Monday, July 24, 2017

Hope for a Glass Half-Full

Lectionary Reading: Romans 8:26-39 (NRSV)

"We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."

We review these famous words from the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28.  They can be daunting when one considers all of the awful things that human beings endure.

We know that all things change and sometimes it is for the better but many times our perception tells us otherwise.

Our human bodies begin to degrade and we spend billions on products to halt this process.  Eventually time wins out and our bodies fail us.  From a Christian perspective, one could take the balcony view on human life and point toward life after death in order to claim that the good would be the heavenly reward.

But getting there can be problematic.  Dementia sometimes takes hold of us along the way from point A to point B and we may rightly critique this statement to ask, "How in the world does Alzheimer's work for anyone's good?"

It is difficult to see the good in many of the
annoyances that life throws at us.  Maybe the
good comes in how we handle them.
In order to preserve the integrity of the Biblical statement, some then claim that the problem lies with the afflicted.  Either some unconfessed sin or lack of faith is trotted out as the culprit for the dementia. What might be a better solution is to admit that Paul is talking in generalities.  We know that when we go with an absolute, we can usually find loopholes in the logic.

I look at Paul's statement and believe that God can work with any awful situation and cause some good to arise.  This is the crux of the crucifixion and the resurrection for me.  I don't believe that God caused the suffering and death of Jesus.  Rather, human stubbornness called for this.  Yet, in spite of humanity's work against God's love in Christ, God shows us that suffering and death do not get the last word.

We are people of the resurrection and this statement of Paul's reminds us to see God at work even in the midst of suffering.  God may grant us the strength and courage to endure hardship and troubles when they come our way.  We see God at work through suffering not as the author but as the rock in the midst of the storm.

This important perspective is one in which we gather together when we worship to remind ourselves of the strength that we have available.  In this, we are working together for good in all circumstances and for all peoples.  Thanks be to God!

Photo by Janet Hughes via  Used under the Creative Commons license.   

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Bondage to Decay

Lectionary Reading: Romans 8:12-25 (NRSV)

Paul continues in this week's reading concerning the division of the flesh and the spirit.  It seems as if Paul is really trying to hammer home our reliance on the flesh.  This dependence on the body is quite natural for people since we live within our bodies.  They are our homes.

They have needs that force their attention upon us.

Hunger can pull me out of prayer and pain may make it difficult to concentrate on anything substantial.  Another example might be how the bladders of children or youth shrink exponentially during a sermon (okay, that might speak more about the delivery than about our attention spans).

Our bodies restrict us in their limitations.

When I was starting for my 8th grade basketball team, I thought it would be cool to dunk the ball but my size and my athletic ability limited me.

The year before this, I experienced even greater limitation as I recovered from an Achilles heel injury.   I spent about six months recovering - some of the time on complete bed rest and the remaining time on crutches.  For the times I was unable to even get out of bed, it made me consider what a blessing it is to walk.  Being able to get around independently is something I had definitely taken for granted.  Being unable to get out of bed for any of my body's needs also made me keenly aware of my own dependence on the physical aspect of our lives.

As I get older, I discover that I can no longer eat anything I want.

I require more sleep.

I seem to get sick more often than when I was younger.

I am more aware of bodily break-downs that I previously ignored (or simply didn't happen).

Okay, there are a lot of good caption possibilities here.
I really resonated with Paul's description, "bondage to decay" as I recognize my own body's expanding limitations.  At the same time, being adopted by God must be more than just pie in the sky that we look forward to when this life is over.

I'm wondering if a focus on the spirit may not move us past the flesh but might allow us not to be subject to it quite so easily.  Our culture seems to idolize everything young and beautiful.  While most recognize the shallow nature of this, our desire for a fountain of youth seems to continue to capture our attention.

What if the spirit's leading allows us to incorporate our bodies into our selves without becoming slaves to them?

As I finished this blog post, I was actually thinking of rewarding myself with some ice cream.  Hmm.  Maybe I need to spend a little time in prayer instead.

In Christ,


Picture by Marla J Aleman via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

I May or May Not Be Comfortable with Ambiguity

Lectionary Reading: Romans 8:1-11 (NRSV) 

The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome that "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  This kind of spiritual assurance is helpful as we begin to understand that it is the grace of God rather than any effort on our part that allows us to see our own righteousness.

It is through the incarnation, life, teaching, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we find ourselves right with God.

Each individual may find a different touchstone in Christ with which he or she identifies more than another.  Some may be drawn to Christmas (incarnation) while others may find Easter (resurrection) better defines their relationship.  Still others may find meaning in the disciplines during Lent (suffering and death).  To name it so broadly is to be somewhat ambiguous.

Clarity in communication can be very helpful!
Human beings enjoy certainty.  

If I were to comment, "I heard the woman with the hearing aids," the statement is ambiguous in that it is unclear whether I or the woman use hearing aids.  So clear communication is important.

However, when we entertain the mystery of God, clarity may not be readily available.  

As we deal with God's call upon our lives, it would be nice to have blazing letters in the sky directing us to specific action.  However, the call is likely to be a little more subtle!

Paul becomes a little ambiguous when he states, "if Christ is in you" rather than assuming he is speaking to a congregation where all are "in Christ."  This makes Christians a little nervous as we may think to ourselves, "how do I know for sure if Christ is in me?"

This gets into the doctrine of assurance.  Some speak of knowing the exact moment of your salvation when you accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior.  Other congregations are not as clear and Christians grow up in the church with this identity never questioned.

That is, until someone questions it.

Sometimes the certainty with which Christians tout their own strong relationship appears as if they never have any doubts.  This bravado may actually keep people from living with a stronger faith because they assume that their faith is lacking.  It is better to be honest and let people know that due to the ambiguous nature of faith in an unseen God, there will be doubts from time to time.  We will have questions.  Assurance is nice, but it doesn't mean the same thing for each person.

This is similar to the touchstones we may more closely associate with in our own lives - as you think about these attributes, do you more closely identify with incarnation, life, teaching, suffering, death or resurrection?  

All are helpful, but it is okay to claim the one you favor.  As we each claim something different for our own relationship in Christ, it is good to allow the variety within the Spirit. This comfort with the ambiguity with how we identify as Christian actually may give us more assurance and certainty within the broader setting as the Body of Christ.

And so we can relax in the Spirit as we join in worship with one another, knowing that we each bring a little bit different viewpoint to the table.  Shared understanding becomes fuller understanding.  That gives me greater assurance after all!

In Christ,


Photo by dbowman2001 via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

One Step Forward...

Lectionary Reading for Sunday: Romans 7:15-25 (NRSV)

A lot of television sitcoms revolve around miscommunication.  Marital conflict seems to be a staple of humor to which most people can relate.  Even single people had parents that argued now and then.

For some couples, this is the appropriate
designation.  But we can learn how to defuse ourselves.
As I was typing pre-marital counseling in preparation for this blog, I mis-keyed "pre-martial" instead of "pre-marital."  For some marriages, "pre-martial" might be a better fit!  Although we prescribe several sessions of pre-marital counseling before the wedding ceremony, it has been mentioned that it might be even more helpful to require a check-in after a year.

After living together for a year, most couples begin to discover their irritabilities.  Usually there has been a fight that has resulted in hurt feelings on both sides.  No one ever plans on repeating this if they can help it!  However, we do end up fighting again even though this is not our preferred way of sharing life together.

And while conflict is inevitable between two people in close quarters, how one handles that conflict is entirely manageable.  I try to lay out ground rules for couples such as keeping their discussion centered around the issue at hand.  Most of us live by the rule that "the best defense is a good offense."  This may work in sports but in a marriage, this is highly unproductive.

If a couple can agree to this rule and keep it, they will find their conflict easier to resolve.

In today's reading, the apostle Paul speaks of doing other than what he truly desires to do.  We have all been in situations where we should have kept our tongues but we let them loose.  How do we retain control of ourselves if our behavior is destructive?

Why do we do that which we know will harm us?

If Paul continues to have difficulties in Christ with his own behavior, what hope do we have?

Paul ends this reading with thanks to Jesus Christ even as he remains mixed in his allegiances.  It seems that our hope lies in the forgiveness we receive but it also may lie in the strength we can have in Christ to change.  It likely won't come in an instant but will take discipline.

And maybe this is why we have difficulty making substantial changes in our lives!  It is easier to revert back to what we know.

At the very least, we can look back and laugh at ourselves as we move forward in this life of faith!

Photo by Mark and Allegra Jaroski-B.. via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

I'm Not Tired!

Lectionary Reading: Romans 6:12-23 (NRSV)

Our emotions may hold us hostage when we
don't get enough rest.  Adults like to
pretend that we grow out of this!
The battle cry of every small child told to go to bed is “but I’m not tired!”  It is usually said with great distress as if the bedtime is the cruelest punishment a parent could inflict upon a hapless child.  

If the parent persists with the set time, sometimes the child throws a fit.  This is ironic in that it shows the parent that the child actually is tired and needs to go to sleep.

This is easier to see in one’s child than it is when looking into a mirror.

Sometimes I find myself staying up late for no good reason.  I might be reading articles online, playing a mindless game, watching a television show or movie or reading a book. I can blow past my bedtime because I am an adult.  I am in charge of my own schedule.

Unfortunately, all of the rationale that I tell my children still applies:

     I, too, need my sleep.
     I am more likely to get sick if I don’t get adequate rest.
     I will be crankier the next day if I stay up too late.
     I am more productive when I get adequate sack time.

So why would anyone choose otherwise?

There is not a good reason other than we may have convinced ourselves that we need more “me” time than we are getting.  We have more free time than any previous generation in history and yet we may feel that we are owed more.

Paul is talking about this very thing in this week’s epistle reading as he speaks of slavery to sin. Our slavery is to the self.  We believe that our will is law and heaven help anything that would disrupt this belief!

As we approach another national holiday, you'll hear a lot of words like “independence” and “freedom.” I’m not sure we instill the same meanings into these words that our predecessors from the 18th century did.  But I do know that we have a culture that needs to understand grace.  Maybe more than that, we need to understand a proper response to grace.  I have the freedom to decide how I will respond.  I hope that I’ll rest when I’m really tired!

Photo by Mindaugas Danys via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

I'm Done with Sin!

Lectionary Reading: Romans 6:1-11 (NRSV)

Okay, I would like to be finished with sin but it seems to creep back into my life at just the wrong times!  Paul addresses this issue with the fledgling church in Rome within this week's epistle reading.  He indicates that our "old self" is crucified with Christ so that we may not be "enslaved to sin."

What does it mean to be "dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus"?

The first vow that United Methodists ask when a person makes a profession of faith is "Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?"

We acknowledge that it is important for an individual to realize that there are forces at work beyond our control.  However, we can control our own actions and we choose to live a different life.

Overindulgence in the self does not lead to life.
Our expectation is not that a person will never sin again.  We understand that temptation will overcome us.  Our goal is perfection in love but it will take a lot of trial and error to get there.

If we overcome sin when we put on Christ, how come it is still so pervasive in our lives?  

What kind of victory is it if we fall prey to temptation at the drop of a hat?

I think that Paul's use of the words "old self" is key for us.  We must recognize a new direction in which we are to walk.  When the self is my idol, God has difficulty gaining a toehold in my life. If I am able to set aside the self and see the world through a different lens, I begin to make headway in my faith journey.

I do not take this to mean that I can never enjoy myself.  It does mean that I shouldn't enjoy myself if it comes at another's expense.

I remember one of the twelve-year-olds I baptized at his confirmation telling his friends that he could no longer participate in their mischief because he was now baptized!  It made a difference in his life and should make a difference in ours.  In the Coen brothers movie, O Brother Where Art Thou, when Delmar is baptized it changes him.  As his cohorts steal a pie from a window, he leaves a dollar in its place to pay for their transgression.  

Delmar is not immune to sin but he recognizes its danger and seeks to overcome it.

As we remain in Christ, this overcoming of sin becomes more and more possible.  It allows us to embrace the life that we are meant to enjoy in the here and now.  If it has been a while since you have worshiped somewhere, I invite you to join with me this Sunday if you are in the Edmond area.  It might just help with a multitude of things!

Photo by Daniel Lobo via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Being a Worthy Host

Lectionary Scripture Reading: Matthew 9:35-10:15 (NRSV)

The part of this passage that used to disturb me was where Jesus told his disciples to "Go nowhere among the Gentiles" as he sent them out.

If the mission of Jesus was only to the Jews, then we, as Gentiles, seem to be second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God.  For me, this lacks congruence with the overall message of "God so loved the world..."  Of course, the latter is from John rather than Matthew.  However, Matthew also has more universal appeal with the parable of the sower who scatters seeds indiscriminately.

Matthew's is the only gospel that includes the curtain of the temple being torn when Jesus dies which indicates that which had separated us from God is now gone.  The separation of the sheep and the goats in Matthew seems to point more toward morals than it does nationality when looking at righteousness.

And so, it is a little confusing to see the distinction Jesus makes here between Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles.

I believe that this has to do with training.

My grandmother always used to have
a piece of pie or cobbler waiting for us
when we came to visit.  I think she
would have understood how to receive
the disciples.
Out of these three groups, which one would have received the proper example of Abraham and Sarah? When Jesus mentions Sodom and Gomorrah, it becomes apparent that this era is being referenced.  The story of Sodom and Gomorrah follows the story of the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis as two contrasting examples of how human beings should interact with strangers.

The lost sheep of the house of Israel should know the correct way to treat his disciples who are coming with nothing on them but the shirts on their backs.  So this stipulation seems to be for the benefit of his followers rather than a hierarchy of the worthy.

If this is the case, what does it say about the expectations of Jesus for the church today regarding hospitality?

I'm looking forward to unpacking this passage in more detail during Sunday's sermon which is entitled, "You Know What You Are Supposed to Do."

Photo by Alan Levine via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

We Know Only in Part

Lectionary Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 (NRSV)

Paul's second letter to the Church at Corinth includes the benediction from Sunday's reading that features the Trinity in verse thirteen.  The Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday and many churches look at the doctrine of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Trinity is the Christian understanding of how God continues to reveal God's self to the world.

We come to know God in this way but it is difficult.  Human beings are finite and God is infinite.  Can we truly grasp the infinite?  Not yet.

Paul's own reflection in his first letter to Corinth declares in 13:12b, "Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."  He speaks of when we move from this life to the next gaining insight even as God already understands us completely.

I remember being on a young adult retreat at Canyon in the late 1980's (I was probably about 5) and Reverend Guy Langston was our leader at the time.  He was speaking to us on intimacy with God.  As human beings seek true intimacy with one another, there is never a way for us to truly and completely know one another.  Guy was vulnerable in sharing that even in the most intimate moments between spouses, there is never a way for them to become truly one in that we can never know another's mind completely.

The three-leafed clover is sometimes used to describe
the Trinity with three in one.  If using this example,
one must be clear that this is one plant (like one God)
and not three separate plants (like three separate gods).
This easily slips into heresy if you claim that
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each a third
of the Godhead rather than each fully God.  
We can't do Vulcan mind melds with people.

At the same time, we have this deep desire to be known by others.  We seek to be loved for who we really are. Christianity claims that God does know us and love us for who we really are.

God, in God's infinite capacity is able to do this. We, in our limited capacity, seek to grasp who God really is.

The Trinity is our way of knowing.  It can be somewhat confusing and contains more than a bit of mystery to it.  This is not to be a cop-out but rather an admission to our limits.  And so, may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the sharing in the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Photo by Gabriel Rocha via  Used under the Creative Commons license. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

United Methodist Annual Meeting-Time

Part of being United Methodist is understanding how we relate to the various other United Methodist churches around what we refer to as “the connection.”  This week, many Oklahoma United Methodists will gather for our annual meeting which we often refer to as “annual conference.”  This meeting will include business such as electing officers and approving next year's budget.  We will honor our clergy who are transitioning as we celebrate retirements for those finishing their full-time work as well as commissioning and ordaining those emerging in leadership at the beginning of their careers.  We also will remember those clergy who have died since the last annual conference.

For clergy, our church membership is within the annual conference rather than the local church.  My wife and children all have their membership at Edmond First but mine is within the Oklahoma Conference.  When I retire (some day long from now), my membership will continue to remain in the Oklahoma Conference but I will be required to have a charge membership at a local church somewhere.  This is to ensure that I am remaining active within United Methodism.  We have quite a few clergy with their charge memberships within our congregation and it becomes a gift to the local church as they share their wisdom with us.

Our church has received the New People New Places grant in order to bring on an additional clergy person on our staff.  This grant was established a few years ago by Oklahoma United Methodism's Annual Conference Council to encourage various ministries within our conference to try to reach people within the community that we are currently missing.  A local church is eligible to receive this grant for up to three years.  Because the cost of clergy has risen in the past decade, we are utilizing the grant to bring on a new staff member with the hopes of receiving a declining award for the next two years so that we might take on the new salary more gently as we grow the church.

This means that the pressure on the new clergyperson is to grow the church enough to afford the additional salary.  We also have pressure to receive the grant funding while we move in this new direction.  Fortunately, our church is already healthy and growing so that we anticipate a smooth transition.

We were told that Trey Witzel would be appointed here June 1.  I was excited that our church would be receiving Trey as I served as his mentor through the candidacy process.  I’ve known Trey since he was in Junior High as he grew up within our district at Village United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.  We saw each other at various district events including summer camp each year.  Trey recently graduated with his master of divinity degree from Boston University’s School of Theology (a United Methodist institution).  His wife Addison grew up in Edmond and will be working at Oklahoma City University (another United Methodist institution).  Trey served Tewksbury UMC as a student local pastor while in Boston and grew the church from 25 to 55 in worship attendance. 

Addison and Trey were married before they
left for Boston three years ago right
after they finished undergraduate studies
at Oklahoma City University together.
Trey will be commissioned as a provisional elder on Wednesday night at 7:00 pm in the sanctuary of Saint Luke’s United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.  All are welcome to attend and there will be a reception following if you would like to stop by and introduce yourself.  Trey will have a minimum of two years in which he will serve as a provisional member before he is eligible for ordination and full conference membership.  While he is serving in this capacity, he is still allowed to oversee the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion within the bounds of his appointment.  Once he is ordained, he will be able to preside over the sacraments in other locales as well.   

This Sunday will be Trey’s first at his new appointment at Edmond First UMC.  We will also have a reception for Trey and Addison in the Christian Activity Center following worship.  There will be food trucks in the alley which will begin serving at 11 am if you go to the early service. 

We are pleased at how God is leading us into the future.  Many churches are cutting staff positions rather than adding them at this point and so we feel very fortunate.  I hope that if you are in the area (and don’t already attend another church), you will join us as we worship together!

In Christ,


Monday, May 22, 2017

Adversarial Relationships

Lectionary Reading for Sunday: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 (NRSV)

At this point in the letter, there is the assumption that suffering and persecution are a part of the Christian life.  It could be that the author is speaking of persecutions directly experienced or of those related by colleagues.  In any event, there seems to be a sense of solidarity in suffering as if it is helpful to realize that you are not the only one in turmoil.

The old adage "misery loves company" helps us to remember that we don't do as well in isolation.

The Christian community works well when it lifts up its various members when they are down.  It does even better when it applies this same helping hand to anyone in its vicinity.  Churches are some of the best organizations at responding to disaster relief. We step up when we see the need staring us in the face.

To be isolated in the midst of crisis is to often face despair.  People working through grief know that it is easier when shared with others.  We instinctively understand that we need to lean on one another from time to time.

The second part of verse 5:8 struck me as it declares, "Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour."  This metaphor is apt.  Human beings have known for millennia that it is easier to get picked off by lions when you stray from the group.  There is strength in numbers - spiritually as well as physically.

All primates are social animals with
the need for interaction and sharing with one another. 
This verse reminds me of the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4.  After God favors Abel's offering, Cain is upset and God states in verse 7, "But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it." This particular verse is from the New International Version which makes the metaphor of sin similar to the roaring lion in 1 Peter 5:8.

These metaphors characterize evil as a force that is pursuing us.  In order to overcome it, our best defense is to share in the strength of the Holy Spirit which is most often expressed within the Christian community.

What does it mean for us to share in the suffering of one another?  How do we do this without getting dragged down with those in pain?  In other words, how do we lift them up rather than empathizing so much that we are now the ones needing help?

Prayer for the day:

O God, we have known and believed the love that You have for us.  May we, by dwelling in love, dwell in You, and You in us.  May we learn to love You Whom we have not seen, by loving our brothers and sisters whom we have seen.  Teach us, O heavenly Father, the love wherewith You have loved us; fashion us, O blessed Lord, after Your own example of love; shed abroad, O Your Holy Spirit of Love, the love of God and humanity in our hearts.  Amen.

                                  Henry Alford, Church of England, 19th Century

Photo by Aftab Uzzaman via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Descent into Hell

Lectionary reading for Sunday: 1 Peter 3:13-22 (NRSV)

This reading starts out a little dubiously when it asks, "Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?"

Could this have been asked a little tongue-in-cheek as we obviously knew what had happened to Jesus?  If this letter was written by a disciple of Peter's, the martyrdom of Peter would already have been known as well.

Every person faces choices from time-to-time.  Sometimes if we choose not to decide, the choice goes away.  Sometimes the choice to do what is right is tiring and takes effort.  We know there will be push-back.

A person who lives with a functioning alcoholic may choose not to make the drinking an issue in order to (seemingly) preserve the relationship.  It is almost always easier in the short-term to go with the status quo.

Sometimes imprisonment is perplexing as we
wonder aloud, "How did I get here?"
The reading speaks of Jesus making "a proclamation to the spirits in prison" in verse 19 immediately following his death on the cross.  This is the doctrine of Jesus descending to the dead or to Hell as proclaimed in the Apostles' Creed. Theologically, this offers salvation to all the souls who died before Christ redeemed humanity.  It seems that God is not content with the redemption of those born after Jesus, but actively seeks all people.

This is a part of the meaning of the resurrection.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to live out this resurrection faith.  And that means that we are to do the right thing.  Not just sometimes, but all the time.  This is not meant to make us weary or to find it an impossible task.  As we remain in Christ, our own natures begin to shift toward the desire for compassion for all as we take on Christ's nature.

The difficulty of this is when we run into resistance for our good efforts.  Not everyone wants our compassion and some people prefer to remain in prisons of their own making. When these are strangers, it is a little easier to let go.  When they are people we love, their problems can become fused into our lives.

Ultimately, these are times when we must cling to our resurrection faith.  We remain hopeful in the salvation in Christ that transforms lives not only in the next life but in this life.

Some days that is all we have.  

Photo by Tiago Pinheiro via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Growing into Salvation

Lectionary Reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10 (NRSV)

I like how the author speaks of growing into salvation in verse two.  So many times we speak of salvation as an event done by Jesus on our behalf or we speak of it as a moment in which we cross over from damned to blessed.

While these popular usages attempt to define our theology, they may also be limiting for how God works in people's lives.  Growing into salvation implies a process.  This fits with the Wesleyan idea of sanctifying grace in which we grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

As I consider my own growth as a Christian, much of it stemmed from the narrative my mother would share.  These were stories of my very young childhood that would get repeated as part of the family lore.  I heard them countless times growing up so that they began to shape me through their telling.

For example, once my siblings and I all received full-sized candy bars for a treat (this was unusual and the reasons are now lost).  I gobbled mine down and my older sister Becky saved hers for later.  When she finally got around to eating it (I think it was a Three Musketeers), I asked her for a bite.  She replied, "No, Sam, you already ate yours!"  I paused for a bit and asked her, "Becky, remember sharing?"  Of course, I couldn't pronounce the letter "r" and so it came out, "Becky, wemember shaiwwing?" This was a lesson the older family members were trying to ingrain in me.  She groaned and gave me a bite.

This story helped me to understand that cunning and creativity are better pursuits for getting what you want than whining or throwing a fit.  One could argue that this was more about manipulation than it was about learning to share.  However, it also taught an important lesson from my sister.  The value of sharing is more important than the irritation you obviously feel from a little brother.

Sometimes, we are reluctant to share if
the recipient seems like a pest!
It taught me that sharing is what we should pursue even if a person is taking advantage.  If my fundamental nature is to share, then a person cannot take advantage of me.

This is the very nature of grace that we receive in Christ Jesus.  It is something I learned a little bit at a time through these important women in my life.  I hope that you will take the time to reflect upon the life-giving things your own mother did for you this week as we approach Mother's Day.  I recognize that some have an easier time of this than others but any difficulty with this meditation may end with fruit and blessing for you.

I give thanks to God for my own "growth in salvation" and for my mom's hand in it.  

Photo by Timothy Vogel via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Walking through Darkness

Lectionary Reading for Sunday: Psalm 23 (NRSV)

The twenty-third Psalm is probably the most well-known of all the psalms.  It is often a go-to comfort passage for funerals.  When people do not express a preference, I often use it in a graveside service if we are coming from worship at the church or chapel.

The familiarity for many people (especially in the King James Version) is helpful as we consider our grief or loss.  While the NRSV is more accurate in translating the ending as dwelling in "the house of the Lord my whole life long", the KJV speaks more to eternity for a memorial as it reads, "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

My cup overflows.
Green pastures and still waters offer a peaceful setting that is helpful when thinking of eternal rest. These can apply to more than people.  One of our faithful dogs, Darwin, was a mixed breed of German Shepherd and Black Labrador.  He used to love swimming in our family pond near Stillwater.  It was enjoyable just to watch him go for a dip.  He would do lazy circles in the water and when he would get close to the shore, he would turn and head back out taking long slow strokes with his big paws.  You could tell that he just loved the water.

One of his favorite games was fetching a plastic fish on the end of Kyla's Barbie fishing pole.  You could cast it into the pond and Dar would go after it every time as you reeled it in.  If he caught it, he would bring it back to shore and would deposit it unharmed for another go.

I loved that dog!

Sometimes I wonder if I will see him again after this mortal life is over.  Will there be a large pack of dogs waiting for me?  It is comforting to think so.  I've heard some say that it wouldn't really be heaven without their beloved pets.  Since there is no way of knowing, I'm not going to argue against it.

Pets, just like people, can be emissaries of God's grace in our lives.  They may even help us through the dark valleys that everyone must walk from time to time.  We each experience God's presence in different ways.  I think the unconditional love of a dog has often expressed the Divine presence to me more times than I could count.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Sound of (sheer) Silence

Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-18 (NRSV)

Elijah is one of my favorite figures in the Bible.  In the previous chapter, he has a lot of courage to face down the prophets of Baal when he was so greatly outnumbered.  He trusts in God to see him through and God does not let him down.

That's why this story is so important.  After the dust settles, Queen Jezebel threatens his life because she was a supporter of Baal.

And even though he just had a victorious showdown with miraculous intervention, he fears for his life and heads for the hills.  As an outside observer, we want to shake some sense into Elijah and say, "After all you just witnessed, why would you run?"

But what makes this such a great story is that it shows Elijah as all-too human.  We all have moments of courage and cowardice.  We want to highlight our bravery and sweep the not-so-spectacular moments under the rug.  I would be happier if no one else knew anything about them.
There is something transcendent about
the high places on our planet.

Yet, the Biblical authors share these details precisely so we can connect with them.  To be afraid is to think with blinders on.  When we are afraid, our ability to make good decisions actually decreases substantially.  So Elijah runs away when maybe the best thing for him would be to stand firm in the Lord.

Elijah travels to the same mountain where Moses encountered God and received the 10 Commandments.  He sees a lot of flash in wind, earthquakes and fire but he doesn't perceive God in any of the chaos.  This reminds Oklahomans in particular that God is not sending tornadoes as retribution!

Rather, Elijah encounters God in the stillness following the turmoil.  The New Revised Standard Version relates a "sound of sheer silence."  The King James Version translates it as a "still small voice."  I think I prefer the new Common English Bible which states, "there was a sound. Thin. Quiet."

This reminds us that we can fill up the space in life with a lot of noise.  We can say a lot of words and phrases when we pray.  But maybe the most meaningful communication with God is when we can stop and listen.  When we hear nothing, our faith can allow a connection that is greater than the absence of sound.  It is mystical and it allows us to simply be.

Elijah interprets that God is not done with him yet.  In fact, he is not the only faithful person alive.  God begins to connect Elijah with others so that God's work can take on greater meaning.  But he might not have been able to hear this if he hadn't stopped running and stopped talking.  Good lessons to be learned almost three thousand years later!

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Witness to Resurrection

Lectionary Reading: Acts 2:14a, 22-32

The context of the world during the early days following the resurrection was very different religiously than it is today.  It is strange to think that the majority of people on the planet had never heard of Jesus.  Christians today often take it for granted that everyone within our culture knows at least some of the basics of our faith.

After all, even non-religious people celebrate Christmas.

How did we go from obscurity to dominant?

Peter mentions in the above reading that the disciples were all witnesses to the resurrection.  Of course, by the time the Acts of the Apostles was written, most of the witnesses to the resurrection were in the third and fourth generations.

Being a witness to the resurrection originally meant "eye-witness" as in "we saw Jesus risen from the dead."  As people heard Acts read to them, "all of us are witnesses," began to take on a different understanding.  They would have seen themselves as a part of the movement.  They are also witnesses to the resurrection because Christianity is a living faith.

The fact that they made this leap of understanding is evident because we are recipients of this faith today - a faith that crossed two millennia and an ocean.  The difficulty for Americans is that we grew up in a culture where the majority were already witnesses to the resurrection.  And so we began to assume that everyone was already part of the story.

This old Sunday school postcard  assumes
that the truant friend is "lost" while the
regulars are "found."  This may not be the kind of
witness we want to project today.
This dampens the urgency of sharing as a witness.  And so this led to the plateau of American Christianity which now finds itself in decline.

What does it mean for us to reclaim our identity as witnesses to the resurrection?  At some point, we must quit assuming that others claim the Christian faith.  The difficulty of sharing the faith is that when we were dominant, Christians sometimes adopted an arrogant stance.

How do we prioritize the sharing of faith while at the same time keeping an air of humility?  I believe it begins with the resurrection becoming a key part of our lives.  This means that the witness is something we don't aspire to do as much as how we go about living our lives.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Easter Sunday

Today's Reading: John 21:1-25 (NRSV)

Now that Lent has finished, the daily devotions here come to a close.  We have read through the entirety of John's Gospel.  The final chapter reads more like an addition - Paul Harvey's "The Rest of the Story" if you will.  That being said, it seems that most of the very early manuscripts we have of John include parts of the 21st chapter.

The regular order of the day doesn't
seem possible for those encountering
the Living Lord.
I like how the disciples kind of go back to business as usual when they go fishing. Was it all a dream?

It wasn't.  They find Jesus on the beach and he is cooking some fish.

Like Mary Magdalene, they don't really recognize him at first.

I wonder if they felt a little chagrined.  Jesus had told them that they would be fishing for people (although this was in Mark and Matthew) and here they are back to their old job.

The resurrection seems to be saying, "You can't go back to business as usual."

Now that our Lenten disciplines are over, it may be the same for us.  We may leave the scriptures untouched and unread for a time.  Yet while there may not be daily devotions posted here, it is still possible to read scripture daily.  This practice allows us to participate in the resurrection.

The resurrection not only colors the way we read the entire Gospel of John, but it colors the way we live.  Our lives should be changed along with our outlook.

Sometimes we may not really recognize Jesus but this may be due to the distractions which seem rather abundant.  When we set these aside, we too may proclaim with confidence, "It is the Lord!"

Prayer for the day:

God, give us eyes to see the beauty of the Spring,
And to behold Your majesty in every living thing -
And may we see in lacy leaves and every budding flower
The Hand that rules the universe with gentleness and power -
And may this Easter grandeur that Spring lavishly imparts
Awaken faded flowers of faith lying dormant in our hearts,
And give us ears to hear, dear God, the Springtime song of birds
With messages more meaningful than man's often empty words
Telling harried human beings who are lost in dark despair -
'Be like us and do not worry for God has you in His care.


    Helen Steiner Rice, 20th Century

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 40, Holy Saturday

Today's Reading: John 20:1-31 (NRSV)

We have the resurrection!  We are a day early but in order to get all of John finished by Easter Sunday, the schedule necessitated chapter twenty on Holy Saturday.

As we look at this entire chapter, we can see that we have the encounter with the empty tomb by Mary Magdalene and then by Peter and the beloved disciple.

Then we have three appearances of the risen Lord.  The first is to Mary Magdalene and then we have an appearance to the disciples sans Thomas and then one where Thomas is present.

As we look at this, we can see how our spiritual lives may have an individual encounter with God in some way as well as one in a group context such as worship.

For our personal encounters, we may want these to last longer or come more frequently. We hear Jesus tell Mary, "Do not hold on to me."  This doesn't mean that we shouldn't seek to encounter God but it may mean that these encounters are beyond our control. We would like God to operate on our time but that is a bit egocentric.  God operates on God's time.

There's something symbolic
about a lighthouse that fits
with John's Gospel!
We see this again as Thomas misses out on the first appearance.  What's interesting is that the other gospels have instances of doubting from multiple disciples and yet John only points out poor Thomas.  I think this story reminds me that different people encounter God in their own time - maybe in God's time which seems to depend on the person.

As we seek to serve the living Christ, it may be that we each have our moments where we don't recognize him or we doubt he is there at all. That is the value of being in a faith community. We lift one another up with a vision of what we could be as a Christian.  We know we are not always there but we can at least see where we are trying to go.  For those that aren't ready yet, we bring them along with us.

You'll notice that just becomes Thomas doesn't believe the way they do, they do not kick him out of the group.  He is still present the next week when Jesus returns.  We hold one another in the faith and sometimes we believe on their behalf until they may come to the faith themselves.

Prayer for the day:

Gracious God, even when we are in the darkness of death, our brothers and sisters in the faith remind us that "this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality."  We do this in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This allows our spirits to cry even in the face of grief and loss, "Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?"  We pray this in the name of the Living Lord.  Amen.

Prayer based on 1 Corinthians 15:53-55
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Friday, April 14, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 39, Good Friday

Today's Reading: John 31-42 (NRSV)

John includes some details of the crucifixion that we don't find in the other gospels. Verses 31-37 have no parallels.  What is it about these specifics that are important for John to include?

The standout for me is the piercing of the side of Jesus to make sure that he was really dead.  Blood and water pour out from his wound.  On one hand, this is a rather gruesome account.  It is almost as if we are adding more insult to the injuries we have put upon Jesus.  But I believe that John has other motives in giving us these particulars.
Blood, life and death
are often mixed together
for us in ways that are earthy
and quite clear.

Some in the early church claimed that Jesus didn't really suffer death but only seemed to suffer.  They believed he was spirit and so this shows that he was really flesh and blood.  For the same reasons, the Apostles' Creed states that Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried" so as to avoid any confusion around his mortality.

Some scholars have suggested that the blood and water that pour from Jesus remind us of the sacraments of Holy Communion ("This is my blood shed for you") and Baptism ("I will give you living water").  The sacraments offer new life that begins with the sacrificial life of Jesus Christ.

John also refers to Zechariah 12:10 which states,
And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.
All four gospels share that Joseph of Arimathea is the one to bury Jesus in the tomb. John adds Nicodemus as a helper who now tends to Jesus in the light of day.

As we consider our own role, it may be that Jesus is safer to tend to when he is dead rather than living.  When Jesus is dead, it is easier to assert our own will.  When Jesus is dead, our faith doesn't have to be challenging but rather becomes a comfort only.

As we think about the death of our Lord on this Good Friday, it may be helpful for us to confess how we have kept Jesus buried in the tomb from time to time.

Prayer for the day:

O Lord Jesus Christ,
take us to yourself,
draw us with cords to the foot of your cross;
for we have no strength to come,
and we know not the way.
You are mighty to save, and none can separate us from your love.
Bring us home to yourself, for we are gone astray.
We have wandered: do seek us.
Under the shadow of your cross let us live all the rest of our lives,
and there we shall be safe.  Amen.

    Frederick Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 19th century,

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 38, Maundy Thursday

Today's Reading: John 19:16-30 (NRSV)

The crucifixion of Jesus is reported differently in all four gospels.  Verse 17 stood out to me where it states that Jesus carried his own cross.  There is no mention of Simon of Cyrene who is featured in the other three accounts.  It is important to know that the early church interpreted the crucifixion in light of Psalm 22 which allows us insight into the suffering of the faithful.

Verse 18 reflects the desolation of having people cast lots for your clothing.  The shame of public nudity was difficult for this culture and it added to the humiliation of crucifixion.

John fills out the cast of women present at the cross and gives us dialogue with them. John names Mary, the mother of Jesus as being present.  Matthew lists Mary, the mother of James and Joseph and Mark lists Mary, the mother of James the younger and Joses. These are likely the same Mary.  This Mary is also likely the mother of Jesus.  When Matthew lists the brothers of Jesus, he begins with James and Joseph and when Mark lists them, he begins with James and Joses.  

We know that James, the brother of Jesus, becomes the head of the Jerusalem church. Could he be the beloved disciple who remains unnamed?  It does add credence to the verse, "Here is your son" because if he was the next oldest, the responsibility for care would go to him.  It is speculation but it is interesting.

Mourning loss is difficult.  It is
somewhat less difficult when shared with others.
As Jesus passes on responsibility for the care of his mother to the beloved disciple, how agonizing would this have been for Mary?  No one wants to outlive their children - this would be a special suffering that she would have to endure and as we read the conversation, you can imagine her anguish.

We know that when we are in the midst of grief, it may be that we can't even begin to think about resurrection.  For those times, it may be that we need to dwell in the grief for a season.  These verses remind us that isolation is not helpful for us when we are grieving.  Family comes together and Jesus sees to it that his mother is cared for.

The prayer for the day comes from the United Methodist Book of Worship for an untimely or tragic death:

Jesus our Friend, you wept at the grave of Lazarus,
   you know all our sorrows.
Behold our tears and bind up the wounds of our hearts.
Through the mystery of pain,
    bring us into closer communion with you and with one another.
Raise us from death into life.
And grant, in your mercy, that with our loved one, who has passed within the veil,
   we may come to live with you and with all whom we love,
   in our Father's home.  Amen.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 37, Wednesday of Holy Week

Today's Reading: John 19:1-16 (NRSV)

Pilate is an interesting figure.  There is apocryphal material written about Pilate claiming that he converted to Christianity.  The Ethiopian Orthodox Church went so far as to canonize him and now they view him as Saint Pilate.

Some scholars claim that the gospels softened Pilate in order to diffuse conflict with Roman authorities.  With the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, groups might have been hesitant to incur more wrath from the empire.

We know that Pilate served as the governor of Judea for Rome from 26 to 36 AD.  His main job would be to keep the peace and keep the tax dollars flowing back to Rome.  It seems that he was recalled to Rome in 36 after he bungled a riot in Samaria resulting in the deaths of many citizens there.

Within John's Gospel, Pilate is very hesitant to have Jesus killed.  John makes it to be all about the will of the Jewish people.  We do know that people were crucified for insurrection and revolt.  Rome was good about sending a pretty clear message to the populace about what happens to rebels.

Jesus suggests that this is all according to plan.  We have the idea that God wants this to happen or else it would not happen.  The danger in this philosophy is that if we apply this thought across the board and all tragedies are God's will, it doesn't put God in a very good light.

The narrative today makes one reflect on
innocence and guilt.  As we see the response
of the crowd, we must re-think our own
sense of innocence and guilt.
This begs the question, "Did God need a sacrifice for the atonement of humanity or did humanity need a sacrifice to accept forgiveness?"  John implies that it was God's will but this could be because God understands the needs of the people.  For a culture that was steeped in blood sacrifice, the death of Jesus makes sense in a way that may be somewhat confusing today.

Regardless of how we understand the death of Jesus today theologically, humanity continues to show a propensity for violence.  If we think that Christians are immune, we see that American Christians are largely in favor of capital punishment.  The church really didn't bat an eye about the Syrian missile strikes.  This is not to debate the pros and cons of these actions, merely to show that we have a fairly nonchalant attitude when it comes to dealing in death.

What does it mean to go along with the crowd today?  Do innocent people still suffer when we do?
The prayer for the day was written by Bishop Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, who was an Anglican leader in Iran.  It was written for the funeral of his son, Bahram when he was murdered during the Iranian Revolution in the 1970's.

Prayer for the day:

O God, we remember not only Bahram but his murderers.  Not because they killed him in the prime of his youth and made our hearts bleed and our tears flow;

Not because with this savage act they have brought further disgrace on the name of our country among the civilized nations of the world;

But because through their crime we now follow more closely thy footsteps in the way of sacrifice.

The terrible fire of this calamity burns up all selfishness and possessiveness in us.  Its flame reveals the depth of depravity, meanness and suspicion, the dimension of hatred and the measure of sinfulness in human nature;

It makes obvious as never before our need to trust in thy love as shown in the cross of Jesus and his resurrection,

Love that makes us free from all hatred towards our persecutors;

Love which brings patience, forbearance, courage, loyalty, humility, generosity and greatness of heart;

Love which more than ever deepens our trust in God’s final victory and his eternal designs for the Church and for the world;

Love which teaches us how to prepare ourselves to face our own day of death.

O God,

Bahram’s blood has multiplied the fruit of the Spirit in the soil of our souls: so when his murderers stand before Thee on the Day of Judgment, remember the fruit of the Spirit by which they have enriched our lives, and forgive.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 36, Tuesday of Holy Week

Today's Reading: John 18:28-40 (NRSV)

Alcoholics Anonymous is for
people who are ready to confront the truth
even though it is difficult.
If Jesus were found guilty of blasphemy in a Jewish court, they could stone him to death under Jewish law.  However, they tell Pilate that they aren't allowed to engage in capital punishment.  Under Roman law, only the Roman government could execute someone for a crime.

So when Pilate questions Jesus, he is not concerned about blasphemy which was not punishable by death.  Pilate is concerned with sedition which could easily bring with it a death sentence.  And so rather than ask if Jesus is the Son of God, he asks him if he is the King of the Jews.

Jesus is coy and speaks of a spiritual rather than an earthly kingdom.  Jesus is about the truth.

Pilate asks the famous question, "What is truth?"

Philosophically if Jesus is the truth, Pilate may be asking as to the nature of Jesus.

Sometimes what is true is painful.

Sometimes what is true is difficult.

Sometimes what is true is beautiful.

Sometimes what is true is more real than anything else we've known.

The people are offered a choice.  Jesus or Barabbas.  Of course, bar = son and abba = father and so we have Jesus (identified as the Son of the Father) or Barabbas (which means son of the father).  One represents truth and the other represents violence.  It is unfortunate how often we side with what destroys rather than what builds up.

Prayer for the day:

From the cowardice that dares not face new truth,
from the laziness that is contented with half-truth,
from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth, 
Good Lord, deliver me.   Amen.

     Prayer from Kenya

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 35, Monday of Holy Week

Today's Reading: John 18:19-27 (NRSV)

Jesus is defending himself against formal questioning.  He does not change his story or try to pretend to be someone he is not.  He doesn't deny his identity but basically states, "What you see is what you get."

"You've arrested me for what I've already done and said.  You know it and I know it."

Sometimes when we state the obvious, it is upsetting.  And so they struck him for impertinence.

At this point we know that Jesus cannot win here.  He tells them basically that he's taught what they think he taught.  He says, "If you're hitting me for this, I think you would hit me for anything."

We can see that the injustice is that the trial is a facade.  Jesus knows it and we can see it too.

What is fascinating here is how John plays this scene off Peter's second denial.

What if everyone were so upfront?
So while Jesus never wavers from being authentic, Peter is shown as being false.

As we see the human condition, we understand that it is often quite difficult for us to be truly real all of the time. There are situations where we may be afraid to reveal too much of ourselves for fear of how others will react.

As we consider the journey of Jesus to the cross, we remind ourselves that the suffering we face in this life will only be compounded if we are not honest with ourselves and those we encounter.

Prayer for the day:

Almighty God, Who alone gives us the breath of life, and alone can keep alive in us the breathing of holy desires, we beseech You for Your compassion's sake to sanctify all our thoughts and endeavors, that we may neither begin any action without a pure intention, nor continue it without Your blessing; and grant that, having the eyes of our understanding purged to behold things invisible and unseen, we may in heart be inspired with Your wisdom, and in work be upheld by Your strength, and in the end be accepted of You, as Your faithful servants, having done all things to Your glory, and thereby to our endless peace.  Grant this prayer, O Lord.  Amen.

            Rowland Willams, Church of England, 19th Century

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Sixth Sunday in Lent: Palm/Passion Sunday

Today's Reading: John 18:1-18 (NRSV)

If you are looking for Jesus hoping for a way out of his path of suffering and crucifixion, you won't find it in John's Gospel.  Rather than praying for release from drinking the cup of suffering, Jesus berates Peter for attempting to keep him from it.

While the synoptic gospels portray a reluctance that is backed by faith (thy will be done), John sees Jesus as in charge here.  Those coming to arrest Jesus even fall over when he tells them that he is Jesus of Nazareth.  These men are not in charge here but allowed to take Jesus under guard.

Peter is able to find comfort by warming
his hands by the fire in contrast to Jesus who
is cold and isolated.
We don't see the disciples fleeing in fear but rather we have an unnamed disciple that seems to follow the proceedings.  He even brings Peter closer and we begin to have his denial of Jesus.

The denial seems to make more sense if they were trying to hide their identities. Wouldn't the guards recognize Peter since he just cut off the ear of the high priest's slave?

For us, it is much easier to follow Jesus when there is no danger involved.  Our biggest concern may be whether to skip worship in favor of the latest event going on.  But if Jesus moves us into situations where our safety might be at risk, we may not be so sure about claiming him.  If we find ourselves fearful of people from other countries invading our space, will we be quick to quote Jesus saying, "you welcomed the stranger and so you welcomed me"?

There are many ways in which we deny our Lord too.  The beauty of John's Gospel is that he reminds us that within the greater story, Jesus Christ is in charge.  This is always a good thing for us to remember!

Prayer for the day:

O Lord my God, I thank you that you have brought this day to its close. I thank you that you give rest to body and soul. Your hand has been over me, guarding me and preserving me. Forgive my feeble faith and all the wrong I have done this day, and help me to forgive all who have wronged me. Grant that I may sleep in peace beneath your care, and defend me from the temptations of darkness. Into your hands I commend my loved ones, I commend this household. I commend my body and soul.  O God, may your name be praised.  Amen.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th Century

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