Friday, January 30, 2015

Psalm 119:17-24

Psalm 119:17-24
English Standard Version (ESV)

  My soul is consumed with longing for God...
  Your servant will meditate on your statutes...
  Your testimonies are my delight...

  This is an aspirational Psalm in so many ways.  This is the life we pray for, the life we aim for, the life we desire to life, one that is pleasing to God, that glorifies and praises him, that points to him rather than the self.  We look at the world, we hope to see opportunities to praise God rather than enrich ourselves.

  May our vision look to God today, and may it guide us into glorifying him

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Psalm 119:9-16

Psalm 119:9-16
English Standard Version (ESV)

  My biggest problem in life, I believe, is that I don't seek God with my whole heart.
  I seek him with part of my heart, but part of my heart seeks after success and renown, and those are black holes.  You never get enough.  There is no satisfaction there, because there is always someone with more, and you're always comparing yourself to them, and then you become driven, but the drive somehow consumes you at the same time.  Pursuit of false gods leaves you empty, because you have to give up a lot to chase these false gods.
  Pursuit of God, however, gives you rest (Come to me and I will give you rest, God says).  It fills you, and then sends you out to enjoy the good things of life with renewed energy and purpose.  Seek God with your whole heart, Scripture tells us, and the rest of life will be enriched--you'll get more!
  My heart is divided.  I have given bits and pieces away to different false gods.  My earnest prayer, my heart's true cry, is to seek God with single-minded purpose, that all of life may be filled with grace and peace.

May you seek God, and may you find him

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Psalm 119:1-8

Psalm 119:1-8
English Standard Version (ESV)

  What if I told you that steak was the greatest thing in the world, as well as the healthiest, but you discovered I was a vegetarian?  What if I told you that exercise would help you thrive, but that I never left the comforts of my couch?  What if I told you that reading would make you more intelligent and more interesting, but that I never cracked a book?
  You'd wonder about my integrity, and you'd wonder if I, too, was missing out on the benefits.
  Here we have the same situation.  The one who is blessed is the one who walks in the way of the Lord, the one who keeps his testimonies, the one who seeks him with all their heart.  There are so many active verbs in the beginning of this Psalm--we can only expect to live a faithful life if we move from thought and contemplation into action, serving God with hands and feet, praising him with words and deeds.

May our lives be filled with acts of glory and praise, big and small

Monday, January 26, 2015

Psalm 118:14-29

Psalm 118:14-29
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Give thanks!
  In the midst of all of life, give thanks!
  In the midst of the joy and the pain, give thanks!
  In the midst of the questions and the heartache, give thanks!
  In the midst of the uncertainty and the fears and the doubts, give thanks!
  In the midst of the dancing and the laughter and the jubilation, give thanks!
  Give thanks because the Lord is faith, the Lord is good.  Give thanks because no matter what happens in life, God will be there to walk with you and lead you through each moment into eternal life.  Give thanks because God loves you enough to die on a cross for you.  Give thanks for forgiveness and hope in Christ.
  Give thanks

May our hearts be filled with gratitude today

Friday, January 23, 2015

Psalm 118:1-13

Psalm 118:1-13
English Standard Version (ESV)

  When we place our complete trust in the Lord, our fellow man, no matter how bitter or evil or cruel or intent on our destruction, cannot push us into fear unless we are willing to go there ourselves.  The Lord is by your side as a helper.  In case that image doesn't give you courage, remember how the Lord is described in Revelation 19:
        11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Rev. 19:11-16, ESV)
  That's the Lord who stands beside you, whose steadfast love endures forever, who is your helper.  That's the God who laid down his life so that your sins might be forgiven, so that your life might be restored from the pit, so that you shall not be eternally separated from God.
  Give thanks to the Lord.  He is good.
  Because God is good, our sins are forgiven, our hope is restored, our life is eternal, our enemies are defeated, and our joy is unlimited.

May we be humble and serve others today, living from confidence rather than fear

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Psalm 117

Psalm 117 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Short.  Simple.
  Sometimes, this is what our prayers should look like--short offerings of praise, easy to memorize, repeat and carry with us throughout the day.  Praise God!  His love and faithfulness are great, and will never end.
  Sometimes, our prayers are longer, more complicated, and perhaps focused on other themes.
  There is room for both.  We need the short prayers we can memorize that will turn us back to God throughout the day just as we need the longer times when we pour out our hearts to God, offering gratitude, repentance and praise.

  May our lives be filled with robust praise offerings to God

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Psalm 116:10-19

Psalm 116:10-19
Contemporary English Version (CEV)

  What should we give?  What would you give a friend who saved your life?  What can you give a parent who sacrificed much for you to excel?  What would you give a doctor who interceded and gave you a second chance?
  There are things we receive for which 'thank you' seems to fall short.  The gift of grace is certainly one of those gifts.  We can never adequately thank God for what has been given to us.
  All we can do is live in such a way that honors the gift and the giver.  We can choose to love others as we have been loved, and in so doing we express our gratitude to God for his goodness.

May we love selflessly, and in so doing, proclaim the name of Christ

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Psalm 116:1-9

Psalm 116:1-9
Contemporary English Version (CEV) 

  I am glad to spend my life extolling the truth and order of verses 8 and 9.  It's so important to note which comes first!
  The God we worship first saves us from death, saves us from despair and hopelessness.  He does this first, before we can even think to ask.  Then, in reply, we are invited to walk with him.  Our salvation does NOT depend on our prior obedience, but rather on us receiving what God so generously gives.
  God loves us so much that he reaches out with aid before we recognize that we are wounded.  Then God binds us up, broken limbs and broken hearts, and shows us the path forward into abundant and eternal life.  God does all this freely, out of a rich and abiding love.

May we respond with grateful praise

Monday, January 19, 2015

Psalm 115:12-18

Psalm 115:12-18
English Standard Version (ESV)

  We will bless the Lord, because we have life within us, and that life is the life given by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is at work within you, animating you, giving you true life that comes only from God.  Your life isn't just about breathing in and out, it's about getting to work in the world alongside God, doing works of love and justice, reaching out to the oppressed and sharing selfless love with others, just as selfless love has been shown to you in the person of Jesus Christ.
  We are not called to be silent, to be a dead-end where God's love stagnates within us.  It should flow through us into others, refreshing us and the world.  When we see places where love and justice are needed, may our lives be thrown into the task, and may we honor God by our service.

May we spend our energies serving, that we may imitate Christ

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sermon on John 6 for Sunday, January 18

John 6:60-70 
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

   60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
   66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”
  68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
  70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.”



Monday was fun, right?
Let’s be honest—there wasn’t much productivity in the city of Columbus on Tuesday.  The OSU football team found an amazing rhythm the last 3 games, and they peaked at the absolute right time.  I went to the Michigan game, which is a story for another day, and Michigan ran up and down the field on them.  The next three games, however, they played the type of football that propelled them to the first championship in the newly-formed college football playoff.  The entire city celebrated, some of the students perhaps a little too ardently.  I was in a bar on High Street watching the game, and when I emerged I could look down the street and see nothing but sirens blaring against the night sky.  As it was 20 degrees and past midnight, I was ready to be home in bed, but I recognize that not everyone thinks the same way.  I did learn the answer to a question I had always wondered about—I overheard that people actually buy couches before the game to burn afterwards. 
Forgetting all the rioting, however, we can focus on the joy of the triumph, on the celebration, on the victory that the football team brought to the town and the state.  It’s fun to win, right?  It certainly beats losing.  I’ve been a Bengals fan since I moved to Cincinnati at the age of 6, and I remember the joy of the Bengals going to the Super Bowl when I was still a child, and it was so much to cheer for the Bengals.  The next 25 years, well, they weren’t quite as much fun.  There was a lot of losing, and it was tough.  I endured a lot of 3-13 seasons, and they weren’t nearly as much fun as the Super Bowl season. 
This ‘winning’ mentality is alive and well in the country.  We love winners.  They are celebrated and lifted up as people to emulate.  They are studied and dissected so we will know how to become winners ourselves.  We buy their books and read their Twitter feeds in the hopes of gaining some insight into how we, too, can win.
What happens, then, is that this mindset infects the church.  I would call it a theology of glory, of triumph, and we begin to believe that everything in the church needs to be upbeat, victorious and cheerful.  We start to feel like every single day should be a mountaintop experience, and that the essence of the religious life is to go from moutaintop to mountaintop, with our feet barely dropping as we leap from religious high to religious high.  This is the theology that sells Joel Osteen’s books, the idea that our best life is just within our grasp, if only we can channel enough positive energy and let God give us all the money and happiness and wealth that we desire.  If we are failing, we are told, it is because we aren’t praying hard enough, or because we don’t really believe enough, and that we just need to try more in order in to succeed, to win in life.  Church, then, is an opportunity to get together and celebrate all the wonderful things in life, and if we’re doing it right, then we won’t have any bad things left. 
The problem, however, is that life isn’t really like that.  If you’ve been alive for more than a few minutes, you know that life doesn’t exist only on the mountaintops.  You know that life doesn’t always feel like winning.  You hear people talking about how the religious life should leave you happy all the time, and perhaps you doubt if you are doing it right, because you may be filled with doubt and questions about what God is up to, because perhaps you are struggling with doubt, depression and fear, maybe you are struggling with illness or mourning or trying to walk with a loved one through the valley of the shadow of death.  Maybe you’re in one of those places where the light still shines, but there is plenty of darkness surrounding it. 
To those of us wondering why the religious life seems to be such a challenge sometimes, I’d like to turn to the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel.  See, it’s not just us that wrestles with walking faithfully with God.  The challenge of the faithful life isn’t new—to those who walked and talked with Jesus, they struggled to make sense of it all, too.
Here in John 6, we have 2 amazing miracles, back-to-back.  We begin with Jesus miraculously feeding 5,000 people, and then Jesus walks on water in the middle of the night in the midst of a storm.  The next day, when the crowd discovers he has gone, they seek him out and ask him a rather absurd question:  they ask for a sign, as though feeding 5,000 of them with five loaves and two fish wasn’t quite enough.   
Then Jesus launches into this incredibly complex teaching about bread.  He tells them that he is the bread of life, and he references the manna that was given in the wilderness.  God fed the Israelites manna every day for 40 years in the wilderness, sustaining them on their walk to the promised land.  They ate this food and still perished, and Jesus is trying to help them see the shift that is taking place with his arrival—God is looking beyond the physical life and sustenance and inviting them into a spiritual meal where the soul is fed and sustained by belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 
Those who are listening to Jesus struggle with this, because they’re thinking of physical bread, but Jesus has shifted the conversation to another level, but they haven’t followed him up.  He’s inviting them into eternal life, and they’re wondering about eating bread.  Jesus is leading, but it’s a hard road to follow.  He claims that he is the only way to the Father, at which point many of the disciples turn back, unable or unwilling to follow the challenging road that he beckons them toward.  It’s hard to believe, to trust in him and perhaps face persecution, to trust in him and let him lead.  It’s hard to believe, especially when we still have so many questions.
Jesus, watching so many leave because they are unwilling to deal with the challenges, then turns to the 12 and asks if they will go, too.  Peter answers beautifully:  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
This, friends, is a simple statement that leads us forward.  It begins with a question—to whom shall we go?
There is no one else, friends, who can offer what Christ can.  No one else can offer life that transcends death, love that transcends hatred, power that is eager to serve.  Plenty of people or things may promise life and love and permanent health, but we’ve seen those promises fall apart.  There is always someone willing to promise the easy road, but we know that life is filled with challenges.  People get sick.  Loved ones die.  Plans change.  Marriages fall apart.  Business go bankrupt.  People let us down.  Friends betray us.
This happens, and only God is still faithful.  Life happens, and in the midst of the darkness, only God’s light still shines.  Only God is still there when everything else has fallen away.  Only God will never let us down.
God has the words of eternal life, friends, and following him is hard.  We often have questions.  We wonder why every day can’t be Easter Sunday, joyous and triumphant.  We wonder why there is death and pain and heartache.  God has promised so much, and the world seems to fall short so often.
Friends, it is hard to be the church.  But we are called to endure, to patiently persevere, to be faithful to the end.  Peter says it best—we have believed, and have come to know, that Christ is the Holy One of God.  We may not understand everything, but each day we take another step of discipleship, and we shall endure through the storms of life, and only when we reach the end will we be welcomed into a Kingdom that truly is the church triumphant.  We catch glimpses here and there of what that theology of glory truly is, but we must wait until we pass through the shadow of death to glimpse it in full.  Until then, we shall endure as the church can, trusting the promises of Christ to shepherd us through the end into life everlasting, recognizing that the final victory awaits and that one day, we shall dance forever in the light of God’s grace.
Let us pray

Friday, January 16, 2015

Psalm 115:1-11

Psalm 115:1-11
Contemporary English Version (CEV) 

  Idols have been disappointing us for thousands of years, but we keep turning to them, falling for their lies of shortcuts, of easy assurance.  We believe that money can solve all of our problems, that power or renown will make it easier, that being beautiful on the outside makes us beautiful on the inside.
  These idols have been letting us down, but they're so easy to believe, and so we fall for them time and time again.  The slow, long walk of faithfulness to God proves itself over a lifetime, but we don't like waiting, so we reach for the instant gratification of idols, only to find ourselves disappointed and foolish.
  Jesus invites us into a life of endurance, into a life of patient waiting on God, into rhythms of trust and obedience that will prove themselves worthwhile over the time from of eternity.  Don't trade the eternal worth of God for the empty, temporary promise of an idol.

May we take another small step on the road of faithfulness today

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Psalm 114

Psalm 114
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Humans have achieved some amazing things.  We have figured out how to split the atom and how to harness the power of the sun.  Much of modern medicine seems miraculous, and flight continues to astound me every time I watch a plane take off.
  Let us not lose our sense of wonder.  There are amazing things going on around us every day, and God is at the heart of all the good and noble things happening in this world.  Every act of love reflects, in some way, God's selfless love.  Every new discovery is made possible by God's gifts of wisdom.  Every natural treasure was created by God.
  No matter how smart or resourceful we become, we are rooted in God, who will always be greater than we are.  Let us wonder at the world around us, and worship the God who has made it all.

May we be amazed today

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Psalm 113

Psalm 113
Common English Bible (CEB)

  Last Tuesday I had knee surgery (again), and I've been hobbling around for the better part of the last week, not making it anywhere too quickly or gracefully.  In my head, I imagine people around me having pity on me, thinking of me in a certain light.
  I imagine you've done this, too.  You've had something happen to you, or something is true about you, and you picture the people around you forming a certain image of you.  You start to believe that everyone must think a certain way.  You carry the imagined image around, whether it is true or not.
  One of the incredible truths about God is that he isn't judging us in the same harsh light we judge ourselves.  God elevates, reaching down to us in our situation, rich or poor, and offers abundant grace to live us from the mire in which we dwell.  God lifts us up and sheds his light and grace upon us, giving us occasional glimpses of the beauty God has in store.

May we beam with joy when we recognize God's amazing love

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Psalm 112

Psalm 112 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  I read this over and over, and I love the beauty of it.  It is, I believe, a worthwhile goal, something to strive for.  A heart so set on Christ that bad news does not shake us.  A  mind so focused on the Good News of the Gospel that it is not disturbed by the chaos of the world, but finds certainty in the future and trust in the present.  A life that receives blessings with gratitude and spreads those blessings to others.
  I pray that we might strive for this life, for the Godly life that places worldly goals in their place and allows Christ to be the center of hearts and minds, that we may be blessed and enrich the world around us, sharing the Gospel of grace and trusting in God forevermore!

May we lead lives of selfless courage, in the hopes that one day, people will see our lives and recognize the glory of God shining through them

Monday, January 12, 2015

Psalm 111

Psalm 111 
Common English Bible (CEB)

  I love the idea that fear of the Lord is where wisdom begins.  Our journey to wisdom begins with a recognition that the universe is not centered around us, but rather that there is an amazing, all-powerful God whose face alone we dare not look at lest we perish, and whose grace alone establishes our lives.  We begin here, and only upon grasping this fact do we take the first step on the journey to wisdom.

May we humble ourselves before the Lord and let God lead us forward

Friday, January 9, 2015


  I finally read it.
  Michael Lewis' Moneyball is one of those books that's been floating around for ages.  First published over 10 years ago, it's a book I should have read by now if I'm as big of a baseball fan as I say I am.  Somehow, I kept avoiding it.  Libraries didn't have it, and I could never find a cheap copy.
  I finally ran out of excuses, and since Brad Pitt had already delivered the movie to the big screen, it was time.
  The book isn't so much about Billy Beane and the Oakland A's unexpected success.  It's more of a focus on the shifting landscape of today's world, one driven by data and the discoveries that can be found through the data.  The work of Bill James plays a fundamental part of this shift.  Many scouts will cast doubts on a player that doesn't look right.  Billy Beane's system focuses on whether a player can get on base, believing that this singular ability is a predictor of a team's success.  His work is one of the many sparks that is responsible for the important role statistics have in many sports today.

  I think there is a lesson in this book that is far more important than the baseball covered in this book.  (Especially since the A's were never able to capture a World Series, despite great regular season success.  That essentially comes down to poor luck.)

  It's so important to ask big questions about why we think the way we do.  It's easy to keep doing things the way we've always done them, whether we're in a family or a school or a sport or a church.  Tradition is a great thing to fall back into, and tradition can anchor us in the midst of a busy world.  However, it can also be a crutch that prevents us from recognizing new opportunities.  The way we've always done things and the way we've always seen things can limit us from seeing new opportunities before us, simply because they are different.  If I've always read a certain Scripture passage in one way, it's going to take a lot to shift my mind to understand it a different way.  If I have found a certain person lack in honesty, it's going to take a lot for me to trust them.  Internal change is difficult.

  Yet it is important.  I think this is the reason it's so important for us to listen to people who are different than we are, to listen without our defenses raised, and allow ourselves to be challenged.  We don't have to give up everything we believe in, but we need to ask big questions and trust that if the things we believe are true, that can withstand tough questions.

Psalm 110

Psalm 110 
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  God is amazing.
  Think of God, the tiny & vulnerable baby in the manger, dependent upon Mary and Joseph for almost everything.
  Think of God, naked and alone on the cross, beaten and bloodied by Roman soldiers, looking defeated in the eyes of the world.
  Think of God, dead and in the tomb, the stone rolled across the face of hope, dark.
  Think of God, seated on the throne of heaven, ruling from on high with more power than we could possibly imagine.  Think of God, extended his mighty right arm to deliver.  Think of God, the one who loves you more deeply than you can imagine, the one who will do anything to save his beloved, the one who cannot be defeated by anything in this world.
  God is truly amazing, and God pours himself out for you and for me.

Thanks be to God!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Some of my favorite things

Also, as I work on my spreadsheet of the books I've read over the years, I thought I'd point out a few favorites:

2014 The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
  Simply an amazing story.  I cried at the end of it.

2013:  Guns, Germs & Steel, by Jared Diamond
  Very interesting & thought-provoking

2012:  The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
  Just a fun, magical ride

2011:  The Little World of Don Camillo, by Giovanni Guareschi
  One of the best stories I've ever read.  The movie is fun, too.

2010:  The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
  I apologize for judging people based on their opinion of this book.  Easily my favorite, and one of the few books I've read more than once.  Don't watch the movie adaptations.

2009:  The Grand Inquisitor's Manual, by Jonathon Kirsch
  Another interesting, thought-provoking work that gives a more complete view of the inquisition.

Psalm 109:14-31

Psalm 109:14-31
Contemporary English Version (CEV)

  It takes a lot to care only about the feedback we get from God.  One has to develop some pretty thick skin, and one has to be singularly focused on God Almighty, especially when the cries of our enemies rise high enough to dominate our lives.  At that point, it is so easy to start to believe the lies, to believe that what our enemies say is the truth.
  This is why it's crucial for us to read and know the whole Bible.  The Bible tells us how precious we are to God and how clinging to him will bring us to safety.  The Bible tells us that God's love never fails, and we should never give up hoping in God, because he will not leave or forsake us.  Placing our identity in our relationship with God is the only place where it is free from the dangers of attack.  It's not easy, and it takes great courage, but investing deeply in our relationship with God will give us the kind of peace the world may promise, but cannot deliver.

  May we trust in God's love

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

One Summer

  The first book of 2015 has been read!  Bill Bryson's One Summer:  America, 1927 was the selection, and it was a strong start to the year.  I didn't have many doubts about this one, since I enjoy reading all of Bill Bryon's works, but it just seemed like such a random choice.  The only thing I previously knew about 1927 was that the Yankees were by far the best team in baseball, possibly the greatest team ever assembled.
  But the summer was just packed.  It started with Charles Lindbergh crossing the ocean on his own, then starting a tour around Europe and the United States that saw crowds pack his every destination, often mobbing his plane as soon as it landed, sometimes crowding the runway as he was trying to land.  (Note to self:  Do not stand on runway while plane is trying to land on it.)  Lindbergh didn't really seem to enjoy the publicity, but he was probably the most internationally famous person alive at that point.
  This was also the summer in which Sacco & Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists who may or may not have participated in a robbery, were executed.  The Jazz Singer was filmed, work started on Mt. Rushmore, and the Federal Reserve began to create policies that would lead to the Great Depression.
  There were many other things that went on over the summer, and it was all fascinating.  It must have been so interesting to read the newspapers day after day, with so much going on in the world (not all of it good, but most of it supremely interesting).  There was a recent interview with Laura Hillenbrand, the author of Unbroken and Seabiscuit, in which she discussed doing most of her research by buying old newspapers on eBay and looking through them.  (She suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as well as vertigo, so she can't look at microfiche.  She mentioned that the inspiration for many of her stories comes from newspapers articles she stumbles upon while reading something else.  She discovers forgotten gems, amazing stories that have been covered up by the dust that accumulates over the ages, and these old stories are often just as compelling today, drawing us in as we anxiously await the outcome.
  I'd highly recommend One Summer, just because each page seems to hold some remarkable truth that I had never learned or long since forgotten, and it's always fun to learn of another age.

Psalm 109:1-13

Psalm 109:1-13
Contemporary English Version (CEV) 

  We will find disagreement in the world.  We find it in our families, in our churches, in our workplaces and our communities.  There are countless opportunities to disagree, from what we're having for dinner to whether or not to exercise a business transaction.
  On top of that, there are people who oppose us for what we believe, people who try and tear us down by their words and actions.  This can be so incredibly discouraging, because it often seems as though there is no way out.
  It is hard to live, but when we put our faith fully in God, we need not be in such fear, because we value our own lives through God's eyes, rather than the world's, and we recognize that we are precious & treasured by God.
  As Augstine said, 'God loves you as if there was only one to love'.
  May we find our value in God

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Psalm 108:7-13

Psalm 108:7-13
English Standard Version (ESV)

  We often try to do things on our own, stubbornly insisting that we are independent, refusing to acknowledge that God, our creator, wants us to flourish.  We insist that we can manage, that we can be strong and persevere, while God longs for us to turn to him and depend upon him.  He has made us, knows our strengths and weaknesses intimately, and wants the best for us.
  In our world, we consider it the height of wisdom when someone achieves worldly success through craftiness and guile.  We consider it weakness to depend on others.  God, however, sees the importance of dependence, and in Jesus Christ shows us that true power is displayed in serving others, in being interconnected among a community that depends on one another.
  You are not on your own, and we are stronger when we admit our weakness and turn to God, our strength and guide, to lead us forward.

May we be humble, as Christ was, and allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit

Monday, January 5, 2015

Psalm 108:1-6

Psalm 108:1-6
English Standard Version (ESV)

  On this first Monday of 2015, may we resolve that our entire beings may sing praises to the Lord.  So often we compartmentalize our worship of God, focusing on Sunday mornings and other specific times of the day or week, but we are called to worship God at all times with our whole lives.  May we give thanks, rejoicing that God loves us enough to liberate us from eternal punishment and bring us into everlasting life.  May we sing in gratitude and serve selflessly, loving as we have been loved!

  May this year be a year of rich blessing and praise

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sermon on the new creation for Sunday, 1/4/2015

Revelation 21:1-7


Some years ago, I decided it was time for a new(ish) car.  After spending way too many hours online, I found the car I wanted.  There was only one problem.  It was in Austin, TX, while I was in Chattanooga, TN.  Fortunately, I learned that the car dealer was willing to ship the car for a nominal fee.  Unfortunately, I learned this while sitting in the car dealer in Texas, having been dropped off at the airport in Chattanooga with a one way plane ticket and no solid plan B.  Life is filled with moments to reflect on the questions you forget to ask.

Having bought the car in Texas left me with a certain problem.  What was I to do with the current car I had, one that wasn’t worth very much money?  At the moment, I figured it would be useful to keep around in case we needed it.  So for a while, we had 3 cars for the two of us.  From the beginning, this was clearly not a great idea.

Our driveway wasn’t that big, so we were always within inches of scraping up one of the cars.  It felt strange having a car and not driving it, so I alternated which car I drove, meaning that the new, more efficient car didn’t deliver the benefits I had planned for because it was driven less.  Also, we had to keep insurance on the old car, even though it wasn’t worth much.

After about 5 months of this, I recognized the folly of the arrangement.  The presence of the old was interfering with our lives as we moved forward into the new, so the old was released and money was saved and we could park in the driveway, etc.  Holding onto the old car out of fear that the new might not prove completely reliable turned out to clutter our lives and only cause problems.

As humans, we do this quite a bit, just usually not with cars.  Has anyone ever bought a new pair of jeans or shoes and kept the old one, just in case?  Does anyone buy a new appliance and then decide to have the old one hang around in case it breaks?  We do this with possessions and relationships and habits and all sorts of things.  We hang onto the old out of fear that the new might not work out, and we don’t want to be left in the lurch.  When it means keeping an old pair of shoes, there isn’t too much danger or even inconvenience.  However, when we’re talking about relationships or habits, this can be quite dangerous to our health.

We do this with God, too.

See, the Bible is one story.  The main character in the story is God, and the Bible tells the story about how God pursues his beloved creations, desiring to be in an eternal, loving relationship with them.  God has a mission, a purpose, and it is to gather all people to himself.  At one point in the story, which is our story, too, God dramatically enters into the story in the person of Jesus Christ, so desperate is God to demonstrate fully his love and devotion to the people he has created and calls by name.  This moment is when we acknowledge the new covenant, and it serves to fulfill the old covenant.

Now, the Old Covenant was given to Abraham, and it was marked by a sacrificial system in which the people made sacrifices, or atonement, for the sins they created.  The people were given the law so that they might know how best to dedicate every part of their lives to God, and when they broke the law they were given steps to undertake in order to repair the breach in their relationship with God that their actions had created.  As long as they fulfilled every step of the law in this old covenant, their relationship with God was right.

Unfortunately, humans couldn’t and wouldn’t keep the law.  We kept getting distracted by everything going on in the world around us, and we kept reaching for the devil’s empty promises, those things that shine and glisten and promise to fulfill our every desire and need without much cost.  These mirages in the desert glimmer with promise, but when we bow our heads to drink from their lush fountains, we discover they are nothing but sand, coarse to the tongue and poisonous to the heart.  We are deceived, time and time again, and we fail to keep up our end of the covenant.

Recognizing our propensity for selfishness and idolatry, God enters into creation in the person of Jesus Christ, taking on human flesh so that we might know the fullness of the love and mercy of God.  By his selfless love and sacrificial death on the cross, he fulfills the old covenant and establishes a new covenant, in which sins are forgiven by his death and we are raised to new life by faith.  We are released from our guilt and driven into the arms of gratitude, out of which we are called to live for the purpose of helping to build God’s Kingdom here on earth.

The Old Covenant, the one in which our status with God depended on our actions, has passed away.  The New Covenant, in which our standing before God depends on the actions of Jesus Christ, is here.  We are freed from our bondage of sin and death into the eternal glory of life and light.

But we hold on to the old.

Perhaps it is out of fear that the new may not be completely reliable, that the promise is too good to be true.  Perhaps it is out of habit, that the human inclination to try and earn our way into God’s good graces is simply hard-wired into us and it makes more sense that God would love us if we were worthy, rather than the somewhat-absurd idea that God pours out love upon us simply because he created us and wants to see us flourish.  Perhaps it is because we are weak, and we give in to the temptation of the world that tells us that we are only as good as the world says we are, and that depends on what we wear and what we drive and how we look and who we know and what we earn.  Perhaps we live in a cauldron of these reasons, each one added to a different amount depending on how we were raised and where we are in our walk today, and the doubts and fears of all the years weigh heavily upon us as we ponder this odd promise of the free gift of eternal salvation from a God who loves you more than you can imagine.

As we enter the New Year, we will spend much time and energy on New Year’s Resolutions.  Some of you will succeed, while others will fail.  Gyms across the country will be mostly full for the next month, with a few members staying on for the months beyond.  Doughnuts will still call our names, and some will resist their siren song.  Bibles will be dusted off, and some will show considerable wear by this time next year. 

In order to take up any resolution, something old must be given up.  Habits must be changed.  Relationships must be severed.  Time allocations should be changed.  If we don’t give up the old, the new will not have the space needed to take root and flourish.

Friends, I’d like to encourage you to think of the most important resolution you can make.  Resolve to let go of any Old Covenant thinking you may have.  Let go of your fears that you are not good enough for God, that you have not earned God’s love.  You have not.  We have each failed and fallen short of what God asks of us.  Step into the New Covenant.  Here, you receive the free gift of life from God, who asks you not to earn it, but hands it over without merit, freely giving the life of his Son in exchange for your own life, taking on the punishment you deserve and offering you the glory He deserves.  The charge for us is to live in the shadow of the cross, letting gratitude, rather than guilt, drive us.  You have been set free.  If you cling to fear that this is too good to be true, your hands and heart and mind will be so full of this fear that you will not have space to grasp the new.  If you worry that such news is too good to be true, you miss the chance to live into the amazing grace of God.  Let the New Covenant fulfill, amaze, and drive you to serve others out of gratitude.  Martin Luther has said that God gave us fingers at the end of our hands so that money might slide through them to others and then God may refill our hands. 

Let us live with this mindset.  God, the creator, is inviting us to be a co-creator with him in the new creation, and you are invited to revel in the delight of his amazing grace.  May we join with open hearts and open minds, ready to receive all that God freely gives.

Let us pray 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Psalm 107:33-43

Psalm 107:33-43
Living Bible (TLB)

  Think about the loving kindness of the Lord:  You have been freely liberated from eternal death by the gift of the life of Jesus Christ.
  God is into reversals.  Those who are poor become rich.  Those who are hungry are fed.  Those who are cast out are welcomed in.  Those who are dead become alive.
  What does this mean for us?  I think it gives hope to those who feel as though life has trod upon them, and it reminds us that whatever gifts we have are meant to be invested in God's Kingdom.  Our goods are not meant to define us as rich, but rather to be used as tools for joining with God in giving to those in need.  In doing so, we recognize our own poverty, and we see that only wealth towards God truly matters, for that leads us into a way of life that looks to serve others and reverse their poverty.

  In God, death becomes life.  May we give thanks for our own life, and share the Good News!