Sunday, March 27, 2016

Daily Devotion for Easter Sunday 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 40:34-38 (NRSV)

The image of empty cross and cloud
fits well with today's reading.
I find these final verses of Exodus fitting for Easter Sunday.  They remind me of the Transfiguration of Jesus which some scholars believe was originally a post-resurrection story that was later placed earlier in the narrative by Mark.

The inability of Moses to enter the tent of meeting because of the cloud reminds me of the resurrected Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene and stating, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father."  This continues to capture God's transcendence which comes even as God is present to us.

Maybe Easter helps us to be caught up in this transcendence in that through the resurrection, we can glimpse beyond violence and death.  When tragedy is present, it seems difficult to see past.  And yet, we find that resurrection can come to us all - even in this life.

The forgiveness and grace we receive in Jesus Christ become contagious for us.  We find that we must offer these to others even as we discover them anew for ourselves. As we allow the Holy Spirit work through us in this way, the resurrection continues to occur. And we, like the Hebrew people so long ago, find that God journeys with us all along our way.

Photo by kaspercarissa via, used under the Creative Commons license.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 40 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 40:1-33 (NRSV)

Even though the Israelites were on the move, in a sense, when this work was completed they were home.  It was symbolic of God dwelling with them all along the way of their journey.

The ritual and rhythm of setting up the Tabernacle and the court and all of the things that went inside it was important for the people to understand that they were witnesses to the holiness of God within their midst.  This was key because many of them, Moses included, would not live to see their journey to the Promised Land completed.
We continue to hope - that the flowers
will obscure the tomb.

Those of us who are currently experiencing grief understand all too well the need for God's presence.  A sense of holiness is present when a loved one dies but the brightness of it is often tempered by our very real sense of loss.  We believe that God goes with us in this journey and helps us along our way.  This is why the rituals of faith are important.  They become reminders to us that we are a part of something larger.

As we prepare our hearts for Easter tomorrow, we continue to be witnesses of the holiness of God among us today.

May this Lenten journey we have been on be a blessing to our faith that we may be stronger in Christ together.

Photo by 4652 Paces via, used under the Creative Commons license. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 39 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 39 (NRSV)

As I read about the finery of the priests, I can't help but think of how this contrasts how Jesus had his clothing stripped from him.  According to Luke's Gospel, when Jesus went before Herod, they mocked Jesus by putting an elegant robe on him before sending him back to Pilate.

The priests would look very impressive in their raiment.  This is important as they are representing God on earth.  It may be helpful for us to be in awe somewhat as we consider what it is to go before God.  Their dress would help punctuate the fact that God deserves our respect.  The office of the priest also deserves our respect.  If individual clergy choose to abuse this office, the guilt falls on them but the office should not be tarnished.

And so Good Friday is such a reversal of this view.

God is seen naked and humiliated, suffering on a cross to die.

The apostle Paul would later write to the Corinthians, "For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

Even as we seek to lift God up in our respect with majesty whether in clothing or buildings, the cross seems to tell us that God is willing to meet us at the lowest of human conditions.  This reversal is important for us to remember even as we remember the respect that God is due.  In fact, this willingness on God's behalf to meet us at the worst of where we reside is all the more humbling.

I must consider that my respect of God in how we worship should never preclude anyone from God's availability to them.

What does the cross mean to you?

Photo by Jason St Peter via, used under the Creative Commons license. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 38 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 38 (NRSV)

Pope Francis is not ostentatious.  He drives a Ford
Focus around Vatican City.  I think this is one
of the reasons for his popularity. 
One of the things that bothered me about televangelists growing up was the lavish excess in personal spending.  It was clear that people of limited means sent in their money to support these ministries - my grandmother was one of them.  So to see the reckless lifestyles of those pastors at the top gave a bad name to Christian organizations world-wide.

For me the one that sticks in my head was the air conditioned dog house of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker of PTL fame.

And so we see the early audit of the Israelites in today's reading.  A careful accounting of God's money is important for the people to trust that what they are putting in the offering plate is going to reliable ministries.

I have grumbled about church audits before.  They are required by our denomination and sometimes they are a pain.  But at the same time, I realize they are helpful and necessary.  Checks and balances make sure that we are accounting for all the dollars being given to the church.

Accountability is one of the most helpful things about being connectional in a denomination.  The writers of Exodus were pretty explicit in how they would spend the offerings given for the Tabernacle.  How can we be accountable during Lent with our own resources?  The difficult question for many would be, am I willing to be held accountable for my spending?

Photo by CC-BY-Carlmages via, used under the Creative Commons license.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 37 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 37 (NRSV)

Today's reading is almost a recount of the instructions for making all of these items that assist in worship.  Bezalel is the craftsman named for making these holy artifacts.

The artistry of crafting is not something with which I have been gifted.  Even if one is not naturally talented, it is a skill which can be developed if one has the patience to do so. My talents lie elsewhere and I have a great appreciation for art whether it be painting or sculpture or the making of fine things.

Jerry and Larry in front
of the cross!
Last week, Jerry Cotton, a member of First United Methodist Church of Edmond mounted a cross and flame upon the wall.  It was made from wood that came from a tree that used to sit where our new foyer now lies.  When they cut down the tree, Wayne and Rosemary Black saved the wood to re-purpose into something new.  Larry Cunningham made the design for what we have now.  Jerry shaped the wood and made the beautiful piece that we have now.  It hangs just feet from where it stood as a tree.

These people I have mentioned had a vision for the materials that were sacrificed for our new space that was needed.  The vision has been transformed into reality by the work of those mentioned above.  I was not here for the entire history and so I may be missing others who helped to bring this to fruition.

Just as God called Bezalel so many years ago, God continues to call us today to create beauty out of raw materials.

What materials are present in your life that you could fashion and shape into something new?  Many people claim to have no creativity but I think that this is not truly honoring God working in your life.  All people have creativity - for some it may be muted but it is there.  It may come out in different forms of expression, but that makes it no less meaningful.

Jesus transformed the cruel symbol of the cross from an image of suffering to an image of life.  How can we honor this transformation this week?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 36 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 35:30-36:38 (NRSV)

"You've given enough!"

When has a pastor ever proclaimed this to the congregation?  I think it might be a sign of the end times if you ever heard it.

This is what Moses tells the Israelites though.  They have brought more than enough to complete the work on the Tabernacle.  As this was surely written down at a later date from the time it actually happened, I wonder if this could have been a golden recollection where things always seem sweeter in the past?

Or maybe it could have been an admonishment in a way to the people for whom it was received: see how well your ancestors gave?  If you could be more like them, we wouldn't have all these problems!

Or maybe it happened just as it was written.  Maybe the people were so happy with receiving their freedom that they gave joyfully.  Maybe they were terrified at seeing how many of them had been killed over the worship of a false idol in the golden calf.

What does this image evoke for you?
Regardless of how this account came to be, we have it now.  What do we do with it?  Can we get to a place in the church or in our lives where we claim that we have been given enough?  That all is good?

One consideration out of this passage is, "What would it take for me to be satisfied?"

Photo by 401 (K) 2012 via, used by permission under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 35 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 35:1-29 (NRSV)

When I think of spinning goat hair into
yarn, writing a check seems less of a hassle.
I've been involved in building projects in two appointments now.  It is always exciting when the congregation gets involved in putting something new together.  When a project is successful, it is when the whole congregation from the youngest to the oldest gets involved.

I can imagine that is what it was like for Israel to come together and build not only the Tabernacle but all of the finery that was instructed in previous chapters.  They had undoubtedly been witnesses to temples for the Egyptian gods and goddesses that were worshiped all around them.  Now they had come into a new territory and there would be temple structures unique to the local deities.

They were excited to build something to honor God who had freed them from bondage.

As we think about the Monday of Holy Week, Jesus has now entered Jerusalem and we know what is coming.  As he overturns the tables of the money changers, we realize that they are set up in front of the Temple.  I believe that this was about access.  The poor would have made great sacrifices to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem only to find people set to part them from the remaining resources they had on them.  Some would have been unable to make the appropriate sacrifices.

As we look at the freewill offering given for the Tabernacle, we see that all were able to offer what they could.  It is not limited.

How do we capture a sense of being a part of something larger than ourselves this week?

Photo by William Andrus via, used by permission under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Daily Devotion for Palm Sunday of 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 34 (NRSV)

I like this picture in that it reminds us that stone
was the most permanent material the ancients
had to preserve communication.  The safety
glasses remind us that the covenant was
made with imperfect, vulnerable people.
As we celebrate Palm Sunday and the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem today, this particular passage is interesting in the fact that God speaks of driving out foreign nations for the Israelites.

This is exactly what the people were looking for in the time of Jesus: a messiah who would come and drive out the Roman overseers.

Jesus turns out to be a messiah that varied from expectation.

The enemy that we overcome in Christ is sin - a struggle that we can see has gone on for quite a while in human history.

At the end of the reading, we have the curious account of the face of Moses shining after he encounters God.  This is a transference of the mystery of God.  Moses now encapsulates this mystery and the people become afraid of him.

It may be that we fear that which we do not know.  What happens after death may be our ultimate unknown.  How do we trust in God's mercy and grace?  May we remember that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

This is what we truly celebrate as we remember Jesus entering Jerusalem.

Photo by Yamanaka Tamaki via, used under the Creative Commons license.  

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 34 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 33 (NRSV)

This passage reminds me of an adult dealing with a wayward child.  How many times have parents felt themselves say about their own kids, "I will not go up among you... for you are a stiff-necked people."  Well, maybe "consume" is an odd choice of words but we all get the point.

We have this odd relationship with God at this point in that God is going to go with us but is not entirely pleased with us.  Maybe God seems to wonder about how good an idea it is to share covenant us!

We also see the belief about God being a local deity.  Rather than understanding God to be omnipresent, Moses is imploring God to go with them if God is going to direct them to a certain location.

Finally, we see conflicting stories about how Moses interacts with God.  On one hand, verse 11 tells us that Moses spoke with God face to face.  Then another account at the end has God covering Moses so that Moses will not see God.  Moses sees God's back but not God's face.

We all have different perceptions as well
as different interpretations.
What we see here are differing beliefs about God contained within stories as brought together by a later redactor or editor.  Rather than striking one story or the other, the redactor included both of them so that we would have a greater understanding of God.

It may seem at first glance that this gives us less knowledge because it seems contradictory.  However, it does prod us to think more of the mystery of God.

When we share our beliefs about God, they may indeed differ with our neighbor's.  Yet both may be needed for a more complete understanding of how God works in our world.

Have you ever discounted another person's views on God because they were wildly different from yours?  Maybe rather than outright dismissal, what today's reading tells us is that both may be important for how God is perceived in human reality.

So Moses speaks with God face to face.  And yet, Moses can only see the back of God because seeing God's face would be too much for a mortal.  As both are true for Moses, they may also be true for us.  There may be times when we deeply experience the presence of God and there may also be times when we can only perceive where God has been.

Photo by vigo74 via, used under the Creative Commons license.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 33 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 32 (NRSV)

We are back to narrative in Exodus which is always preferable to me than the priestly instructions.  I like a good story even if it ends in judgment for God's people.

Moses takes a similar role to Abraham in arguing for leniency from God on behalf of the people.

Revelry still goes on today.  I like Aaron's
excuse: "It just came out as a calf!"
Death and plague do fall upon them but it is told in a way that makes us think that it was lessened from what was originally intended.

The calf that they molded is an interesting choice.  One of the chief gods among the Canaanites was Baal who was a thunder god often symbolized by a bull.  Given that the mountain was surrounded by cloud and they heard a crashing thunder, could other people living in the area have told them that this must be Baal?

People in that day believed that gods were regional.  They may have thought that God had only limited range and they wanted to ingratiate themselves to the local deities.

God seems emphatic in the people ceasing this behavior.  As we see the great violence done to the people, I have to speculate that this may have been a later embellishment by a priestly author that is using their history as a cautionary tale.  It seems that following after other gods is a national pastime in the Bible and so an exaggeration as it was written down seems a reasonable conclusion.

What would it mean for us to argue for mercy as Moses does?  Which of the people in the world need our intervention?  Maybe they need mercy from our wrath rather than God's.  What does it mean for us to stand on behalf of the guilty?  Is this a Christian value?

Photo by Michael Redman via, used by permission under the Creative Commons license

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 32 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 31 (NRSV)

Out of all of the Ten Commandments, it is interesting that God reiterates the Sabbath law here.  It is a reminder before Moses brings the Law to the people that God expects them to take this seriously.

Resting with a friend can be even more relaxing.
Resting on the seventh day whether it is a Saturday or a Sunday is likely an oft broken command.  People's schedules today are so crowded that we find it difficult to take off any time at all.  When people have a day off, they often feel guilty if they are not being productive in some manner.

It seems like there are many sleep studies lately that tie good rest with health and longevity.  Yet even with this positive data, many people are choosing to intrude upon their sleep with reading, playing games on their tablet, cruising the internet or watching television or videos.  I would venture that when these encroach on your normal bed time that they are not even that important.

Sometimes we put off going to sleep because we know the busy schedule will soon resume.

If we can't commit a decent amount of time for nightly rest, how could we possibly commit a whole day?   Does God retain this expectation today?

Maybe God knows what's good for us better than we want to admit to ourselves.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 31 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 30 (NRSV)

It was only the last couple of years that I have actually offered foot washing at our Maundy Thursday worship service during Holy Week.  It is an optional part of the service - we don't force anyone to have their feet washed!  A Maundy Thursday service is held on the Thursday before Easter and usually contains foot washing as well as Holy Communion as that is the night in which Jesus institutes Holy Communion for his disciples - at least according to the synoptic gospels.

For the Gospel of John, we don't have the Lord's Supper recounted.  Within John's account, we do have the miracles of the abundance of wine and bread as well as the I Am statements of "I am the bread of life" and "I am the vine".  But on this particular night, we only see in John the account of Jesus washing his disciples' feet.

Foot washing is a powerful act even today
for how we relate to one another.  To me a true
leader is one who exhibits this kind of humility.
Following the foot washing, Jesus gives the new commandment (mandatum novum in Latin) which is to love one another.

As I read today's Exodus passage and saw the instruction of the Bronze Basin in verses 17-21, it was connecting for me to see that the priests would wash their hands and feet before coming before God.  This is evidently not done for them but an act each priest would perform before approaching the holy.

Baptism has this symbolism as well: the symbolic washing away of our sins - all that makes us unclean.  We are seen as a new person.

Jesus seems to turn this washing around and makes the act itself a holy thing of service to one another.  The washing was originally symbolic in itself with the priests washing before they came to the altar.  Now it is transformed into the symbolic act of washing another.  If in our service to one another, we encounter the living Lord, maybe approaching the holy is something that happens when we follow the new commandment to love one another.

Can you re-imagine your service to another as a holy act?

Photo by John Ragal via, used by permission under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 30 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 29 (NRSV)

The ordination rites for the priests would be an expensive affair if you looked at the cost of livestock in that day.  It was also a family affair - Aaron's family would be seen as the priestly family.  In fact, priests would only come from his tribe - the tribe of Levi.

Bryan Tener doesn't have a second head.
That is me photo-bombing him at his
ordination reception.  I was honored to
be one of his assisting elders a few years ago.
Today, priestly orders are drawn from all families.  There is not a sense of passing the torch from one generation to the next in terms of a specific family.  Rather, the generational passing is more about spirit than blood.

That being said, I still remember my own ordination and our family connection.  My wife's grandfather, Reverend Loren Heaton, had died earlier that year and we were reading his name at that year's memorial service at annual conference.  Within our tradition, a person who is being ordained may have two assisting elders who lay their hands upon the new clergy person along with the bishop.  Since I was unable to have Rev. Heaton assist, they were able to use his stole in my service.

I was reminded of this when I read verse 29 which reads, " The sacred vestments of Aaron shall be passed on to his sons after him; they shall be anointed in them and ordained in them."

What is it to ascribe sacred meaning to objects?

I think it has to do with the spiritual rhythm in our lives.  Sacred objects can be reminders of the holiness that we seek to obtain.

I don't wear his stoles every Sunday but I do wear the red stole each year at the ordination service at annual conference.  When I do, I am reminded of the connection to the other clergy and that we are all family.

Do you have any special objects that are sacred to you?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 29 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 28 (NRSV)

The clergy robe is similar to the robes worn
at graduation, symbolizing an academic status.
As we see the special priestly garments in today's readings, it may cause us to reflect on what clergy wear today to set them apart from laity.

The most obvious difference for me would be the black robe worn with a stole of the appropriate liturgical color for the church season.  The robe represents the ministerial office and it does set me apart as different.  The idea is to suppress the individual personality and see rather the clergy person who speaks on God's behalf during worship.  Just as we've explored the nature of God's distinction from ourselves, we are reminded of the holy with the robe.

It hopefully lets the worshiper not be distracted by what the pastor is wearing on a particular Sunday.

The stole that I wear is a sign of my ordination.  As an elder (the name of my clergy order), I wear the stole hanging down evenly on either side of my neck.  It is a reminder of the yoke of the office.  I've heard stories of some bishops popping the stole onto the newly ordained clergy person to signify the weight of the order.

In our congregation, Don's stole is hung sideways across the body.  This is because he is an ordained deacon in our denomination.  Deacons are also full clergy but tend to specialize in ministry such as Christian Education.  They do not itinerate and do not preside over the sacraments.

As I mentioned, the stole is a sign of ordination and is not worn by licensed local pastors or commissioned elders or deacons (who are provisional clergy working toward ordination).

This setting apart of clergy is not meant to be hierarchical in nature but rather a display of servant leadership.  How do we set our lives apart as Christians during Lent that displays our own devotion to God?

Photo by the US Department of Education via, used by permission with the Creative Commons license

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Daily Devotion for the Fifth Sunday in Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 27 (NRSV)

When we take our confirmation class to visit the Temple B'Nai Israel in Oklahoma City, one of the fascinating things they discuss is their Sanctuary Lamp named in Hebrew as ner tamid which can also be translated as eternal flame.

This particular light shines perpetually and while olive oil is used in today's reading, electricity is what powers the lamp at Temple B'Nai Israel.  There is usually a question concerning what would happen in the event of a power outage.  This reminds us that while this is a command of God to the Hebrew people, there is nothing magical about it.

Sometimes we are more enthusiastic
about blowing out the light rather than
keeping it going!
The symbolism here is that the priestly line ("Aaron and his sons") are those that tend to this flame.  In a sense, the clergy are to keep the light of God burning for the community of faith.

As Christianity looks at itself as a priesthood of all believers, how do you symbolically keep the light of God present before our community?

Photo by Don LaVange via, used with permission by Creative Commons license.  

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 28 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 26 (NRSV)

The curtain divided the most holy place, sometimes referred to as the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Tabernacle.  This was later moved to the interior of the Temple when it was constructed in Jerusalem.  The High Priest was only allowed to enter this spot once a year on the Day of Atonement.
The veil is still utilized ceremonially today
to symbolize mystery and inaccessibility.

In today's worship, the Eastern Orthodox Church still contains a place in their sanctuary that they consider the Holy of Holies.

Within a large part of Christian theology, when the curtain mentioned in today's reading was torn in two after the death of Jesus according to Matthew, this is symbolic for God's accessibility to all the world.

This gets back to the mysterious nature of God.  We know that God is not like we are.  And at the same time, we do believe that God pursues us and is accessible to us.

How can we hold up this otherness of God while at the same time desiring to draw near to God or for God to draw near to us?

Photo by Kevin Saff via, used by permission under the Creative Commons license

Friday, March 11, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 27 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 25:23-40 (NRSV)

It is better to light a candle than
to curse the darkness.
To be honest, the priestly readings that give the details of how to make things like the table for the Bread of the Presence or the Lampstand can be a little like reading an instruction manual.

You may be left wondering at the end, what's helpful about this for me?

It does reflect for us the importance of ritual for the Hebrew people.  The Bread of the Presence was set out each week on this table on the Sabbath day.  It was consumed by the priests according to Leviticus.

As we consider our own ritual today, we still have acolytes who light the altar candles. We still use bread in the sacrament of Holy Communion.  There is something about the basics of bread and light that speak to us.  Is it any wonder that Jesus declared, "I am the Bread of Life" and "I am the Light of the World?"

How do these basics of bread and light come to us during this time of Lent?  How do we counter their opposites of hunger and darkness which can destroy life?

Photo by Vicky Ponce via, used by permission under the Creative Commons license.  

Earliest known usage of the picture caption is in W. L. Watkinson's sermon 'The Invincible Strategy' collected in 1907 in The Supreme Conquest.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 26 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 25:1-22 (NRSV)

A modern march of the Ark of the Covenant.
It gives us some perspective.
Today's reading offers a lot of technicalities about offerings and the Ark of the Covenant.

Of course, this is a different ark than Noah built in Genesis.  For those whose exposure to the Ark consists of the Indiana Jones movie, we see here that it was the original understanding of how God communicated with the people.

Rather than a construction that is stationary like the Temple (built years later when they had settled), this would be on the move with the people wherever they went.

The ark of the covenant gives an image of God that is similar to the missional movement within the church that states that Christians are to get outside our walls and impact the community.  It meets people where they are.

If you were to imagine God meeting you where you are - in all of your triumphs and failures, what would that look like?  What does that say about God?  What does that say about us?

I may not see the need for all of the finery of the ark, but I like what it represents.  God is not someone waiting for us to visit.  God comes to us!

Picture by Frank Vincentz (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 25 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 24 (NRSV)

I mentioned in confirmation class on Sunday that we don't offer blood sacrifices during worship anymore.  Can you imagine what that would look like on a Sunday morning to slaughter an ox and dash its blood against the altar?

To collect its blood and dash it against the congregation?
When we take our offering plates
to the altar table during worship,
we are reminded of the sacrificial
giving that we undertake.

I would think that the dry cleaning bill for my robe would increase substantially!

The blood sacrifice is serious business.  To see the death of an animal and have its blood smeared across you would certainly leave an impression.  For many of the laws that had been given, the consequence was death to break them.  This act brings that message home to the people.  The underlying implication is that this will happen to you if you break these laws.

It would be very sobering indeed.

When we make a covenant with God today, it is made through the water of baptism.  It is a washing away rather than a smearing with blood.

The death imagery is still present when immersion is used as the person dies to the old self under the water and is brought back from the dead resurrected as a new person in Christ when they emerge.

Making a covenant with God is still serious business.  From time to time, it is good to re-evaluate our own covenant with God to remind ourselves of the seriousness of our undertaking.

Photo by Andrew Schaeffer of First United Methodist Church of Edmond, Oklahoma

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 24 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 23 (NRSV)

Bribes are still a major roadblock for
justice in the 21st century.
Jesus's words that we should love our enemies didn't come out of thin air.  We see the law continue to be put forth in today's reading and we are mindful when dealing with those we don't like.

In seeing the livestock of an estranged neighbor roaming freely, the easier thing to do is to look the other way.  But the law of God tells us that we are to take it back.

How the early Hebrews defined their neighbor was, however, different from when Jesus expanded the understanding with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  An enemy in this instance would be a person within your community - a fellow Hebrew - with whom you disagreed.

We see that the foreign nationals like the Amorites and the Hittites will be wiped out as the Israelites seek to settle the land.  There is no consideration for their animals when they are encountered.

They are not to co-mingle with the Israelites but at the same time, verse 9 reminds us not to oppress the alien among us.

The difference in the early days was their competing worldview.  They had philosophies that came through their worship of their gods which muted the laws that God sought to impose.  Their new community may have been too fragile to withstand too many alternative practices.

As verse 33 concludes, the worship of other gods, "will be a snare to you."

In today's world, there is much that would capture our loyalties.  What do you suppose could be a snare to you today?

Photo by nist6dh via, used by permission under the Creative Commons license.  

Monday, March 7, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 23 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 22 (NRSV)

As I read this passage, I immediately was reminded of Zacchaeus from Luke 19:1-10 when he states that he'll pay back four times what he took.  I always thought this sounded kind of excessive.

Now I see that this was what a thief caught stealing a sheep was required to pay back. This tells us a little more about what those during Jesus' day thought of tax collectors!

Although most of us don't own livestock,
we can see how respecting the property
of our neighbors still applies.
There are many laws which seem outdated but many which may speak to us today.  We are called not
to oppress the aliens among us which may speak to how we deal with immigration. We are taught not to take advantage of the poor which may speak to laws concerning credit card interest.

A timely law might be in verse 28 which suggests that we shall not curse our leader. As we seek to elect another president, we can see that we have been willing to curse our potential leaders!  I'm reasonably sure that about half of the country will be disappointed with the person we elect.  Maybe this verse is teaching us that cursing our leader reflects poorly upon us.

There have certainly been elected officials with whom I've disagreed.  Disagreeing is within our rights as citizens.  But there also seems to be a line we shouldn't cross.  What would our discourse look like in this country if we followed this law today?  How might you watch your speech concerning leadership so that it is truly constructive criticism? What if we listened to political commentary with a critical ear and ceased to give weight when the pundit crossed into personal attack?

Photo by Nicolas Vigier via, used by permission under the Creative Commons license. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Daily Devotion for the Fourth Sunday in Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 21 (NRSV)

By today's standards, this reading has some rather bizarre laws concerning slaves, violence and animals.  As you read them over, it is important to realize that these would not have become laws unless there was some violation concerning these situations in the first place.

Slavery was a given in that day and age.  Yet, there is an attempt to give order to this practice and some rights are afforded the slaves.  My guess is that over time it would have been difficult for a slave to claim any of these rights.  A judge would have been set over the local community.  Would this person be above any social obligations owed to the slave owner?  When relationships are involved, this sometimes silences the justice owed.

A female slave given to a man is approximated as a wife according to verse ten. Fortunately, we can see that marriage has changed through the years as the rights of women have grown. This passage shows us how far we've come.  Within the wedding ceremony today, there is still the custom of the father "giving away the bride" to the husband.  This is a hold-over from when the daughter was given as property to the husband.

As harsh as many of these laws read to us today, they were written down as improvements over the barbarism and chaos that was going on before they were enacted.

We are fortunate to be living in a society where rights are respected by the law.  Even when injustice occurs, there are remedies set in place to seek recompense.  If you know of someone who is dealing with injustice, take a moment and pray for that person.  If you don't know of anyone, pray for a region in the world that seems lawless by comparison and pray for the people living there.

God is a respecter of persons.  We made strides in this passage today and we have come a long way since.  There are still injustices today and God expects us to right them.

Photo by Eric Alan Marx via, used by permission under the Creative Commons license. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 22 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 20 (NRSV)

When moving from a settled area like Egypt into a nomadic existence as the Israelites had done, we can see that they still needed law and order.

The Ten Commandments were clear expectations for a people who needed guidance.  Of course, we all need guidance.  The commandments are difficult for us today just as they must have been then.  We will see the people struggling with idol worship shortly.  It is a problem that persists all through the Bible.

Just in case we think we are beyond it, we may not name things as "gods" but there are many things that afford our devotion or time above God.

According to today's reading, an  altar
such as this one would have been acceptable.
As the people look at how they will sacrifice to God, it is clear that simple is better.  There doesn't need to be any gold or silver involved.  God seems to prefer earthier stuff.  Even the rocks should come as they are from the ground rather than shaped with chisel and hammer.

Since we are mostly settled people today, it becomes more difficult to remember God in the environment around us.  We have interjected our own structures upon the landscapes created by God.  Would this be why we have more difficulty in sensing God's presence?  When I am surrounded by my own (or other human) creations, is my own reliability on God somehow muted?

Photo by Wanna Be Creative from, used by permission under the Creative Commons license.  

Friday, March 4, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 21 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 19 (NRSV)

In today's reading, we see God as inaccessible to the people as they near Mount Sinai. We do have the wonderful image of bearing the people on eagle's wings that is more well known in Isaiah 40:31.

We also hear that the people will be a "priestly kingdom and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6).

This is an important distinction for their identity.  Within this understanding, two competing ideas can emerge.  You might see yourself as holy and thus look with disdain upon the peoples surrounding you.  Or you might see yourself as God's messenger and seek to help your neighbors, working as the feet and hands of God.

As followers of Christ, we tap into the latter viewpoint.

The dense cloud covering God may have been a protective
measure as the common belief in that day was
that if you looked upon God you would die.
When we continue in this passage, we also get a glimpse of how God is not a human being.  There is a sense of the "otherness" of God.  It is terrifying and dangerous.

Christian theology has long made God completely accessible and muted this aspect of God's character. One of the problems with this is that we often imagine God loving us so much that we even blunt the image of love.  Love is cheapened to meaning whatever we think we need or desire.

We then remake God into our image rather than the reverse.

Holiness, shown within this story, takes effort.  It includes washing and will power.

The Lenten season is about tapping into these disciplines.  How is this image of God within today's reading both scary but reassuring at the same time?

Photo by Carol Patterson from, used by permission under the Creative Commons license.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 20 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 18 (NRSV)

Making decisions where one side is going to be disappointed
can be exhausting!  Most parents find this out quickly.
You are going to wear yourself out!

This is essentially what Jethro says to Moses when he realizes that Moses is trying to oversee the problems and conflicts of all his people.

Jethro advises Moses to employ junior officers or minor government officials depending on how you want to look at it.  In any event, it is organization to keep the minor problems from overwhelming the leadership.

There are times in our own lives when we feel overwhelmed.  We need help organizing and prioritizing the most important things.  Sometimes we need permission to dismiss the minor things as well.  Problems can arise when we major in the minors.  What I mean by this is that we can spend all our time on a minor issue because we know what to do about it.  And so we ignore the larger issue because we may not know where to begin.

For the really large things, we may need to spend some quiet time in prayer with God over these issues.  Prayer may help to lead us to the correct action or it may give our anxiety the quieting that it needs for us not to feel overwhelmed.  Sometimes we just need the strength to begin.

It is likely that if you are not experiencing something large in your life that you know someone who is.  Whether it is your own or someone else's, take a few moments in prayer for this difficulty.

Photo by Joe Gratz via, used by the Creative Commons license.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 19 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 17 (NRSV)

Ceremonial Zulu staff from the 19th century.
Do you imagine the staff of Moses to be carved
in any special way?
Here's the first battle that the former slaves must fight.  I wonder what they used for weapons?  Had they plundered any from the Egyptians when they fled as they did jewelry?

Did they use spears and staffs fashioned from the local trees?  Maybe they made stone axes as well.  Whatever they had, it is not likely that a local tribe had anything much more advanced during that time in human history.

We see here the symbolism of God being with them with Moses lifting up the staff. When it was held aloft, the Israelites won. When he lowered it, the tide turned the other way.

Was this actual power that went out to them or was it a psychological advantage that emboldened them in their cause?

The question is moot at this point in that psychological advantage is power.

Think about your own life when you have believed in yourself.  A strong self-confidence sometimes makes the difference between success and failure.

What can we do to remind ourselves that God is with us?  We do believe that the Holy Spirit gives us strength in times of trouble.  Maybe we need something like the raised staff to look at when we are particularly vulnerable.  Some people carry a pocket cross or religious token that they can touch and say a little prayer.

What will be your trigger?

Picture by Brooklyn Museum [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Daily Devotion for Day 18 of Lent 2016

Scripture Reading: Exodus 16 (NRSV)

"Give us this day, our daily bread."
What would your manna taste like?
Mine would be sourdough!

When Jesus prayed this part of the prayer he gave to us, I believe that he was referring to this story of manna from heaven.

It is about the basics of what we need.

It isn't surprising at all that people push the envelope of their instructions.  Some take too much only to see it rot while others go out on the Sabbath expecting to collect that day's food.

This shows us that it is difficult to trust where our basic needs are concerned.  We are often afraid when we think that we aren't going to have enough.  Fear leads to disobedience of God.

As you consider your own life, how many of your sins have occurred because you were afraid of something?  As we think about the messages from the angels in the stories of the Bible, it is not surprising that they often announce, "Fear not."

Photo by Epicantus from, used under the Creative Commons license.