Saturday, February 29, 2020

Daily Devotion for Lent 2020 - Day 4

Scripture Reading: Acts 2:22-47 (NRSV)

Peter begins to preach to the Jewish crowd in Jerusalem that have received the Holy Spirit.  They were pilgrims from all over the known world and presumably they are hearing Peter in their own languages.

Peter begins to look at the Hebrew scriptures through a Christological lens.  According to Luke, he receives this from Jesus prior to the Ascension as recorded in Luke 24:44-49:
Then he (Jesus) said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”   (NRSV)
 As Jesus mentions the psalms in the above passage, we see Peter quoting from two different psalms.

The first is from Psalm 16:8-11.  Peter references David for both because it was assumed in that day that David was the author of all of the psalms.  His interpretive retelling of the psalm lends itself perfectly to the resurrection.  The second is from Psalm 110:1.  Peter utilizes this psalm as does Jesus in Luke 20:41-44.

We see that Peter's message was convincing and the first converts are baptized.  This differs from John's baptism as it is in Jesus' name and the believers receive the Holy Spirit.  Luke tells us that 3,000 were baptized at Pentecost.  The apostles would have been very busy instructing all of these people.  Not only would they hear the story of Jesus but they would learn of his teaching.  Thus the former disciples are now instructors themselves.  Peter who started as a fisherman is now a rabbi!

As we see the behavior of the new Christians, they have set greed aside and share of their possessions with one another as need arises.

Their baptism and concern for their neighbors reflects Isaiah 1:16-17:
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.   (NRSV)
Sharing cake batter.  At some point, we lose the
enthusiasm for holding things in common.
Luke shows that in Christ, we are actually fulfilling what God had in mind for us all along.

It was amazing how the early church not only survived but began to expand and grow in the first century.  We often lament that we don't have the same impact in society today.  Isaiah reminds us of the first two General Rules of Methodism: do no harm and do good.  What if all the baptized number today began to take this a little more seriously?  While we may say, "it is hard to do" we must also remember the promise of the Holy Spirit at our baptism.  What if we remembered that we were not ever alone in our efforts?

Prayer for the Day:

Spirit of promise, Spirit of unity, 
we thank you that you are also the Spirit of renewal. 
Renew in the whole Church that passionate desire for the coming of your kingdom 
which will unite all Christians in one mission to the world. 
May we all grow up together into Christ who is our head, the Savior of the world.

Prayer by Olive Wyon, England, 20th Century

Photo by Nathan via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Daily Devotion for Lent 2020 - Day 3

Scripture Reading: Acts 2:1-21 (NRSV)

I was exposed to speaking in tongues as a child as we were members of the Assembly of God denomination which is Pentecostal.  In this experience, the person is usually overcome by the Holy Spirit and begins to speak ecstatically in an unintelligible language.  Sometimes this is known as speaking in the language of the angels.

This tradition goes back to the early church as the apostle Paul outlines it in Chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians.  The practice precedes Christianity and is present in other settings around the world.

Luke includes a different understanding of how the Holy Spirit allowed them to interpret.  People began to hear the Good News in their own languages.  As people from all over the known world had come on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost, we see that the statement made in Acts 1:8 begin to come to fruition (and we didn't have to wait very long):
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (NRSV)
The gift of tongues is not unintelligible here but rather allows the message to be culturally relevant in their own languages.  Some see this as a clear reversal of the Tower of Babel.

The story here really seems to echo Paul's critique of speaking in tongues especially from 1 Corinthians 14:9-12:
"So with yourselves; if in a tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is being said? For you will be speaking into the air.  There are doubtless many different kinds of sounds in the world, and nothing is without sound.  If then I do not know the meaning of a sound, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.  So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church."  (NRSV)
By being culturally relevant to the various contexts, the church was built up on the day of Pentecost.  People appreciate others making the attempt to learn and speak their own language.  If you have ever traveled to a foreign country where your language is not spoken regularly, and you hear someone speaking familiarly, you may actually have a sense of fondness come over you for the speaker.  This seems to be common for all human beings.

I once saw a sign that said, "Translation
devices here" and it was only in English.
As we see cultural divides, the church in the United States is witness to generational gulfs as younger people are giving up regular religious engagement at much higher percentages.  What does it mean to speak the Good News in their language?  Is it possible for the church to recapture this Day of Pentecost for the youth of our time?

I don't think there is any magic fix that will help us.  I think respect and relationship are two things that the church in every era should continually pursue.  When we value respect, we then have to figure out how does that allow me to step outside my comfort zone in order to pursue relationship?

I've seen plenty of Christians who were "on fire for Jesus" who didn't start with respect and so blew right past the deeper relationship with our neighbors to which Christ is calling us.

Prayer for the day:

Strong, covenant God,
save us from being self-centered in our prayers,
   and teach us to remember to pray for others.
May we be so bound up in love with those for whom we pray
   that we may feel their needs as acutely as our own,
   and intercede for them with sensitiveness,
   with understanding and with imagination.
This we ask in Christ's name.  Amen.

Prayer based on words from John Calvin, Switzerland, 16th Century

Photo by Jes via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Daily Devotion for Lent 2020 - Day 2

Scripture Reading: Acts 1:12-26 (NRSV)

The disciples have now become apostles who are sent out to be witnesses to the resurrection.  The teachings of Jesus and even his story of suffering and death will always be taught in light of the resurrection.

As they were twelve prior to the betrayal of Judas, we see that his death leaves them short.  Matthew and Acts differ somewhat about how the field was purchased and how Judas died but the essence is the same.  Twelve is key in that this is the number of the tribes of Israel.

Luke 22:28-30 (NRSV) lifts up this importance as Jesus tells the disciples:
“You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
The disciples cast lots between two worthy candidates, Joseph called Barsabbas aka Justus and Matthias.  Both had accompanied Jesus from the beginnings of his ministry.  These would have undoubtedly been a part of the seventy others appointed by Jesus in Luke 10:1.

Sometimes important conversations
about what is life-giving happen where
it is easier to feel God's presence.
Matthias becomes the twelfth apostle but that is the last we'll hear about him in Acts.  We see others outside of the twelve which will play a greater role in witnessing to the ends of the earth.

His relative anonymity in Christian history doesn't mean that his witness was not relevant or impacting.  As we consider our own role in the church, we each have a part to play.  It may not be as flashy as being one of the twelve apostles, but our witness may certainly be life changing in ways we may never realize.

As the church continues to change, the culture in many places is moving away from Christianity.  New apostles are needed to go and speak of resurrection to a world that often focuses on death.  As we journey in faith during Lent, what might constitute an effective witness for you?  And who do you know that needs to hear a word of resurrection?

Prayer for the day:

God, may I be an ambassador of the Body of Christ.
May I share an invitation on behalf of my local congregation in a way where it would be well received.
May I speak of resurrection and new life through my actions and my words.
May those I encounter see Christ in me as I see Christ in them.
And may I trust in you to work in both of us.

Photo by Kevin Dooley via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Daily Devotion for Lent 2020 - Day 1, Ash Wednesday

Scripture Reading: Acts 1:1-11 (NRSV)

Luke is often associated with authorship of the Book of Acts as well as the gospel we name after him.  While the two books are anonymous, Christian tradition has long ascribed the name Luke to be this author who was associated with the apostle Paul in his journeys.

Luke is identified as a physician in Colossians 4:14, and his name also appears in 2 Timothy 4:11 and the 24th verse of Philemon.  In going along with Christian tradition, I will refer to the author of Acts as Luke.

Luke is writing to Theophilus, which in Greek means Lover of God.  He was possibly a Roman official or Luke might be using the name to refer to his readership in general.

The risen Lord bids the disciples to stay in Jerusalem so that they would receive the Holy Spirit.  Luke's account differs somewhat from John's Gospel where the disciples received the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed on them following the resurrection.

In Acts, the disciples who have yet to receive the Holy Spirit, ask in verse six about the restoration of Israel.  This was the common understanding of what the Messiah was supposed to do.  So in essence, they were asking, "Now, are you going to put Israel back together?"  Jesus indicates that they will have greater understanding after they receive the Holy Spirit.  The kingdom is going to look differently than they imagined.

Then we see Luke's version of Matthew's Great Commission when Jesus says, "you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

This sets us up for how the rest of Acts will play out.  For those reading this devotion in a different continent than Asia, Europe or Africa, you represent more of the ends of the earth than was ever imagined in that day! 

Luke mentions the Ascension in his gospel but really unpacks it here in Acts.  Mark also has the Ascension but only in the verses that are considered late additions to the Gospel.  We don't see this theology in Matthew or John.  It really fits with the Son of Man motif from the Book of Daniel:

As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being [or like a son of man]
    coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One [or the Ancient of Days]
    and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
    and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
    that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
    that shall never be destroyed.
                                     Daniel 7:13-14 (NRSV)

As the two observers (angels?) state, Jesus "will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."  (Acts 1:11, NRSV)  This fits pretty well with what we see above in Daniel.

So what does the Ascension mean for us today?  At the end of the first century, this image lent authority to Jesus to the communities the new disciples encountered.  If I think of it as a shared vision from the disciples, it makes more sense to me.  Visions and dreams will be prominent in Acts as we shall see.  We tend to discount a vision as something imagined or not real.  But a vision can unite us.  A vision can speak truth to us.  A vision can give us a glimpse of something more real than anything we can grasp in the mundane.

For Jesus to ascend to heaven reminds us of his endurance.  He remains with us in spirit and we are reminded of this as he shares this very message about the Holy Spirit with the disciples!

How does this understanding of the Ascension speak to you today?  Does it have meaning for you or does it seem archaic?  Each person has differing points of emphasis for their own understanding of faith.  But as we examine these early traditions, we may find something in them that is more valuable to us than we realized.

Prayer for the day:

Everliving God,
your eternal Christ once dwelt on earth,
   confined by time and space.
Give us faith to discern in every time and place
   the presence among us
   of him who is head over all things and fills all,
even Jesus Christ our ascended Lord.  Amen.

Prayer by Laurence Hull Stookey, USA, 20th cent.  
(c) 1989 The United Methodist Publishing House

Photo by Gary McNair via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Preparing to Climb

The Lenten season is upon us.

Ash Wednesday is February 26 this year and we'll be considering our own mortality with the emphasis on how we are living our lives while we are on this earth.

I thought it would be helpful to continue with the Sermon on the Mount through the first five Sundays of Lent before moving back to the lectionary with Palm Sunday.

So for Ash Wednesday, we will examine the Gospel reading in Matthew but we won't take out verses 7-15 which contain Matthew's version of the Lord's Prayer.  Of course, prayer is something we encourage during Lent, so I think it appropriate to include this in our meditation for Ash Wednesday.

As we continue with the Sermon on the Mount, we'll be using climbing imagery for our themes and Wednesday's is "Preparing to Climb".

For the first Sunday in Lent, we will finish out chapter six with Matthew 6:22-34.  Our theme will be "Finding our Footholds" as we think about anxiety and examine where we place our trust.

This year, for my own Lenten discipline, I will once again be writing daily devotions leading up to Easter.  I post these through this blog daily and would invite you to join in the discipline.  We'll be exploring the Book of Acts this year.  As we think about the beginnings of the church, this helps us to examine our own ideas about where the church is headed in the 21st century as well as what part we might play in shaping it.

I'll post each day on Twitter and Facebook.  They'll be shared on the Guthrie and Edmond church FB pages as well.  The blogs will be set to publish in the wee morning hours so that if you are an early riser, you can come directly to this site.  You are welcome to share them, comment on them, disagree with them or add your own insight.  I will respond to any questions posted.

My hope is that you'll have a season of introspection that will allow you to grow in your faith.

In Christ,


Image by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.  Used with permission.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Called to Light

Transfiguration Sunday

Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:38-48 (NRSV)

I must admit that while we will observe Transfiguration Sunday, I will utilize chapter 17 of Matthew liturgically within the beginning of the worship service and we will continue to examine the Sermon on the Mount.

In fact, as I began to research it, I rediscovered that the lectionary doesn't actually include a place for us to examine the entire Sermon on the Mount.  If you strictly followed the lectionary, you would never read Matthew's version of the Lord's Prayer from the sixth chapter in public worship.

So for Ash Wednesday (Feb 26), rather than omit the verses which include this prayer, we'll be examining how the prayer of Jesus can shape our Lenten reflections.

This Sunday's portion of the Sermon on the Mount deals with loving enemies and praying for those who persecute us.  This is not an easy task and we often flub our attempts.

I don't want someone else invading my space.
I've seen more Christians attempt to love their enemies through assimilation rather than acceptance.  What I mean by this is that we will love them by showing them how they can be like us.  We certainly give an open invitation to be like us.

When we pray for our enemies, we are more likely to pray for them to see the error of their ways.  We are not praying for God to bless them but to change them!

I struggle with this and I think most people do.

We certainly have expectations for behavior.  My love for another does not mean that I look the other way when this person is acting inappropriately.

I expect people not to harm other people.

I expect people to have respect for other people.

When these two things are not happening, this will often be the end of any sense of love I have for that person.  Have you ever been quick to write someone off?

I've found myself saying, "Well, I don't have time for that kind of behavior.  Life's too short."

So in this way, I do want them to be like me.  Well, maybe not like me but like the version of me I like to project publicly.  I'm trying to align the private and public me more and more.  I'm closer than I used to be but I'm not there yet.

I can only do this with God's help.  And if you try to do it too, maybe we can help each other.  We'll do so not out of a judgmental self-righteousness but rather a reminder of what it means to live in the light.

We'll continue the journey as we worship on Sunday.  After all, perfect love is transfiguring.

In Christ,


Photo by John Finn via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Called to Humility

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 5:21-37 (NRSV)

What does it mean to grow in faith?

As our confirmation class seeks to do just this, we often lay out information for them.  We talk about rules to follow and lists to learn.  I had to memorize the Apostles' Creed for my confirmation Sunday.

We understand that in order to grow in the faith, one must have a working knowledge of the basics of our belief.  Then we can begin to expound on them.

This is what Jesus does in Sunday's piece of the Sermon on the Mount.  If you remember in last Sunday's lesson, Jesus tells us in verse 17 that he has not come to abolish but to fulfill the law.  And so we see a formula for this passage where Jesus begins, "You have heard it said," where he reminds us of the general information and then goes on to say, "But I say to you,"  and he lays upon us a further consideration.

Three of the four instances here could deal with the Ten Commandments.  The saying on divorce comes from Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

It seems that Jesus is moving our faith beyond our actions and into our intent.  There might be days when you say to yourself, "Well, at least I didn't kill anyone today!"  Jesus takes this idea and moves us to consider, "What if you didn't even allow yourself to become angry with someone?"

We might respond with, "Well, how can I keep from getting angry?"

There's an old Cherokee proverb about two wolves
warring inside us.  One contains negative emotions like anger
and jealousy.  The other represents joy and mercy.  The
one that wins is the one you feed.
Sometimes anger does flare up.  But whether or not I let it burn hot sometimes depends on if I feed it or not.

The passage on adultery increases the degree of difficulty for faithfulness.  Notice that Jesus doesn't berate women for what they are wearing.  He instead asks men to have respect for women as people rather than see them as objects.  This would have been shocking when you consider that women were seen as property owned by men in that culture.

This attitude is continued when he speaks of divorce.  Only a man could divorce a woman.  Her options if her husband let her go were few.  Most of the possibilities for her would not be pleasant.

Finally, we see Jesus moving us toward an integrity that would keep us from swearing oaths or vows.  An oath under God could be seen as misusing God's name (which we are commanded not to do).  Rather than use God's name as a kind of bargaining chip with others, we should exhibit the kind of righteousness that allows people to trust our word.

If we see how the Beatitudes move throughout the Sermon on the Mount, we could easily identify the following admonitions with a corresponding blessing:

Do not be angry or Blessed are the meek.

Do not commit adultery even in your heart or Blessed are the pure in spirit.

Do not divorce or Blessed are the peacemakers.

Do not swear an oath or Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

While some could argue that these sayings are impractical, I would argue the opposite.  They are a means to an end with the end being the reign of heaven.

We'll continue to explore these on Sunday!

In Christ,


Photo by Caninest via Flickr. com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Called to Extraordinary Righteousness

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Lectionary reading: Matthew 5:13-20 (NRSV)

Salt is not only flavorful but really
pretty if we stop to look.
As we see this week's reading, I think we often do it an injustice if we don't read the Beatitudes prior.  What does it mean to be salt - to season and preserve - without the previous passage?  You could argue for all kinds of interpretations but Jesus has already laid it out for us.

In the same sense, what does it mean for us to be light?  Should we even attempt to define it outside of being merciful, pure in heart and peacemaking?

Finally, we get to the argument over inerrancy  of scripture in the last portion of this reading.  There have been many Christians who claim to take the Bible literally that point toward the words of Jesus stating that he hasn't come to abolish the law and the prophets.  But it is important to understand that Jesus is speaking from his own rabbinic school of thought.  It was quite common in that day for rabbis to argue points of scripture with one another.  Some scriptures were seen as taking priority over others.

So when Jesus claims that whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, he is not speaking of the entirety of the law and the prophets, but rather he is talking about the Beatitudes.

If we don't follow them all, it doesn't mean that we'll be kicked out of the kingdom of heaven but rather that we'll not hold a place of priority there (and we must also see that we are talking about a kingdom or empire that is an earthly alternative to that of Rome).  We won't understand it as well because we haven't lived it.  These blessings that Jesus gives are much more of a journey to faith than simple commandments of what to do and not do.

So when Jesus states that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees, it would be clearly known in that time that the scribes and Pharisees would be much more interested in a kind of literalism - keeping every iota of the law - regardless of who gets left aside.  The Beatitudes are much more interested in bringing others along with us.  Jesus calls us to behavior of the blessed.  In this way, we salt the earth and light the world.  It is difficult work to bring others along with us.  We must be meek in our approach and willing to give others the benefit of the doubt.  But this may be the true righteousness that Jesus asks of his disciples.

We'll continue to explore this on Sunday in Edmond and Guthrie as well as online!

In Christ,


Photo by Kevin Dooley via  Used under the Creative Commons license.