Friday, July 27, 2012

July 29 - Ordinary Time - Protestant

Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 24, 29, 8, 84

Joshua 24:1-15

Acts 28:23-31

Mark 2:23-28

Today’s Question:

How do we respond to the challenge of following God?

Today’s Reflection:

Every day at work I dread working through my email inbox and traditional mail box. In both I find more offers that are going to change my life in ways I did not know needed changing. I only have to subscribe to the magazine or follow some community on the Internet. Today we read about various experiences faced by people in determining to follow God.


The Psalms begin with reminding us of our unique relationship with God.  The joys and benefits of following him are shared by the blessings that come though upholding the law (in Old Testament times) and maintaining our right relationship with him.


As Joshua addressed the Israelites as he prepared to die, he recounts the history of the Israelites with God and poses the question about whether they are going to consider those gods of the lands they had left, passed through, or conquered. In his presentation of the arrangement, he definitively demonstrates how he will respond to the options available. Given the abstract and defeated nature of the gods created by mankind versus the concrete and victorious nature of God, there was really little choice to make. The people making the choice had observed Gods actions among them or were no more than a single generation from those actions, so the tales remained very much alive among the Israelites.


Paul faced a different challenge in the Acts passage. The skeptics he encountered had neither experienced the ministry of Jesus nor observed the response of people in Israel. He presented both historical evidence and reason to them, yet many of them remained skeptical. Finally, in quoting one of the Isaiahs, he played a bit of the culture card by saying that people (Gentiles) would be accepting of the evidence that was presented. That a people whom God was supposed to hate could receive blessing that left them (Jews) out was simply unacceptable. They rethought the position and Paul had a fixed base for teaching for two years.


Jesus, once again faced the Pharisees regarding the admonition of working on the Sabbath. Once again, Jesus has to correct the Pharisees on their understanding of Scripture. The heart of the law as given by God has been lost on the Pharisees and they only see the definitive legalistic version of the law. Jesus has to remind them that the Sabbath (law) was given to benefit mankind, not to enslave mankind. Jesus assured that God’s love and care for people triumphed over the restriction of law. Verse 27 gives everyone a reminder to remember God’s love exceeds our understanding; we lean toward literal: God does not.


So much competes for our time and affection these days. Choosing to follow God takes a dedication, but it comes with rewards. When we are faced with the choice, remembering that God’s love overcomes any legalism we might be presented. Faced with that kind of love, the choice becomes easy.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us pause to reflect on the full meaning of a decision to follow God as he calls us into his service.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

July 22 - Ordinary Time - Protestant

Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 63, 98, 103
Joshua 6:15-27
Acts 22:30 – 23:11
Mark 2:1-12
Today’s Question:
How should we respond in hopeless situations?
Today’s Reflection:
Over the past year, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movements in various cities captured headlines and created enough discordance that more and more people have joined those questioning the practice of those labeled by OWS as the elite in finance and wealth. As some of the largest gatherings since the anti-Vietnam rallies in the 60’s and 70’s, OWS has come to symbolize a disenfranchised group speaking out against injustice perpetrated by an elite few. The scriptures in today’s selections present similar situations where those speaking out for a cause were (or seemed to be) in a position of weakness.

Joshua offers us a passage taking up the middle of the story. For six days the Israelites had marched around the city of Jericho with no effect. On the seventh day of repeating the same task, a few additional duties were added. The priests were to blow the horns and the entire army yell. Those simple additions changed the entire outcome. The walls came tumbling down and the Israelites captured the city as promised by God. A rag-tag group of people barely recognizable as an army challenged a fortified city and won. That rag-tag group of people was on a mission and they followed the directions they were given and changed the history of a region that continues into today.

The passage in Acts continues the story of Paul from the scriptures last week. Everyone warned Paul what would happen if he went to Jerusalem, but he maintained he was directed to go. Paul was arrested and brought before the council to address the charges against him. Paul, the ultimate insider, speaks the truth, demonstrating his own knowledge of the law to throw the council into chaos. He came in a prisoner and left shielded by the military due to the conflict happening in the council. The final verses confirm for us what Paul has said all along: Jesus directed him to take these steps.

As word of the miracles of Jesus spread, crowds coming to see him grew so large and dense, those coming in hopes of healing or some other miracle found it increasingly difficult to reach him. In the passage from Mark we read the familiar story of the friends taking extreme measures to ensure their paralyzed companion gains access to Jesus. Despite his growing popularity among the people, Jesus faced growing resistance from those in leadership. As Jesus addressed the paralytic, those leaders challenged (in their hearts) his actions. One more time, he demonstrated his Godness by recognizing their feelings and calling them on it – then going one step further by healing the man. Jesus’s determination to address the issues facing the man matched the determination of the friends in bringing the man to Jesus.

No matter the challenges faced by the people of God – walled cities, hardened hearts, disbelief. Those people determined to carry out the will of God as he has revealed it to them succeed no matter the odds against them. The factor those who considered themselves in power failed to consider was that God directed those with the hopeless cause. With God in control of the situation, no situation is hopeless.

Over the past few months, the scripture have provided example after example of people who interacted directly with God, and following that direction, performed wonders beyond our imagination. Just like them, we have the opportunity to make a difference in the world around us by believing God’s message to us. No matter how futile the circumstances may seem, when God is involved, futility has no place.
Today’s Prayer:
Let us have the courage to stand up to those in power when we are acting according to your direction.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

July 15 - Ordinary Time Protestant

Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 148, 149, 150, 114, 115

Joshua 1:1-18

Acts 21:3-15

Mark 1:21-27

Today’s Question:

How do we recognize God’s presence around us?

Today’s Reflection:

A friendly ghost lives in one wing of the building where I work. She does no harm, but sometimes pulls little pranks like opening and closing doors so the person present knows she is there. On a couple occasions she appeared to people working in that part of the building into the evening (that’s how we know “she” is “she”). As Christians, we hear about the presence of God through the Holy Spirit being with us, but much like the ghost, it can be hard to identify the real presence and influence of God. Today’s passages all give us some clue to understanding how God is in our daily lives as he was with the ancient Israelites and the disciples of the early church.

The Psalms today explode with praise of God. They celebrate his role with his people and provision for them; they hold up his power over all creation; they focus on his supremacy over all false gods as those idols are the product of mankind’s hand while mankind is the product of God’s hand. The Psalms present complete joy across the verses and offer a foundation for jubilant praise. Particularly through the Psalms, the celebrants recognize the continuity of God’s care for his people.

The continuity of care shines through the Joshua passage. Since Moses has died, God now speaks directly to Joshua as he gives him the directions for moving into the promised land. Joshua then gives directions to leaders of the people. The leaders promise allegiance and follow Joshua’s orders. Each of these events mirror the way the messages from God went out to his people under Moses. God spoke to Moses. Moses spoke to the people. The people (mostly) obeyed. That continuity offers one clue to knowing when God’s presence surrounds us.

As Paul and his cohort traveled between many of the early churches, we see a consistent message coming to him about what will happen on his return to Jerusalem. The people of Tyre, the prophet at Caesarea all shared an identical message of harm coming to Paul if he returned to Jerusalem. Despite the consistency of the message, Paul presses on to deliver the message God charged him to deliver.

Mark jumps directly into Jesus’s ministry. In this early passage we see an “unclean spirit” recognize Jesus, address him, and ultimately obey him. The “Godness” of Jesus shows through in the passage because that power and greatness he possesses was instantly recognizable by the supernatural spirit and it called him by name. The demon recognized Christ’s character and acted accordingly.

From these passages we can learn that God’s presence with us has continuity, consistency, and character. The more we know God, the more we can recognize these essential traits in commands that come from him. The command will further the continuity of God’s kingdom. The command will be consistent from all sources (and with our knowledge of God). Ultimately, the command represents the character of God.

Just like those of us who work in the one wing of my building know the ghost because of the way she acts, we can know God’s presence around us because of the way that message comes to us. The Bible is filled with examples of God’s interactions with his people. The passages today help us focus on specific characteristics of those interactions so we can be more closely attuned God’s presence all around us.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us every day look for the continuity, consistency, and character of your presence interacting with our lives and give us the awareness to respond accordingly.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

July 8 Ordinary Time - Protestant

Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 146, 147, 111, 112, 113

Numbers 27:12-23

Acts 19:11-20

Mark 1:14-20

Today’s Question: How do we know a true calling from God?

Today’s Reflection:

Even on my week of vacation, I continue to get requests (assignments) from work to complete. Sometimes things just need to get done regardless of our personal schedule, and when the boss calls, one has to answer. Callings from God happen he same way. The command comes, not when we are ready for it, but when God needs it.

The passages in the Psalms today focus on praise of God for the many things he does for his people. They both present the works of God and his endurance in comparison to the temporary nature of mankind’s plans (146:4). They remind us that despite his love and care for us, the way to maintain the status as one of his children requires us to hold the proper level of respect for God and recognize our rank in comparison to God.

After wandering in the wilderness for the appointed time in punishment for challenging God, the time came to appoint a new leader who could lead the Israelites into the promised land. The passage in Numbers gives us the details as God offers Moses the opportunity to see the land before he dies. Moses knows that the people need a strong leader and asks God to appoint his successor. God chooses (calls) Joshua and provides the directions for his presentation to the people. Just as with the establishment of the priestly order, the process to prepare and present Joshua to the people establishes him as one who is called of God. Joshua had already stood up to the masses by being one of the two spies who said they should go in and claim the land the Lord had promised. He demonstrated a complete faith in God when almost everyone else doubted. As a result, he was allowed to live and go into the land after the time of wandering. God rewards that constant faithfulness by calling him into the leadership of his people

The transformation of Paul marks one of the greatest changes in a person in the Bible and offers an example for us all – that no matter where we start, God can do great works through us. The passage in Acts shows just how strong the power of God can be through those who answer his call. Paul went from prosecuting the followers of Christ to having so much power, that cloths that touched him had power to heal. Others, in seeing that power, started to imitate him and use the same language, but because they were not acting on a call from God, the response turned on them. A call from God cannot be “created” out of our own desires, but must originate in him. Acts 19 shows us how overwhelming a call from God can be and the folly of those who would seek to act outside God’s command.

In a brief passage in Mark, we see Jesus starting to call his disciples. He saw the individuals to be part of the closest portion of his ministry and as he walked along, he invited them to join him. The key word in each of these encounters is, “immediately.” Those who heard the call from Jesus acted immediately to follow that call. His invitation proved irresistible.

When God selects someone for a ministry, that call carries such magnitude that it is irresistible. The call is unique to the person and does not present itself to others and cannot be duplicated. The call from God furthers his kingdom which may or may not further our personal life plans. Today’s passages show positive responses to God’s call and prove worthy of the praise we see in the Psalms. The Bible also has examples of those who did not accept God’s call and the consequences proved as negative to them (Jonah for instance) as the benefits were positive for those who followed the call. While we receive lessons in caution from those who do not follow the call of God, we also receive encouragement by seeing the success of those who did.

Throughout this year, we have seen many examples of those who followed a direction from God and acted in full faith that what he would have them do. In modern times when we have “proof” of so much. I know I find it much harder to act on faith, but the more I come to understand the difference between science and faith in life – and they each have their role – I am convinced that faith’s power remains as strong as it did in the time of those who walked with Jesus and heard the words directly from his mouth. Perhaps it is harder to accept a call when it puts the livelihood we have built up at risk. We live in a time when we have so much more that binds us down, but the more we study God’s power to accomplish what he wants, the less of a risk it seems to follow his call in faith.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us give up our fear and hear your calling for what it is, that irresistible, immutable force that ultimately furthers your kingdom, God, and makes our lives richer.