Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas - December 31

Psalm 46, 48, 90

1 Kings 3:5-14

Isaiah 65:15b-25

James 4:13-17; 5:7-11

Revelation 21:1-6

John 4:46-54

So many things vie for our attention during the holiday season that we often find ourselves exhausted and breathless and frustrated because the many demands. The number of Bible passages today even had me nervous, thinking, “so much reading when I need to be cooking all the good-luck foods for the new year.” Even the things that bring us peace become challenging with the demands of the season.

Psalm 46, immediately changed my thinking with verse 10. The command, “Be still, and know that I am God!” prioritized my daily activity immediately. Life, and the season in particular, are not about the busyness that keeps us scurrying about, but it is about maintaining our relationship with God. Sometimes that does not require any great activity on our part. We sometimes have to stop the busyness and just be still for that time one-on-one with God.

Let us seek now, as this calendar year comes to an end and another begins, to find ways to be still and continue our fellowship with the Lord. No matter what we face, he is God, and he is with us, and he is our refuge. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas - December 30

Psalm 20, 21, 23, 27

1 Kings 17:17-24

3 John 1:1-15

John 5:1-15

Just like churches today, the early church often had to deal with conflict. The third letter of John addresses yet another early church conflict. In 2 John, the writer suggested going against the Jewish tradition of hospitality for those who were false teachers. In 3 John, he encourages the church to take extra measures to equip the true teachers. The one is no more a rejection of tradition than the other is an endorsement of it. The recommendations come from recognition of legitimate versus damaging work in the early days of the church.

In 2 John, the writer reminds the church of the commandment to love and in 3 John carries that into doing good versus evil. In this circumstance, evil is not necessarily some malicious act, but rather is promotion of teaching that does not agree with teachings of the Lord. Such is the challenge we often face today with so many leaders in the church insisting that their way is the one right way.

The only right way is the way of the Lord as he set forth in his teachings. We must study the fullness of his Word so that we stick only with the truth. Let us not be misled by man’s interpretation, but be guided in the Spirit. We have been given the gift of the Spirit, let us rely on it as we go forth in love doing good works as directed by the Holy Spirit around us.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas - December 29

Psalm 18

2 Samuel 23:13-17

2 John 1:13

Luke 1:57-66

John’s second letter reminds us of Christ’s commandments – to love God and love one another. Such regular reminders become necessary because we so often forget that his desires for us come down to such basic actions. As he cautions many teachers come and go with a variety of lessons, but the basic commands of God must be taught in full and as the center of belief.

John specifically points out to the unspecified church and leaders that the commandments he brings are nothing new, but that many others will come along adding and subtracting to the Gospel. The threat from such false teachers is so great that the epistle’s writer suggests violating the powerful mores of the time regarding hospitality. The danger of false teaching is so great that it is better to leave such teachers out on the street rather than extend them the common hospitality of a place to stay.

The same applies to us today. We must be open to the fullness of Christ’s teachings and not pick-and-choose the parts we like or dislike. We are obligated to the Word, not selected words. Let us remain open to the Spirit’s guidance to the message of Christ and in so doing love all as he would have us love them.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas - December 28

Psalm 103, 148

Isaiah 62:1-5, 10-12

Revelation 19:11-16

Matthew 2:13-23

The Gospel passage today begins with the idea of retreat, a concept that we normally do not consider when it comes to our faith. We tend to get the message of full steam ahead. The Matthew passage narrates a critical time in the life of the Christ child and helps us consider the absolute humanity of Christ as God/Man.

When Herod makes his decree to kill all children under two years old, Jesus’s family has to take action to protect him. It can be a challenge to grasp, for we know of his “God-ness” and cannot imagine the soldiers being able to succeed in their duty: I keep imagining toddler-Jesus as a ninja-superhero baby who takes out the entire platoon sent to kill him, but that is not the part of God’s plan or the fully man part of Christ. Indeed, the prophecy requires that Jesus go to Egypt and then to Nazareth.

The retreat is not really a retreat; it is part of the fullness of God’s plan. Today’s lesson reminds us to look at events from a God perspective and not a human one to see how it all fits. Sometimes God’s directions to us go against what we think is the best plan, but in the end, we see that it all works out for good. Let us open our eyes to seeing his vision and not remain blinded to our own.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas - December 27

Psalm 18

Isaiah 12:1-6

Revelation 1:1-8

John 7:37-52

The Gospel today refers us to the coming Holy Spirit, about whom Christ is teaching – to the confusion of many listeners and consternation of the leaders. Jesus one more time refers to “living water.” The imagery we have, even today, with such a phrase remains both evocative and powerful.

No matter the innovations we have to bring water under our control, every time a flood comes along we realize just how little control we have over such a basic element. Water, in all its forms shapes the world around us. The solid, liquid, and gaseous forms all play a role in making the world around us the way it is.

The same is true of God. God, in all forms, shapes the world as we know it. In the time when we focus on Christ, we are reminded of the fullness of God and his presence around us. The Holy Spirit remains with us through the time until Christ returns and makes possible the missions to which we are called.

Let us take time now concentrate on the completeness of God in all his forms. As we celebrate the birth of the Son, we must not neglect the Father  or the Spirit, but take in God in all his glory.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas - December 26

Psalm 34, 93, 96

Isaiah 62:1-5

Hebrews 2:10-18

Matthew 2:1-12

Sometimes keeping faith is the biggest challenge to faith that we have. Christmas day has passed. The presents are opened and the family gatherings are ending. We have done our holy duty by dressing up and going to church for the extra services and maybe even donating to some of the myriad causes asking for help.

But that is all done and now we can go back to normal.

Except we cannot do that.

The epistle passage from Hebrews further explains why Christ came in human form. Verse 2:16 says, “For it is clear that he did not come to help angles, but the descendants of Abraham.”  He came to be with real people, to live as a real person, and demonstrate for us that his expectations can be met.  As he, himself, was tested, he can help us through our tests.

Maintaining the faith of Christmas takes a great deal of energy and we cannot do it by ourselves. We have to rely on the strength of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. We are called into the ministry every day, not just for a season. We need to keep our eyes open to the tests around us and our hearts open to our role in responding to the tests. Being open to the Holy Spirit allows us to do all things we should.

Let us remember that Christ was tested just as we are and has left us the Holy Spirit in order that we might survive our trials just as well as he did. He gives us the ability to meet the needs that surround us in our every day as we allow him to. Let us move into the Christmas season, just as we moved through Advent and will move on to the next. Each season gives us a reason for service, not just a single joyous day of celebration. Each season has a mission, and while we recover from the holiday, let us truly seek out the mission it leaves for us.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas - December 25

Psalm 2, 85, 132, 110

Micah 4:1-5, 5:2-4

1 John 4:7-16

John 3:26-31

“So this is Christmas,“ a line John Lennon used repeatedly in his song “Happy Christmas, War is Over,” sounds very much like the message in Psalm 85 written centuries before.  Psalm 85, sometimes titled “Prayer for the Restoration of God’s Favour,” begins in verse seven to describe what the love of the Lord looks like to his people.

The salvation describe by the psalmist anticipates the message of Christ.

On this day when we rejoice at the coming of the Christ child to the world, let us remember the steadfast love of God, who grants our salvation, and serve him fully in return. Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Advent - December 24

Psalm 45, 46, 89:1-29

Isaiah 59:15b-21

Galatians 3:23-4:7

Philippians 2:5-11

Matthew 1:18-25

Throughout the Advent season this year I have drifted back and forth from labeling it the “Social Justice Advent” or the “Personal Relationship Advent.” Each day’s readings had elements that addressed each of the topics. With the many challenges facing the Church today either would have been an appropriate topic to correcting the course of Christianity that has led to the challenges. The readings for today, the last day of Advent answer the question for us.

The entire season of Advent has been about building that personal relationship with Christ. The passage from Philippians makes that quite clear as it states, more plainly than anywhere I have read, the value of Jesus coming to live among the people as a person.

The recent passages from Paul on faith versus the law. The passages from the prophets promising justice for people treated unjustly, without compassion. Jesus’s Gospel teachings. All of them ultimately point us in the direction of the relationship God wants to have with us. The preparation season of Advent has been ready us to not only receive the gift of the Christ Child, but to enter into the personal relationship with our God.

Christ is the pathway God provided for us. As we enter into the final preparations for receiving him, let us also prepare our hearts for the depth and lifelong commitment a relationship with Christ entails.

More than anything, let us remember, when it comes to faith, it’s personal.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Advent - December 23

Psalm 93, 96, 148, 150

Isaiah 59:1-15a

Galatians 3:15-22

Luke 1:67-80

These last days of the Advent season are filled with reminders from God of the promises he made to Abraham and his people – the promise that is soon to be fulfilled with the birth of Jesus. Zechariah, prophesying after his tongue was freed, remembers the promise to Abraham. Paul, in writing to the Galatians also explains the promise to Abraham. God’s word, the covenants he makes with his followers, remains true and binding no matter the circumstances that come between the promise and its fulfillment.

Paul continues his explanation of the covenant in relation to the law. Some could not see how one could be separate from the other. Just as the discussion of law and faith, Paul reminds us that laws were put in place because of our imperfection, not because God’s word is not good enough.

Today, just a day away from our recognition of the fulfillment of the covenant God made so long ago, as we live in an age of the fulfilled promise. Let us consider the imperfections we have the keep us from God and perhaps, how our own limitations may draw us closer to him.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Advent - December 22

Psalm 80, 146, 147

2 Samuel 7:18-29

Galatians 3:1-14

Luke 1:57-66

The season of Advent began this year with God reminding us that he sees all things and in the end, his judgment would come on those who did evil. Psalm 146 reminds us of his care for all and that he is not only aware of those wicked people, but of the needs of those who do good and who need his help. His presence is here for all of us.

The passage in Galatians discusses joins the argument about what it is we should do. Paul specifically addresses the believers in Galatia concerning following the law as some teachers were demanding or accepting salvation by faith. The conclusion ends up being not an either-or, but a both-and situation. The law does not save us, faith does, but the law guides the way we live out our faith.

God’s wish for us is to bring us into a wholeness of faith and life as complete spiritual and physical beings. He demonstrated the possibility for us with the gift of his Son, Jesus. As we rapidly approach the celebration of that gift, let us examine those things we need to do to become whole persons in the model God desires.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advent - December 21

Psalm 72, 111, 113 2 Samuel 7:1-17 Titus 2:11-3:8a Luke 1:26-38 I have seen it written that the most common command in the Bible is "Do not be afraid." That does not surprise me as it seems that is a standard part of every angelic greeting. Fear is a natural reaction to the unknown - or the known much bigger than us, such as angels or the Lord. Fear has many layers of meaning that go far beyond the common implication of being scared. The Biblical experiences combine a mortal concern with a genuine respect for the higher power in the Lord. Psalm 111:10 refers to this fullness of respect. After the initial verses extolling the virtues and power of God, verse 10 reminds us that recognizing our position with the holy Lord allows us to fully understand those wonders presented and to truly reap the blessings God has in store for us. The other passages of the day record various blessings and promises of God. As I read through them, the 'fear," constantly struck me as a virtue to seek out and build. With a developed sense of respectful fear, we are open to direction and spiritual growth. The Christmas gift is quickly approaching; let us work on the humility that comes with a respectful acknowledgment of our place before God. As we kneel, let us also open up to the myriad blessings the Lord has prepared.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Advent - December 20

Psalm 66, 67, 116, 117

1 Samuel 2:1b-10

Titus 2:1-10

Luke 1:26-38

The epistle today brings us a challenge. We are instructed to “teach what is consistent with sound doctrine,” but the writer does not tell us just what sound doctrine is. He lists some specific behaviors for people of different ages and at different stages of their lives, but he never gives us the foundation that is the sound doctrine.

Paul’s letter to Titus came in a time when many false disciples were spreading their version of the Gospel rather than the true teachings of Christ. Paul counted on the Titus and the others knowing the real Gospel of Christ and sticking to it despite hearing misleading messages.

So it continues with us today. Every religious leader is going to proclaim his teachings to be the sound doctrine, yet more and more messages diverge from the complete teaching of God.  The verses here have been taken out of context to demand subservience of women and uphold the institution of slavery. This is exactly what Paul warned about. He lists some of the expected behaviors while expecting us to be scholars of the entire Word.

We cannot afford to take any verses out of context without understanding how they fit in the completion of the message that is the Bible. Extremes on both ends of the Christian spectrum assume their favorite verses sum up everything, but they never do. As we approach the coming of Christ in the Christmas season, we must open our heart to the fullness of his teaching and then be prepared to act on it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Advent - December 19

Psalm 61, 62, 112, 115

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Titus 1:1-16

Luke 1:1-25

Today’s Psalms take us a step closer into our relationship with God and His love for us as the psalmists help define who God is. While God remains undefinable, the psalmist contrasts him to the idols of the world and argues his superiority against the limitations of man-made tokens.

In Psalm 62 the psalmist uses repeated phrases to draw attention to the reliance on God but changes one word to show degrees of that reliance. He begins with, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” In the second repeat, salvation becomes hope. God gives the writer both a sense of security and something to look forward to.

Psalm 115 gives that contrast between God and idols. Verses three through eight set up the limitations of the living God against the inanimate objects sculpted by human hands and ends with the conclusion that ultimately those who worship idols end up just like them – silent.

By placing our faith in the living God who exists in the heavens and has given the earth to mankind, we receive both salvation and hope. As we count down the final days before we celebrate the birth of Christ and enter into the Christmas season, let us prepare ourselves for these gifts that bring us security and something to look forward to all the days of our lives and the eternity promised.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent - December 18

Psalm 24, 29, 8, 84

Genesis 3:8-15

Revelation 12:1-10

John 3:16-21

This fourth Sunday in Advent brings us to a time of reflection on our relationship with God. Today’s passages in Psalm 8, Genesis, and John in particular define our long history of being in relationship with him and our place in that relationship.

The psalmist in Psalm 8 asks the existential question, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them?” After his description of the breadth of creation, man occupied such a miniscule place, that even before modern science and telescopes that make even more of the universe available to us, the writer realized that creation was more vast than our simple brains could comprehend. The question turns rhetorical when in the next verse the psalmist answers it with an understanding that we are lower than God, but over the remainder of creation which leads to tremendous responsibility for those parts of creation put in our care.

Genesis continues the relationship between mankind and God as God makes a visit to the garden after Adam and Eve have eaten the forbidden fruit. He confronts them and then addresses the serpent, Satan in their midst. The depth of the relationship is further defined as there becomes God, mankind, and Satan on the different tiers based on the relationship to God. We rank above Satan, though sometimes it may seem that Satan has God’s ear as various stories in the Old Testament and even Revelation relate. Nevertheless, the truth is that we are closer to God and loved by him no matter the circumstance.

The Matthew passage confirms his unequaled love for us. Is there a more quoted verse than John 3:16? And is there a more ignored verse than John 3:17? The first declares his love for us and the second proves it. God preserves our relationship in ways far beyond what we deserve. It is our job to deserve to be the people of light and far from judgment. Let us remember his directions to us across the season of Advent and do our part to preserve the relationship with him as he would have it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Advent - December 17

Psalm 55, 138, 139

Zechariah 8:9-17

Revelation 6:1-17

Matthew 25:31-46

A few nights ago, I learned that a dear friend of mine is facing a major crisis in his life again. Learning that he once again fell prey to demons that have long haunted him struck me like a kick in the gut. The frustration I experienced in the moment blinded me to any positive outcomes until I read today’s passages.

Psalm 138 and 139 offer great comfort to those who are struggling in this time of the year while many of us prepare for a season of joy, others descend into despair. These passages affirm that God remains with us no matter the circumstances. Psalm 138:7 says, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies: you stretch out your hand and your right hand delivers me.” I know that despite his troubles in this time, God will remain with him and see him through this time of difficulty.

Despite my personal frustration and disappointment in the situation, the Matthew passage reminds me of my duty as a Christian. These are the things God is calling us to do as a part of our witness. Faith without action is dead and these actions are so basics, at the judgment, the holy do not remember doing them. In our living today, they are the things we are to do at every opportunity. When I forgot what to do about my friend, this passage reminded me.

The loving God we serve serves us too. In this season of preparation, let us remember the call to action while we are opening our hearts.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Advent - December 16

Psalm 40, 51, 54

Zechariah 7:8 – 8:8

Revelation 5:6-14

Matthew 25:14-30

Zechariah’s directions in verses 9 – 12 reflect a common social ethic found in various other prophets. Isaiah, Malachi, and Amos are just some of the prophets who share an admonition to “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” None of this is far off from the commandment Jesus cited to “Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Unfortunately too many headlines concerning the Church today reflect the verse that follows, “But they refused to listen, and turned a stubborn shoulder, and stopped their ears in order not to hear.”

The directions come in three parts:

1)   Render true judgments. We must be honest and when judgment is called for, we are obligated to follow God’s law in making it – and very little in God’s law allows us to judge. How many times in this season has He reminded us that He will judge?  We are to continue doing the directions in part two and really leave the judgment to Him. Our responsibility is to show kindness and mercy to each other, which may be harder than rendering a true judgment.
2)   Do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor. In the time of the prophets (and Jesus) these were the lowest on the social rung and ripe for being used for the advantage of those higher up the social scale. Oppress means to burden with cruel or unjust impositions or restraints. Placing such unjust impositions could translate into them becoming slaves for those with means or it could just condemn them to continually being kept in the meanest state.
3)   Finally the direction not to “devise evil in your hearts” remains open to so many things. From coveting those things that belong to your neighbor to seeking ways to make the person experience loss, devising evil could be interpreted as anything opposite of showing kindness and mercy to one another.

As we see in the remainder of the passage and throughout the Psalms of the day. God takes matters into his hands when we do not do as directed. The Israelites were shown time and time again through conquering armies that God is just, and in his forgiveness he returned them to nationhood repeatedly.

We, like the Israelites, cannot afford to ignore the commands about caring for one another. As we prepare our hearts for the season of his coming, let us also open our hearts with care and concern for others facing struggles we may never imagine.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent - December 15

Psalm 50, 59, 60, 33

Zechariah 4:1-14

Revelation 4:9 – 5:5

Matthew 25:1-13

In a season of preparation, Psalm 50 gives us a clear direction to think about that for which we should be preparing. We are awaiting the holiday on which we remember the birth of Christ, the gift that became part of the foundation of our faith. While we make a big deal of the arrival (and departure) of Christ, I have found over the years that we rarely give a measure of thanks equal to the gifts from God that make up that foundation.

The psalmist, while writing about sacrifice and offering, puts the focus on those acts at the true meaning behind them. He eloquently reminds us that God does not need our offerings in order to be sustained, but rather our thankfulness symbolized though offerings help us remain close to him. The value of our contribution means nothing to God, who, as creator, has all things except our guaranteed thankfulness and dedication to him. Our sacrifices given in that spirit of thankfulness prove our dedication.

Ultimately, it is all about attitude. As we prepare in this season, let us concentrate on our attitude that when the Gift is given, we may receive it in that right spirit and continue through the year, sacrificing and doing good works with the thankfulness that befits our service to the Lord.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Advent - December 14

Psalm 119:49-72, 49, 53

Zechariah 3:1-10

Revelation 4:1-8

Matthew 24:45-51

After two days of warnings, the passages today turn to the recognition and reward for those who follow God’s commandments. In Zechariah, the prophet/high priest Joshua is prepared for his role by angels as Satan watches and sees God’s commands carried out.  In Matthew, Jesus talks about the faithful slave continually doing what is right versus the undependable slave who takes advantage of the master’s absence.

Just as many of the Psalms through the season have reminded us to be patient with the ways of the Lord, todays passages demonstrate the ultimate reward to those who demonstrate the both patience and faithfulness. The rewards exceed anything we imagine and even that which we minimally expect. The results prove to us again that the ways of God are not our ways and what he chooses to do for the faithful reaches far beyond what our limited imaginations are capable of comprehending.

For this reason we cannot grow too comfortable in our daily lives but we must continue to extend ourselves for the reward more than compensates for the effort we make. Being true and faithful to our beliefs has its rewards, and its price, but in the end, the judgment of God overwhelms anything the ways of the world and then our dreams, as fabulous as they are, will be shown for how far they missed his holy mark.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Advent - December 13

Psalm 45, 47, 48

Zechariah 2:1-13

Revelation 3:14-22

Matthew 24:32-44

Warnings come throughout the Bible covering almost every aspect of our behavior. Today’s passages give us some cautions about our daily conduct in anticipation of the time when Christ returns. The Matthew and Revelation passages do not give explicit guides as to things we should be doing other than that we should maintain our fervent work on behalf of the Kingdom so that we are ready at that time.

The Matthew passage mentions normal life continuing until the instant that Christ returns while the oft quoted passage from Revelation warns about being too normal and comfortable with everyday life. What is the difference between the passages that in one normal is right and the other normal is wrong?

The difference comes with what we do on a day to day basis. Jesus does not need to give a list of things he wants us to do at this point in his ministry: he spent his entire ministry giving those directions. In all that we do, in our daily actions, he expects us to further his kingdom. That is why in the description one is taken and one remains. The one who continued doing ministry in their live is the one taken.

And that is the difference between living our normal lives and being too comfortable in the normal life. The church at Laodicea became comfortable in themselves, but did nothing to advance the ministry of the Church. They did not forget God but did not continue his work: they simply became comfortable in their own salvation. Every day opportunities come about for us to live out faith and living it normally becomes a powerful force for change and the ministry furthering Christ’s church today.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent - December 12

Psalm 41, 44, 52

Zechariah 1:7-17

Revelation 3:7-13

Matthew 24:15-31

As Christians, we often pride ourselves on knowing right and wrong. We slip into the prideful notion that our ethic stands superior to all others because we receive our directions directly from God.

But how sure are we?

Today warnings about false prophets and false messiahs fill the passages. In a world filled with more and more religious extremism from all faiths, how can we be sure we are following the one true Messiah, Jesus Christ? None of the false prophets and false messiahs proudly proclaim that they are the False Prophet! Instead they assert their genuine nature. Often they humbly approach the ministry while preaching the absolute gospel.

So how can we be sure we are following the one true Messiah?

First we must know his teaching. Jesus explained the law not only to the letter but to the intent. We must know both. By knowing both the letter and the intent, we can then rely on the Holy Spirit, left with us, to know true and false teachings proclaimed from even the most sincere false messiah. Growing in faith allows us to have comfort with the Holy Spirit, and with the Holy Spirit we continue to grow in faith.

False prophets abound in the world today. They preach though mass media. They paint fearsome pictures wrapped with hope in the Lord. But somewhere along the way, they lost the direction of the Lord and the Holy Spirit. Only when we hide the Word in our heart are we able to know when those who would lead us astray are doing so.

As we continue in this season of preparation, let us come hold his Word close that we will be able to reject those who would lead us away.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent - December 11

Psalm 63, 98, 103

Amos 9:11-15

2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, 13-17

John 5:30-47

Putting everything in perspective often presents one of our greatest challenges. Those things that affect us are most important for us and when something disrupts our routine or blocks a resource we regularly use creates chaos in our life whether merited or not. I wake up extra early in the morning so I can have my coffee before diving into the day at work. On days when I sleep through my alarm, or stay in bed later than I should, I just know my day is going to be bad.

Does coffee really make that much difference in my day?

Today’s passages help us put our lives in perspective. Jesus reflects on the eternity the witness for him. The psalmist writes, “As for mortals, their days are like grass.” The author of Thessalonians reminds the church to look forward to the return of Christ (and an earlier Psalm encourages Israel to look forward to the day God comes to rule on earth).

In the scope of things, my coffee is insignificant.

In the scope of things, I am insignificant.

Yet the passages today offer so much hope, reminding us that though we are limited as mortals, we are a part of God’s plan for eternity. He remembers us, embraces us, and forgives us our shortcomings.

In the scope of things, I am insignificant, but God remembers me and knows my place in his plan. For this reason, I take great joy and can cry enthusiastically, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name,” because he knows my lowly name.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Advent - December 10

Psalm 30, 32, 42, 43

Haggai 2:1-19

Revelation 3:1-6

Matthew 24:1-14

Just as an earlier collection of passages focused on the beginning and the end, today’s passages have both rejoicing and grief. Jesus foretells the fall of the temple in Jerusalem and the deaths of many of his followers while the psalmist rejoices in blessings from God following a time of troubles.

Today’s Matthew passage is one of those passages when Jesus does not mince words. He does not speak through a story. He tells those listening exactly what is going to happen in the near time to him and later to the Temple building and to them. It is one of those “smack upside the head” moments Jesus has from time to time. His ministry was coming close to a close and there was no time for debate about His message and He clearly explained what His followers would be experiencing following his crucifixion.

Jesus never said it would be easy. He just promises that it will be good in the end.

The psalmist in Psalm 30 brings us back to that ultimate hope. In verse 5, he reminds us, “For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

I do not know why it seems so much easier to cling to bad news and dwell on the worst things can be. We have such a tendency to catastrophize everything at the least hint of trouble when events rarely merit such a response. Jesus and the psalmist help us keep even the rough times, and there will be rough times, in perspective.

Joy does come in the morning.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent - December 9

Psalm 31, 35

Haggai 1:1-15

Revelation 2:18-29

Matthew 23:27-39

Through Advent, we prepare for the coming Christ and start anew the Christian year. Psalm 31:5 reminds us of the end of Christ’s earthly ministry. Jesus’s last words on the cross (in Luke) come from this verse. The beginning and the end. The alpha and the omega. Brought together in this season.

The Christian year does not conveniently begin with Christ’s birth and end with his death (well, for some). Those events come in relatively short succession, leaving us seven or so months to ponder the meaning of it all.

Nevertheless as we prepare for the season generally characterized by joy and anticipation, we can lift our eyes to peer into the horizon and see at what cost the gifts of the Christmas season come. Let us consider in our anticipation of the season the fullness of our faith and remain humble in our exuberance. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advent - December 8

Psalm 37:1-40

Amos 9:1-10

Revelation 2:8-17

Matthew 23:13-26

The Matthew passage takes up the conflict of Jesus and the Pharisees. They set trap after trap for him and yet he caught them instead. He finally turns his holy wrath on them, identifying the personal failures of those who held themselves up as the most holy of all. Most of us today sit back and say we are “just” church members and do not see the Pharisee inside.

With mass media, both traditional and social, providing channels to reinforce our beliefs – whatever they are – it becomes so much easier to find reasons to separate ourselves from the world around us and in so doing, indirectly judging those who do not connect with us or agree with us as something inferior. If you do not agree with me, and this website, then surely you do not know what you are talking about. You see, I know a website and cable channel that totally agree with me.

It all proves me right.

I am a Christian.

I am God’s chosen.

That makes me right!

I am a Pharisee.

Suddenly it does not sound so good.

In verse 23, Jesus calls them on the basic nature of their beliefs and actions. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.” Well, tithing is important, but mint, dill, and cumin were among the smallest herbs used in the Middle East at the time. He was making a point that giving the tenth of them was small, easy, requiring no effort.

How much effort does our belief take?

The verses of Psalm 37 again remind us to wait patiently on God’s justice. That while those Pharisees practice injustice and profit from their wicked ways in the short term, He sees and judges and in the end, “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” The path of the righteous sounds far more tedious as described in the chapter than the ways of the wicked, and the ways of the Pharisees in Jesus’s time, but offered much more in the end. For ultimately, with the wicked, “their sword shall enter their own heart and their bows shall be broken.”

How much patience do we have?

Effort and patience.

Is God asking too much of those who follow Him?

Is justice, mercy, and faith too much? We cannot easily pull them off the shelf and lay them on the altar, but they make the difference in the world around us. They set us apart from the rest of the world. As we approach Christmas, meditating on these qualities prepares us to receive the gift of God who gave so much more.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent - December 7

Psalm 38, 119:25-48

Amos 8

Revelation 1:17-2:8

Matthew 23:1-12

Some days I struggle to find the passage that moves me. Some days I every passage moves me and sometimes in disparate ways. Today was a day that had me flailing around like an octopus trying to grasp the many inspirations in the various passages. This being Advent, I finally settled on the Psalm 119 passage as my focus for the day.

As it is a season of renewal and preparation, Psalm 119 gives us a guideline for spiritual growth and development. It leads us toward spiritual maturity all the while realizing that we must count on the Lord to be our teacher. As Christians, we have the spiritual guide in the Holy Spirit as we seek out God’s truths for our lives.

The passage begins with the writer lamenting the shortcoming of man’s ways as he juxtapositions them against the way of God, moving the writer to a place where he is ready to learn. At that point the passage moves to a series of verses that begin with the verb of the writer’s request from God. Finally, the passage completes with a series of “I” statements from the writer as he pledges to be faithful to the instruction of the Lord.

Fine and dandy for the psalmist. But what about us?

It is quite simple really.

The ways of the world. The ways we create. All of them fall short of the expectations of God. When we accept that our ways do not make the best path for us, we can then turn to the right ways of the Lord and at that point are ready to take the instruction he has prepared for us. Until we realize with certainty that the expectations of the Lord are truly better for us than anything we can come up with ourselves it is easy to pay lip-service to worship, but when the reality strikes home and becomes the centerpiece of our meditation, we can learn and apply the lessons.

In the field of education, we appreciate the difference between teach and learn.  When we are ready to learn, the Lord stands ready to teach, give, lead, turn, and confirm, for only then will the lessons have meaning for us.

Learning changes behavior. It physically alters the brain and leads to new ways of thinking and thus action. Once we have learned those lessons the Lord has for us, we turn to application of them. We then may make the pledges and keep them.

In this season of Advent, let us be prepared to learn, take, follow, turn, and accept what the Lord is ready to do for us.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Advent - December 6

Psalm 26, 28, 36, 39

Amos 7:10-17

Revelation 1:9-16

Matthew 22:34-46

While I am one who is a whole Bible believer and rarely agree with those who pick and choose verses to prove their preconceived notions, today’s Gospel passage is one that stands alone in summary of everything else the Bible has to say. Jesus narrows the Ten Commandments, the law, and all of his teachings down to two directives: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

As Emeril would say, “Bam!”

Unfortunately, it seems that Jesus’s simplest commands seem to be the hardest to keep. The first part is much simpler, isn’t it? I always love the Lord. Except when I do not get what I want. Except when I am faced with disappointment and doubt His wisdom for me. Except when I am alone and feel abandoned by Him. Yes, I love the Lord my God. Except when….

As far as my neighbor goes…how many houses down is that? Does it mean my city? My state? Maybe it is all the people I like. My neighbor is….

Jesus does not give us limits because His love is infinite.  He does not exclude certain labels. His commands are all inclusive. He expects me to love the Lord my God through all those exceptions and to keep my eyes on Him no matter what happens around me. Likewise my neighbor has universal boundaries: it is not for me to label, decide, or in any way limit my love.

His love can flow through me so that my human limitations are overcome. Let us all open our hearts to our neighbors and close our eyes to the labels that close us to so many who could be our neighbors or even more – our friends.

Lord open my heart and close my eyes that I may follow your greatest commands.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent - December 5

Psalm 25, 9, 15

Amos 7:1-9

Revelation 1:1-8

Matthew 22:23-33

Psalm 9:9 “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.”

Right now my life is about as good as it gets. Family relationships are stable. I have amazing friends. I am happier in my job than I have been in many years. So why does a verse about oppression and trouble strike me? In reading the passages today, I kept turning back to it time and again. Even in the middle of reading the other passages.

Right now my life is about as good as it gets. Sadly, it is not always that way. Times of trouble and times of oppression have come and gone. Conflicts in relationships, health issues, troubles with work have all come to pass at various times, but I could always hang on to the stable relationship with God for support no matter how badly everything around me seemed to be.

Right now my life is about as good as it gets. I will praise the Lord and give thanks to His name as I make my way through days. It is as important to celebrate our connection with the Lord in good times as it is to cry out for him in times of trouble. Let us remember that always.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent - December 4

Psalm 148-150, 114, 115

Amos 6:1-14

2 Thess. 1: 5-12

Luke 1:57-68

Sometimes the scriptures particularly challenge us. We wake up in the morning looking for inspiration and comfort. But upon reading passages, we find ourselves challenged and attacked. Not at all the way we want to start our day or think about scripture.

For me, today’s passages did that to me.

After a second and third reading in my desperation for something positive and inspirational, I finally saw the message for the day. I cannot relax in thinking that I am automatically doing right. The wholeness of scripture again comes into play with these passages. Both Old and New Testament passages remind us of God’s reprimand of those who get too comfortable in our relationship with him and start to consider ourselves something we are not.

When we have a real understanding of just what God’s discipline means, then we have comfort and inspiration for continuing His works. God, through discipline, keeps us in relationship with Him. He does not reject us. He corrects us.

The difference is monumental.

Let us never forget that His love overcomes all our shortcomings.

As we see from today’s passages, we must be willing to accept God’s discipline and we should extend the same graciousness toward those with whom we have contact.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Advent - December 3

Psalm 20, 21, 110, 116, 117

Amos 5:18-27

Jude 17-25

Matthew 22:15-22

Two of the passages today encompass a call to worship and a doxology. Psalm 117, at only two verses, comes right to the point: “1 – Praise the Lord, all you nations! Extol him, all you peoples! 2 – For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” So much energy and enthusiasm in two brief verses. How often do we come into worship with that much energy?

The final verses of Jude likewise hold a highly energized doxology. “24 – Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, 25 – to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” What an exhilarating mouthful.

Very often we just want to have a rather still time with peace and quiet and as much as time can be a time of reflection and preparation, it is also a time to build up energy. This is the start of the Church year and we prepare for the coming Christmas celebration. Now is the time to gather our energy and come into his presence with rejoicing. Just when we think we do not have the energy, He is there to provide it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Advent - December 2

Psalm 16, 17, 22

Amos 5:1-17

Jude 1-16

Matthew 22:1-14

Throughout the Bible are tales of invitations extended and rejected with some kind of response from the one doing the invitation. They are cautionary tales that warn us toward or away from some kind of behavior. They can be unsettling as the passage in Amos and the parable in Matthew.  Even the Psalms sometimes remind us of persecution of destruction at the hands of enemies or those who believe differently than we do.

Other tales, like the praise in Psalm 16 can be some of the most beautiful writing in the Bible as the author rejoices in a right relationship with the Lord. Verse 8, “I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” The line speaks confidence. No doubt. No hesitation. Pure confidence.

Looking back earlier in the Psalm, it is clear that the writer has accepted the invitation to draw close to God and to keep his ways. This time the invitation was not rejected, but accepted and the blessings came along with it. Throughout this Advent season, let us prepare our hearts for the coming gift of Christ so that we are fully ready to accept His invitation when we hear it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent - December 1

Psalm 18

Amos 4:6-13

2 Peter 3:11-18

Matthew 21:33-46

The parable of the wicked tenants, while directed at the chief priests and Pharisees of Jesus’s time, holds truths for us today. Since Adam, humankind has been charged with stewardships over God’s creation and fulfilling the tasks assigned to us. Just as the wicked tenants were responsible for the good garden the landlord left in their care, we are charged with caring for the coming kingdom of Christ by tending the fields and vineyards he left for us.

We also must be cautious to when it comes to the slaves and heirs he sends our way. Just as those who were part of the synagogue “in” crowd in the days of Jesus desired to make it an exclusive club of people who equaled their social standing or definition of righteous, we can be equally exclusive by creating a worship environment that makes some feel welcome while others are not welcome in the least.

As we anticipate the arrival of Christ though the Advent season, let us also consider the arrival of the others, the slaves and heirs He sends our way in anticipation of his return.