Saturday, March 31, 2012

Daily Devotion for Saturday, March 31, 2012

Today's Scripture Reading: Mark 10:32-34, 46-52

Key Verse for Today: Mark 10:50, "Throwing his coat to the side, he jumped up and came to Jesus."

What does it mean to trust?  Bartimaeus certainly trusted Jesus.  Today's verse stood out to me because this blind man threw his coat to the side.  This seems like kind of reckless behavior for someone who is blind.

Healing of a Blind Man by Brian Jekel
Wouldn't you keep your possessions about you so that you could find them again?  I certainly don't think you would throw them to the side.

Unless you expected to see again.

That's some pretty bold trust going on in this story.  I wonder, "when have I ever trusted like that?"

When I wrote about my own mystical experience of God a couple of days ago, it was certainly profound.  It made a major impact upon my life. But as wonderful as it was, doubt still sometimes creeps in.

Did it really happen like that?

Was it God or was it my own longing for God that effected my senses like that?

These kinds of questions are fairly natural for anyone raised in the latter part of the 20th century.  We are taught to question which is helpful for scientific inquiry.  But it may get in the way when it comes to trust.

There were times when I sought out a similar experience.  I would hike and pray and meditate at Camp Egan in the years to come.  Once, while I was sitting under a small overhang, my prayers were cut short by some baby armadillos that were sniffing at me as their heads bobbed up and down.  I grinned at them and they eventually went back into their den.

Armadillos don't see very well.  Kind of like Bartimaeus.

But they trusted their smell to know that I wasn't a normal part of their world.

I realized that my desire for a repeat experience was simply a lack of trust.  The experiences we have may be varied and they don't have to be any less wonderful for being different.

Maybe coming to this understanding is a kind of trust.

I've thrown my need for an exact recurrence to the side like Bartimaeus threw his coat.

What is it that you need to cast aside before approaching Jesus?

Breath Prayer: Holy God, let me trust you.

The more we know about God's creation, the more we know about God.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Daily Devotion for Friday, March 30, 2012

Scripture Reading for today: Philippians 2:12-18

Key Verse for Today: Philippians 2:15b-16a, "Among these people (crooked and corrupt) you shine like stars in the world because you hold on to the word of life."

Paul wrote these words a long time ago.  The church grew and spread across the Mediterranean World largely because they were true.  What does it mean to shine like stars?  What does it mean to hold on to the word of life?

With the decline of Christianity in Europe and now the United States, will our faith shrink to a voice that has no power to shape our culture?  Some would argue that it already has.  I beg to differ.

There are many faithful Christians in the world today that hold on to the word of life.  And they do so in many different ways.

As a child, I remember our 5th grade Sunday school teacher.  He was a big guy who was there every week.  We were not the easiest class to teach.  We were on the 3rd floor and the windows opened to the parking lot. Many a paper airplane constructed from worship bulletins was launched from that window.  

1988 was the year
they began to use plastic
jars instead of glass.

Once before class, when we were having a food drive, we were inspecting all of the food that had been collected so far.  While holding onto a jar of peanut butter, I dropped it.  The glass jar shattered (yes, it was a long time ago) but the peanut butter held it together.  So we carefully placed it back in the boxes of food, thinking that if they were really hungry, they might go ahead and use it.

Our teacher came in and did discover it.  However, he didn't yell or call us idiots or irresponsible.  He seemed disappointed and said, "We can't give that" and promptly threw it away.  I felt like I let him down and I learned more about compassion for others than if he had raged at us.  I began to care about the hungry because he cared about them.  He shone like a star.  He held on to the word of life.

I think Earth Wind and Fire wrote Shining Star with this scripture in mind.  I don't have any proof but it fits for me: 

                 So if you find yourself in need
                 Why dontcha listen to these words of heed
                 Be a giant, or grain of sand
                 Words of wisdom - "Yes, I can"

Elijah once prayed to God how he was the only faithful person left.  God informed him that there were 7,000 left who were faithful.  In essence, God was saying, "There is the perfect number left for me to do what needs to be done."  

You are likely a part of the perfect number of faithful that God needs to work with to do what needs to be done today.  So hold on to the word of life.  You never know who will see you shining!

Breath prayer: Light of Christ, shine through me.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Daily Devotion for Thursday, March 29, 2012

Today's Scripture Reading: Philippians 2:1-11

Key verse for today: Philippians 2:5, "Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus"

Notice that the expression is not a peaceful one.
Humility is a fruit of the spirit (often translated as gentleness) that may not be valued very highly in our culture.  When I was a young man in my college years, I had a propensity for profanity.  Not all the time but I didn't mind dropping some R rated language here or there.

I had come to the conclusion philosophically that language is just about ideas.  What some might consider inappropriate can easily be translated into an acceptable word or phrase.  For example, some parts of the reproductive organs of the human anatomy have plenty of potty synonyms.  But you can also look up the technical terms in the dictionary.  What makes one okay but another naughty?

I decided that desensitizing people wouldn't hurt them.

Except that it does.

With apologies to Jane's Addiction, being shocking for shockings' sake is not very humble.  It puts my own sense of moral certainty at the top of the heap and doesn't regard the feelings or sensitivities of others.

It took a while to learn this but I finally did.

This is one of the reasons I try to be politically correct when talking about other people.  I know this is a dirty phrase in and of itself in Oklahoma but it really means just treating people how they want to be treated.  

Paul asks us all to adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.  This attitude was one of service to others.

There are lots of ways to serve.  Watching what we say in deference to the feelings of others is one way of humble service that brings us peace.

Which is not a bad thing at all.

When do you need to tame your tongue?

Breath prayer: Loving Christ, show me the way.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Daily Devotion for Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Today's Scripture Reading: John 12:34-50

Key verse for today: John 12:37, "Jesus had done many miraculous signs before the people, but they didn't believe in him."

I had a crisis of faith in high school.  As a student of the Bible, I was confused as to why God seemed to speak to all of these people long ago but remained silent in the present. While I was participating in a guided meditation in the chapel at Camp Egan, I began to pray in earnest to God.  Well, it was more about testing God which I realize that Jesus says not to do!

The last Saturn V launch in 1973
I made a deal that God should speak in a clearly audible voice to me by the time I counted down from ten.  Yes, I realize now that it seems pretty presumptuous.  I think the counting backwards from ten was influenced by all the NASA coverage from the 70's.

As I started off, I figured that God would play into the suspense and not rush it.  When I started getting close to zero, I began to get a little nervous.  I was thinking, "Come on, God, say something!"

I reached zero without hearing anything except the continued voice of the person in charge of the guided meditation.

I thought to myself, "Well, is that it for God?"

And then I heard the silence.  I don't know if the meditation was over or not but I no longer heard it.

I began to hear the evening sounds of the camp outside the chapel: the trickle of the creek running through camp, the frogs and the crickets and the cicadas beginning to call to one another, the bird song.  All of these sounds seem to be magnified and a great feeling of peace washed over me.  It was as if God was saying, "I've been talking to you all along, you just haven't been listening."

This taught me a couple of things.  One is that God doesn't speak on demand.  The other is that God's presence is often more subtle than we think and we may need to spend some time looking for it.

As human beings, sometimes we have trouble believing in God.  We often may think, "well, if Jesus were here in the flesh, it would be easy to believe."  But today's Gospel lesson shows us that this is not necessarily the case.  Faith does not always come easy. If it did, I suppose it would be proof not faith.

When's the last time you've spent in prayer just listening?

Breath prayer: Holy God, give me ears to hear.

Cicadas can sound divine

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Daily Devotion for Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Scripture Reading for Today: Isaiah 44:1-8

Key verse for today: Isaiah 44:3, "I will pour out water upon thirsty ground and streams upon dry land.  I will pour out my spirit upon your descendants and my blessing upon your offspring."

A rocky stream in Hawaii - not a bad place
to enjoy the gift of water
After the summer we experienced in Oklahoma, it is easy to see how water becomes associated with God's spirit and blessing.  For the people who lived in Isaiah's age, water was important to a much greater magnitude.  Importing food from other areas was much more difficult and costly.

Hundreds of years after Isaiah, when Jesus spoke of living water - running water used as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit - this image makes good sense to people in an arid climate.  

God's promise of pouring out the Holy Spirit as well as blessing upon us may be something in which we fail to immerse ourselves. I'm reminded of the song, Toes by Norah Jones:

                 The current is strong from what I've heard
                 It'll whisk you down the stream
                 But I never seem to have the time
                 So my toes just touch the water
                 My toes just touch the water

We may be reluctant recipients of God's grace.  Could it be that we would rather not be beholden to God?  We would rather not acknowledge grace in our lives because then it is easier to ignore God's call upon us.  We dip a toe in the water rather than jumping in whole-heartedly!

How have you experienced God's blessing in your life? And the follow-up meddling question: what are you doing about it?

Breath Prayer: Jesus, give me living water.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Daily Devotion for Monday, March 26, 2012

Today's Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:4-11

Key verse from today's reading: 2 Corinthians 3:6, "He has qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not based on what is written but on the Spirit, because what is written kills, but the Spirit gives life."

How do we know if we are following the Spirit?

It was the spring of 1989 and I was at Canyon Camp attending the Student Spring Gathering.  This consisted of United Methodist college students from across the state. The leaders had set up a fish bowl exercise.  In this, only those sitting in one of the four middle chairs are aloud to speak.  All others sit around the outside.  If you would like to make a point in the discussion, you must tap the shoulder of someone speaking.  When they are through making their point, they must trade places with you, giving you a chance to speak.

The discussion centered around the Heinz dilemma originally written by Lawrence Kohlberg:

"In Europe, a woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to make. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug.

The sick woman's husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $ 1,000 which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said: "No, I discovered the drug and I'm going to make money from it." So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man's store to steal the drug-for his wife. Should the husband have done that?" (Kohlberg, 1963).

How does one determine what to do at this point?  The two sides of the fish bowl became those that thought Heinz should steal the drug and those that thought he shouldn't.  I argued on the side that said he should steal the drug.  My logic at the time was that human life was more valuable than property.  One of the opposing arguments was from the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not steal.

I argued that Jesus himself broke the Law on the Sabbath stating that the Sabbath was created for human beings not the other way around (Mark 2:27).  

"So you just decide which parts of the Bible you will obey and which you won't?"

Sermon of the Beatitudes
James J. J. Tissot
"Yes, of course."

"Well, how do you decide that?"

"I use other scripture, traditions of the church, my experience and my reason."

This is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and is used by United Methodists to wrestle with tough choices.  Today's scripture invites us to consider how God is continuing to work in our lives.  When I find myself at odds with a tough decision, it may be that scripture could fall on both sides of the argument.  When that happens, we usually have scriptures that we regard more highly.  For instance, the Sermon on the Mount would hold more esteem in my life than the writings of the prophet Obadiah. Both are scripture but Jesus' sermon is more universally applicable than the judgment of Edom.  

The way of discipleship is often the way that asks more of you.  The Holy Spirit leads us in this way and it produces the fruit of the spirit within us as well, namely, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). If we aren't finding these characteristics blossoming in our lives, we may be headed down the wrong path.

How is the Holy Spirit giving you life?

Breath Prayer: Holy Spirit, show me what is true.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Daily Devotion for Sunday, March 25, 2012

Scripture for today: Hebrews 5:5-10

Key verse from today's reading: Hebrews 5:9, "After he had been made perfect, he became the source of salvation for everyone who obeys him."

Hebrews is not my favorite book of the Bible.

I think this is because it is a theological work explaining Jesus to a Jewish audience using metaphors with which they would have been comfortable.  The image of sacrifice works with a group of people for whom sacrifice explained God's blessing.  Not growing up with ritual sacrifice, it seems foreign to me.
The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt

Many sacrifices were unblemished.  Some were ritualized for specific festivals and others were freewill offerings.  They could be for ceremonial reasons or because of transgression of purity or the law.

Sacrifices could be grain or drink offerings or they might involve blood letting of animals.

They involved peace offerings but also atonement for sin.

The author of Hebrews is the first to record Jesus as sinless.  Hebrews works as a metaphor of Jesus serving as our sacrifice.  In a way this helps us move past the understanding that God requires ritual sacrifice:

"We have been made holy by God's will through the offering of Jesus Christ's body once for all." (Hebrews 10:10, CEB).

This statement shows that we no longer need to sacrifice on the altar.  It moves us past the idea that God regularly requires blood.  Of course the prophets had been trying to move us in this direction for hundreds of years.

It is this powerful metaphor of the sacrifice of a human being that seems to stick with us and transcend culture.  How do we still relate to this image of the blood of Jesus when we don't regularly sacrifice animals?  It may be that it touches something fundamental in human beings.

Maybe, Hebrews isn't my favorite because it is a reminder of the darkness of humanity and thus, my own darkness.  The darkness that would require blood whether or not God asks it.

After all, Jesus states in the story of healing the paralytic, "Which is easier - to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk?'" (Matthew 9:5, CEB).

Grace is difficult to understand; to perceive; to accept.  And so human beings turned to the cross but God counters with resurrection.  I don't fully comprehend grace and often seek to earn my own righteousness.  The metaphor of the sacrifice of Jesus reminds me that the grace of God is a gift that is unearned.

The gift freely given.  No wonder this book is hard.

Breath prayer: Mysterious God, help me to see grace.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Daily Devotion for Saturday, March 24, 2012

Scripture Reading for Today: John 12:1-11

Key Verse from today's reading: John 12:10, "The chief priests decided that they would kill Lazarus too."
Raising of Lazarus
by Carel Fabritius, 1645

What was the testimony of Lazarus?  It must have been impressive.  The chief priests didn't like it because it was giving the Jesus movement credibility.

Would his death refute this miracle?  It would no longer come from the horse's mouth so to speak which would take away some credibility.  So it would seem that the chief priests didn't believe it to be real - they must have thought Lazarus was lying.

Either that or this piece of evidence didn't fit with their world-view so they simply would not allow themselves to believe it.

Sometimes people are like this.

The Flat Earth Society comes to mind.

What about when people are in huge debt and continue to charge wants (not needs) on their credit cards?

What about when Christians take poetic or symbolic passages of the Bible literally but do not follow through on the implications?

For instance, I once threw down the gauntlet to some college students studying Revelation.  They were taking it literally and believed that giant mutant Locusts were going to come and eat their non-believing neighbors.  I suggested that if they truly believed that this was going to actually happen then they needed to be telling their friends about the imminent danger instead of sitting around talking about it.

Self-righteousness: 1, Humility: 0.

And yet as a Christian, I truly believe that following Jesus Christ is life-changing.  And if I truly believe this (part of my world-view), why would I not share this with every other person I encounter who doesn't follow Christ?

I'm not suggesting the annoying approach where I drive people away by being too overbearing, but maybe changing up how I portray myself to where my Christianity isn't so subtle.

Otherwise, the chief priests and I are both attempting a cover-up.

It only differs in degrees.

Breath Prayer: Loving Jesus, love through me.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Daily Devotion for Friday, March 23, 2012

Today's Scripture: Hebrews 4:14-5:4

Key Verse: Hebrews 5:2, "The high priest is able to deal gently with the ignorant and those who are misled since he himself is prone to weakness."

Billy Joel throwing a stone at Scott Sharp's house.
As a pastor, I understand that I live in a glass house more so than most.  I have to watch what I do and say in public knowing that people are watching me differently than they would someone who is not ordained. When I post something on Facebook, I have to be careful as to how it might be perceived.

For example, in an earlier post, I mentioned Asia Kliewer Frye as being at a worship service in Drummond when she was a youth.  She commented on my link that she didn't remember it. My initial response was to post something along the lines of "It's probably because you were drunk".  This would have been funny because Asia didn't get wasted on the weekends and was a really good student.  Those that knew her then would know this.  However, others that didn't know her in high school might have taken the comment seriously (she works with youth at a church in Kansas).  Others may have looked at my comment and thought that I was endorsing underage drinking.

You can see the problems here.

I think that some people are waiting for pastors to mess up because of the clergy that seem so self-righteous.  Especially the ones that like to wag the finger.  I've never preached at people where I take myself out of the equation.  When I talk about sin, I place myself squarely in the middle of the conversation.

Unfortunately, there have been a lot who have thrown stones at others only to be caught in some type of scandal - 1988 anyone?

The Roman Catholic Church has suffered an image problem in relation to their own scandals with abuse.  Priest jokes in poor taste abound.  The United Methodist Church isn't immune to scandal either.  In fact, all denominations have pastors that mess up royally.  I think this is because all pastors are human beings.

As a human being, I will make mistakes.  But I also realize this and will attempt to deal gently with others because I know it is easy to slip up.

This is not a confessional and I don't expect to see my name in the newspapers anytime soon.  It is an attempt to show a little compassion toward others who sin.  We all sin and fall short of the glory of God.  Even pastors.

What if we all worked on dealing more gently with one another regardless of occupation?

Breath prayer: Gracious God, let your mercy take root.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Daily Devotion for Thursday, March 22, 2012

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 30:15-18

Key Verse: Isaiah 30:15, "Therefore, the LORD God, the holy one of Israel, says: In return and rest you will be saved; quietness and trust will be your strength - but you refused."

When I was first coming before the Board of Ordained Ministry to be ordained a deacon (the old system), I was required to submit a cassette tape (what's that?) of a sermon that I had preached.  Rev. Jane Brooks was the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Watkinsville, Georgia where we attended while Sheryl and I lived in Athens.  Rev. Brooks allowed me to preach in her pulpit which was very gracious.

I told a joke and drew it out way too long (Rev. Sandy Wylie pointed out in my interview that a lot of the congregation had probably heard it - it would be better not to belabor the point).  I agreed and kind of cringe thinking about those early sermon efforts!

Here's the joke (short version):

A man was in a region undergoing flash flooding.  They decided to evacuate the area and a jeep came by his house.  He decided not to go stating, "The Lord will save me."

The waters continued to rise and he was forced to the second story of his home.  A rescue boat came by the window and tried to convince him to get in.  He wouldn't budge, telling them, "The Lord will save me."

As the waters continued to rise, he moved to the roof of his house and a helicopter came to get him out.  He yelled up at them, "Go and help someone else - the Lord will save me!"

Then he drowned in the flood.

As the man arrived before God, he was actually a little put out.  He said to God, "Lord, I trusted you!  How could you let me drown?  Why didn't you save me?"

And God answered, "Save you?  First I sent you a jeep, then I sent you a boat and finally I sent you a helicopter!  What more do you want?"

*Ba dum chhh*

Today's scripture in Isaiah really focuses on trusting God.  How do we know when to wait patiently for God's help or when to use the resources God is providing for us?  Such as the boat in the joke or the horses in verse 16?

I've always erred on the practical side and would have probably been chastised for taking a horse.  But I think the point is that some things in life are beyond our control.  If we take the horse, we'll be run down.  We like to be in charge and when things go awry, we tend to get anxious (any control freaks out there?).

I did trust in God enough to try to run that sermon by the Board of Ordained Ministry.  I guess it worked out.

Rainbow by Denis Gomes Franco, Brazil, stock.xchng

Breath prayer: Everpresent God, let me trust in you.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Daily Devotion for Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Today's Scripture Reading: John 8:12-20

Key verse for today: John 8:12, "Jesus spoke to the people again, saying, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life.'"

Sometimes certain phrases from the Bible trigger hymns or songs and vice versa.  When Jesus says, "I am the light of the world", I almost always hear Jim Sthrathdee singing these words in my head.

The chorus says:

               I am the Light of the world
               You people come and follow me
               If you follow and love
               You'll learn the mystery of what you were meant to do and be

The verses are based on a poem entitled, "Now the Work of Christmas Begins" by Howard Thurman.  This song and poem probably influenced me in my Christian faith because I got it in my head as we sang it.  The mystery of what we were meant to do and be is something with which we all struggle.

The Pharisees struggled with the identity of Jesus in today's passage.  And it does sound grandiose if you think about this traveling rabbi making these claims.  These are the claims made be the early church and by the church today.
Photo by Robert Walker, stock.xchng
and posted in honor of Emily Mackay

What does it mean for Jesus to be the light of the world?

More importantly, how do we reflect that light?

Breath prayer: Blessed Light, shine through my life.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Daily Devotion for Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Today's Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10:6-13

Key verse from today's reading: 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has seized you that isn’t common for people. But God is faithful. He won’t allow you to be tempted beyond your abilities. Instead, with the temptation, God will also supply a way out so that you will be able to endure it."

As Paul writes this letter to the church plant new community at Corinth, he is reminding the Jewish Christians among them about what Moses went through in the desert.  Paul's statement of "God won't allow you to be tempted beyond your own abilities" has entered the popular Christian lexicon of comfort phrases.  We probably overuse it when people are facing difficulty as if it means you really won't face more than you can handle.

Facial composite of Paul by experts
 of the LKA NRW, Germany.
But Paul doesn't say that.

Logic tells us that people do face more than they can handle.  Tragedy occurs when people are killed by violence.  Some commit suicide.  Others succumb to mental illness if left without treatment.

Paul is trying to describe God's faithfulness.  He says that God provides us with a way out - a way to endure. Within the larger Moses story that Paul references, Moses blows it and is not allowed to enter the promised land.  Does this mean he was tempted beyond his own abilities or do we have to look at a more complex understanding of what Paul means by this?

Maybe it means that God's grace is the way out.

Within United Methodism's vows, we have this important nod to free will in the second vow of our profession of faith:

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

We do have the freedom (free will) to either resist, condone or engage in these awful things.  We also have the power to resist them.  We just don't often avail ourselves to use it.  When we face a temptation, we can pray, read scripture, talk to an influential confidant (hopefully that will provide a sound moral compass rather than telling us what we want to hear) - even attend worship.  We believe that God will provide for us a way out.

Our trouble is that we often make snap judgments.  And if we haven't been regularly engaging in these spiritual disciplines, our judgment is not as powerful as it should or could be.

So maybe the temptation that so many of us face is to skip our daily Bible reading

         or to forget to pray.

                    or to sleep in on Sunday mornings.  


Breath prayer: Eternal Strength, convict me to engage you daily.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Daily Devotion for Monday, March 19, 2012

Scripture Reading: Exodus 15:22-27

Key verse: Exodus 15:23, "When they came to Marah, they couldn’t drink Marah’s water because it was bitter. That’s why it was called Marah."

Marah means bitter.  Do you think it was called this before all these people came wandering out of the desert looking for something to drink?

Did they have a map they were looking at and said, "Well, there's a spring on the map but it's named bitter."

"Okay, let's try that one!"

I remember the first time I saw a mirage.  We were driving down the highway and I was a child trying to get the miles to go by faster.  I saw what looked like water on the road ahead.  I was sure that it had rained and left standing water ahead.  But it was a trick of the eyes.

Water is life-giving and it is soothing to have so much water that you can bathe in it.
Photo by Christopher Bruno

As a child (maybe on that same trip) of around four or five, I remember swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.  It was clear water and the waves were fairly calm.   While standing in the water up to my chin, I saw all of these little fish swimming around me.  It was probably the first time I had really communed with wildlife in quite that way.  What a joy!

I've known people that could have been named Marah.  If you dare to ask them about their day, you will be sorry that you did.  They'll tell you more than you bargained for.  We tend to avoid people like this because they are what my friend Jana Hogg would call energy vampires!  And let's face it, we've all been drained before!

Maybe they're really looking for a drink of something fresh like the Israelites. Maybe they need some of that living water that Jesus talked about.  Did I share any of it with them?

Breath prayer: Life Giver, wash me anew.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Daily Devotion for Sunday, March 18, 2012

Scripture Reading: Numbers 21:4-9

Key verse: Numbers 21:5b, "And we detest this miserable bread!"

Okay, I realize that the real interest of this passage is in the healing power of this bronze snake that Moses erected.  The possible ties to cultic practices are certainly worth exploring.  We could also look at the idea that God would send poisonous snakes to kill the whiners.  This passage is not without some trouble spots!

But I want to think about the condition to which we can all relate: lack of appreciation!

The Israelites were slaves in Egypt.  They were worked to death with no hope of freedom.  But when confronted with the unknown and with change, they started complaining about their current status.

"If only God hadn't worked through Moses to set us free!"

Better a slave with a little food in your belly than a freed person starving in the desert?

Except they weren't starving.  They had this miraculous bread from heaven.  After a while even the miraculous can be questioned.  If it comes everyday, it loses some of its charm I suppose.

I love how the Common English Bible words it - "we detest this miserable bread!"

Agkistrodon contortrix  
When my mother reads this blog in Tulsa, she'll look
at this picture and say, "Eeewww!"
I might send a few copperheads too if I were God.

I look at our own country and wonder if we're whining too much and doing too little with what we've been given.  I get pretty tired of the entitlement that I see (and I'm guilty of it as well).  Most people walk around as if they pulled themselves up from their bootstraps and did everything on their own.  Wrong generation.

We live in a country that made it a priority to educate its children - including the girls (not an international value unfortunately).  We live in a country that rewards a work ethic and still encourages entrepreneurship.  Almost all people are living at higher standards than their parents and grandparents where luxury items are concerned (as well as the leisure time to spend it).

Many times I hear people say, "I don't want my kids to have to work as hard as I did."  So they are making it easy on them.  And yet at the same time when we ask how people built character, it was struggling through tough times and surviving.  I'm not sure we're doing the next generation any favors by trying to take away their struggle.

So as I continue during Lent and reflect upon the Israelites wandering through the desert, I have to evaluate my own life and ask myself, "Am I complaining about the bread again?"

Breath prayer: Generous God, give me gratitude.   

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Daily Devotion for Saturday, March 17, 2012

Scripture Reading for Today: John 3:1-13

Key verse for today: John 3:2, "He came to Jesus at night and said to him, 'Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.'"
Christ Instructing Nicodemus
by Jacob Jordaens, 17th Century

Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a religious leader.  Yet he doesn't openly support Jesus even though he says the nice things about Jesus in verse 2.  He comes at night when no one would see him.

We might rather support Jesus covertly.  After all, what would people think if we really followed him?

This reminds me of the song, Howard Gray, by Lee Domann which is based on a true story.

Howard Gray

You can play it above and here are the lyrics:

Most every one I knew put the whole Gray family down
They were the poorest family in that little country town
Howard always looked too big for his funny ragged clothes
The kids all laughed at him and Jimmy Jones would thumb his nose

Howard sat across from me in seventh grade at school
I didn't like it much but mama taught the golden rule
So when the spitballs flew at him I never would join in
I guess that was the reason Howard thought I was his friend
And after things would quiet down sometimes I'd turn and see
The grateful eyes of Howard Gray lookin' back at me

Howard Gray, Howard Gray, somehow they got their kicks
Out of treatin' you that way
Deep down I kind of liked you but I was too afraid
To be a friend to you, Howard Gray

One day after lunch, I went to comb my hair and saw
They had Howard pinned against a locker in the hall
They were pokin' fun about the big hole in his shirt
They had his left arm twisted back behind him 'til it hurt
To this day I can't explain and I won't try to guess
Just how it was I wound up laughing harder than the rest
I laughed until I cried but through my tears I still could see
The tear-stained eyes of Howard Gray, looking back at me

Howard Gray, Howard Gray, I can't believe I joined them all
Treatin' you that way
I wanted to apologize but I was too afraid
Of what they'd think about me, Howard Gray

From that moment on after I made fun of him
He never looked my way, he never smiled at me again
Not much longer after that his family moved away
And that's the last I ever saw or heard of Howard Gray
That was forty years ago and I still haven't found
Just why we'll kick a brother or a sister when they're down
I know it may sound crazy but now and then I dream
About the eyes of Howard Gray lookin' back at me

Howard Gray, Howard Gray, I've never quite forgiven us
For treatin' you that way
I hope that maybe somehow you'll hear this song someday
And you'll know that I am sorry, Howard Gray

We'll probably never meet again, all I can do is pray
May you and God forgive us, Howard Gray

©1985 Shuretone Music (BMI) & Renovation Music (BMI)

As I reflect on this song, I go back to Nicodemus coming at night.  Nicodemus appears two more times in the Gospel of John.  He tries to defend Jesus to the other Pharisees but seems to be silenced in chapter seven.  What did Nicodemus think when Jesus was arrested?  We don't know.

He does appear to help with the burial.

The fact that he's mentioned in the Gospel more than once makes me think that he later became a part of the early church.  When chapter nineteen mentions that he first came to Jesus at night, I think that maybe Nicodemus associated with him more overtly later in life.

If he did later become a follower, would he have regretted not doing more when Jesus was physically present?

We've all failed people in life - just like Nicodemus and just like in the song.  How that influences what we'll do when the next person comes along will not earn us forgiveness but it might speak volumes about how we are using it.

Breath prayer: Gracious God, give me courage.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

Daily Devotion for Friday, March 16, 2012

Scripture Reading for Today: Ephesians 1:7-14

Key verse from today's reading: Ephesians 1:14, "The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory."

We may not have a very good grasp of the Holy Spirit or how it works in our lives.  Most mainline denominations have ceded the Holy Spirit to the Pentecostals.  In fact when we get a whiff of what we would call charismatic pastors, we tend to get a little nervous.

Salem United Methodist Church, Drummond, OK
When I was the pastor in Drummond, a senior from the high school named Cody approached me about preaching. in our church.  He was studying to be a pastor in the Church of God.  Out of his instruction, he was assigned to preach at another church than his home church which is an interesting request.  He knew me from my activity at the high school and felt comfortable asking me if he could preach at our church.

Those who know me understand that I don't give over my Sunday mornings lightly.  I also had no idea what kind of preacher he was or if his doctrine would be too far away from what United Methodism teaches.  But I also didn't want to discourage him so I told him that we would arrange an evening worship service with the ministerial alliance and invite all of the youth groups from the three churches in town to attend.  

This would fulfill his requirements and he seemed happy with the arrangement.  

Before the service, I met with our youth to share about speaking in tongues.  I'm not sure if any had ever seen it in person and most didn't know what I was talking about.  I told them about this spiritual experience and that the preacher was likely to speak in tongues during the service tonight.  

I also let them know that there would be an altar call and that if they felt led to pray there or to rededicate their lives to Christ that there was nothing wrong with that.  

The flame in our "cross
and flame" represents
the Holy Spirit
We had a nice service and at the end of his sermon, Cody did start to speak in tongues.  After he was through, I think he was a little disappointed that no one else received the Spirit in this way.  Maybe having others share in the Holy Spirit is the sign of an effective witness in his denomination - I'm not sure.  

After the service, I met with our youth again to debrief what they had experienced.  I still remember Asia Kliewer saying, "I thought he showed his convictions in his beliefs in that he was able to share in this way to a congregation that obviously didn't get it.  It was very brave."

The graceful acceptance of another's faithful witness - even though it was foreign to them - was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Our inheritance was present that day.

How do you perceive the working of the Holy Spirit in your life?

Breath Prayer: Holy Spirit, come.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Daily Devotion for Thursday, March 15, 2012

Scripture for today: Genesis 9:8-17

Key verse for today: Genesis 9:16, "The bow will be in the clouds, and upon seeing it I will remember the enduring covenant between God and every living being of all the earth’s creatures."

When I was in high school, I met a man who believed that rainbows did not exist on earth before the flood in Genesis.  It was as if God changed physics to suddenly work normally after this occurrence.  After all these years, that still doesn't make sense to me.

There are quite a few Christians that get caught up in trying to prove that a global flood happened in earth's history.  The first movie I saw in the theater was concerned with this very premise.  "In Search of Noah's Ark" was not so much of a movie as a documentary.  Here it is in its entirety - oh the wonders of the internet!

Finished yet?  Okay, I didn't really expect you to watch the whole saga...  One of the talking heads at the beginning states that if the ark were found, it would declare to the world that Genesis in its earliest chapters is history rather than myth or poetry.

This is stated as if there is something inherently wrong with myth or poetry.  In fact, these two mediums are ways in which humanity has embedded truth for millenia into preliterate culture.

One of the best books I have read on the subject of a historic flood that could have inspired the truth within Noah is entitled Noah's Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About the Event that Changed History.  It's premise is that the Black Sea was originally a freshwater lake that flooded from the Mediterranean Sea some 7,000 years ago.  It would have permanently displaced villages and towns surrounding the lake.  The science behind this investigation is available at National Geographic if you want to explore it further.

The fascination for me is that historical data could somehow be embedded within such an old story.  But even more fascinating is seeing the holiness within the Bible and what it shares with me about God.  Those early Jewish writers saw grace within this awful tragedy: God's covenant not to destroy the world by flood.  It is hard enough to understand natural disaster today with all of our meteorologists and seismologists.  Imagine working it out over two thousand years ago.

Yet the authors of this narrative have an intuitive grasp that God is not happy about all this destruction.  The rainbow is our reminder that this is true indeed.  Scientists will tell you how and why rainbows happen but theologians will tell us something different altogether but no less profound.

It could be that you need a rainbow in your life today.

Breath prayer: Saving God, spare me from the flood.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Daily Devotion for Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Scripture Reading for Today: Ezra 6:1-16

Key verse from today's reading: Ezra 6:15, "This house was completed on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the rule of King Darius."

This scripture is about the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem following the exile.  In 587 BCE, the Temple was destroyed in the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.  Part of the population (the leadership and wealthy) of Judah was deported to Babylon.  There they lived as a people for almost 50 years.

Cyrus the Great bas-relief at
Sydney Olympic Park, Australia
The Babylonians were eventually conquered by the next great empire in the Persians in 538 BCE.  The emperor of the Persians, Cyrus (mentioned in verse 3) decreed that the exiles could return to their homelands.  The Jews went home and then were given even more good news: the Persians not only allowed them to rebuild their temple, but they would pay for it!

Our key verse places the date of completion at 515 BCE.  This was 72 years after its destruction.

As we consider our own lives, the majority of us were not around 72 years ago.  The year was 1940 and our country was debating whether or not to enter the second world war.  My parents were 8 years old at the time - the same age as my son David is now.  What would it be like to re-establish your identity religiously and somewhat politically after such a long absence?

What practices would have gone by the wayside?  What new understandings of God would they bring to their worship?  When you come through the fire you are changed. How you see God at work in your life would also change.

As we move through Lent, what periods of exile have you traversed in your faith?  When have you felt God's neglect?  How have you experienced the return of faith as with the rebuilding of the temple?

May you be able to join in with the exiles of so long ago and celebrate the dedication of your own house to God.

Breath prayer: Eternal God, stay with me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Daily Devotion for Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Scripture Reading for Today: Psalm 84

Key verse from today's reading: Psalm 84:3, "Yes, the sparrow too has found a home there; the swallow has found herself a nest where she can lay her young beside your altars, LORD of heavenly forces, my king, my God!"

Theology is for the birds.

Evidently, according to the Psalmist in today's reading.  How many times are birds mentioned in the scriptures? Jesus mentions that God knows when each sparrow falls to the ground to share with us how we are noticed even more than they are.  Jesus even compares God's love to a mother hen.  In one of my favorite stories, God uses ravens to feed the prophet Elijah.  It's almost as good a story as Elisha and the she bears which is about bears not birds but I know some of you will remember it fondly.

As a child, I wouldn't have given you much for a bird.  When I was about three, we had a nest of blue jays in our backyard.  One of the baby birds had tried to fly and fallen to the ground.

It lay there peeping, pitifully, as only a baby bird can do.

I inched closer and closer to see it but the mother was circling.  It began to dive bomb me and peck my head as I ran back to the house hollering bloody murder!

After getting the appropriate consolation from my mother, I reflected that birds were dangerous nuisances.

As I grew older, I had more benevolent experiences of baby birds that we rescued.  These didn't have angry mother birds circling them.  I began to think more kindly upon our feathered friends.

It's amazing that birds have the capacity to care and protect in this way.  The birds praise the LORD in their own way according to our Psalm.  Is their fierce protection a kind of love?  Who am I to say that they have less capacity for it than I do.  We can at least admire it.

The three readings from today's common lectionary reflect upon the holiness of God. Maybe my own holiness comes through in my own raw love and protection that I have for my children.

What if we could extend that kind of love to others?  Is this what God asks of us?

Breath prayer for today: Mother Hen, enfold me in your arms.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Daily Devotion for Monday, March 12, 2012

Scripture Reading for today: 1 Corinthians 3:10-23

Key verse for today: 1 Corinthians 3:10a, "I laid a foundation like a wise master builder according to God’s grace that was given to me, but someone else is building on top of it."

Who's been a part of your foundation of faith?

My mentor in college was Dr. John Rusco.  He was the Director of the United Methodist Student Center (Wesley Foundation) at Oklahoma State University for all four of my years there.  John was an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church and was a fixture at University & Washington for quite a while.

John also taught graduate courses in Family Relations and Child Development at the university and employed the style of counseling where you asked open-ended questions.  John really utilized Motivational Interviewing even as it was being developed in the therapy world.

His questions were always intriguing as we discussed theology or the Bible.  Through his questions, he brought out insight that we didn't know we had!  We studied a wide variety of topics including glossolalia, the Song of Songs, and the controversial film, The Last Temptation of Christ.   His willingness to discuss the latter actually brought some students back to the church when the majority of Christian press wanted to ban it.  John would rather show the film and then discuss its merits or lack thereof (ex: the soundtrack is much better than the film).

I was able to share Holy Communion with John before he died while he was in the hospital in Stillwater.  The family later gave me one of his stoles - the rainbow-colored one from Guatemala which I often wear during ordinary time in the church calendar.

His ministry lives on through my ministry in many ways.  He built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ for me as I seek to build upon the foundation for others.  As I urge people to explore their calling - whether as lay people or as clergy, my hope is that they will continue to build upon the foundation that we have in Christ for others.

Think about people that have shared faith with you.  It might be parents or grandparents; pastors or friends.  It could even be strangers living out the gospel in tangible ways in your life - coming to you at just the right time.

As we have experienced faith from others, we also share the faith of Christ with those we meet. 

In what ways are you building on this foundation for the world?  

Breath prayer for today: Holy Spirit, move through me.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Daily Devotion for Sunday, March 11, 2012

Scripture for today: John 2:13-22

Key verse for today: John 2:15, "He made a whip from ropes and chased them all out of the temple, including the cattle and the sheep. He scattered the coins and overturned the tables of those who exchanged currency."
Christ Driving the Merchants from the Temple
Jacob Jordaens c. 1650

We were not a wealthy family but simple shepherds living in Sychar in Samaria.  We believed in God but our faith had always been ridiculed by our Jewish cousins.  And so we had never considered making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  That is until we heard the rabbi Jesus preach.  He came to town and gave dignity even to the woman that no one would have ever lifted up as an example of righteousness.

If she could receive grace, surely there was a chance for redemption for us as well.

And so we saved up and traveled to Jerusalem.  This journey to and from would take a week for our family and during this time, we would have no wages coming to us.  We took all the food we would need for the journey and money as well.  We also took lambs for offering at the Temple.

Jerusalem was much larger than Sychar.  We were overwhelmed at the size - we came to wait outside the Temple with other pilgrims, trying not to seem too out of place.

We inquired about the lines outside the Temple and discovered that some were to change in the Roman coinage for Jewish money.  The money we had brought along wouldn't be accepted in the Temple.  The exchange rate was much higher than what we would have paid in Sychar.  But what were we to do?  We couldn't travel all the way home.  We would not be able to afford to buy anything in the market to take back with us.

When we brought our finest lamb for the sacrifice, we were left dumbstruck when they told us that it had blemishes and was unacceptable.  The spots were marks of distinguish in Sychar for sheep but evidently, they were not so well thought of in Jerusalem.  We could trade in our lamb for one they had in the market but it would not be an even trade.  Even if we spent the rest of our money along with the trade, we wouldn't have enough for us to buy the food we would need for the return journey.

We were so looking forward to making an offering in the Temple.  Now we will have to go home without ever having that chance.  We wanted so much to be right with God.  Jesus told us that we could be.  This doesn't seem fair but the priests speak for God.  It is frustrating and disappointing to say the least.

Maybe our children will be able to return someday and make offerings in the Temple.

Breath prayer: Gracious Jesus, thank you for giving us faith.