Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Daily Devotion for Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Daily Scripture Reading: Proverbs 30:1-9

Key verse for today: Proverbs 30:8b-9.  Don’t give me either poverty or wealth; give me just the food I need. Or I’ll be full and deny you, and say, “Who is the LORD?”  Or I’ll be poor and steal, and dishonor my God’s name.

Moderation in all things.

It's a good rule to live by but not necessarily an easy one.

We pray this in the prayer Jesus taught us: "Give us this day our daily bread."

Copyright © Erin Hanson 2007-2010
I believe that my basic instincts drive me to want more than I need.  It's a matter of storing up for the winter.  We all go into survival mode.  Except that we don't live in a hunter-gatherer society anymore.

When I gather the excess fat, my body is not going to later experience a period of famine and burn it off.

In a more extreme sense, I do this with my buying power.  I purchase to fulfill.  And then when I'm unsatisfied, I go shopping again.

I don't believe that ambition is bad.  I don't believe that we can't enjoy the good things in life.  But I do believe that these things are not the main things.

Where is the main area in your life that you struggle with simplicity?

Breath prayer for today: O Jesus, you are enough.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Daily Devotion for Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Today's Scripture Reading: Job 5:8-27

Today's Key Verse, Job 5:15 "Yet God rescues the orphan from the sword of their mouth, the needy from the grip of the strong; "

But what about when this isn't true?

As a post-enlightenment thinker (as we all are in the West), we tend to think in absolutes.  We often see the world in binary terms - black or white, on or off.  

When I see a verse like this in Job, making claims about God, my mind wanders to those who have faced tragedy where their loved ones weren't saved.

An Ohio Highway Patrol helicopter takes off from
the rear of Chardon High School in Chardon on Monday.
Associated Press photo
I think about sixteen year old Daniel Parmertor who was shot to death yesterday in Chardon, Ohio by a neighboring student.  How would his parents view this verse?

And so we may need to re-examine these verses in Job.  The danger is to take this passage out of context.  And the context is that Job knows exactly how Mr. & Mrs. Parmertor are feeling - he has lost everything including his own children.

Furthermore, Job is not the one speaking in today's text - it is his friend Eliphaz.  These words are lifted up to show that sometimes justice doesn't occur in all situations.  The reader knows that Job is innocent from the beginning of the book.  And we hear these words that are common theology for much of the world: you get what you deserve.  We observe that they aren't true in all situations from the very nature of Job's story.

And yet, Eliphaz is affirming his faith in who he believes God to be.  Fundamentally, God is the one that rescues the orphan and the needy.  In my finest moments, I too embrace these characteristics of God because the world has been touched by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

Our faith acknowledges that there are times in life when we face the cross.  Such as right now for the Parmetors.  Yet, our faith also nudges us past the cross - in time we see that resurrection will touch us too.  This moves me past the absolutes and into the realm of faith.  

I don't think Job appreciated the timing of Eliphaz's words but maybe the words needed to be said.  Because what everyone needs when they are facing the cross is hope.  

How will your words or actions share this hope today?

Breath prayer for today: Holy Spirit, comfort my neighbors.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Daily Devotion for Monday, February 27, 2012

Today's Daily Scripture Reading: Psalm 77

Key verse: Psalm 77:9 "Has God forgotten how to be gracious?  Has he angrily stopped up his compassion?” "

When I was twelve years old, I tore up the Achilles tendon on my right foot in a motorcycle accident.  It required several surgeries before I was able to walk again.  Overall I spent about six months off my feet.  If you've ever seen me at the pool, you've likely noticed the scar I carry to this day.

The worst moment for me was during the hospital stay after the second surgery when the doctor ordered bed rest.  I wasn't even allowed to use the bathroom.  It was my first introduction to a bedpan.

As a 12 year old adolescent, it was somehow embarrassing and shameful to me that someone else would have to take care of me this way.  I had never had to rely on others that way and the sheer frustration made me so angry that it brought tears to my eyes.

I've always had an independent streak.

As I've matured, I've realized that we all come to depend on one another during different times in our lives.  There are times we are in need and times when we can help others.  

But it is the moment when we are in need that we may feel God's absence rather than God's presence.  These are the times as in today's Psalm, that we find the rhythm of faith draws us back to God even when we are suffering.

And when things are going well, sometimes we simply pray for danger to pass us by.  I like how Fiona Apple expresses this prayer in this old song from 1931, "River Stay Away from My Door"

Breath Prayer for Today: Holy Spirit, give me strength for today.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Daily Devotion for Sunday, February 26, 2012

Scripture for Today: Mark 1:9-15

Key Verse: Mark 1:12 "At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness."

Christ in the Wilderness by Ivan Kramskoy, 1872

Have you ever been forced to do something you didn't want to do?

Matthew and Luke tell the same story with a little more detail and used the verb "led" rather than "forced" when referring to the interaction of Jesus and the Spirit.  Scholars agree that Mark is the earliest of the Gospel accounts.  Maybe Matthew and Luke didn't like to think of Jesus being forced to do anything.

When I was in college, I lived on the second floor of Parker Hall.  I did study there occasionally but learned to go to the library if I really needed to clamp down.  There were just too many distractions in the dorm.  One of them was a young man who liked to come and visit.  I'm not sure what his major was but he always seemed to have plenty of free time.  He would go from room to room and didn't really take hints very well.

Once, I was trying to study for an early morning exam the next day and he stopped by.  I got ready for bed while he was talking to me - he followed me into the bathroom while I brushed my teeth.  He followed me back in to my room while I got dressed for bed.  I turned all the lights out except for a small bedside lamp and got into bed.  He continued to talk.  I finally had to tell him that I was going to sleep now and I would see him in the morning.

Later, I discovered that if you locked the door and told him that he couldn't leave, you couldn't keep him in the room if you tried.  He would wrestle you like a madman to get out.  This was rather cruel and I'm not at all proud of it but it does show some interesting human behavior.  We don't like to be forced to do anything against our will.

Human beings like to have self-determination.

And yet, the Spirit forces Jesus into the wilderness.  He just had to go.

I would rather be led than forced to do anything.  But then I have to stop and ask myself the question, "How often do I allow myself to be led?"

Breath Prayer: Gentle Spirit, lead me on your path.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Daily Devotion for Saturday, February 25, 2012

Scripture for today: Matthew 9:2-13

Key verse for today: Matthew 9:5 "Which is easier—to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?"

When I was fourteen years old, I was a summer camp leader at our United Methodist 6th Grade camp for the Oklahoma Conference.  It was before Safe Sanctuaries.  

I was placed in charge of a cabin of five boys.  It was my responsibility to get them to bed on time with the lights out and get them up for breakfast as well as lead them in our small group time with the girls' cabin that we were paired with.

My co-leader was a woman who was much older - she must have been 21 or 22 years old at the time.

Things went pretty well and then at the end of the week, some of the older camp leaders (the ones in their twenties) were talking about sneaking out after the kids went to sleep.  They were going to raid the cafeteria for a late-night snack.  I thought this sounded like a grand idea and wanted to join them.  I waited until I thought my boys were asleep and then snuck out and waited by the creek.

No one showed up and then I saw a man walking my way.  It was dark and I approached him.  

Then I realized it was the dean.  

He asked me what I was doing out of my cabin.  "Who is watching your boys?"

I didn't have any kind of good answer and he sent me off to bed.  The dean didn't berate me or belittle me but I could tell he wasn't happy either.  In fact, I didn't get into any serious type of trouble but I felt like I had not lived up to my responsibilities (especially being the youngest on staff).  

I was asked to come back and serve again the next year.  I did so happily and was thankful to be given another chance.

Sometimes we let our sin get in the way of our service.  It may keep us from being all that we are called to be.  It also makes me wonder, "Who am I holding back because of how I view them?"

Breath Prayer for today: Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Daily Devotion for Friday, February 24

Scripture for today: 2 Timothy 4:1-5

Key verse for today: 2 Timothy 4:3 "There will come a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. They will collect teachers who say what they want to hear because they are self-centered."

About five years ago, a big seller at Sam's Club was the DVD, "The Secret".  

We received a copy of it and so I watched it but with a pastor's critical eye.  I'm always a little skeptical about "the latest thing".  It seemed to me to be a repackaging of the power of positive thinking except that the goal was to focus on desires of the self.

This has been the opposite of what I've tried to practice as a Christian.  The whole idea of the cross and resurrection is to die to ourselves and find rebirth and freedom in the love of God and neighbor.  

We all struggle with desires of the self.  As I consider my walk with Jesus Christ during Lent, the question I ask today is, "Where in my life has my own desire become an idol?"

Breath Prayer for today: O Lord, let me see beyond myself.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Daily Devotion for Thursday, February 23

Scripture reading for today: 1 John 1:3-10

Key verse from reading: 1 John 1:8, "If we claim, “We don’t have any sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."

When's the last time you listened to a street preacher if ever?

I was a freshman in college, walking through the park near Theta Pond and there was a large crowd gathered around a public preacher.  He called himself "Brother Jim" and it was quite a spectacle.  He was loud and animated in a geeky kind of way because he was so tall and lanky.  He considered himself a prophet and was very derogatory to the student body - most of the women were called "whores" while the men were referred to as "whore-mongers".  

It was not a preaching with which I connected but it did draw me in - kind of like when people slow down at the scene of an accident - we are morbidly curious creatures.

Someone quoted to him Jesus' famous passage from Matthew 7:1, "Don't judge, so that you won't be judged." (CEB).  He replied that he didn't mind being judged because he no longer sinned.

At this point, he lost all credibility with the crowd.  You could see it slip away.  What esteem I held for him for at least living out his convictions turned to a kind of pity in that he was deceiving himself.  

During Lent, we are invited to examine our own sin.  There are times when I deceive myself about my own behavior or its consequences.  It's easier to make someone like Brother Jim a target when he makes these claims out loud.

But the harder thing to do is to ask, "When am I making these claims about myself?"

Breath prayer for today: O Lamb of God, have mercy upon me.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Daily Devotion for Ash Wednesday, February 22

Scripture reading for today: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Key verse from reading: Matthew 6:21, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

When I was an undergraduate at Oklahoma State University, I took a religion class on the New Testament.  It was in this class that I wrote my first sermon using today's scripture from Matthew.  Now this was long before I had decided to be a pastor but I must have felt drawn toward it before I even realized it (there's that preceding grace again).

My instructor was a United Methodist minister but I had never met him before.  My assignment wasn't really a sermon but it was what Biblical scholars call an exegesis which is a critical analysis of a particular Bible passage.  But it was my first exegesis and was pretty close to a sermon since that's what I'd heard all my life.  I received an A+ on the assignment and was pretty blown away by the grade.  It was one of the signs in my life pointing me toward ministry as a profession.

I believe that God calls all of us to some form of ministry.  Some of us are set aside as clergy, but in our baptism, God calls each of us to reach out to the world as we seek to faithfully follow Christ.  So as the season of Lent begins and we become introspective in our faith, what do you think God is calling you to do as a follower of Jesus Christ?

Breath Prayer for today: Gracious God, lead my heart to you.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Daily Devotions for Lent

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ!

I will be publishing daily devotions on this blog site starting on Ash Wednesday, February 22nd!  I've always encouraged our congregation to have a Lenten discipline.  I think that I've come to prefer adding something to your life rather than giving something up although I won't be upset if that's what you choose to do!

I will be using one of the scriptures from the Daily Lectionary Readings which follow along with the Seasons of the Church within the Revised Common Lectionary.

I will also feature a breath prayer for use throughout the day.  I'll be featuring a link to this daily devotion through Facebook status and Twitter updates to make it easily accessible. I would love to read in the comments section what you are planning to do for Lent!