?

LORD, when you say "Go!" do not allow my fears or discomforts to paralyze me.
Do not allow my apathy to hold me prisoner of the spiritual war.
Teach me to respond immediately to your call, your command, your commission.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Day 316: Blind lips

Today's Reading: Luke 23, John 18-19

Throughout the Passion story, the gospel writers have the accusing characters speaking prophetic words...Words that expose the amazing work of salvation.

Here are three examples of amazing theology spoken from blinded lips.

The chief priest, the man responsible for offering up the spotless sacrificial lamb, is the one who turns Jesus over for execution. Thinking he is speaking about hushing a possible rebellion against the Roman empire, he says that it would be better for one man to die (Jesus) than for the whole nation to be destroyed.

Hmmm...Caiaphas believes he is making a political decision, when in actuality, he is officiating the great sacrifice of the spotless Lamb of God, whose substitutionary death will make possible the cancellation of death for many. One man, Jesus, to save not only the nation of Israel, but many others also.

The crowd, stirred up by the priests, in their shouting to Pilate, yell, "Crucify him!" When Pilate states he will not have the guilt of putting an innocent man to death upon his conscience, the crowd replies, "His blood be upon us and on our children."

Hmmm...May this blind statement truly be heard by God! May Christ's saving blood cover me and my children, and save us from the angel of death! The blood of Christ on us and on our children is God's plan of salvation.

When Jesus is brought before Herod, the puppet king of the Jews, Herod states, "He (Jesus) has done nothing to deserve death." Herod thinks Jesus has not committed a heinous crime which demands execution, according to Roman and Jewish law.

Hmmm...The truth is, Jesus is the only one who has done nothing to deserve death. All others have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The wages of sin is death. Jesus, the sinless one, truly has done nothing to deserve death and thus is the only one able to make the sacrifice for all humanity.

Blinded lips which are speaking the plan of God.

Jesus didn't need to speak.

The characters of the Passion scene were all speaking truth, even though they were deaf to their own words.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Day 315: Priests Behaving Poorly

Today's Reading: Matthew 27, Mark 15

Today, I decided to follow a group of characters not usually followed in these passages. Check out the priests and you can understand why the people were oppressed, not just by the Romans, but by the very ones who were called to shepherd the flock of Israel.

#1 Priests are supposed to be "Holy to the LORD." The band upon their foreheads declares this. Their loyalty to God is compromised as soon as they begin to plot and scheme against an innocent brother of theirs. Like the older brothers of Joseph, these jealous priests wish death for their kinsman and sell him to foreigners as worse than a slave.

#2 Priests are supposed to be in the business of reconciliation, mediation and forgiveness by overseeing the confessions and sacrifices of their people. Judas comes, siezed by remorse, repentant and in need of forgiveness. He comes to the priests. He falls on his knees and begs for mercy. The priests turn their noses up at him and say, "What is that to us? It is your responsibility!" WRONG! The Holy Spirit worked on his heart, brought him to the place of repentance and the priests shirk their duty of compassion and love. I believe it will be easier on Judas on the day of judgment than for the priests.

#3 Priests are supposed to follow the laws of Moses. They break one of the ten commandments as they bear false witness against one of their own. They stir the crowd and misuse their power for political gain. They stand on the side of a violent criminal and do not protect their people.

#4 Priests are supposed to honor God in all things. Instead, they mock God, laughing at God, baring their teeth and snarling like dogs.

Poorly done, Priests. May God have mercy on your souls.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Day 314: You know the way

Today's Reading: John 14-17

These four chapters in John could be studied for a lifetime and still have unearthed and mysterious treasures to offer, and yet, in many ways, these words of Jesus are as clear as clear can be.

Jesus shares his time on earth is short; he is returning to the Father. The disciples understand the Father is God, YHWH, the one and only God of Israel. Jesus came from the Father and is going home to the Father. Jesus wants his disciples to follow him to his Father's house.

Although the disciples have never been to Jesus' father's home, Jesus tells them, "You know the way." The disciples scratch their heads. They do not have a papyrus map. They do not have access to map quest. They do not have GPS. They have no yellow brick road to lead them to the place of the throne surrounded by emerald light. Jesus says, "You know the way," and the disciples reply, "No, we don't."

Show us the way. Show us the place. Show us the Father. Give us a clue. Point us in the right direction. Draw us a map.

Jesus is frustrated.

"You know the way. I am the way. I am the map. I am the Father."

How confusing this must have been for linear thinking disciples as Jesus once again speaks of unearthly things by means of word pictures.

I am the vine, you are the branches.

I am the good shepherd, you are the sheep.

I am the way, you are to follow.

I am the truth, you are to listen.

I am the life, you are created for eternity.

I and the Father are one, you are one with us.

Many disciples today still are scratching their heads like Phillip.

"We don't understand what you are saying, Jesus."

"Could you explain it in a clearer way?"

Jesus says to each of us, "You know the way to the place I am going."

Is it confusing because it is complex?

Or because it is so simple?

Day 313: The Enigma of the Kataluma

Today's Reading: Luke 22, John 13

Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked. He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the kataluma, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.” They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

Jesus is preparing to host the Passover feast for his disciples. He wants to make sure there is a gracious and spacious place for this meal. As the epitome of hospitality, he has prearranged a welcoming place for his beloved disciples.

The upper room--the kataluma--of a house was the most comfortable space only affordable to the most affluent of the day. Most households could barely afford a lean-to dwelling, much less a two story home. A kataluma provided an escape from the noise street level and allowed cool breezes to flow on a stifling evening. A kataluma was reserved for honored guests in a rich man's house. This was the room Jesus chose for his banquet.

Interestingly, the only other time a kataluma is mentioned in the Bible was in an earlier chapter of Luke. We English readers miss this reference, for the other time the word is used, it is not translated as "a large room upstairs" or "upper room."

In the other passage, the room has not been made ready for the most wonderful guest, no preparations have taken place, hospitality is not extended. In fact, quite the opposite occurs. The mysterious and hidden guest is put out on the street.

Who was the guest? Where was this place? Why did this happen?

Consider the enigma of the kataluma.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room in the kataluma.

Day 312: For Thirty Pieces of Silver

Today's Reading: Matthew 26, Mark 14

For thirty pieces of silver
(twenty five dollars today)
A slave in the mire pits of Egypt
Could be bought and sent free away.

For thirty pieces of silver
(the wages for one week of work)
A man tried to buy off a prophet
who threw the coins back in the dirt.

For thirty pieces of silver
(enough for a sword and a knife)
An impatient zealot sold Jesus
Blood money to buy yet more strife.

For thirty pieces of silver
(imagine the grief of no hope)
The betrayer sought silence from anguish
At the end of a strangling rope.

For thirty pieces of silver
(to purchase a small plot of land)
A grave yard to bury the outcasts
Became the snake-like priests' plan.

For thirty pieces of silver
(the price of a Passover Lamb)
The eternal crown Prince of All Heaven
Brought vict'ry to those Satan damned.

Day 311: A Long Time in Coming

Today's Reading: Matthew 25

I have never been a good girl scout.

All that stuff about being prepared fell on my deaf ears. Though I have always tried to be someone who thinks of everything, I always forget something. The thrill of the moment often leaves me lacking later. On a trip, I often forget a toothbrush or some shampoo, an umbrella or a blow drier, and I need to rely on my faithful, steady, prepared husband to loan to or share with me.

I can just see the virgins getting ready for the bridegroom's arrival--so excited about their gowns or new hairdos, perhaps their painted nails or slippers. They might think only of the moment. Surely there is enough oil in the lamp, gas in the tank, faith in the heart to get them to the great banquet feast. Carrying more oil, more faith, more love, more hope, might be cumbersome and not fit in their designer handbag. It might not fit with their lifestyle of the present. After all, they have enough to get by, don't they?

And then the bridegroom delays. The prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling. Life gets busy or tough or just plain confusing. The bridegroom's eager waiters get tired of waiting, distracted by the chatter among themselves, drowsy in the drone of ritualism, legalism and traditionalism. They fall asleep.

I notice my drowsiness sometimes. I sometimes forget to trim my wick and life gets smoky. I think, I'll have enough to get me there; I might roll in on the fumes, but I'd hate to stop and fill my tank. What an interruption that would be!

LORD, let me heed the warning.
Help me to store up lots and lots and lots of oil.
May I be so filled to the brim with your oil that I glide right into your arms and dance the whole celebration!

Come, LORD Jesus, quickly come!

Day 310: The phrase on the floor

Today's Reading: Matthew 24

A funny thing happens to me when I read a passage using lectio divina style. Lectio Divina is an ancient practice of slowly and meditatively reading scripture. As you read, you wait for a phrase or word to leap out at you. Once it does, you hold it, examine it and listen to what God is saying to you through it.

Today, I was fascinated by the phrase "Jesus left the temple and walked away."

I set that phrase in the floor of my mind and walked around it, looking at it from many angles.

On the surface, Jesus has finished worship and is leaving that holy space to continue his day. Perhaps he has been refreshed by being with other believers and now continues on his journey.

But then I think, how does Jesus worship if he himself is God and is the object of all worship in heaven, on earth and under the earth? I also ponder that it is not possible for Jesus to leave a holy place because his very presence makes any place holy.


As I move around this phrase, I ask myself, "How can Jesus leave the temple when he himself IS the temple?" I then remember how God's vision of a place of worship is a tabernacle--a place which moves wherever God leads, a tent not set in stone. This temple cannot move. It cannot follow Jesus. It is as stuck in its traditions and falsehood as it is upon its foundation. Is Jesus leaving and walking away from the cultic center of a people, and therefore walking away from them?


As I walk around this passage, I bump into Jesus' disciples who are examining their own lectio divina word. They are stuck on the temple. "Come over here, Jesus," they say. "Come over here and look at this temple, these gorgeous stones. Let's stand and ponder them awhile."

I want to laugh at them. I want to tell them they are distracted by stones and buildings. I want to tell them they have once again missed the point. Don't they see Jesus? Don't they know he is the stone, the rock of all ages? Don't they know he is the temple, the living, moving presence of God? Why do they think they need to show Jesus anything he doesn't already see? Is Jesus so dull that he needs his disciples to call his attention to anything, much less a building? Haven't they learned the things which bring awe to people are usually the very things Jesus leaves behind--walks away from?

As I pick up my phrase and now walk further in the passage, Jesus is warning me not to be deceived, not to be distracted by false teachers, false messiahs. "Walk away from them and follow me," I hear him say.

LORD, today you must teach me to recognize and leave the false.
LORD, today you must teach me to not be distracted by the things of this world.
LORD, today you must teach me to listen to your warning and to walk into your great unknown.

Day 309: Self Conscious

Today's Reading: Mark 13

Sometimes I think of martyrdom.

I wonder, if I were arrested and tortured for my faith, would I be able to stand.

These thoughts scare me at first. I think about the pain to my body, the disgrace, the shame. I think about how weak I am; how quickly I would deny my whole Source of Meaning for a moment of relief or comfort. I think about how stupidly unwise I am; how easy it would be to trick me or ensnare me in a lie.

I become very conscious of myself--my inabilities, my frailties, my lack of courage.

I think of martyrdom because Jesus tells me and all Christians to be ready; be prepared. Am I a fool to think such a thing could happen to me, a law abiding American? Or is God warning me to be aware?

I cannot say why I think of martyrdom.

I am not an overly dramatic person, perhaps just a very realistic one.

One would think these thoughts would scare me half to death, and they do, at first. But then, in my head--in the recesses of my memory bank--is planted Jesus' promise to his disciples.
Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

If, in the moment of trial, I can put aside my self consciousness and, by God's grace, have Holy Spirit consciousness, I need not worry. God will use His instrument--my mouth, my body, my life--upon which to play His truth.

When I think of martyrdom, I am comforted.

I have The Comforter to guard me against falling prey to the comforts of this kingdom on earth. This Comforter will bear its on testimony to my soul. This Comforter gives me peace, above my understanding.

Day 308: Careful, careful, careful

Today's Reading: Matthew 23, Luke 20-21

Memo to self: Careful, careful, careful!

1. When you preach, do not beat the flock. Remember, you are preaching to yourself more strongly than to anyone else. Remember, you are a sinner. Careful, careful, careful.

2. Do not expect others to carry the load if you are not right there beside them. Remember, your own burdens have been carried by Christ and many by them. Remember, you are a servant. Careful, careful, careful.

3. Do not parade about or lord over others. Remember, keep your spirit humble by frequent private visits with God. Remember, you are just one of the multitude of believing priests. Careful, careful, careful.

4. Crucify your pride; you are no better than anyone. Remember to take the lowest seat and seek the last place. Remember, the glory is not yours, it is God's. Careful, careful, careful.

5. Beware of titles; use them only when necessary. Remember, you are no better because of your education or ordination. Remember, you belong to God. Careful, careful, careful.

6. Watch out for the bragging tongue. Remember your Teacher, your Messiah. Remember, you are to boast only in him. Careful, careful, careful.

Day 307: Why do they hate you, Jesus?

Today's Reading: Matthew 22, Mark 12

Why do they hate you, Jesus Dear?
Why do they set for you a snare?
Why do they question the Son of God?
Why do they hate you, Jesus?

Is it because you're so very kind?
Is it because you draw the line?
Is it because you're the Son of God?
Why do they hate you, Jesus?

Is it because you welcome the child?
Is it because with the sinner you're mild?
Is it because you're the Son of God?
Why do they hate you, Jesus?

Perhaps it's because the stories you tell.
Perhaps it's because with the lepers you dwell.
Perhaps it's because you're the Son of God.
Why do they hate you, Jesus?

Maybe your eyes see too much truth.
Maybe your words leave their lying lips mute.
Maybe they can't bear the Son of God.
Why do they hate you, Jesus?

I think the cause is you bring them fear.
You challenge the value of all they hold dear.
They cannot bear you, O Son of God.
That's why they hate you, Jesus.

Your presence alone is too much for them.
Your purpose exposes their every whim.
They want to destroy you, O Son of God.
They really hate you, Jesus.

Your sword of truth cuts them to the quick
They plot and they ploy in order to trick
The all seeing and knowing Son of God.
Why don't you hate them, Jesus?

Do you not hate their sneering eyes?
Do you not hate their accusing lies?
How can you stand them, O Son of God?
Why don't you hate them, Jesus?

How can your garment of blood cover all?
Why do you anguish to cancel the fall?
How can this be, O true Son of God?
Why do you love us, Jesus?

Day 306: Save us!

Today's Reading: Mark 11, John 12

I have noticed something about myself. Sometimes, when singing national anthems or patriotic songs, I am so swept up in the music, the emotion, the tradition, the regal-ness of the moment, I miss the words I am singing. The words become a part of the rote ritual. Because of the swelling of the heart brought upon by the moment, I miss the meaning. I love the moment; I love the unity of the crowd, the vocal chorus of a thousand voices, the joy of being a part of the larger whole.

I wonder if this is how the woman or the man or the little child upon the shoulder of her father felt as they waved the palm flags over their heads and cried, "Hosanna!" Was it a sunny day? Was it a perfect day for the parade? Were they tired of the dullness of life and longing for a festival? Was someone selling olives and figs to raise money for the synagogue or local children's sports group? Were town musicians on hand to keep the crowd merry and entertained? Were young maids vying to be crowned "Palm Princess?"

Does anyone now or did anyone then see the sacrifice about to be made by the one at the very center of the street? Did they hear the prayer of their own word, "Hosanna!--save us, now!" Did anyone even have a clue as to their deep need and the great cost to meet that need?

Just as we see soldiers in dress uniform marching to the beat of the drum and the music of the band and think, "O how handsome! O how wonderful!" and do not consider toward what they are marching, I believe the crowd on that first Palm Sunday had no idea what was before the Man they were heralding.

Soon, the soldiers will load the boats or the planes and be taken into the fray of the battle. Soon, the Christ will load the cross and be the target of all of Satan's fury and fiery arrows.

We smile and cheer and sing our songs, and cannot imagine what lies ahead. We do not comprehend the cost of the requested salvation.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Day 305: The little donkey

Today's Reading: Luke 18:15-19:48

I woke this morning at the dawn
And put my muddy boots upon
My feet and trudged out to the barn
To feed my gentle donkey.

Her foal, a frisky little thing,
Nudged at her teet, the milk to bring,
I brought her oats, she thought I king!
I stroked my gentle donkey.

Each day, this ritual performed
Each day, inside our musty barn
Each day, upon each chilly morn
Tending my gentle donkey.

One day a knock came at my door
Two men I had not seen before
Two men now seeking to implore
About my gentle donkey.

They looked her up, they looked her down
And then upon the colt's fair crown
They pat his back, his belly round
Wanting my gentle donkey.

"This young unbridled buck will do."
I asked, "For what?" And "Why?" And "Who?"
"It's what the LORD requires of you."
They said, about my donkey.

From time beginning was the plan
For this young buck to bear the Man
Upon whom all Creation stands
Who'll ride my little donkey.

And so the donkey was not mine
But created for this time
When all of life will sing the rhyme--
The King upon His donkey.

The reins I put into his hand.
Such joy to think me in the plan
To raise, and then be in the band
Led by this little donkey.

O LORD, you are so good and fair
To let me in your kingdom share
By tending and by giving care
To yours--Your little donkey.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Day 304: My favorite parable!

Today's Reading: Matthew 20-21

What's your favorite parable? For many, the parable of the Prodigal Son gets top bid. Other's who love the twenty-third Psalm vote for the parable of the Good Shepherd. The parable of the workers in the vineyard is my very most favorite one of all.

To me as one who has "worked in the vineyard" since the early morning, it gives great hope and intense joy to think it is never too late here on this earth to turn to Jesus. What absolutely gorgeous grace!

Many get upset with this parable, as if working in the fields of the LORD was a labor not filled with joy. To me, being a Christian and walking with the LORD with the Holy Spirit to guide me has been the most abundant life I can imagine! Oh, that everyone could feel such contentment and joy their whole lives long.

And as far as heaven goes, I say, the more the merrier! Why would anyone who loves the LORD want to complain about more people receiving mercy, just like me. Grace is an amazing thing---the more Christ shares, the more there is.

So here's to the 9:00, Noon, 3:00, 6:00 and late evening entrants into the vineyard. I say, welcome, and pass them a glass of wine!

My Father says:
My house must be filled; Come in!
The table is spread; Come in!
You who are hungry for righteousness--Come in!