Thursday, May 31, 2007

God's Sovereignty is Absolute


Deuteronomy 4:32-40
Verse 39 is a great affirmation of faith: “So acknowledge today and take to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.” This resonates with many other statements about God found in scripture including Deuteronomy 6:4f. Taken together these statements help to shape what we know about God and how we talk about God and even how we talk to God. In this particular case the absolute sovereignty of God is clear. In heaven and on earth there is but one God and no other. Of this we can be sure.

2 Corinthians 3:1-18
In verse 17 Paul writes, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” In this case the word Lord probably refers to God and not to Jesus Christ (though Paul often refers to Christ as Lord, too). It is interesting to note that the same God of whom Deuteronomy speaks as the God of heaven and earth grants freedom through the Holy Spirit to God’s people. The sovereignty of God does not lead to our oppression, but to the fullest expression of who we are meant to be. We may think that abiding by God’s will leaves us with few choices in life, with no “fun” to be had. Quite the opposite is true. Faithful obedience to God allows us to finally be who we really are, free from the real oppressors: sin and death.

Luke 16:1-9
According to the New Oxford Annotated Study Bible the application of this story comes in verse 9: “…make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” To me, the point seems to be that we must not assume that because wealth is “earthly” that it is somehow unfit to use to God’s glory, that we can somehow keep our money separate from God’s claim on our lives. Again, God is sovereign over heaven and earth and there is no area of life in which God is not involved. If even the most dishonest of people use their resources to ensure their future, we too, as God’s people, should use all our resources in the furtherance of the coming reign of God.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Celebrate Good Times


There is a celebratory mood that runs through all three passages today. That’s appropriate, too, because we are still basking in the glow of Pentecost and the birth of the Church.

Deuteronomy 4:25-31
I found verse 31 to be meaningful today: “Because the Lord your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them.” Throughout history God has proven these words to be true over and over again. Scripture is full of examples of God’s steadfast love and compassion. The same promise is true for us, of course, as we go through our lives, as we sometimes stumble or fall, as we come up short of God’s intentions for us. God does not abandon us even to our own destructive tendencies, but offers hope for our living and salvation through Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 1:23-2:17
I love the image at work in 2:14, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession…” The procession that Paul refers to is the parade that Roman generals received when they returned victorious from war and conquest. Paul uses a similar image in Romans 8:37 where he says, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Through Baptism we share in Christ’s conquest over sin and death, and therefore we also share in Christ’s triumphal procession. We still struggle with the challenges of life, but we know the struggle is worthwhile because we know that ultimately the struggle has been won.

Luke 15:1-2, 11-32
The story of the Prodigal Son is very familiar. What hit me today were verses 23-24 where the father says to his servants, “let us eat and celebrate, for this son of mind was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. And they began to celebrate.” Yesterday I noted verses 6 and 9 of this chapter where celebrations were held each time something lost was found. It had never struck me that the celebration in verses 23-24 is exactly the same thing, a celebration over finding something that was lost. Rejoicing should mark the lives of God’s people because in Jesus Christ we have been found, forgiven, redeemed, and restored. And we should celebrate together because it is as a community that our joy takes its fullest expression. Otherwise we become like the older brother, bitter and lonely even when there is a party in full swing.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Images of God and Community


Deuteronomy 4:15-24
I focused on verses 15-16a: “since you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire, take care and watch yourselves closely, so that you do not act corruptly by making an idol for yourselves in the form of any figure…” I had never noticed that rationale before, that because the people had seen no shape or form of God that they should not try to depict God in any way as an idol. From time to time, of course, scripture does speak of the appearance of God, sometimes even in human terms. But God has used a variety of means by which to speak to people (like the burning bush, for example) and the Westminster Confession says “God is Spirit”. God, then, cannot be contained in a single image or form, cannot be limited to something our minds can easily understand. God does not have a beginning or an end. God does not fit into an easy category. God is challenging and difficult and requires all our focus and attention and even then God’s glorious reality will transcend our ability to comprehend.

2 Corinthians 1:12-22 and
Luke 15:1-10
Each of these readings say something about community and the interrelatedness of the faith. In 2 Corinthians Paul writes of what must have been a contentious relationship that Paul had with the church in Corinth, or if not contentious than certainly strained. But Paul is determined to stay in conversation with the church community and to hold them accountable for their actions and their attitude.

The gospel reading contains two of Jesus’ stories about finding lost things, and in each case he says, “he/she calls together his/her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me…’” (Verses 6 and 9) A life of faith is best lived in community, sharing the ups and downs, the day to day aspects of life, not as an individual. Participation in the church is so important because it gives our faith a corporate dimension and allows us to grow together in our relationship with God.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Choices of Faith

Jim and Debbie:

Ezekiel 34:17-31
This passage seems to convict all of us who ignore the plight of the poor. But our failure lies not in just ignoring those with little, we fail also when we what we share with others is no more than the leftovers of our lives. Ezekiel, speaking for God, promised that those who have less and are pushed to the outskirts of life are God’s people and will receive God’s fullest blessing. God is judging between sheep and sheep and God is judging rams and goats. For all of us who feel like we are part of God’s flock this passage is a warning to make sure we are doing all we can to help the dispossessed, the hungry, the homeless, the lonely, and to give from our abundance, and not just from what is left over when we have taken the best for ourselves.

Hebrews 8:1-13
Verse 5 says that the temple in Jerusalem was no more than a “sketch and shadow” of the heavenly sanctuary. The same may be said of the church as an institution. The church is only a shadow of what God intends for humanity. The point of the church is not to protect itself or to secure its own future, but to point to the glory of God and to serve God in the world. We err when we place the church ahead of the claims that God makes on our lives.

Luke 10:38-42
Mary, when given the choice between busy work and being confronted by the word of God, choose the word. Jesus called this the “better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Verse 42) Obviously there is a balance to be struck between worship and service (the preceding story was about the Good Samaritan), but if we assume that our efforts or our good deeds are the point of faith, we fail to understand God’s call to be attentive to the word and to focus our lives on Jesus as the source of light and life.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Making Profound Choices


The passages today share a fairly sobering theme about where our choices in life may lead us.

Ezekiel 7:10-15, 23b-27
We’ve all seen pictures of Europe from the time of WWII. That’s the sort of destruction and social upheaval that Ezekiel is talking about in this very disturbing passage. For me the most disturbing aspect can be found in verse 27b which says, “According to their way I will deal with them; according to their own judgments I will judge them. And they shall know that I am the Lord.” In other words, when God relents and lets humanity set the standards for life the consequences are grim: violence, oppression, desolation. God offers a better way, of course, if we are just willing to take it.

Hebrews 6:13-20
The first part of verse 19 has caught my attention in the past. “We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul…” The hope referred to is be God’s activity in Jesus Christ who furthers the promises of God as made to Abraham. It is this hope in God through Christ that makes it possible for us to live our lives even in the most turbulent of circumstances and even when we ourselves feel overwhelmed. When Debbie and I lived in Scotland we were introduced to a hymn that we had not known before. The refrain goes something like this:
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll.
Anchored to the rock which cannot move.
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviors love.
Most of us will never face the kind of upheaval that Ezekiel talks about: invasion, the threat of starvation or exile. But even in our most tempestuous times God’s promises in Jesus Christ offer us a firm foundation on which to live.

Luke 10:1-17
When Jesus sent out seventy of his followers to the towns and villages of the region it meant that the places these disciples visited would be faced with a choice. They could embrace the fact that in the ministry of Jesus the kingdom of God had drawn near, or they could reject Jesus’ word and therefore God’s will. As in Ezekiel, however, to reject God is to face grim consequences. Verse 16 sums it up as Jesus tells the seventy, “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” We are faced with lots of choices in our day to day lives, what to wear, what to eat, whom to associate with, how to spend our money, and so forth. But the only choice that really matters in the long run is whether we’re willing to do things God’s way or not. If we are, the blessings are great. If not we face grim consequences of our own making.

Monday, May 21, 2007

God Calling


The three readings today all have something to do with God calling people, whether to faithful obedience, a clearer understanding of God’s activities, or to diligent living.

Ezekiel 4:1-17
Poor Ezekiel! Called by God to be a prophet he finds himself doing all sorts of unpleasant things. And even if he didn’t actually lie on his left side for 390 days and on his right for 40, the intent is to symbolize a very unpleasant reality. That’s what strikes me about this passage today, the symbolism with which God conveys the divine message. God “speaks” in a number of ways throughout the Bible, and in this case God is using dramatic symbolism, challenging the people to perceive a new reality, to see things God’s way. God’s activities in history are often on such a grand scale that the only way we humans could grasp them would be through symbolism or metaphor. Our eyes and ears have to be opened and our minds stretched to even begin to understand what God is doing. In this case it is poor Ezekiel who is called on to provide the symbolism.

Hebrews 6:1-12
Ezekiel certainly knew something about diligence, and diligence is what the writer of the book of Hebrews is encouraging in verses 11 and 12. “And we want each of you to show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope to the very end, so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promise.” Sluggish is a funny word, but it is one that I relate to. In fact I use it often, but it never means things are running smoothly or efficiently. If you’ve ever watched a slug for very long you’ve seen a slow, messy, inefficient creature that seems to have no real direction or purpose. Those who live the gospel with faith and patience are far from sluggish, but instead are the active, purposeful, and direct. It is the non-sluggish ones that we are to imitate so that our lives, too, may offer witness to the good news of the gospel.

Luke 9:51-62
One of my favorite verses in Luke is 9:62, “Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” Now I’m no farmer, I don’t even do much gardening, but I can imagine that to plow while looking where you’ve been would be pretty difficult. So there is a practical side to what Jesus has said. But as usual we need to consider the verse in it’s context if we want to get its full meaning. Someone has just said to Jesus that they wish to follow him but first they want to say goodbye to the folks back home. To follow Jesus of course means more than traveling with him or walking a few steps behind him. It means to live in accordance with the gospel that he has come to proclaim. It means living in a new way with faithful obedience to the word of God. If this person, whoever he or she was, really wanted to commit to a life of faithful obedience they didn’t need to start by turning to the old ways of doing things, which is what saying goodbye to the folks at home means. That’s a little like beginning a diet by first eating all the foods that have made you overweight. It’s also like trying to plow while looking behind and not ahead. The kingdom of God is for those who live in faithful obedience and who cease to live in the old ways that have served to separate them from God.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ascension Day


Ezekiel 1:1-14, 24-28b
A portion of verse 28 reads, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” I think it is insightful to note that what Ezekiel saw and all that he experienced was not God, or even the glory of God. It was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God, in other words God through three filters, and even then Ezekiel passed out at the sight. God is potent stuff. God is truly majestic and overwhelming. (Moses, too, came down the mountain from his encounters with God glowing as though he were somehow radioactive.) And yet this potent, overwhelming God deigned to come into our midst in human form and to suffer as we suffer and to die as we die. “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!”

Hebrews 2:5-18
Verse 18 amplifies the significance of God’s work in Jesus Christ: “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those ho are being tested.” In other words, God’s interaction with humanity was real and substantial and led to humiliation and death. God knows how we suffer because in Jesus God suffered with us.

Matthew 28:16-20
The final verses of the gospel of Matthew (18b-20) read, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. God therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This is the great commission given to the church at the time when Jesus ascended into heaven. It has motivated the outreach of the church for centuries and, for Protestants, established baptism as one of the two sacraments. I went through the confirmation process to become a communicant member at a fairly young age, but I still remember a good bit of the experience. As a part of our class, we were asked to write a statement of faith and to share it with the congregation at a family night supper. I don’t remember much about what I said, but the last few words of my statement were, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the close of the age,” which is the RSV translation of verse 20. I think I did that more for effect than because of any theological significance, but it has stayed with me all these years as a favorite verse and a reminder of the presence and grace of God in Jesus Christ. On this day when we remember the ascension it is important to remember that Jesus did not go away, Jesus went on to the place prepared for him and from which he remains active in our lives and concerned for our well-being. Jesus is with us to the end of the age.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Learning to Live as God's People


James 5:13-18
Here I focused on verse 16: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” Healing can take a lot of forms and it doesn’t always mean physical healing. Sometimes the healing we need it spiritual. Sometimes it is emotional. Sometimes our relationships need reconciling, or our outlook on life needs improvement. Whatever the case, the community of faith can be a powerful source of support. As a Presbyterian I strongly affirm the priesthood of all believers. We all bear responsibility to one another, to support and care for each other and to respond to each other’s needs. As a community we have a lot of healing to offer when we reach out to one another. Prayer, of course, is one of the most effective tools we have, and the willingness to pray for each other, even for people we don’t know, is a profound gift that we can offer.

Luke 12:22-31
Verses 22 and 23 say, “(Jesus) said to them, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.’” And verse 31 adds, “’Instead, strive for God’s kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.’” Personally, I have a hard time not worrying. I worry about a lot of things, food, clothing, and money included. So Jesus’ words are as much a challenge as they are a comfort to me. But what I find most helpful is the encouragement to strive for God’s kingdom, to make God’s will that which motivates me in my day to day activities. To do so requires trust, of course, and it requires a lot of effort because it means going against the basic human instinct to provide for yourself first and foremost. But I’m convinced that to concentrate on doing God’s will frees us up and allows us to see God’s grace in new and surprising ways. Maybe then we’ll come to see that we don’t need all the things we thought we did, that we really can be happy with less, that we really don’t have to worry so much about things that just aren’t so important after all.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Living to Remember


Two of today’s readings, from Deuteronomy and James, deal with not forgetting God, and the third, from Luke, helps us remember to whom we belong.

Deuteronomy 8:11-20
I was touched today by verse 11: “Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am giving you today.” Moses’s words were a warning to the people of Israel to obey God’s law, in part so that they would not forget their relationship to the one who had led them to the edge of the promised land. The risk they faced was becoming complacent, and then believing that they themselves had brought about their liberation from slavery and their conquest of Canaan. But who can forget God? We talk about God and religion all the time. Even popular culture is full of biblical references, like Noah’s ark, or the tower of Babel. And then there are Christmas and Easter that even non-Christians celebrate in a variety of ways. So who’s going to forget God? Unfortunately we do, every time we find it convenient. By making bad choices, by turning our backs on those around us, by denying God when it suits us we begin to believe that we are responsible for our own lives and forget that God is the one who created us and who claims us. By striving to live according to God’s word we can remain focused on God and God’s will for us.

James 1:16-27
Verse 25 in James says much the same thing as Deuteronomy 8:11: “But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.” Not only are we to remain faithful to God’s will, but we are to let God’s will animate us to acts of compassion and mercy. It is much easier to learn a skill, like woodworking for example, if you actually take the tools in your hands and use them. You could try to learn woodworking in theory alone, or by watching a DVD on the subject, but it is much more likely that you will remember what you learn if you are actually doing it. The same goes for a life in Christ. You can deal with God’s will in theory only, even reflecting on what the word may mean for you. But it is much easier to live a life in Christ is you are active in doing what Christ is calling us all to do.

Luke 11:1-13
This passage contains Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer which, as a regular part of a devotional life, can help us not only to recognize God’s activity in our midst, but to live as God intends us to.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Daily Nature of Faith


The Luke passage serves to wrap the other two up today.

Deuteronomy 8:1-10
The latter part of verse 3 says, “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” God had given the Hebrew people manna on a daily basis throughout their wilderness journey (except on the Sabbath day when there was no manna to collect). This was to show them that life depends on more than just food, it depends as well on God’s activity in the world. For us the issue isn’t manna. But the point is that we don’t find the meaning of life in our accomplishments or our achievements or our accumulated goods. God is the source of our living and we depend on everything that God says and does to live our fullest lives.

James 1:1-15
James is not one of my favorite books in the Bible, but there are some very challenging ideas at work here. Verses 14 and 15 are a good example. “But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it, then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, give birth to death.” First of all, I find this a helpful reminder that it is our own sinful nature that causes us problems. Comedian Flip Wilson used to get big laughs when he’d say, “the devil made me do it.” But the truth is that we are the ones who create our own sinful situations by giving in to our desires. Secondly, I think the image of desire conceiving and giving birth to sin, and sin maturing and giving birth to death is very apt. Left unchecked and allowed to fester, our desires and our sins lead us to a place where we can no longer recognize the will of God and indeed turn our backs on God’s purpose in our lives.

Luke 9:18-27
Verse 23 is familiar to most of us: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Matthew and Mark also include this saying, but only Luke adds the word “daily.” Luke seems to be telling us to prepare to make discipleship a constant, ongoing, fact of life, not something that one does once in a while or on occasion, and certainly not just on Sundays. To take up the cross “daily” might mean beginning each day by orienting ourselves to God’s will, consciously deciding how we will use that day to God’s glory. Nor should we think of taking up the cross as similar to wearing one as a fashion accessory. To live as a disciple of Jesus Christ has as much or more to do with who we are on the inside as on the outside. Discipleship is difficult work that requires our fulltime attention, day in and day out. The daily nature of discipleship is reminiscent of the manna in Deuteronomy 8 which required the people to gather just enough for one day and to trust that there would be more the next day. The ongoing nature of discipleship stands over and against the ongoing nature of our desires, our sins, and the death to which they lead as recounted in James 1.

Friday, May 11, 2007

God's Care for All People


Deuteronomy 31:30-32:14
Here I focused on verses 11 and 12: “As an eagle stirs up its next, and hovers over its young; as it spreads its wings, takes them up, and bears them aloft on it pinions, the Lord alone guided (Jacob); no foreign god was with him.” I love that image of God as an eagle, mighty and powerful, and yet gentle and caring and attentive to the needs of its young. Isaiah, of course, uses the image of the eagle’s wings (Is. 40:31), only in that case God’s people “mount up with wings like eagles.”

Romans 14:13-23
Paul tells his readers not to get too caught up in picky details about what foods are appropriate and which are to be avoided. In verse 17 he says, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” If we’re not careful we can lose sight of the forest for the trees, forgetting the desire of God is for all people to treat one another with righteousness and peace seeking joy for all. If we pay too much attention to the details of the law we risk becoming Pharisees.

Luke 8:40-56
In these linked accounts, the healing of Jairus’s daughter and of the woman with the flow of blood, Luke is very attentive to the interaction between Jesus and the least of his society. Not only did Jesus heal a woman, one who happened to be bleeding constantly and therefore ritually unclean, but he also restored the life of a little girl who would have counted little in her community. It is Jesus’ care and compassion for those who lack a claim on society that should motivate the church to reach out to all people, but especially those who have no voice of their own.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

From Death to Life


Jeremiah 33:1-13
How quickly God moves from judgment to forgiveness. The transition between verses 5 and 6 is almost jarring. I had to read it three times to make sure I hadn’t missed something. “The Chaldeans are coming in to fight and to fill (the houses) with the dead bodies of those whom I shall strike down in my anger and my wrath, for I have hidden my face from this city because of all their wickedness. I am going to bring it recovery and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security.” The dead bodies have scarcely been placed in the houses before God is talking about recovery and restoration. Grace abounds even in the midst of disaster. Forgiveness follows close on the heels of judgment and reproof. Even when God is consumed with anger over the sins of the people, God’s inclination is to love and care for them.

Romans 4:1-12
Verses 7 and 8 are among the most meaningful in Romans to me: “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” The fullness of our experience is in the hands of God who claims us throughout our living and even in our death. There is no time that we are not God’s people. What we need to do is to live like God’s people, to remember who we belong to and act accordingly.

Luke 8:26-39
Verses 38 and 39 are especially poignant to me. “The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’” The man who had been healed probably doubted whether there was any purpose for him in his own country. People would see him and always associate him with his past, how he had been plagued with demons, how he had gone about unclothed and living in the open. His past would always be a factor in his relationships. But Jesus gives him a new purpose and a new way of relating to people. Yes, he would always be the man who had been possessed by demons. But he would also be the man whom God had healed and it was that transformation from sickness to health that would allow him to testify to the glory of God. Surely the transition of this man from possession to health was no more jarring than the words of Jeremiah. Surely whether we live or whether we die we really are the Lord’s.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

One Heart


I see a theme running through these three passages that has to do with community established under God’s authority and uniting all people.

Jeremiah 32:36-44
It starts in Jeremiah where verse 39 says, “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for all time, for their own good and the good of their children after them.” I love the image of a people having “one heart,” which to me suggests a people who are focused on the same issues and who are guided by the same concerns for one another. In this case it is fear of the Lord, another way of saying a respect for God’s will, that unites God’s people. What would it look like if the church universal shared one heart? How might we serve God more effectively? How would we respond to one another? It’s a compelling image and something to seek after.

Romans 13:1-14
Paul wants his readers in Rome to respect community as well, even if that community is made up of non-Christians. Verse 10 says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Earlier in the chapter Paul has spoken about the importance of respecting civil authority which God has established for the betterment of society. But it is important to go further, to love one another as well, because when we love those around us we build a greater community, one within the law of God. You can’t commit adultery, or murder, or steal if you love your neighbors as yourselves he says. He might also have said to have “one heart” based on the love of God.

Luke 8:16-25
Here verse 21 says, “But (Jesus) said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’” Jesus called a new family, a new community into being based on his message of the coming reign of God. Any who follow God’s word and do what God calls them to do will be a part of that family. In other words, they will have one heart.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Dealing with Clutter


Jeremiah 32:16-25
Jeremiah’s recounting of the history of God’s involvement with the people of Israel (actually with all creation) ends with the recognition that God had told Jeremiah to “Buy a field for money and get witnesses…” (verse 25). I doubt that this was Jeremiah’s main point, but it shows again how the God who creates planets and solar systems, who guides the affairs of nations, who stands over and against time itself is also intimately involved with individuals, with single lives. With armies poised at the gates ready to overrun Jerusalem, God tells Jeremiah to ”buy a field for money and get witnesses,” in other words to follow the correct procedure. God is paying attention to the details! What a profound sense of God’s presence, and what a testimony to God’s love and care for each of God’s people.

Romans 12:1-21
Over the years that I have followed the daily lectionary I have underlined particular verses that have struck me at the time I read them. Romans 12 is completely underlined! Every verse! Today, for whatever reason, verse 18 caught my attention. “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” This is good practical advice because life is just easier when you get along with folks. But there is a spiritual element to Paul’s words as well. I’ve gone to writing workshops where the leaders have made the point that clutter has the tendency to squelch creativity. One of the first steps they recommend is to clean up your writing space so that you can think and work positively. Well, disputes and rancor with our neighbors causes clutter in our lives, too, clutter that makes it more difficult to live spiritually and in awareness of God’s grace. To avoid conflict with others (so far as it depends on us) is to allow ourselves more space in which to relate to God.

Luke 8:1-15
Clutter plays a role in Jesus’ parable about the sower, especially in verse 14, “As for what fell among the thorns, these are thorns who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” Conflict with others is not the only elements of life that can sap us of spiritual energy, “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” certainly can rob us of our ability to see God’s hand at work, or to respond to God’s grace with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. What we chose to focus on, then, is extremely important in how we live as God’s people. It’s ironic, though, that God led Jeremiah to possess a field as a sign of grace, and Jesus warns the disciples that worrying about possessions can sidetrack our lives of faith. But God’s activity is not static or fixed. God is able to react to the circumstances at hand, to work with events and with individual people according to “where they are” in their lives. If we are wise we will trust in God and avoid as much clutter as we can.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Hope and Grace


Jeremiah 32:1-15
The story of Jeremiah buying the field in Anathoth is one of the most hope-filled passages in the Old Testament because it is rich with an expectaion of God's activity. Jeremiah not only trusted in what God was promising to do, he let it guide his economic decisions. Faith was a factor in everything that Jeremiah did. Buying a field in the middle of an invasion didn’t make much sense, but it demonstrated confidence in the outcome, that God’s grace would abound. Several years ago our family was driving through west Texas in some of the driest terrain I’ve ever seen, where the only vegetation was scrub brush. And yet, there by the side of the highway was a flood gage. To trust in God’s grace is to prepare for a deluge in the middle of a desert, or to buy a field when an invading army is already on the scene. How much do we allow our faith to guide our actions or to play a role in our everyday lives?

Colossians 3:18-4:18
Verse 3:6 is helpful advice. “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” According to the notes in the Oxford Annotated Study Bible (NRSV) the term salt refers to spiritual understanding. In other words, be gracious in what you say and keep your comments spiritually grounded so that what you say may be appropriate for everyone. This is community building advice from a man who built a lot of communities in his time. If we would all follow his advice we would be far less likely to hurt others or to cause controversy.

Luke 7:36-50
The woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears gave him the opportunity to witness to God’s grace. By contrast, Simon the Pharisee (Jesus’ host) lacks the hospitality that God shows to any who repent. The thing that struck me about his passage, though, is that it is possible to be so confident in our ability to meet God’s expectations that we forget that we need God’s grace to do so, which in turn puts us in opposition to God.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Steadfast Love, Baptism, and Patience


Jeremiah 31:1-14
Here I focused on the latter part of verse 3: "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you." God's commitment to us is staggering in its depth. Human love can be effected by so many elements and can wax and wane over the years. And even those relationships that last and are loving are effected by the sinfulness of the people involved. But God's love for God's people is an "everlasting love," and while God is quite capable of responding to our quirky behavior, God's love, and therefore God's faithful activity in our midst, remains steadfast. It is the one thing we can count on, regardless of all else.

Colossians 2:8-22
Verse 12 is a powerful reminder of what baptism is all about. "…When you were buried with (Christ) in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith…" Baptism is more than a quaint custom or cultural phenomenon; it is a profound and significant action in which we lay claim to the grace of God which is present in our lives. It is as profound and significant as the death of Jesus Christ with which it connects us. To be "buried" in the water (or for most Presbyterians to be sprinkled with the water) is to share in the death that Christ experienced, from which we will then also share in his resurrection. Sin and death have been defeated.

Luke 6:39-49
This reading contains the very important reminder to remove the log from our own eyes before we try to remove a speck from someone else's. In our contemporary society this idea seems to have been all but forgotten in the rush to judgement that to takes place every day. Slowing down and being more patient with those around us would be a good place to start. And acknowledging our own sinfulness and need for forgiveness would help as well. Ultimately, "removing specks" should be an act of compassion, of service, of caring that we offer to others and not an act of judgment.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007



I found the readings today to be very encouraging.

Jeremiah 30:18-22
Verse 22 is perhaps the most encouraging verse of all today: "And you shall be my people, and I will be your God." There are some days when I really need to know that God claims me despite everything else. And God does claim us, and God loves us, and God wants what's best for us all.

Colossians 1:24-2:7
Here I focused on verses 6 and 7: "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." I also need to remember, at all times, to be thankful to God for all God's gifts. So even when we hit those rough spots in our lives and things are looking bleak, God's grace abounds, and so should our prayers of thanksgiving for all that God has done for us, especially for calling us to be among God's people.

Luke 6:27-38
Here I took note of verses 35 and 36 which say, "But love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." All too often I am one of the ungrateful, and I suppose my sinfulness does not set me as far from the wicked as I would like to be. But God loves me and cares for me anyway, which is reason enough to abound in thanksgiving, and to seek to do those things God has called me to do, regardless of how difficult they are.