Thursday, February 25, 2016

Devotion - Thursday, February 25

I know that we began the season of Lent with a warning of practicing your piety before others, lest you be acknowledged by them and thus need no notice by God.  However, I worry less about showy piety than about folks keeping their devotion to Jesus completely hidden.

This morning I read from Mark 4:21ff.  This is the reference to a lamp, which is never hidden under a basket, but placed on a stand so others may see and so that the lamp does what it is supposed to do.  

Surely, what followers of Jesus are supposed to do is help others discover the wonder and the joy of following.  Surely, it is in our very nature to help others see what is too often hidden away or left in the shadows.

Do not forget that it is Lent, and your prime duty is to monitor your relationship with God.  But do not fail to let your light shine, to share with those around you the utter joy which comes from being one of God's chosen.  Bear the name of Christ boldly!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Devotion - Wednesday, February 24

In our bible study last night, I struggled to say the word "libertine".  In Paul's letter to the church in Phillippi, he warns against ignoring the body and what we do with it; of thinking it is our spirit which unites us with God so it doesn't matter in the least what we do with our bodies.  

While the faith of a Christian rests on Jesus' righteousness, there is a righteousness that is to invade and infect our lives as a result of our relationship to Jesus.

This matter came back to me this morning, as I was reading from I Corinthians 5.  (It is also likely to come up in this evening's devotion at our Wednesday Night Gathering.)

I will never lessen my insistence that salvation is not a result of our own works, but comes by way of Jesus.   We are justified by grace through faith.  Not our moral code or moral conduct.

But - very significant but - there is no way one can be caught up in that grace and not be a deeply moral individual.  

My envy of other Christian communities includes an envy of the courage to say, "You can live that way and call yourself a Christian."  I am envious of the honesty with which such communities point out behaviors or actions or words which tear down the world God is building through us.  I am envious, but I won't go there, out of a fear that once again we will replace justification by grace through faith with even a hint of works.

So I do lay before you this simple truth:  It is impossible to be overcome with the grace of God and not, as a result, live a life which is pure and honorable and helpful and caring. Impossible.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Devotion - Tuesday, February 23

Most of us have never baked a loaf of bread, so we fail to understand Paul's reference to leaven in I Corinthians 5.  He is worried that a bit of tolerance for unacceptable behavior will infect and infest the whole community.

There was a time when we made all the bread we ate in our home.  Now, we make bread only on unique occasions.  Two of those are Thanksgiving and Christmas when my wife makes her mother's recipe for yeast rolls.  She even has her mother's bowl.  The dough is left in the refrigerator overnight.  By the next morning the leaven has done its work - the lid is raised from the bowl and bread dough is spilling over the sides!

Paul's image reminds us that a small amount can affect the whole.  He challenges the followers of Jesus to make sure we are not affected by the wrong thing or things.  This is not a call to become monks or hermits, but it is a reminder to be aware of how the small things begin to expand and infect the rest of our lives.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Devotion - Monday, February 22

In the fall, our Tuesday night bible study group discussed I Corinthians.  One of the chapters which caught our eye was Chapter 4.  Paul expresses displeasure with the folks in Corinth.  He admonishes them.  

How difficult it is, for us to follow Paul in this particular behavior.  There is nothing as risky as pointing out to someone how their actions or words are being perceived by others.  We find it easy to lavish affirming words on another.  But what do we do when it is time for us to point out that a particular behavior pattern is not appropriate?

It is a matter of trust.  It is a matter of knowing that the other loves us and has our best interest at heart.

I encourage you to identify and then invite others into such a circle of trust.  Ask of your best friends that they truly do you the honor of saying to you what you most need to hear.  Be open to the helpful assistance of others and to their attempts to help you see your words and actions from another angle.

"I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children."  I Corinthians 4.  Learn this verse by heart, and apply it to your life.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Devotion - Thursday, February 18

Sometimes, doing the right thing will result in your being treated harshly.

This morning I was reading the story of Joseph's troubles in Egypt.  In Genesis 39 we learn that he worked faithfully and brought prosperity to the home of his master.  Even so, the master's wife accuses him of wrong and Joseph is cast into prison.

Joseph had refused to violate his Master's trust.  The wife who accuses Joseph is not so trustworthy.  Even so, her words are taken over Joseph's and he is the one who suffers.

It is unfair and unjust that the righteous should be the one to suffer.  But it is a reality that doing the right thing does not always mean you will be honored or treated fairly.

Part of the reason doing the right thing brings hardship is its exposure of the wrong being done by another.  A honorable life casts an favorable light on a life consumed by self-indulgence.  

Another reason is the need to have affirmation for the choices we have made.  When I choose, I want to be affirmed in my choice by others choosing the same option.  This may be particularly true when i worry that the choice was a bad one in the first place.

I wish it were not so, but we are not always sure that our right choices will result in fair treatment.  I wish it were not so, but sometimes we are made to suffer as a result of our choosing the right thing.

It sounds trite to say "God notices," but this is my reply.  And God's notice implies the affirmation of a life lived well.  There may be set-backs and bumps in the road, but the road is well built and takes us on a marvelous journey.  Remain firm in doing the right thing.  It is the right thing to do.  And if some around you criticize you for doing the right thing, surround yourself with those who will recognize your faithfulness and your admirable principals.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Devotion - Wednesday, February 17

"And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed."  Mark 1

Folks often ask why I get up so early in the morning.  My answer is that only in the early morning hours can I be assured of no interruptions.  Few folks are up at 5:30 am.  Those who are have their own routines and uses of their time planned.  I can be confident that for an hour or so I am free to be alone with myself and with my God.

I read Mark 1 this morning.  Of Jesus getting up early.  In the verses which follow the one repeated above, the disciples come and find Jesus and tell him that the villagers are looking for him, that they have brought their sick.  Jesus replies by saying it is time to move on to the other towns, "that I may preach there also."

Even Jesus is in danger of having someone else distract him from his mission and purpose.  He isn't being mean or inconsiderate in turning his back on that village; he is simply centering himself and remaining true to his call from God.

I am not advocating that you get up early in the morning.  But I am strongly encouraging you to find a time which works for you in which you can be centered and focused on what it is that God is calling you to do; who it is that God is calling you to be.  Do not allow the concerns of the world or of others to distract you from that which concerns God, from that which brings your life into sharp focus.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Devotion - Tuesday, February 16

Our Tuesday night Bible Study group considered I Corinthians in the fall.  Here in the early weeks of Lent, I am reading through it again.

This morning I read from the 1st chapter.  Here Paul speaks of mystery and mysticism.  He writes "Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and follow to Gentiles."

There is much that can be said about the cross and about Jesus' crucifixion.  I have spent my whole life talking about the cross and Jesus' crucifixion.  Much can be said, but nothing can explain it or bring it to a logical analysis.  

I can recite for you many of the statements made, but in the end when asked "Why did Jesus die on the cross?" I must say "That was the way God chose to deal with the separation between us."  In the cross I can find all sorts of wisdom and guidance.  But I only point to it; I can never explain it.

The academic pursuits which occupy your day are designed to find answers.  The best of your professors will remind you that the answers you find are the subject of tomorrow's inquiry.  We develop an answer only to turn it into the theory that we will test next.  These insightful professors know that the thing which motivates us is the mystery and the uncertainty of what we think we know.

We preach Christ crucified.  Do not worry if you fail to understand the logic of such a path for God's Anointed.  But ponder the oddity and learn what it is that God is saying to you by way of that cross.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Devotion - Monday, February 15

Each of the accounts of the Temptation of Jesus is clear that while these events may have happened in the "wilderness," Jesus was not on his own to face them.

Yesterday we read from Luke.  The introduction to the story is very clear that Jesus was "full of the Holy Spirit."  

In Matthew, Jesus is "led up by the Spirit into the wilderness."

This morning, I was reading from Mark.  Here, we are told that "the Spirit drove him into the wilderness."  More significantly, we are told that while he is in the wilderness, being tempted by Satan, that "the angels ministered to him."  Jesus is never alone as he faces his temptations.

And we are not alone.  We do not face temptations, or trials, or even encounters with the devil on our own.  It may seem that way, but it simply isn't true.  

The Holy Spirit is with us.  God is with us.  God's people are with us.  The prayers of the faithful are with us.  Temptations and trails and wilderness experiences begin (in may instances) with the fear that we are left to our own resources and strength.  We fall victim when we fall into the mistaken notion that we have no one by our side to struggle with us.

Jesus is tempted.  Jesus is tried.  But he is not by himself.  He is never alone.  And neither are we.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Devotion - Thursday, February 11

What is the end toward which God is calling us?  

Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest, points out "it is a snare to image that God wants to make us perfect specimens of what He can do."  He goes on to say, "God's purpose is to make us one with Himself."

The aim of our Lenten discipline, therefore, may not be so fixated on how to remove the blemishes from our lives (40 years, let alone 40 days is too short a time to achieve that goal), but the aim of our Lenten discipline could be to "live in perfect relation to God so that my life produces a longing after God in other lives."  (Chambers)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Devotion - Ash Wednesday

"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

These are the words of Ash Wednesday.  

This is the blessing repeated as ashes are smeared on the foreheads of followers of Jesus.

In these few words we are reminded that life can be lived pursuing that which is fleeting, or life can be connected to that which is greater than ourselves.  The invitation issued with these words is to be aware of the gift which is receiving the ashes and the attaching of ourselves to the Word of God.

Throughout the 40 days of Lent, we are to struggle with these temptations.  The temptation to center our lives in our own life is great.  The temptation to seek that which gratifies the flesh and adds to the ego is powerful.  Will we allow ourselves to be lured into the false notion that we are more than dust?

Or, will we embrace our lot and find our hope in the Truths of God's way?

"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."  These words are a reminder and an invitation to choose the latter.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Devotion - Tuesday, February 9

John 18 contains the story of Jesus' arrest and his being condemned to die by Pilate.  Caiaphas (the high priest) and the other religious leaders have themselves condemned Jesus to die; now they take him to Pilate for Pilate's pronunciation of the death penalty.  They are taking Jesus to Pilate so that he can be killed.

Verse 28 notes "They themselves did not enter the praetorium, so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the passover."  The irony of this confounds me.  You won't enter the headquarters of the government builidng because that will make you un-clean; but you can bring another person there in order to demand their death.

It is easy to identify and critique the absurd behaviors of others.  Surely, we commit such odd actions ourselves.  But the absurdity of the events in John 18:28 astound me.  You can remain un-defiled by avoiding entering the praetorium; but you can be outside the praetorium in order to insist on the death of another person.

What are the odd behaviors and practices we (both you and I) have embraced without reflection?  What are the gnats we have strained from our soup while swallowing a whole camel?  

The group of us meeting on Monday mornings are studying the 10 Commandments.  We are being reminded of the instruction for positive living contained in those 10 words.  God is as concerned with the good and positive we do as God is worried about the evil we may perpetuate.  

Tomorrow we begin the season of Lent.  It is the perfect time to go searching for the odd practices we have taken up, perhaps at the expense of things are might of greater importance.  Do we (in a figurative way) avoid entering the praetorium, while insisting on the murder of another?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Devotion - Monday, February 8

I don't often comments on Proverbs.  This collection of Ancient Israel's Wisdom Literature rarely names God.  It is a wonderful collection of sayings and truths, one that is worthy of reading and sharing with others.

This morning I was reading from Proverbs 27.  Verse 1 is very familiar to me, though I did not know the scripture reference as it was being repeated last week.

My father-in-law had what proved to be a rather minor health episode and spent two nights in the hospital.  He had a rash which lead to a visit to his primary physician which lead to a visit to the Emergency Room which lead to the admission.  All of this came on a day which was rather well pre-planned and full of different events.  

In the ER he said to Laura, "You never know what the day will bring."  I don't know that he or Laura and surely not I realized he was quoting Proverbs 27:1.  

When we called his daughter who lives in North Carolina, her way of expressing appreciation for the call and acknowledging that we would make it through this just fine was to say, "It is like Uncle Harry always said, 'You never know what the day will bring.'"

We don't know.  But we do know the confidence in God which sustained our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.  We know that there is a wisdom in God's Word which can and does bear us up.

Proverbs is a collection of such reminders.  It is full of acknowledgements that following God sets us on a path which is well worn and clearly marked.  We are not left to fend for ourselves or fret about the morrow.  God has been there, and will remain there.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Devotion - Thursday, February 4

Hebrews 12 begins with an interesting, somewhat puzzling assertion.  The writer insists that Jesus, "for the joy that was set before him endured the cross."

In our Tuesday night bible study we have been reading from Philippians, where Paul also speaks of this "joy".  One glaring piece of information is that Paul writes while he is in prison.  "Where," we should ask, "can Paul find 'joy'"?

Dr. Joseph Sittler writes of this joy.  He points out that it is not to be confused with happiness. Happiness is a measure of our mood, perhaps of the circumstances surrounding us.  Joy is the assurance which comes from knowing that our lives have meaning and purpose.  Joy is the confidence that we are connected to that which is larger than ourselves.

I hope you are happy.  I pray that things go well in your life and land you in a place where you can give thanks.  But don't strive for happiness.  Seek the joy of Christ, the joy which came into the life of Paul.  Then, regardless of where the happiness meter is in your life, you will continue to experience joy.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Devotion - Wednesday, February 3

Genesis 22 contains the story of God's asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac.  This story stands out as a powerful model of Abraham's obedience to God.  It is the story which provides an anchor for all the powerful words regarding Abraham's faith.

And surely it does all that.  And just as surely - it is read differently by modern readers than it would have been in days it was first retold.

In our days, the murder of a child by parents is looked upon in complete horror.  We, as a society, band together to protect children from the whims or even the so-called-religious convictions of their parents.

I do not want to unilaterally say it was "different" in the days of Abraham, But it was a different place and time and set of cultural norms.

As you read and reflect on the events in Genesis 22, keep this in mind.  Apply your screens as you insist that nothing like this ought to be allowed to happen today.  But hear the example it is of the dedication and devotion of Abraham.  Allow the story's message of God as the "one who provides" to take root in your life and in your heart.  It is an interesting story.  One with so much to teach us.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Devotion - Tuesday, February 2

This morning I read Genesis 21.  It is the story of the birth of Isaac.  He is born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age.  Sarah had worried she might not bear a son, so she had asked Abraham to father a child with the servant, Hagar.  After the birth of Isaac, Sarah changes her attitude toward Hagar and her son, and asks Abraham to send the child and his mother away.  Which Abraham does.

This story is often looked to as the divide between the people who are Jewish and  those who become Islamic.  God promises to look out for both of these children.  God promises to make a great nation of both these sons of Abraham.

There develops hatred and jealousy within the household of Abraham.  This is unfortunate.  There often develops such emotions within families.

Sometimes these negative emotions succeed in dividing families.  This is surely displeasing to God.

While we may set ourselves against other family members, we cannot erase the bond that exists between us.  We do not cease to be family.

The children of God have become too divided, and we have ignored our oneness in this family.  God's assurances to his children is even if their parents don't do the right thing, God will make sure to provide for all His children.  The children can start over and respond differently than their parents did.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Devotion - Monday, February 1

February is Black History Month.  Hopefully, you already knew this.  The question may be have you thought about this and planned to live your life any differently?

This has been a tumultuous year, with regard to race relations.  There have been too many situations in which racial attitudes affected the way in which persons were treated.  The "Black Lives Matter" movement challenges every quarter of our society in taking a good, long look at how we see each other and how we treat one another.

Regardless of how we might react to a particular situation or to one individual spokesperson, there is no denying that there is an underlying frustration and much pent-up anger.  There is a brokenness in the body.

As persons of faith, we cannot allow such a brokenness to continue.  We must be about the ministry of Christ, which is a ministry of reconciliation.  

It is our role and responsibility to know the history of our society and our neighbors.  It is our opportunity to contribute to what will be written as the "history" of this month and these days.

Educate yourself.  Learn.  And pray for the opportunity to be God's reconciliation in the world.