Monday, April 16, 2012

Lamenting with God

Lament: to feel, show, or express grief, sorrow or regret.  To mourn deeply.

There are many psalms of lament.  These are soul searching Psalms such as Psalm 42. The author is clearly in a lot of pain - probably a Gen Xer.  

This comes through in verses 9-10:

       I will say to God, my solid rock,
             “Why have you forgotten me?
         Why do I have to walk around,
         sad, oppressed by enemies?”
10      With my bones crushed, my foes make fun of me,
             constantly questioning me: “Where’s your God now?”

Clearly, the depth of our anguish can be communicated with God.  While listening to Pandora on Friday, I came across a song I hadn't heard before called Laughing With by Regina Spektor.

Here's the official video:

The song may mean different things to different people but my take is that we don't have the luxury of laughing at God when we are in grave need.  When things are going well, we may not feel a need for spiritual connection with God - we are masters of our domain.

Spirituality can go to the back burner and some can even laugh at the notion of God.

But when we're in the foxhole so to speak, we find that we do need strength from somewhere greater than ourselves.  Like what the Psalmist is looking for.

The song also pokes fun at the hyper-religious who carry around poor theology - seeing God as Santa Claus or seeing people as objects of God's hate.

The people in Woodward, Oklahoma are suffering today.  They have experienced loss in profound ways and no one is laughing at God there tonight.  I'll pray for them and I would invite you to do the same.  When the time is right, we'll go and put feet to our prayers.

Maybe then we can laugh with God together as we see resurrection come out of their cross.  I think I've seen that before - somewhere close.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Daily Devotion for Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012

Scripture Reading for Today: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Key Verse for Today: 1 Corinthians 15:10a, "I am what I am by God's grace, and God's grace hasn't been for nothing."

Today is Easter Sunday!  Technically, my Lenten devotion of writing daily devotions ended yesterday but it seemed somehow wrong to quit before Easter.  We've been leading up to... what, exactly?  You can't just stop on the Saturday before.

My hope is to continue to write on this blog.  Probably not daily but I'll try to keep it fairly current.  I'll have more options for the subject matter as well as I won't be self-restricted to the daily common lectionary!

But I digress.  We're here on Easter Sunday and we are celebrating the resurrection.  I included Paul's discourse on the resurrection rather than the Gospels because I don't think it's as well known.

Three Marys at the Tomb
by William Bouguereau.  They experienced
resurrection differently than Paul and
likely differently than you or me.
Paul shares with us that this is all about God's grace.  He recognizes that he walks by grace - pardoned for sins that strike against his new-found faith.  You can tell that Paul is still wrestling with the acceptance of this grace.

And don't we all?

There are many times we believe in our unworthiness more than in the grace we receive.

Paul shows us that this is foolishness.  It is a waste of the grace.

He could have given up but he went on to be an apostle for Jesus Christ.  In fact, we likely wouldn't be attending to our daily devotions if not for Paul's persistence.

The resurrection continues to shape our lives - how we live and what we live for.

It is grace that has already come to us but it is grace that is also still yet to come.

On many levels.

I like the Modest Mouse song, "Float On" for these lyrics:

        I backed my car into a cop car the other day
       Well he just drove off - sometimes life's okay
       I ran my mouth off a bit too much - oh what did I say?
       Well you just laughed it off - it was all okay
       And we'll all float on okay

The song is overtly positive - acknowledging that grace happens in various ways.  There are times when things work out even though they shouldn't.

Paul shared that with the church at Corinth and he's sharing it with us.

If we believed it for ourselves, what could we accomplish?

Breath Prayer: Risen Christ, thank you for your grace.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Daily Devotion for Holy Saturday, April 7, 2012

Scripture Reading for Today: John 19:38-42

Key Verse from today's reading: John 19:39, "Nicodemus, the one who at first had come to Jesus at night, was there too.  He brought a mixture of myrrh and aloe, nearly seventy-five pounds in all."

The devil is in the details.

I thought I had heard that phrase all my life but according to Wikipedia (citing Google's ngram function), it didn't appear in print until 1975.

It likely comes from the original phrase, "God is in the detail."

Do we ever experience God in the detail work that must be done?

Whenever I assist a family when there's been a death, there can be so many things to do.

A funeral home must be located.  Caskets or urns are selected.  Cemetery plots sometimes need to be purchased.  Cremation or burial?  Were they an organ donor? Who's going to pick out the clothes they will wear to the funeral?  Will it be open or closed casket?  Who will speak?  What should go in the obituary and who has all that critical life information written down?  Which newspapers will we submit it to?

Have all the family members been contacted?  Even those that have been estranged?

Did they have a will?  We need to get death certificates to start closing down or changing over accounts.

The details can be overwhelming.

But they can also keep us going.  These things have to be done and they keep us moving in our grief.  Maybe during these times, God is in the details.

The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem - a possible site where
Jesus may have been buried.
Nicodemus was a pharisee. He originally didn't want anyone to see him meeting with Jesus so he came to him at night.  Now he is attending his body.

I wonder if he felt guilty and thought, "I should have done more while he was alive."

Sometimes our lives seem to pass us by and we wonder what it is that we've been attending to.  Are we tending to our faith or has it passed us by as well?

God might indeed be in the details but unless we stop to notice, we might never acknowledge it.

What can you do to look for God more often in the everyday?

Breath Prayer: Loving Lord, help me tend to you.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Daily Devotion for Good Friday, April 6, 2012

Scripture Reading for Today: Psalm 22

Key Verse from today's reading: Psalm 22:1, "My God, my God, why have you left me all alone?  Why are you so far from saving me - so far from my anguished groans?"

The first time I visited the hospital as the pastor for a person who was dying was a scary experience.  This man was a senior citizen and had cancer.  I had visited with him in the home.  He and his wife knew that he was dying and we talked and prayed together.

After getting the call that he had been hospitalized and would likely not make it through the night, I drove into Enid to be with both of them.  I still remember vividly the drive over there - how I prayed for God to give me the right words to share.

This was not my first trip to the hospital.  I had already been there for myself several times for various injuries and surgeries.  I had been for family members.  My grandfather died when I was only 8 years old and we went to the hospital when he was dying but I wasn't allowed in the room back then.

I had been as a youth minister to visit kids with broken arms and even went with the senior pastor to visit others from the congregation to learn on the job so to speak.

But I had never visited someone who wasn't expected to recover.

They ushered me into the hospital room.  He wasn't really conscious and his breathing was labored.  I prayed with them and hoped that it would provide him some comfort in his passing.  After some time in the room, the nurses ushered everyone out but me.  Looking back, I'm still surprised by this outdated policy.  I remember thinking, "Why in the world would they leave me and not his wife?"

I felt inadequate.

When we feel inadequate, we turn to God.  I prayed for him out loud and tried to envision images of the Gulf of Mexico where they had spent so many good times together.  I mopped his brow with a wet washcloth and tried to keep him comfortable.

He died that night and God welcomed him home.

This book is a good one for understanding
God's work in Christ on the cross.
The pain for his life was over but the pain of his widow was really just beginning. They had spent the majority of their life together and now she had to adjust to living without him.

This is part of the pain of human suffering. We all go through it in our lives as we experience loss or heartache or tragedy. Today is Good Friday when we remember that Jesus experienced rejection and pain and humiliation on the cross.  Today's Psalm reflects so much of the Passion of Jesus as we look back.  When we are honest with our feelings, it unfortunately reflects our own story as well.

Good Friday is an important day to remember our faith in the Trinity.  We see that it is not only Jesus on the cross but God as well.  God experienced rejection and loss and pain as a human being. This helps us not only to bear it ourselves but to represent God to others when they suffer.

And amazingly enough - even when we feel inadequate - God helps us to help others.

Breath Prayer: Divine Love, work past my fears.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Daily Devotion for Thursday, April 5, 2012

Scripture Reading for Today: Exodus 12:1-14

Key Verse for today: Exodus 12:13, "The blood will be your sign on the houses where you live.  Whenever I see the blood, I'll pass over you. No plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt."

I remember my Dad taking me to the altar at the New Life Center Assembly of God Church in Tulsa as a small child.  It was for Holy Communion.  We had the little white wafers that don't have much taste but there was also a little thimble-sized glass cup of grape juice.  I had previously watched the elements of Communion pass me by on Sundays when it had been given in the pews.  On this Sunday, Dad broke his wafer in half and gave me half his cup of grape juice.  He tried to explain to me that this was a time of prayer and that we were communing with God.

Picture from Grace United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas
I tried to take it seriously and I did pray.  It felt good to have that time with my dad.  I think my good feeling was mostly about being included and I certainly didn't understand that this sacrament was a new covenant based on the Jewish Passover.

What does Holy Communion mean with this talk of eating the body of Christ and drinking the blood of Christ? At a young age, it seemed kind of cannibalistic in a way.  Later I came to understand this more metaphorically.  We talk about the spiritual presence of Christ rather than the elements physically transforming into the actual body and blood of Jesus.  It sounds pretty literal in John's Gospel when you read chapter 6.  

Bruce Chilton in his Rabbi Jesus, theorizes that Jesus began to share in these holy feasts as an alternative to the perceived corrupt worship in the Temple.  In the animal sacrifices made in the Temple, flesh and blood are offered on behalf of the individuals to God. According to Chilton, when Jesus says "this is my blood" (wine) and "this is my flesh" (bread), he is equating the holy meal as a substitute for Temple worship rather than asking people to envision eating of his actual flesh and blood.

Holy Communion is a sacrament that is a representation of the sacrifice of Christ according to our official United Methodist doctrine.  Yet it is more than a remembrance through our belief in the living Christ present within the elements of bread and juice.  It is this spiritual presence that unites with us so that we may be a holy and living sacrifice for God.  We are reminded in Communion that we covenant to give our lives to God.

As we celebrate this Holy Thursday today, there are likely opportunities in your area to celebrate the Lord's Supper.  John Wesley called Holy Communion a "means of grace" and thought it was helpful for Christians to partake whenever it is offered.

What does Holy Communion mean for your faith?

Breath Prayer: Holy Lord, live in me today.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Daily Devotion for Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Scripture Reading for Today: John 13:21-32

Key verse for today: John 13:26, "Jesus answered, 'It’s the one to whom I will give this piece of bread once I have dipped into the bowl.' Then he dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son." 

Judas is the disciple whose very name is a synonym for betrayal.

The Judas Kiss by Gustave Dore' 1866
Recent treatment of Judas has been varied.  Mel Gibson's The Passion takes the harshest view.  In the film, after Judas betrays Jesus, he begins a descent into madness.  He sees the local children as demons who are tormenting him until he hangs himself.

Matthew's Gospel records the hanging but the demonic visions are the embellishment of Gibson.  

The Acts of the Apostles also tells about the death of Judas and the details are a little different if not more grisly.

The 1988 Martin Scorsese film, "The Last Temptation of Christ" was controversial for many reasons - one of which was his portrayal of Judas as a faithful disciple who only betrays Jesus because he is instructed by him to do so.  

Interestingly enough, this was essentially the portrayal of Judas in the 2006 rediscovery of a lost text entitled, The Gospel of Judas.  This is a Gnostic text considered heretical by the church.  It focuses on the spiritual nature being good while the earthly body is considered evil.  Within this text, Jesus seeks to escape the earthly bonds and Judas is the one to help him with this through his turning Jesus over to the authorities.

Both of these views of Judas stray from the New Testament's teaching.

I wonder if this is out of some sense of empathy for Judas.  Is is because we can't imagine someone who studied with Jesus - who spent so much time with Jesus - being able to turn against him for mere money?

We would like to invent a back story that helps to explain it.

Maybe we can see ourselves in Judas when we really look.  Are there ways in which we betray Jesus through our actions today?  A tough question but this is the Lenten season.  We may wonder if there is really any redemption for Judas because we are actually wondering if there is redemption for ourselves.

In actuality, the Gospel of Matthew mentions that Judas repents (reread the above Matthew link).  Did Jesus forgive Judas along with his other tormentors when he prayed, "Forgive them Father, for they don't know what they're doing" (Luke 23:34)?

I like to hold out hope for Judas because I hold out hope for all of us. And it says something about the nature and mercy of God.  After all, Jesus did teach us to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses just as we forgive those who trespass against us."

Breath Prayer: O Lamb of God, have mercy upon me.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Daily Devotion for Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Today's Scripture Reading: Isaiah 49:1-7

Key Verse from today's reading: Isaiah 49:7, "The LORD, redeemer of Israel and its holy one, says to one despised, rejected by nations, to the slave of rulers: Kings will see and stand up; commanders will bow down on account of the LORD, who is faithful, the holy one of Israel, who has chosen you."

Rejection is one human emotion that will make just about everyone cringe.

You can always put yourself in the person's place.

This is embarrassing for many reasons - I would hate to be that guy but on the other hand, I wouldn't like to be his girlfriend either.  The announcers seem at a loss for words as well. How would you like to be consoled by the Rockets' mascot on national television?

When we are rejected and have misread a situation (blind-sided), it seems worse somehow.  I was blind-sided twice in long-term relationships before I met Sheryl and these experiences can affect your ability to trust.

Isaiah writes about a role-reversal for the suffering servant.  The rejected becomes the acclaimed.  This could be seen as Israel who may have felt rejected by God during the period of exile in Babylon.  Later, Christian interpretation sees how it also describes what Jesus went through from the priestly and Roman authorities.  He is crucified but then exalted.

As we consider the rejection of Jesus and how he even felt rejected by God, any attempt at comparison (see video above) will really be found lacking.  And yet when we experience pain - especially by those we love, it is extremely real to us at the time.

As we remember our doctrine of the Trinity, we understand that God also experienced this rejection.  Our faith reminds us that God remains with us even when we don't sense God's presence.

One thing that is also true for humanity: shared pain is easier to endure.

When you are hurting, it is good to remind yourself that God hurts with you.

Breath Prayer:

Holy Spirit, stay with me.


Holy Spirit, heal through me.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Daily Devotion for Monday, April 2, 2012

Scripture Reading for Today: Isaiah 42:1-9

Key Verse for Today: Isaiah 42:6, "I, the LORD, have called you for a good reason.  I will grasp your hand and guard you, and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations,"

I was appalled to discover that my daughter Kyla was dealing with conflict with another girl saying mean things about her at school.  The appalling thing was that she was in first grade!

Our (mine and Sheryl's) first instinct was to swoop in and rescue her.  But putting someone else's child in her place is really not in the best interest for continuing to be a somewhat respected adult in the community. So we agreed that it would be best if Kyla worked this out on her own.  We told her that she just needed to talk it out with this girl.

I was so proud to hear that she did just that! She went right up to her on the playground and asked to speak with her.  Some of the girl's other friends were present and so Kyla told them that they need to talk in private (basically to buzz off but in a tactful way).  At this point, the girl was uncomfortably squirming.  Kyla asked her point-blank why she had been saying the mean things about her.

Now the squirming led to back-tracking and denial.  Kyla kept after her and finally got her to commit to not talking about her anymore.  As far as we knew, she never said mean things about Kyla anymore.  There were probably easier marks to pick on that wouldn't be quite so confrontational.  Or maybe she learned a lesson about saying rumors and untruths.

I would hope for the latter.

God was grasping Kyla's hand and guarding her through this process but was also working through her as a covenant to the people - a light to the nations so to speak.  Even if those nations were just first graders.

It may be odd to consider yourself as a covenant to other people.  But that is how God works in the world.  So the next time you are in a tough situation, imagine God grasping your hand.  And then using you as a kind of cosmic flashlight - shining light to a dark situation.

As we begin Holy Week, we realize that this is a part of our calling in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Breath Prayer: Blessed God, hold my hand.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Daily Devotion for Sunday, April 1, 2012

Today's Scripture Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a

Key verse for today: Isaiah 50:6a, "I didn't hide my face from insults and spitting."

This is the third passage of the Suffering Servant theme contained in what scholars refer to as Second Isaiah.  As Christians re-read these suffering servant passages, we often do so through the lens of the cross.  They make sense in light of the passion of Jesus.

They also seem to give us insight into the very real suffering that Jesus went through on the cross.  One of the first heresies was docetism which claimed that Jesus only seemed to suffer on the cross.  They believed that he was spirit and didn't actually suffer.  

Both the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed declare that Jesus suffered.  They refute docetic ideas and take seriously his suffering.

The notion that not hiding from insults or spitting would portray weakness is false.  Isaiah's suffering servant (and later Jesus) portray strength through nonviolent resistance.  This nonviolent resistance was adopted in the 20th century by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King talks about love and nonviolent resistance here:   

As we move into Holy Week, we must see the strength that was portrayed by Jesus Christ.  

How does his suffering help us to endure our own?

Breath Prayer: Blessed Jesus, give me strength.