Wednesday, July 19, 2017
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” A couple of years ago my devotional practice was to read the bible from cover to cover again. Every time I have finished reading the bible in this fashion, I stand amazed at the breadth and depth of God’s persistence. We the people, like Jonah, are often found running in the opposite direction of God’s call. Throughout scripture God’s people continually turn away from God or even deny God, only to have God extend yet another chance to be in relationship. Apostle Paul defines God’s second chance this way, “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” Not only does God forgive our rebellion, but God invites us to participate as ambassadors for Christ, entreating others to be reconciled to God. Jonah was given a second change to be God’s ambassador to Nineveh. Yes, God is a God of second chances. God just doesn’t give up on us. Not on Jonah. Not on you. Not on this church. This is incredibly good news, because I know that rebellion will happen. The word of the Lord will come to us, but at times we will be too comfortable or too scared to respond. The good news is when this happens God will not abandon us. God’s Plan B will spring into action in hopes that we will grab hold of God’s second chance for us!
Holy God, we are ever thankful that you are a God of second chances. We are thankful that you do not give up on us. Give us the courage to listen and to respond to your claim and call on our lives and on this church. Use even us as your ambassadors, we pray. Amen
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
“Then Jonah prayed.” When does “then” occur for you? Do you pray as your day begins or as it ends or both? Do you pray before meals, giving thanks for the provision of food? Do you pray more often when life seems out of control or when life is smooth sailing? When does “then” occur for you? As you consider your answer, know that prayer is more than words. Will McGill suggests that, “The value of consistent prayer is not that God will hear us, but that we will hear God.” So, prayer is about listening as much as it is about speaking, otherwise how will we ever hear God? Apostle Paul reminds us that at times we don’t even know how to pray, but he assures us that the Spirit will intercede for us. Then in First Thessalonians 5:17 we read this succinct instruction about prayer, “pray without ceasing.” This suggests that our very life is to be a prayer! As we explore Jonah’s prayer this week through worship (Jonah 1:17-2:10), pay attention to your prayers. Spend some time reflecting on the when, the why and the how of your prayers. Also, what is the prayer your life is speaking? As Maria Boulding writes, “Prayer moves us from knowing about God to knowing God.” May your prayers move you from knowing about God to knowing God ever more deeply!
Loving God, you desire a deep and abiding relationship with each of us, yet we are often distracted or just too busy. Give us the courage to listen as we pray, so that we will come to know you, your voice and your ways for our lives and for the life of your church. Amen.
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
I distinctly remember my brother-in-law saying to me, “You should be in seminary not me.” My response was quick and certain, “Never!” He calmly responded, “Never say never to God.” Have you ever said, “Never to God?” Have you ever run in the opposite direction of God’s leading for your life? From my vantage point today, it certainly seems like my brother-in-law’s words were the Word of the Lord to me! I may not have boarded a ship to Tarshish like Jonah all those years ago, but I certainly couldn’t fathom leaving my chemical engineering career and the abundant opportunities that still lay before me. I had just come to spend a weekend with my sister and her husband and certainly didn’t expect God to speak a Word to me! Yet, “Never say never to God,” took root and grew into a longing and a call to serve God through full-time ordained ministry. I believe the Word of the Lord comes to all of us in various forms, calling us to respond with our very lives to a need within our community, to a passion that will just not let you go, to a way of life we might never anticipate for our lives. God has a way of chasing after us all the days of our lives, albeit not with a large fish for most of us. God calls us to life that is really life and this life requires us to leap first, while trusting that God will give us wings. God gave Jonah the words he needed to speak to the people of Nineveh. God will be your provision as you step out in faith and respond to the Word God is speaking into your life. A good question for all of us this day: “Are we anticipating God’s Word for our lives?”
Holy God, we want to say, “Speak, for we are listening.” Yet, fear often wells up within us. What if you call me to do what I don’t want to do, like Jonah? This day we offer our fears to you, grateful that you understand. Please don’t ever stop chasing after us in love, for we desire life that is really life and know that this is possible only in relationship with you. Thank you for never giving up on us. Amen.
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Our nation will soon be celebrating its Independence Day on July 4th, yet, “What is true freedom?” writes Eugene Peterson as he translates a portion of Romans 6. He writes, “I’m using this freedom language because it’s easy to picture. You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing – not caring about others, not caring about God – the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God’s freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?” I wonder how you experience this freedom Apostle Paul is talking about as translated by Peterson? Is your life healed and expansive in holiness? Living in God’s freedom has led me to things I didn’t know I would ever do – like being a volunteer police chaplain for thirteen years. Although, there were many very intense experiences along the way, the freedom I experienced was losing myself in the moment, so that God could be palpably present through me to the officers and citizens involved. Living in God’s freedom has led me to places where I never expected to go – like Redlands, California and the First Presbyterian Church! Yet, what freedom there has been for me, as I have opened my life and ministry to all of you and this new community. Living in God’s freedom paradoxically comes from letting go and letting God take the lead, as Apostle penned two millennia ago and as the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W. and Dr. Bob rediscovered in 1935. My experience has taught me that true freedom comes from letting go and letting God. What’s your experience?
Loving God, if we are honest with you, we must confess that it is never easy to let go and let you direct our steps. Our egos have a strong need to maintain control, even though in reality control is an illusion. Give us the courage to unfurl our clinched fists and offer our lives to you anew, for we long for life that is really life that only you can offer us! Amen.
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Do you have a list of scriptures you wish were not in the biblical text? I know there are more than a few for me. I have various reasons for wanting some verses excised, but I especially detest those that make God sound petty, mean or vindictive. I also get annoyed with some verses that are used to declare some in and others out of the church or some worthy of service and others not. These verses are often conveniently used to support one’s own bias and to maintain one’s own power over and against another. Well, this coming Sunday, come prepared for one of those verses we probably all would like excised, for Jesus says to us, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” What? Isn’t Jesus supposed to be the Prince of Peace! What could Jesus possibly be saying to his disciples and to us? Jill Duffield,Outlook editor, makes plain why we struggle with this particular text, for she writes, “We find this reading from Matthew hard to stomach because we’ve taken our discipleship too lightly and our context hasn’t pushed us to question our cushy Christianity.” Ouch! What does discipleship look like for you? Are there risks involved for you in following in the footsteps of Jesus? Is your Christianity a bit too cushy? I am glad this text did not end up on the cutting room floor. How about you? Wrestling with the text keeps our faith alive!
Sovereign God, we prefer the picturesque manger to the stark reality of the cross, and the image of Jesus as the Prince of Peace rather than as the bearer of a sword. We confess that your living word unsettles us. Give us the courage to stay with the text and wrestle with its meaning for discipleship. We want to follow in your footsteps, even if the way forward is not cushy. Amen.
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Schools are out for the summer, but I wonder if you have a memory from your childhood of being sent out of the classroom? Maybe you were sent to the principal’s office. Maybe you were sent out to participate in a school play. Being sent out can be frightening as well as exciting; just ask the disciples! They had witnessed Jesus “teaching in the synagogues and proclaiming the good news, and curing every disease and every sickness,” but now it was their turn. The crowds were just too large. There were just too many people to reach, so Jesus commissioned his disciples saying, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” The disciples were ordinary everyday people – not a celebrity among them, unless you count the notoriety of Matthew as the dreaded tax collector. Ordinary people sent out to do the extraordinary – “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons.” Moved by compassion, Jesus enlisted and commissioned his disciples to help meet the extraordinary needs of the people. Moved by compassion, where will Jesus enlist and commission you to meet the needs of people in our community or around the globe? We are not to remain in holy huddles safely within the walls of the church. We are to be ready and willing to be sent to people and places in deep need of God’s healing love. Where will you be sent?
Loving God, we give thanks that you had compassion on the crowds and commissioned your disciples to respond to the needs around them. Although, we admit we have fears, send us out to be your hands, your feet, and your eyes, which compassionately look out into the world and then go about doing good in word and deed to bless others. Amen.
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
I love the honesty of the biblical text, “When they saw Jesus they worshipped him, but some doubted.” I know we have all heard the idiom, “Honesty is the best policy,” but is it? Was it a good thing that the biblical text was honest? I believe so, for doubt is a crucible of faith, leaving room for questions and deeper understanding. In our particular text this coming Sunday, Jesus gathers his disciples to give to them what is known as the Great Commission (Matthew28:16-20): “Go therefore… make disciples…baptize them…teach them.” “Go,” goes against our desire for comfort. “Go,” requires us to venture into places and into relationships that we would rather not. Yet, unless we “Go,” we certainly won’t stand a chance of “making disciples, baptizing them or teaching them!” As David Platt once wrote, “God has not redeemed you to dwell in a Christian bubble.” I know it feels far safer in the Christian bubble, yet this is not the great commission. I know that many doubt their ability to share the gospel with others. If honesty is the best policy, then I need to confess that I don’t believe I have the spiritual gift of evangelism. Yet, that doesn’t get me a pass. Jesus said, “Go,” to all the disciples, not just to those with the gift of evangelism, like Peter. Where is God calling you to “Go,” so that others might learn of the gospel through you?
Commissioning God, if honesty is the best policy, we admit that the “E” word (Evangelism) implied by your command, “Go therefore,” intimidates us. We fear that we will not know what to say, if somebody challenges us. We fear what others will think of us. Quell our fears and instill within us a confident trust in your presence, freeing us to share our stories of your goodness in our lives. Amen.
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Have you ever been jealous? Jealousy seems to seep into all of our souls at one time or another. Your first memory might be from childhood, when a friend possessed a toy you knew your parents could never afford. Maybe jealousy happened along the way, when a colleague received a promotion that you thought you deserved more. It even seeps into the church, for jealousy sprouts when someone feels overlooked, while others are called to lead. Moses asked if Joshua was jealous of Eldad and Medad, for they prophesied even though they had remained in camp. Eldad and Medad did not follow the rules. They broke rank. Yet, the Spirit descended on them, just as it did on the seventy who accompanied Moses. The Spirit blows where it wills, sweeping away our preconceived notions! As Apostle Paul says to the church at Corinth, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Where is there freedom needed in your own life from preconceived notions? Where does the forceful wind of the Spirit need to clear away the debris of jealousy? How will the dancing flame of the Spirit ignite your passion for listening to God and responding with your very life? Oh, that all of God’s people would be prophets!
Come, Holy Spirit, come! Yet, even as we read these words our hearts begin to race, for we know we cannot control the Holy Spirit. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom! Free us from our preconceived notion. Free us by igniting our passion for your voice. Free us by sweeping away our fears. Come, Holy Spirit, come! Come and live in us and through us, so that we may be your witnesses! Amen.
Wednesday, May 28, 2017
Have you ever had an experienced an “aha” moment? When something you thought you knew suddenly had a deeper meaning? Or when you had a fresh perspective on something that seemed tried and true? Jesus had been appearing to the disciples and the crowd of believers for forty days. Then we read Luke’s narrative on the day Jesus was carried into heaven, “Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” Jesus retold his life’s story through the lens of scripture and reminded the disciples that they were witnesses of his story. Imagine Jesus lovingly looking the disciples in the eyes, while passionately saying to them, “You are witnesses to these things.” You, not them! You! How have you witnessed the things of God? What do you do with what you have witnessed? Do you keep the things of God to yourself or do you tell others? On this day, Jesus told the disciples to stay in the city until they have been clothed by the power from on high. The disciples, by the power from on high, became the conduit of faith for future believers. What about us? Are you a conduit of faith for those who do not yet know God? I can’t imagine being an eyewitness to Jesus’ ascension, but I can imagine being an eye witness to the things of God that happen all around us. Where have you witnessed God at work? Share what you have seen with others.
Power from on high, open our minds and our hearts to your palpable presence all around us. Break open deeper meaning and gift us with fresh perspectives on the Christ in each of us and in everyone we meet as we go through our days. You, O Christ, are with us. Help us to see with your eyes and give us courage to bear witness to your work of love. Amen.
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
I don’t know about you, but conditional statements always catch my eye and Jesus starts our passage from John 14 this week with the conditional word “if”. “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” What commandments is Jesus talking about? The famous ten outlined in Exodus and Deuteronomy or the greatest two Jesus gave to his disciples: love God and love neighbor? What does keeping commandments have to do with love anyways? It seems to me that Jesus is saying to his disciples and to us that if we love God, then our lives will be lived in a particular way. If we love God, then our lives will be shaped by the abiding presence of Christ’s love and like Christ, the embodiment of love, we are to be love with our very lives. Love that crosses human constructed boundaries, like Jesus interacting with the Samaritan woman. Love that breaks unjust laws or rules that are rigid without reason, like Jesus healing on the Sabbath in order to stop suffering. Love that forgives even when everyone else is ready to condemn, like Jesus intervening on behalf of the woman caught in adultery. If you and I love Jesus than our lives will be lived in a particular way, not by our own power, but by the power of the Spirit of truth at work within us and through us. If we love Jesus, then we are to be about the work of love.
Loving One, you tore open the heavens and came down to make plain the depth, breadth, height and width of your love for us. Your love for us never ceases to amaze us. Help us to abide in your love, so that your love will abide in us and flow through us to touch the deep needs of this hurting world. Spirit of truth, empower us to love as Jesus loves us. Amen.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet and foretold of his betrayal by Judas, as well as Peter’s anticipated denial. The disciples were experiencing dislocation for their imagined future was evaporating. Jesus is talking about leaving, but where? Jesus is talking about the way, but how? In the midst of their confusion Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” When life is not as we expect, it is hard for our hearts not to be troubled. We worry incessantly, wasting the preciousness of now. We lose sleep and wake in a fog. swirl in our minds and disrupt every waking moment. When life is not as we expect, we focus on all that seems chaotic, confusing or down right wrong. The disciples could only come up with questions, “Where are you going? Or how will we know the way?” What do you do when life is not as you expect? The prophet Isaiah reminds us to put God first above all, even when chaos rules or enemies of all varieties press in. “When we do,” writes Mark Roberts, “the rest of life will fall into its rightful place.” Could this be why Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled?” If we focus on God – “believe in God, believe also in me,” said Jesus – then maybe we will have the courage to stay present to the moment and trust in God’s provision for our lives. “You know the way,” said Jesus to his disciples. The way is trust God with our very lives.
Sovereign God, it is hard to always trust in your provision for our lives, even though you have been faithful in our past. When chaos reigns in our lives, we often forget to open our clinched fists and our slammed-closed hearts to your mercies which are new every morning, to your love and faithfulness which is steadfast, and to your hope which does not disappoint. Do not let our hearts be troubled, we pray. Give us the courage to trust in your provision for our lives. Amen.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
You probably all recall that infamous cell phone commercial, “Can you hear me know?” In the Gospel of John this coming Sunday, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, as they are challenging a man who claims he was blind but now can see. I can almost hear Jesus saying to the Pharisees, “Can you hear me now?” The answer by the Pharisees is an emphatic, “No!” It’s obvious that the Pharisees don’t know the Shepherd’s voice. Jesus reminds the Pharisees that the Shepherd calls his own by name and then leads them out, going before them and showing them the way. The Pharisees refuse to hear and they fail to claim the miracle of healing for this man who can now see. What about us? Are our ears stopped, preventing us from seeing God’s miracles all around us? How do you listen for God’s voice in your own life? I listen to God most often through the practice of journaling, silence and worship in community. What about you? How do we as a church listen for God’s voice? Often the cacophony of sounds clamoring for our attention on a daily basis, drown out God’s still small voice. That is why I find silence to be helpful. Until I quiet myself, I find it hard to hear God’s voice. How might we learn to listen more deeply for God’s voice in our lives and in the life of this church? Maybe, God needs to keep asking us, “Can you hear me now?”
Speaking God, help each of us to discern how best to hear your voice for our lives, so that we may connect with your life giving presence. We confess that our busyness often gets in the way, for we are more comfortable doing, rather than being. Forgive us when we drown out your voice and help us attune our ears, hearts and lives to your ways. Amen.