Friday, August 31, 2012

A Hope-filled Letter of Complaint

Psalm 88
There really is no end to the sorrow and despair of Psalm 88. From the first verse to the last there is only anguish and pain, and that might surprise us that the psalmist would spend an entire Psalm and say almost nothing positive to God. And yet this Psalm does offers hope because, as negative as it sounds, it begins with the words “O Lord, God of my salvation…” (Psalm 88:1).

Imagine a letter you might right to a customer service department to complain about a faulty product. It might begin something like, “Dear Sir or Madam, I wish to call to your attention the problems I have experienced with my new remote-controlled toaster and ask you to help me solve the issues.” There would then follow a list of all the ways that the taster is defective: for example how, when you use the remote feature, not only does it toast bread, but it also opens your garage door and turns on your television, or how the toaster itself keeps blowing the fuse in your kitchen. The letter would be one of complaint, but it would also be one of hope because it is addressed to the people who can do something about the problem, either by fixing the toaster, replacing it, or by giving you your money back.

For the psalmist, God is the one who can do something about the problems of life. God is the Lord, the God of salvation. If there were no hope, if God were unable or unwilling to meet the needs of God’s people, this Psalm would never have been written or sung. But God is able and is willing to come to our aid, and we are free to complain and to moan out loud––if that is how we feel––because God listens. Ours is a God who is big enough and gracious enough to take all of our anger, all of our disappointment, and all of our complaints and go right on loving us and caring for us. Ours is indeed a “God of salvation” to whom we may freely address our darkest concerns, trusting in God’s help.

Prayer: Gracious God, we lift up our deepest fears to you this day, knowing that you hear and respond, because you are our God and we are your people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Let’s Work Together

Acts 10:17-33
In 1969 blues artist Wilbert Harrison released his song, “Let’s Work Together.” It has since been covered by others, most notably the group Canned Heat. In it Harrison sings:

Together we will stand divided we'll fall
Come on now people let's get on the ball
And work together, come on, come on let's work together, now, now people
Say now together we will stand, every boy, girl, woman, and man...

Based on our reading from Acts today I have this mental image of Peter singing these words to those gathered in the home of Cornelius. “…And (Peter) said to them, ‘You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection’" (Acts 10:28-29).

Unity is a beautiful thing, and God desires it for humanity. It begins when we allow ourselves to be instruments of reconciliation. It begins when we are willing to let others talk while we listen. It begins when we look for similarities and commonalities instead of bashing each other over perceived––and often petty––differences. And even when the differences are significant and seemingly overwhelming God calls us to love and care for one another anyway. “Now together we will stand, every boy, girl, woman, and man.” My hope for the world this day is that somewhere someone will lay aside his or her assumptions and biases and reach out to another person just long enough to recognize a shared humanity with common needs and aspirations because in that moment God will be glorified. “Together we will stand divided we'll fall/Come on now people let's get on the ball…”

Prayer: Almighty God, help us to find a common purpose in your will and to share the joy that you seek with others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Who Will Go For Us?

Acts 10:1-16
According to Acts 10, a certain centurion named Cornelius was visited by an angel from God. The angel told him look for a man named Simon Peter. “When the angel who spoke to him had left,” we read, “(Cornelius) called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa” (Acts 10:7-8). Clearly neither the angel, nor the slaves, nor the soldier are central to this story, and yet without them there is no story. They are the ones who carry the message and who seek to convey the word from one place to another. To a degree, this is what it means to be missionaries or evangelists.

Few if any of us will be remembered as significant in the life of the Church. For every Mother Theresa there are hundreds of millions of people who go unnoted by the world despite their faithfulness. No matter. All of us have a role to play, and quite often that role is to carry the message of the gospel from one place to another, or to share in the search for the truth that is Jesus Christ. When we play our part, when we carry the message or convey the word, we bring the story to life. Cornelius and Peter might never have met were it not for the angel, the slaves, and the soldier. Whose life might we touch today with the good news? Who might we help in their search for the truth? How might we further the spread of the gospel? These are questions worth asking, for while Cornelius and Peter are the ones we remember, there were others who had to play a part if the story was to move ahead. We, too, need to play our part. We, too, need to move the story along.

Prayer: Gracious God, help us to serve you by serving others, and give us the courage we need to share the good news. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Audible Health

Psalm 54
In his book Reflections on the Psalms, C. S. Lewis confesses that early in his spiritual journey he was concerned about what appeared to be God’s constant need for praise. The Psalms, Lewis notes, are full of references to praising God. Sometimes it is God who seems to demand praise, more often it is the psalmist telling others to join in praising God, and sometimes there is even the implication that only if God will save the psalmist from death or distress will the psalmist continue praising God. Psalm 54 is one of the examples Lewis cites as presenting such a bargain. Verse 1 says, “Save me, O God,” and verse 6 then promises a freewill offering as a sacrifice. This apparent flaw in God’s character worried Lewis because it seemed to put God on a level with dictators, millionaires, and entertainers who are notorious for needing constant praise. And worse, Lewis suggests, it reduces people of faith to the level of sycophants who are willing to tell such people just how great they are.

Then Lewis realized that praising God offered a “beneficial opportunity.” In much the way that admiring a great painting allows one to be affected for the better, praise for God demonstrates a right relationship with the Creator. “Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere,” writes Lewis, “praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.” When we make praise a regular part of our relationship with God it reflects our inner health, it says that we understand praise to be an appropriate response to the one who has created us, it says that we are not bargaining with God, but rather meeting God’s presence in our lives with a profoundly natural response.

And so with the psalmist we say, “I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good” (Psalm 54:6b).

Prayer: Lord, may your name be praised in heaven and on earth, this day and always. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Watch the Road!

Acts 9:19b-31
Talk about a change of perspective. Paul, the scourge of the early Church, had gone to Damascus for the purpose of arresting believers and dragging them back to Jerusalem in chains. But on the way there he experienced a conversion that led him to become an outspoken adherent to the new faith and a follower of Jesus Christ. “All who heard him were amazed and said, ‘Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?’” (Acts 9:21). It was as if Paul had come to a fork in the road of his life and, given the chance to amend who he was, had struck out in a completely different direction. Paul repented of who he had been, cast off his old life, and became a new person dedicated to serving the Lord.

We are all on a journey of faith, and from time to time we may find ourselves at a junction, a place of decision, where we must choose which path to take. Seldom will this moment be as dramatic for us as it was for Paul, but all such moments are important nonetheless. How do we make the correct choices? The answer is to look to Jesus Christ for direction and seek his guidance, to welcome the input that the faith offers us and do the best we can to move ahead. Bad decisions are a part of life. Sin causes us to make wrong turns, to lose our way, to get lost. But the one who offers us true guidance remains steadfast. By turning to him we will always find the way to live in faith.

Paul became a new person on the road to Damascus; people hardly recognized him after his experience. We may not undergo such a radical change, but by faith in Jesus Christ we get where we need to be.

Prayer: Lord, guide us all the days of our lives that we may follow you and not waver in our faith. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Getting Around Spiritually

Acts 8:26-40
The book we call the Acts of the Apostles is well-named because it shares with us a story of action, of movement, of things being done. But many have suggested the story could be called the Acts of God since God is the primary force at work throughout. Our reading today is a good example. “Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza…. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:26, 39). Philip is busy, traveling from Jerusalem to the desert and, after a brief encounter with an Ethiopian dignitary, on to Azotus. But Philip’s actions are guided by God, either through an angel––a messenger––or by the Holy Spirit. In fact, Philip seems to be completely at God’s disposal, unaware of why he is going where he goes, but willing and enthusiastic about going anyway.

If you are like me you find it difficult to follow Philip’s example. Sometimes I act more like Jonah because I am not so willing to follow God’s guidance. I hem and haw, I hesitate, I drag my feet, and occasionally I simply try to ignore the whole thing. But Acts makes it clear that allowing God to lead us and, if need be, to pick us up and carry us, gives us opportunities to minister and witness to others, to play a role in what God is accomplishing in the world.

So how will we live today, with bold enthusiasm for the message of God or timidly and reluctantly choosing to remain silent? If we will allow God to work through us there’s no telling what we may accomplish.

Prayer: Lord, use us to do your will even when we are hesitant to get involved. For it is in Jesus’ name that we pray. Amen.