Wednesday, April 8, 2020

John 17:6-19

John 17:6-19 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  The big truth that I take from this is how intimately Jesus loves us.  This is a deeper love than we can imagine -- he lived for his children, and he dies for his children.  Throughout his time on earth, his heart was focused on his children.  He does not forget them, and speaks of them, of you, with a passion that is greater than you can imagine.
  Jesus loves you, and Jesus looks out for you, and Jesus will not forget you, and he will not lose you.
  In the midst of the world's chaos, it is my hope that you will stop for 5 or 10 minutes and allow the love of God to embrace you.  Before Jesus went to the cross, he was praying for you.  He poured his Word into the apostles that it may be shared to the world, and because of their faithful ministry, we know of his great love for us.
  You are loved, today, tomorrow and forevermore, and even death cannot and will not change that.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

John 17:1-5

John 17:1-5
English Standard Version (ESV)

  This is Jesus' high priestly prayer that he prays before he goes out to the garden, is betrayed and arrested.  In the last week of his life, he's completely focused on what it takes to glorify God, even though the path to that leads through the cross, through his humiliation and crucifixion, through pain and betrayal and abandonment. Despite all of this, and having the weight of the world's sins placed upon his human shoulders, Jesus is focused on God's glory.
  I wish I had this kind of focus.  My focus definitely wavers, as I don't have the same courage Jesus has.  I am human, and sometimes hold a little too tightly to the things around me.  I know in my head that the more I focus on God, the better I will love the people in my life, but I'll admit I'm often too afraid of losing them, so I'll put other things in front of God.
  Jesus teaches us, Jesus shows us, that when we love God with heart, soul, and mind, that all these things will be given unto us, the rich relationships and a community of faith.  He also understands our weakness, and he comes to us, he comes to me, he comes to you in our weakness, and extends grace.  He did what he did because we could not, and so we are able to hope for a better tomorrow because of the unconditional love with which he loves us.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Palm Sunday Sermon

See below for the sermon from Palm Sunday, based on Matthew 21:1-11

Job 38:1-7

Job 38:1-7
English Standard Version (ESV)

  I'm trying to make sense of all of this, and sometimes I like to open Scripture and be reminded that it just doesn't always make sense.  Job had plenty of reasons to ask big questions -- his life had been devastated and he was lost.  He asked all of his questions, but when he was confronted with the majesty of God, he suddenly didn't need those answers anymore.  God was sufficient.
  In these times, I pray that we find sufficient peace in the majesty and mystery of God.  It's not easy, what we're going through, but God is here, even if we don't fully understand it.  There is peace in knowing that the God who crafted the mountains is still reigning in heaven, and that will never change.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Psalm 24

Psalm 24 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  In this moment, I realized that what I need is a reminder that God is so much bigger than this instant, this week, this shelter-in-place time, however long it may be.  The God we worship is the God who founded the sea and set the rivers in their places, a God who knows the depths of the oceans and whose Spirit has soared above the mountains.  God's reign is bigger than this earth, and it cannot be shaken by the turmoil of this world, no matter how violently storms may rage.
  The Good News in all of this is that we may ascend to God's holy place, and we have the merit to stand there.  Certainly not by anything we've done -- no, if we were to attempt such a feat based on our own qualifications, no matter how good we may feel we're doing in life, we'd be cast out.  Instead, Christ selflessly gives us his perfect qualifications, and because the price has been paid, we receive blessing and righteousness.
  And so we are joined with an eternal kingdom.  The ancient doors that are lifted up welcome us as well.  No matter what happens today and tomorrow and next week, we are welcomed into this ancient and holy place, where the winds of time do not blow, where the rivers of change pass by, not through, where songs of lament are forgotten in favor of rejoicing.  My true home, the one that calls to the depths of our hearts, is beyond the reach of death.  Our God is bigger than the storm, and so we can look forward with confidence.
 

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Psalm 23:6

Psalm 23
 English Standard Version (ESV)

  The 6th verse doesn't say that happiness will follow you -- it says goodness.  Life won't always be easy and there will be plenty of bumps in the road, but when we align ourselves with God's grace, allowing the anxieties and fears fall away, ignoring the false idols that distract us and steal our attention and our energy, we come to a deeper understanding of how God's love pursues us and shelters us in ways that aren't always obvious.  As our faith matures, we recognize that our eternal life has already begun and death is a defeated shadow, no threat to us, and our dwelling place is with God, here and now and always and forever, no matter what.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Psalm 23:5

Psalm 23
 English Standard Version (ESV)

 I don't have enemies in the sense that King David had enemies -- he was leading troops into battle.  In front of armed soldiers interested in killing him, what would it take for him to say that he was ready to sit and eat in such a scenario?  That's a special kind of peace, a special kind of trust, to be able to let go of the anxiety and fear related to having such enemies and appreciate an overflowing cup.  Also, if such enemies exist, then the overflowing cup must blessings of an entirely difference category.
  Thinking about the current environment, with Americans sheltered in place due to a virus, what does it mean for your cup to overflow?  These blessings, the peace and shelter of God, are of an entirely different category than many other blessings, in that we can't lose them, and no enemy can take them from us.  Similarly, for us to sit down and enjoy a fully set table in the face of such anxiety and fear, we have to lean deeply into God for salvation and peace.  This is not easy -- and it takes a lifetime of faith, and a lifetime of learning that enemies cannot separate us from the love of God.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Psalm 23:4

Psalm 23
 English Standard Version (ESV)

 Does anyone else out there know the valley of the shadow of death right now? 
  I love Christianity because of how real it is.  It's not just about the good times -- but it addresses the realities of the valleys as well.  It doesn't avoid the messy reality of life -- we often end up in this valley, and our faith is built ahead of time to prepare us for it.  We know God is with us in the valley, because we can look to the cross and see that God has been in that very valley -- God knows the landscape there, and God will be with us as we walk through -- we don't stay there!  We go through, not afraid because God is with us.  Christianity doesn't say that you've got to figure it out or that you need the solutions because God is waiting on you to straighten things out.  No, Christianity is about God with you in the midst of the realities of struggle and quarantine and brokenness. 
  God is with you.  Here and now, no matter what.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Psalm 23:3

Psalm 23 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Do you ever scrape yourself and not realize it until a few minutes later, when you suddenly notice that you're bleeding?  Every once in a while I'll be working on something and suddenly notice blood from a cut on my finger or arm -- and I realize that I didn't know when I cut myself. 
  I think our souls are like that -- we're rushing from place to place, from event to event, that we don't even notice how drained we are.  Every now and again we collapse from fatigue, but we've become so accustomed to running close to empty that we're barely aware of how weary we are.
  Fortunately, we have a Savior who looks out for us, who knows our every need, who loves us so completely that we are restored before we can even think of the words to ask.  We have a God who comes to us, who heals and restores and redeems us, offering us grace upon grace before we can form the words or even realize how wounded we are. 
  Our salvation doesn't start with us -- it starts with what God has done, and it is given to us as a gift.  May we, the wounded and restored, receive what God has to give with grateful hearts.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sermon on John 11 for March 29, 2020



  John 11:1-4
English Standard Version (ESV)

The Death of Lazarus
  11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Friday, March 27, 2020

Psalm 23:2

Psalm 23 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 Have you ever tried to convince a weary toddler to go to sleep?  They will insist they are not tired, right up until the point where they collapse from fatigue.  A year ago, Caleb and I were out late at a Boy Scout event and he told me over and over that he would be awake all the way home, but he was out cold by the time we made it to the freeway. 
  It's funny (and occasionally frustrating) when I watch my kids do this, but I do the same thing.  I insist that I can push myself harder, that I can squeeze one more thing in, that I don't need rest.  We push and push and push, despite our lives, our souls, crying out for rest.  God makes us lie down -- sometimes, we end up with rest even when we didn't want it, because we need it.  God leads us beside still waters, that our souls may calm down, that we may rest, that we may recognize that the world doesn't depend on us holding everything together.
  Some years ago, I was reading a book about sleep.  Someone was having a hard time determining why exactly the body needs to sleep, and the best reason he could come up with was because we get tired. 
  We need rest.  God's sabbath rest is part of the creation story, and it's written into the Ten Commandments.  Make some time to rest, that God may lead you to still waters.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Psalm 23:1

Psalm 23 
English Standard Version (ESV) 

 On day 4 (or is it 40?  How did Noah manage in that ark for so long?) of shelter-in-place, I can think of a number of things I want.  To spend time with friends, to go to the grocery store and not worry, to attend a baseball game.  In another week, I'll want a bigger house, I'm sure!
  I sometimes rush past this verse, anxious to get to the still waters or the part where my cup overflows.  But think for a second -- what would it be like to want for nothing?  To want for nothing is to be completely at peace, to have every single need and want fulfilled.  In today's world, we all long for health, for ourselves and our neighbors and our sisters and brothers around the world.  Before this, we longed for peace, for security, for joy.  Now we long for their to be enough ventilators and for a vaccine, and we long for rest for the medical professionals and delivery drivers and others who feel the full burden of this awful virus.
  The fullness of the Lord satisfies our every desire.  Living with Christ as shepherd, we are so filled, so sated, that we want for nothing.  We aren't looking around at what others have, and we aren't looking inward and feeling dissatisfied.  We want for nothing.  We are at peace.
  That's my prayer for each of you.  The full peace of God, filling every gap in your life to the point that you want for nothing, that your soul is at rest, and that we live and breathe the peace of God, spreading that to every corner of the world, that our joy may be complete.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

James 5:13-20

James 5:13-20
English Standard Version (ESV)

 When I lived in Chattanooga, I remember standing on my front porch and watching raging storms pass by, thankfully far enough north that they weren't a threat to our house.  These storms had ravaged the lives of others, though.  They were mighty in power, and I felt very, very small in the face of them. 
  It's not terribly different than today.  The storm of this virus is sweeping around the world.  Even if I'm safe, I know that thousands are directly effected, and countless more, indirectly effected. 
  We escape the wrath of some storms.  Others fall directly upon us.  At some point in our lives, we're caught up in the chaos of a storm. 
  In the conclusion of the epistle, James is teaching us to how to live in every season of life.  There is a time to pray in the storms of life.  In the joys of life, we sing praises.  When we are sick, we ask those in the church to gather around us and pray, for we may not have the strength to pray on our own.  When we have specific sins troubling us, let us confess.  When we do not, may we have the humility to hear the confessions of others.
  Prayer is a wonderful thing, and there are prayers for every season of life.  May the prayers we utter here in the midst of this storm be balanced by prayers we offer in the midst of the joys of life.  Let us pray, in all times and seasons, on every day and in every way, that God hears the joys and concerns in the depths of our hearts consistently.   

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

James 5:7-12

James 5:7-12 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Many of us are far removed from the agrarian lifestyle.  My dad started life on the family farm in Kansas, and I've been there a few times, but I can't say that my cubicle life bears any resemblance to farming.  Farming takes a different mindset, a different discipline.  To farm, you take seed, a valuable yet small commodity, bury it in the ground, and trust.
  Farming is a lifestyle of waiting.  It's active waiting, but it's still waiting.  One waits for the seed to sprout, and then for the sprout to grow and for crops to mature.  It's waiting for the harvest, all the while monitoring the threats, nourishing the plants, focusing on the soil, on all aspects that impact the life of the plant. 
  The same is true of our faith.  It depends on the work of God, and yet we aren't to passively wait.  We actively receive, actively grow and live and nourish.  We wait upon God, and yet we are called to live as disciples, figuring out the faithful life as it grows within us, leading us forward.  Often the path is clear.  Other times, it's less clear, and we're waiting for light, for guidance. 
  All the while, we trust.  We trust in God who raised Jesus from the dead, who promises us the same, that when we are planted in the soil, we, too, will grow into something new.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Sermon from March 22 for Highland Presbyterian Church

The sermon is based on Mark 5:21-24, 35-43.

 

James 5:1-6

James 5:1-6
 English Standard Version (ESV)

 James has harsh words for those who have placed their trust alone in the gospel of wealth.  Wealth can be very affirming in this life -- it provides security and access, and gives the allusion of control.  James warns those who are rich not to place their ultimate trust, for if anyone pursues wealth and ignores the needs of humanity around them, then they've focused on the wrong goal.  James calls out those who have grown wealthy by illegally profiting off their workers, as the Lord always hears the cry of the oppressed.
  It's easy to read this and point fingers, especially where we see outsized corporate profits and underpaid employees.  And we do need to hold entities responsible for taking care of their employees.  What's also easy to do is to miss the chance to examine ourselves.
  Wealth is a strange thing.  No matter how much money you have, there's almost always someone who has more than you.  I can say this safely because I'm fairly certain Jeff Bezos isn't a regular reader.  If he is, Hi Jeff!  So you can always use these verses to think about how those wealthier than you should do their part and spread their wealth around.
  But what's the key for us, no matter how much or little money we have, is to read this and ask ourselves how much we trust in wealth.  You don't have to be rich to make wealth an idol.  Every single person on earth is in danger of placing their trust in wealth, aiming for it with all their hearts, and missing the Gospel message.  Someone wise once said that money simply reveals who we are -- it's a loudspeaker, in a way, announcing what's in our hearts.  If our hearts are focused on serving others and proclaiming mercy, more money is likely to enable us to do the same thing on a broader scale.  If our hearts are conflicted and seek money as a security blanket, more money is likely to be a stumbling block to true generosity and trusting in Christ alone.
  So may God reveal to us how our hearts truly view money, and may we have the wisdom to see it as a tool, nothing more, through which to proclaim the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

James 4:13-17

James 4:13-17 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 How true this feels right now!  It wasn't that long ago that life felt relatively normal.  I made plans for the future with little fears that they wouldn't be fulfilled.  I had a half empty freezer and wasn't the least bit concerned about it.  My kids came home from school with the expectation that they'd go back the next day.  Life was normal.  And then... 
  Life is full of lessons we'd rather not learn, or lessons we'd prefer to learn in different ways than we actually learn them.  I have a rather long list of lessons that were painful, either physically or emotionally.  I suspect you do as well.  Life teaches us, one way or another.
  If our plans become idols, they can be dangerous.  If you invest every ounce of your emotional energy into a plan, whether it's for a job or retirement or a relationship, you're likely to end up disappointed.  If your plans had to change, would you be crushed?  Being disappointed is fine -- that's normal.  As someone with plane tickets to Europe right now, I'm disappointed.  But James is warning us that if we think we have control over the future to the point that changing our plans would lead us to despair, to devastation, then we've forgotten who the true Lord is.
  In life and in death, we belong to God.  Every day is a gift.  Every relationship is a gift.  Every breath is a gift.  When we start to think that they belong to us, that we're in ultimate control, that we determine our own fate, then we're forgetting that it is God who is in charge.  We're forgetting that we receive gifts from God.  We can't take them.
  Life is reminding us how fragile we are, how out of control we are.  This actual virus is tiny, and yet so many plans, so many lives, have been broken by it.  In these times, may we remember whose we are -- we are in such better hands than our own, for in God's hands, we know we have a permanent foundation, who will not be moved.  God tells us that God knows the plans for us, plans to prosper us.  In the Kingdom of God, we will see these plans come to fruition, and the result will be so much greater than we can ask or imagine.
  So breathe in.  Breathe out.  Let go of your need to be in control, and trust in the one who ultimately is in control.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

James 3:13-18

James 3:13-18 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 Anyone who has watched the political process unfold over the last decade in the United States would not rank meekness and gentleness very high among the traits that are likely to get one elected to political office in these times.  It seems as though our culture has decided to reward the bold and brash with our attention, which obviously encourages the next candidate to be even more bold and more brash.  James talks about jealousy and selfish ambition, traits that are certainly not new to our time and place, and it's easy for cultures to drift closer to those than to peace and gentleness.
  So how do we resist?  We start with our own actions, taking a long look at our behavior and examining to see if we're practicing mercy.  Then we move to see who we reward with our attention.  In our distracted age, we forget that our attention is a limited resource, and it's highly valuable.  Your time is limited -- so think about how valuable it is to give 100% of your attention towards any one person or thing.
  Let those who opt for jealousy and selfish ambition drift into the background, and look for those who show their works in the meekness of wisdom.

James 4:1-12

James 4:1-12
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Cleanse your hands, friends!  We all knew that advice was from God, right?  Alas, Scripture doesn't give us guidance on proper hand washing (I rely on the CDC for that), but at least we can be reminding one another that God is calling us to wash those hands!
  I don't want to dwell on what's going on in the world right now.  It's everywhere, and it's hard.  It's like wading through a thick fog that only grows denser by the day, and then today it started raining, as though the environment needed to remind me of how things are. 
  In this passage, James is warning us not to take sin too lightly.  Some in those days were laughing at sin, but sin is not something to laugh about.  Jesus Christ shows us how seriously to take sin by ascending the cross to pay the price of sin.
  But in so doing, we have good news of great joy --the great price has been paid.  We who could not afford to pay have a Savior who stepped in and paid for us, and so we are freed of the burden.  When you think of your next few days, whether you are stuck at home or perhaps distracted at work, thinking of all of the world's burdens, remember that the price has been paid, and that the ultimate penalty for sin has been lifted.  Because Christ was humbled, we will be exalted. 
  So if you have more free time than you did last month, how can you use that to draw near to God?  Are there ways you can invest time in submitting to God now?  While we can lament the suffering in the world, both in distant lands and nearby houses, we can do so with hearts uplifted in prayer, trusting the God who willingly takes on the world's burden so that we might be freed from ultimate suffering.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

James 3:1-12

James 3:1-12 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 From a young age, we're taught to be kind to one another, and rightly so, because our words can leave legacies.  I'm willing to bet that most of us can remember specific things that were said about us when we were children, be they good or bad.  For some, we carry memories of mean or rude things said to us for decades -- how much would you have preferred to just have been kicked than to constantly replay something said to you as a child? 
  The flip side of this is that your words have tremendous power to influence for good as well.  A kind word, spoken in love or grace, can stay with someone.  For some reason, the kind words have a harder time cutting through the noise, but speak them, friends, for the world is in dire need of more kindness.  Especially now, as we are surrounded by such continuous dire news -- speak kindness, over and over again.  Remind your friends that they are gifts, and tell your family that you love them.  Be kind, be gracious, and may we transform this dark time into a period of hope.
  And never forget the words that God has spoken over you.  You have been claimed in the waters of baptism and sealed as Christ's own forever.  A word of grace has defined your eternity, so hold your head high, you child of the king, and know that you have been spoken to in love by the One who lives and reigns in power.

Monday, March 16, 2020

James 2:18-26

James 2:18-26 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  So coronavirus is a thing, and it's intimidating.  It's transforming the way Americans live our lives, as schools and zoos and businesses close their doors for the foreseeable future.  Bars and restaurants have closed, as have libraries.  I don't know that I ever thought I would see this -- I never even considered it.  I went out today to get a haircut and felt like I was risking my life.  Strange times in which we live...  If you really believe in the virus, you wash your hands, right?  Having respect for the danger means you pay attention to the warnings of our officials.  You don't have to buy into the fear and panic that is sweeping the country, but you can still be mindful and alter your routines to keep yourself healthy.  By doing so, you demonstrate that you believe the virus is real and has power.
  James is putting forth the argument that our faith in God reveals itself through our actions.  It's not that our actions justify us, or that we can earn God's love through our actions.  Rather, by acting in ways that are consistent with what we say our beliefs are, we're demonstrating that what we say we believe is actually what we believe.  Our lives show what we believe, they demonstrate our trust in God.  When God called Abraham, Abraham went, showing how deeply he trusted God.
  So may we live out our faith in God, revealing our trust in God through our actions.  In the midst of these chaotic times, by choosing not to panic, we reveal that our ultimate trust is in God.  We live and we die in the Lord, and in death, we live, because in our baptisms, we are baptized into Christ's death and resurrection.
 

Friday, March 13, 2020

James 2:14-17

James 2:14-17 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 If you're curious as to what Martin Luther has to say about coronavirus, Christianity Today has your answer.  In summary, if you have the obligation and capability to help, you should serve your neighbor, no matter their health condition.  If you would not be abandoning anyone, there is freedom to withdraw.  In either case, there are two things that are true. 
  The first is that we have a responsibility to be good stewards of our bodies and our physical health -- one of the ways we honor God is by taking care of our bodies, in times of pandemic and in regular times. 
  The second is that this decision does not alter our salvation -- we arrive at the decision we feel is most faithful to God, led by Scripture and prayer.  People will make different decisions, but as long as we do so with humility and grace, we should not be severing our relationships with one another in the process, and since nothing can separate us from the love of God, this disease need not isolate us from God and one another.
  What James is saying in this letter is related -- our faith shows itself in our works.  In times like this, when chaos seems to leap from house to house and uncertainty is knocking on every door, our faith should guide our actions and our response.  While sin has altered the world and given rise to sickness and death, the ultimate victory belongs to Christ, and we know that because he is victorious, we, too, will conquer.  We can have hope in the face of threats, and we can serve in times of danger, because as the church, we know that our ultimate security comes not in health or wealth, but in God, and in God alone. 
  So may we invest our energies not in nervous panic but in holding tightly those threads that bind us together.  May we reach out to neighbors and those who are isolated, reminding one another that we are not alone, that we're all walking each other home, and that our hope is a steady and faithful rock no matter how turbulent the watery chaos may be. 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

James 2:8-13

James 2:8-13 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 If you're trying to keep a diet, is it a total failure if you have a cheat meal?  Or a cheat day?  Not really -- you can try again the next day.  That's the great thing about new year's resolutions -- you can always pick up next year.
  When it comes to sin, one single sin separates us from God.  Failing the law at a single point makes us guilty of all of it -- and we deserve condemnation.  We deserve condemnation under the entire law -- can you imagine the full weight of the law falling upon you? 
  It doesn't, because that's why Christ has come.  He has come so that we do not suffer the consequences of the Law.  We live, because someone else took the blame.  We cannot keep the law, but our imperfections do not doom us -- there is life, and abundant life, because someone else paid the price, in full, for free.
  What a gift.  What a marvelous gift.  Our entire life is not enough to express gratitude.  You have eternal life, for free, because you are infinitely loved.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

James 2:1-7

James 2:1-7 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 Money is so powerful.  I heard somewhere that money doesn't change us, it just reveals who we are.  I like that.  Money enables the generous to do incredible acts of generosity, to show love in amazing ways, and it enables the greedy to amass great amounts of wealth and shun the needy.  Our checkbooks can reveal our priorities in a way that a survey never will.
  We also rank people based on money.  Whether we intend to or not, it's often an easy reflex.  We'll instinctively react positively towards someone who appears wealthy, while perhaps pulling back from someone who does not.  It was true in the first century, and it's still true today -- money makes a lot of rules.
  True wealth, however, is continuously redefined in Scripture.  If you want to be rich, amassing a great deal of money won't do it.  If you surround yourself with people who are rich towards God, some may have great amounts of money, while others may have none.  If you seek honor, it may lead to and through money, or it may not.  God's Kingdom does not define wealth based on dollars and cents, and if you measure yourself by how much money you have, you'll always come up short. 
  I'll never forget the anecdote I heard once of a philosopher who, as he was dying, offered half his wealth for another thirty minutes of life.  Money can purchase so much, and yet it can buy so little.  May we use our money as a resource to show what we truly value, and may we seek the wealth offered freely by God to all, wealth of love and grace that is given to us, revealed in the generosity of Christ upon the cross.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

James 1:19-27

James 1:19-27 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 There's so, so much packed into these words.  Are you quicker to hear or to speak?  Does your anger rise too quickly?  Does the word that you hear call you to action?  Are in you control of your tongue?  Do you remember the orphans and widows?
  As Christians, there are so many verses that guide us in our daily lives.  It's easy to be overwhelmed -- you can feel like there's a thousand things to remember and so many ways to mess it up.  Remember that Christianity is a long game -- it's on an eternal scale.  We're all growing into the Kingdom of God.  Scripture gives us glimpses of what life will be like when we're on the other side of earthly life.  When we strive for the these things, we're practicing for eternity.  When we live into the words of Scripture, we're being shaped and molded.  It's not meant to inspire guilt, but rather to lead us forward, to let our hunger for the eternal teach us how to serve and love one another.

Monday, March 9, 2020

James 1:9-18

James 1:9-18 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  The lilies and iris are starting to poke through the mulch in the front of the house.  Little shoots of green, hopefully stretching towards the sky, promising beauty ahead.  Each one brings excitement, for I know that when the burst forth in color the front of the house will be enriched by their beauty.
  Here, James is reminding us that sin and death take the same journey.  They start as desires, innocently tempting us, asking for just a little time and attention, seeming like they have no harm at all.  What's one little desire?
  But desire grows, right?  The only word our appetite knows is more, and so desire grows and grows, eventually giving birth to sin, and then sin grows and grows, leading to death.
  What harm is one little desire?  It leads to great harm, and so may we be ever vigilant, aware of how sin begins as small desires.  May we find people we trust to whom we can confess our sins and our desires.  In doing so, we help one another tune our hearts to look for the gifts from above.

Friday, March 6, 2020

James 1:1-8

James 1:1-8 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 If you measure your life by happiness, it'll plummet in challenging times, because you won't have any external signs that things are going well.
  If you  measure it by joy, however, that's something deeper that can sustain you in trials, because joy is something too deep to be disrupted by waves on the surface.  Joy that results from a knowledge of the presence and grace of God can co-exist with suffering, because there is nothing contradictory.  We can experience joy and happiness, and we can experience joy and sorrow, because that joy dwells at a level that cannot be taken from us, because nothing in the world or beyond the world can separate us from the love of God fully revealed in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Colossians 4:7-18

Colossians 4:7-18 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 Wouldn't it be great to know that someone was always struggling on your behalf in their prayers?  How much of a benefit would that be?  We pray for each other rather lightly often, but think about what we're doing when we pray:
  The God who existed before the universe was formed, who exists outside of time and space, who created with a Word, who is so holy that God cannot bear the presence of sin, and yet is so loving that God willingly sacrificed God's Son, Jesus Christ, so that humanity could be freely redeemed from sin -- that God is hearing your name lifted up with purpose.  That God, who already knows your joys, sorrows, hopes, and shame, is hearing someone intentionally speak your name before God.
  Pretty awesome, isn't it?  When we stop to think, the reality of prayer should bowl us over and send us singing joyful songs to one another. 
  So may we pray for one another, struggling on behalf of one another, that we might life each other up before God Almighty, who freely descends to earth to dwell with us and lead us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Colossians 4:1-6

Colossians 4:1-6 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 What do you feel when you hear the encouragement to continue in prayer?  Are you grateful for the encouragement, or do you feel guilty, because you don't feel like you're praying as you ought, and you need to start in prayer, rather than continuing in prayer?
  Don't operate from a position of guilt.  Sin is at work in each of us, pulling us away from how we are called to live.  Rather look forward in hope, trusting in the Holy Spirit to build you into the person God is calling you to build, trusting in the Savior who bled and died to redeem you from sin before you even took a breath on this planet.
  And while continuing in prayer, remember to pray for others, praying not for their best life now, but rather that God may open doors for the mystery of Christ to be proclaimed and made clear to those around Christians.  May each of us endeavor to serve God by praying for the world, that those of us in the church would be bold enough to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel to the world, doing so graciously, that others may come to know the amazing grace and mercy of God.

Colossians 3:18-25

Colossians 3:18-25 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 What's tempting, because we're sinful, is to look at verses like this as giant opportunities to get our way.  As a married man, verse 18 could be a giant flashing neon sign offering me the opportunity to have Rachel always do what I want.  Perhaps Paul is signing her up for a lifetime of endless debates about the merits and foolishness of bunting with a man on first and no one out in a close baseball game or, even worse, doing the dishes every night. 
 We twist Scripture whenever we take one verse out of context and don't read it in light of everything God is doing in the entire witness of Scripture.  God has been moving and revealing and working and selflessly saving for thousands of years -- to pull one verse out of context is like picking a single sentence out of War and Peace and pretending you can capture the entire breadth of the book with it.  Some may get closer than others, but it takes patience to understand the entire work.
  So if any verse in Scripture leads to the temptation to abuse it, or leads to something that doesn't look like selfless love that lifts up another and points to sacrificial living in the hopes of embracing a person as the handcrafted, beloved, and redeemed child of God that each of us is, then we should probably keep reading before rushing into action, for there is likely more to be revealed.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Colossians 3:12-17

Colossians 3:12-17 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  For better and for worse, kids aren't very good at hiding what they're feeling.  They wear their emotions on their sleeves, and when they're joyful, it's a wonder to behold.  When they're not... it's still a sight to behold......
  We talk with them a lot about how to apologize.  They can say the words, but these often don't mean anything when their hearts aren't in it.  Their words can be dripping with frustration or anger even though they are saying what they're supposed to be saying.
  Adults aren't always perfect at this either.  We can typically hide it better than a six year old, but we sometimes forget to 'put on love', as Paul tells us.  We'll bear with one another and work on patience, but doing so in love is a whole other challenge, one we're often not ready for.
  But we strive to do these things in love, letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, that whatever we do may be done in the name of Christ, pointing beyond ourselves, putting our selfishness to death, and glorying in the resurrection of Jesus Christ that defines the way forward.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Colossians 3:5-11

Colossians 3:5-11 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 What separates us from God is our sin -- in all of its forms, although we often like to pick and choose certain ones.  Sin separates us, and so in Christ, we are forgiven and redeemed, restored into right relationship with God.  Paul rightly urges us to seek to live in this new status, seeking God in all we do.
  What separates us from others is also sin.  Our broken relationship with God echoes into our broken relationships with one another.  It's little things, like selfishness and anger, and also bigger things, like racism and discrimination -- these separate us.  However, Christ comes for all, and is seeking to restore us to one community as well.  This is why Christ spends so much energy breaking boundaries, reaching out to include others in the community of faith.  The Pharisees are often furious at the ways Christ does this, but Christ has come to restore us to God and to one another.  Therefore, just as we seek to live a life faithful to God, let us live a life faithful to one another another, always seeking to serve.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Colossians 3:1-4

Colossians 3:1-4 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 Ever accidentally walk into the wrong bathroom?  Even if it's empty, you know immediately that you're in the wrong place.  Everything just seems off and I never make it more than half a step before I sheepishly back out and wonder how I did that.  There's a giant sign on the door -- how did I not notice?  What was I thinking?
  When we opt for selfishness, for greed, for other sins, it's like walking into the wrong bathroom.  We weren't made for it, and there's usually warning signs on the door -- but we're so caught up in something else that we just keep moving ahead, without realizing that we're headed into foreign territory where we don't belong. 
  So take deep breaths in the world, friends, and spend the time to listen to what God has in store for you.  You have died, and you belong to Christ -- choose to strive for God's glory, not your own, for in Christ is where we belong.  This Lent, join the discipline that draws the heart closer to Christ.
 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Colossians 2:16-23

Colossians 2:16-23 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 Every now and again, I realize how many rules I'm putting on the kids.  Seems like we're always threatening them with something.  I never realized how many different ways there were to misbehave until I had children.
  When it comes to faith, it'd be endlessly complicated to think of all the ways we could sin.  The Old Testament law covered a lot of them, but leadership soon determined that there were some that were missing, so interpretation and tradition started to rule the day.  You were always afraid that you'd lost your standing with God.
  When Christ comes along, all of the law is fulfilled.  Christ demands more of us, but it's a heart-centered faith, one grounded in grace.  So whenever someone tries to add something to belief in Christ, we know that it's not Scriptural -- salvation is through Christ alone, and there is nothing else.
  Not that there aren't a lot of things we should be doing for the glory of God, but they're not necessary -- only Christ's saving work on the cross can save us, and God achieved that for us.

Colossians 2:6-15

Colossians 2:6-15
English Standard Version (ESV)

 Is there any greater news than the second half of this passage?  Think about everything that's going on in the world right now -- there's a virus ripping around the globe, a presidential election seems already chaotic, there are economic questions about the future of the globe, and we're all struggling with brokenness in some way, shape, or form, and here we are, promised that though we were dead, Christ makes us alive, canceling the record of our debt through his death on the cross.
  You have been freely raised to life by the gift of Christ.  This is the good news of the Gospel, and may you never cease to wonder at what God has done for you, not because you deserved it, but because God loves you.
  Because of what God has done for you, may your mind and heart pursue him, continually captivated by the story of grace, pursuing Christ at every turn, growing in love and wisdom.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Colossians 2:1-5

Colossians 2:1-5
English Standard Version (ESV)

  We're accustomed to being able to solve problems, to figure things out.  If we sit down and think on something long enough, we can usually find a solution, a way forward -- it's rare that a problem doesn't have a solution.  Although there are certainly some out there that have eluded answers -- The Clay Mathematics Institute set out seven math problems in 2000, and six of them remain unanswered. 
  What I love about faith is the aspect that some of it simply cannot be known.  The mystery of Christ and of the Trinity is beyond what our minds can fathom.  We are knit together in love, as Paul says, and there are riches of assurance and understanding of God's mystery, but we can't completely grasp it -- eternity is simply beyond what our limited minds are capable of grasping.  There are treasures of wisdom and knowledge that are bigger than us, and so we reach our minds forward and we fail, despite learning about God and growing closer. 
  I believe that we will discover much when we reach God's final kingdom, when our minds are no longer limited by time and space and we can look upon the throne of God with confidence that comes only from having been declared worthy by Jesus Christ.  In those days, we will understand the full riches of the Kingdom of God, and we will know and be known as never before.
  Until then, we can lose ourselves in the mystery, confidant that the God who is hidden from our full knowledge chooses not only to reveal  himself to us but also to show us mercy beyond what we deserve or can imagine.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Colossians 1:24-29

Colossians 1:24-29 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 Now I am definitely not rejoicing in my sufferings, and my flesh is pursuing leisure and comfort, with just enough Jesus to help me sleep better at night or feel better about my anxieties, but I really do it for my own sake, not the church's.  The mystery has been hidden for ages and generations, and I sure hope I find it, because then I'd become known all over the world and get a lot of likes on Instagram.  To them, God chose to make known the riches of the glory of his mystery, but it's enough to focus on feelings, right?
  In so many ways, we live that out, rather than the eternal wisdom from Paul in Colossians.  In so many ways, we take this global mystery that echoes through the generations and make it about us.  But God still is at work, converting our hearts, calling us deeper into ministry, revealing to us the fullness of God's love and peace. 
  There is much that is wrong about the world, and we can focus on that if we like.  I choose to look for what God is doing, to pray for revival here in this time and place, and to lose myself in the presence of the eternal God whose riches far exceed anything we can imagine this side of heaven.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Colossians 1:21-23

Colossians 1:21-23
English Standard Version (ESV)

 Have you ever been presented?  In looking for a job, I spent a lot of time networking -- constantly reaching out to people, meeting with people, all in the hopes that I'd eventually meet someone who knew of a great job that I'd be a good fit for.  If they liked me, perhaps they'd even be willing to present me to the company or manager -- in essence, they're vouching for me that I'd be a good candidate for the position.
  In Christianity, it's Christ who presents us before God.  We don't do so on our own merit -- if so, that would have disastrous consequences.  We wouldn't be able to stand, sit, kneel, or crawl before the throne of God based on our own merit.  No, we were alienated and hostile when we were doing things on our own.  Instead, Christ reconciles us through his sacrifice, and we're presented to God based on his merits, not ours, but because Christ is perfect, we are received as though we are perfect, holy, and blameless.
  Is that a goal worth working towards?  Have I got great news for you -- your only work is to receive what Christ has done for you, to allow gratitude to transform you, and then, based on the wonder of what God has done you'll likely go forth and tell the great news of the Gospel story.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Colossians 1:15-20

Colossians 1:15-20
English Standard Version (ESV)

 Just take a deep breath, and think about this:  The image of the invisible God, firstborn of all creation, through whom all things were created, took on every sin you have ever committed and voluntarily chose to suffer a brutal punishment in the effort to restore a right relationship with you and make it possible that you, even though at some point you have rejected God, can spend eternity at peace with God. 
  We sacrifice for what we love.  If you love your family, you'll give up anything for their safety, security, and joy.  If you love money, you'll give up your time and health to pursue it.  If you love reading, you'll stay awake until 3 a.m. just to finish a book (or so I've been told).  God loves you, and Jesus Christ sacrificed himself on the cross because God was willing to pay any price to give you peace.
  Know this, and be at peace, the true, lasting eternal peace that only comes from God.  Peace was secured at great cost, but God thinks you are worth it!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Colossians 1:9-14

Colossians 1:9-14
English Standard Version (ESV)

  In the church, we know how to pray for one another when someone is sick.  We gather our energies and spend time in prayer for healing, for comfort and community, for wisdom, and for peace.  I would guess that the vast majority of our prayer concerns are for the sick.
  But Scripture paints a broad picture of what prayer for one another looks like.  Here in Colossians, Paul is saying that the community is praying for the Colossians to increase in wisdom and understanding, so that their faith may continue to grow.  Paul wants them to be strengthened.  Even those who are strong need continued prayers to take the next step.
  So think about the people in your orbit today.  Maybe it's your boss or neighbor or family members.  Take a second and think about those who are doing poorly and need intercessions, but also pray for those who seem to be doing well and growing in faith and knowledge.  Pray for their continued growth, that they may sense the support and encouragement of the Holy Spirit in all they do.  May we pray for the strong and the weak, for all depend on the power of Jesus Christ.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Colossians 1:1-8

Colossians 1:1-8
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Caleb has been hard at work making cookies during Valentine's.  Whenever I walk into the house, I'm overwhelmed by the smell of cookies, and I start salivating.  Cookies have an effect on me.
  In the same way, the Colossians had the hope of heaven in their hearts, and the effect of that was that they acted out their love for all the saints.  The hope within them drove them to serve others. 
  This is how the Gospel spreads.  When people understand the grace of God in truth, it changes their relationships and their lives, and inevitably the love of God flows out into the world through transformed lives and others are invited in.  So the two questions for us:
  1)  How are you opening yourself up to grow in understanding of the Gospel, so that the hope of heaven may root even more deeply in your heart?
  and 2)  how are you interacting with the world in such a way that the grace that lives within you is shared? 
  We are like water wheels.  The Spirit of God is at work, and as it flows through us, it animates us, transformed us and bringing us to life and action.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Psalm 119:169-176

Psalm 119:169-176 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  We come to the end of the Psalm, but with every ending in God, we reach a beginning.  The deeper we find ourselves in Christ's word, the more understanding we have of the world, the more equipped we are to serve one another, the greater we understand human relationships, the better we see ourselves, the more we recognize the need for a Savior, the faster we are driven back to Christ's word...
  Our plea goes to God, and we pour forth praise, for we are infinitely loved, and the more we grasp how deeply loved we are, no matter what, we will be transformed!  Let our souls live and praise God, for God seeks us, no matter what!!!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Psalm 119:161-168

Psalm 119:161-168 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  The story about Daniel that everyone knows is how he spent his night in the lions' den and didn't have a scratch on him.  What's even more remarkable is that his prayer life was so structured, so dedicated, that his opponents knew he prayed with such frequency that they could use that to get him in trouble. 
  The Psalmist is going to praise God seven times a day.  Will you commit to praising God at seven separate times today?  Maybe it's a quiet moment in prayer, maybe you show up five minutes early to something and take that time to praise God.  Think about your day, and hold yourself accountable.  In doing so, may you add structure to your spiritual life and grow more deeply in faith

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Psalm 119:153-160

Psalm 119:153-160
English Standard Version (ESV)

  We've all been caught up in the legal dramas -- maybe we've seen too many on television.  Regardless, we feel like we can plead our own cause, as though there's some loophole through which we can sneak.  Maybe, we think, we're not guilty after all!
  What I love about Scripture is that it rarely hides our own sin.  David, Paul, and others have their sins laid bare, read and studied for centuries.  (How would you like for your every weakness to be proclaimed from a pulpit for the next few centuries?)  But the Psalmist here asks for God to look upon the afflictions and still deliver him.  Life is granted according to God's rules, not according to our worthiness!!  God's righteousness and perfection are what conquer sin, not our ability to life properly.
  All of this is meant to ease your anxiety.  It should be convicting, too -- we've been caught cheating on God, but rather than getting kicked out of the house, we're offered grace and forgiveness.  So we should be motivated not to cheat again!  Alas, our hearts still stray, but God is faithful still!

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Psalm 119:145-152

Psalm 119:145-152
English Standard Version (ESV)

  How many things do you do with your whole heart?  I do a lot with a divided heart -- even when I'm not aware of it, I'm often drifting in my attentions and my focus, thinking of myself when I should be thinking of others, focused on material things when I should be focused on God.  It's easy to let attention drift.  The heart wanders, and it's easier to let it wander than to call it back, to focus wholly on God, and to let the Holy Spirit lead.
  Try and do one thing with your whole heart today, or let your whole heart lead you for ten minutes.  It's hard.  But start somewhere small.  Open your eyes, and meditate on the promise.God is near.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Psalm 119:137-144

Psalm 119:137-144 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 Saturday, we made brownies.  The weekends usually find us baking something, often cookies, and then consuming most of them by the time the weekend is over.  The brownies were finished last night, and I wouldn't say that I demonstrated much restraint around them.  Sunday morning, however, I felt terrible.  I knew I shouldn't eat that many brownies, but they just tasted so good...
  It's the story of so many human failures.  We know we shouldn't, but we do it anyway.  God's law is true, no matter how good violating it may feel in the short term.  The enemy often offers pleasure, and we pursue that, neglecting what we know to be right and true.
  Despite our failures, God is faithful still.  Even when we find trouble and anguish, God delights in us, offering us forgiveness, offering us life, setting us back on the right path and leading us forward.
  May we cling to God's righteousness, freely given, and let that guide us as we navigate the waters of life.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Psalm 119:129-136

Psalm 119:129-136 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Watching a child learn to walk is endlessly fascinating.  For those of us who have been walking for some years, it is taken for granted.  I doubt you spend much time thinking about how to walk, unless you've suffered some debilitating injury or been disabled in some other way.  There is doubtless some section of the brain dedicated to controlling such tasks, but it's cruising mostly on autopilot, which is why it's so starting when we trip -- we were moving right along without thought, and suddenly the entire body has to be prepared for an unexpected change.
  When kids learn to walk, it's all new.  They have to figure out how to balance and use their feet and what moves when.  It's an entirely new adventure, each step a new delight, and there are frequent failings along the way.  What's unbeatable is the sense of the toddler's delight at every advance.
  Sometimes, I like to think of God as a proud parent, holding us up by the arms, teaching us how to walk in our Kingdom-of-God shoes.  They're so new, so different, that we aren't quite sure how to move, and so we stumble every which direction, staggering around like we're dizzy as can be, but God gently supports us, pointing us in the right direction, orienting us so that we slowly learn to walk.  When we reach the Kingdom of Heaven, we'll be ready, because God has been teaching us.  Until then, let's not forget that we can't walk on our own -- only God can do this for us.  But may we have that same toddler-like sense of delight and wonder with each and every step!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Psalm 119:121-128

Psalm 119:121-128 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  There are times when the presence of the Lord seems close, and all is right with the world, because the future is filled with the light of Christ's love.  Despite all the chaos and the gloom that this world can bring, despite the division and the rancor that cloud our society, there is hope, and it is grand.  God is still on the throne, and nothing will ever change that.  I long for the salvation that is to come, and I see signs all around me that illustrate how God is at work.  Do not lose hope, friends!  God is at work, here and now, and there is light and love and the seeds of peace are taking root!  God deals with us according to God's steadfast love!  Be at peace, live in hope, and know that Christ is Lord!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Psalm 119:113-120

Psalm 119:113-120 
New International Version (NIV)

  I'll admit that I like to be liked.  I seek affirmation -- and so it's hard for me to turn my back on anyone, and there's something to be said for embracing and being in relationship with your enemies.  But there also comes a point where we have to separate ourselves from those who are bad influences, who bring temptation or evil into our lives.  We certainly have separate ourselves from those who physically threaten or harm us.  When obedience to God reigns supreme, we lean into the Holy Spirit to discern how best to conduct our relationships so that we may keep the commands of God, those commands to strive for holiness and to love our enemies.  It's a hard balance, and there's a lot of gray areas between the black and white, which is why it's so important that we discuss these things with people we trust.  We're called to be in community, not always to withdraw.  We're called to love selflessly -- remember that Jesus was forgiving the soldiers watching over his crucifixion. 
  Being a people of faith isn't easy, but we will be delivered, and we will stand in awe!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Psalm 119:105-112

Psalm 119:105-112
New International Version (NIV)

  Have you wandered a path in a dark forest?  I ran an evening 10k once, and discovered, much to my surprise, that the batteries in my headlamp were like a fine wine, well aged, only they didn't get better with time.  By the time I was about half a mile from the finish, I was running in the dark in the woods, desperately trying to avoid tripping over any tree roots.  A light for my feet would have been welcome.
  However, even if the lamp had been brightly shining, the tree roots would have still been there, and I may well have tripped over a few.  The presence of light doesn't mean that the wicked don't set snares for us.  The light doesn't keep us from tripping and it doesn't make the opportunities to stumble go away.  What the light does is help us see, and we can then attempt our best to avoid them, knowing we won't miss them all.  We can set our hearts on avoiding the traps, but we will fail.
  When you fall, and you find yourself bleeding and bruised on the road, remember that Christ bled so that our wounds will not condemn us, and Christ suffered the slings and arrows of sin so that we might have hope, even in the darkest moments.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Psalm 119:97-104

Psalm 119:97-104 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  There's a lot of temptation in the world.  Watching the Super Bowl ads last night, they're always trying to influence you're behavior -- not necessarily in a sinful way, but they're influencing you.  Many other things will influence you in a sinful way, leading you to idolatry or greed or lust.  Some of the more obvious things I notice.  Others... can be far more subtle.
  The Psalmist here points out that he keeps his way from every evil way.  That's hard.  Every.  Single.  One.  That takes incredible attention to notice them all -- and it's impossible.  Even when we can avoid the big ones, we can commit sins in the depths of our hearts that only Jesus notices.  But it's still sin.
  Thankfully, we don't have to achieve perfection.  We only need to focus on Christ and give thanks for the grace received through God.  We are called then to respond, to live a life of faithfulness as our attempt to honor God.  May we have the Holy Spirit wisdom to notice all the evil ways around us, and may we choose the narrow and faithful way.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Psalm 119:89-96

Psalm 119:89-96
New International Version (NIV)

  I love this because it sets up the reality that life, true life, eternal life, exists only in God.  Death, even death that we don't realize, the spiritual death that can slowly creep up on us and take us by surprise, is lurking if we invest our lives in anything other than God.  Jesus tells the Pharisees that they are like whitewashed tombs -- beautiful on the outside, but filled with death.  When we invest ourselves in Jesus, he can turn death into life -- that's the news of Easter, and it's an invitation to us, not only to be resurrected but also to share that news, even with the enemies who are threatening our death.  When we live in such a way that we are clearly invested in the eternal Kingdom of God, we are demonstrating that God's strength is over everything, and our confidence in that is contagious.
  For while some may wait to destroy you, they will be disappointed, for life will overcome!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Psalm 119:81-88

Psalm 119:81-88 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  What do you long for?
  The world teaches us to long for a lot of things.  If I were to ask my kids, they'd probably tell you that they're longing for more legos or cookies, neither of which are necessarily bad.  I'd probably opt for a vacation to someplace tropical or at least a nice dinner out.  Again, nothing bad, but these things fall a bit short of eternal joy and peace.  When we think about what we're longing for, we tend to be a bit short-sighted and focused on the present.  If all I'm aiming for is a nice dinner and a new lego set for the kids, what happens once I achieve that?
  When we aim for the eternal things that only God can offer, we spend a lifetime building towards it, catching glimpses here and there, powered forward by hope and a community that encourages us to strive farther.  We are discouraged at times, but the goal is so much larger than ourselves that we are always pushing ourselves.  The Holy Spirit beckons us onward, and our lives are invested in something bigger than ourselves.
  So may we long for God, and in so doing find ourselves transformed.
 

Monday, January 27, 2020

Psalm 119:73-80

Psalm 119:73-80
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Throughout the entirety of the Psalm, there's an undercurrent of trust -- if the Psalmist but trusts in the Lord, all will be well.  The Psalmist trusts the intent of the Lord, trusts the future in the Lord's hands, trusts that enemies will not overwhelm due to the provision of the Lord. 
  So this week, I'm praying to trust God more, and to do more than just say it -- but put that trust into action.  I'm not sure exactly what that looks like, but I suspect that it entails less worrying and anxiety and more calm and peace, which sounds wonderful to me!  Probably less of a focus on money as well -- my tendency to try and secure my own future can interfere with trusting God with my future.
  God is good, and can care for me and my wife and my children and my family and friends and future far better than I can.  May God's mercy come to me and to you and to all!

Friday, January 24, 2020

Psalm 119:65-72

Psalm 119:65-72 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  I don't know that I'll ever be in a place where I can say that it was good that I was afflicted, but I can certainly see how I have grown through some afflictions, both ones that happened to me and others that were a result of my poor decisions.  Is my understanding of God worth thousands of gold and silver pieces?  Well, all that gold and silver doesn't do me a thing when I'm dead, while the peace of God that passes all understanding will cling to me through the veil of death and into eternity, so if there is an opportunity to enrich my understanding now of how God is at work and transcending death, then that's worth whatever money there is.
  That's a message we all need to hear, those of us with some means, those without shoes on their feet, and those collecting billions like those will give them security.  Ultimately, we are charged to be stewards of what we have, and not a single dollar will pass with us beyond the grave, and so every single one of us needs to be guard against the temptation to hoard.  Good judgment and knowledge, both of God and our fellow brothers and sisters, helps us see the opportunities to share and to bless.  In giving, our heart moves to delight.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Psalm 119:57-64

Psalm 119:57-64 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  In the hardest nights, in the bleakest moments, in the most desperate times, what do you do?
  Most of us don't like to think about those.  When I look back on my darkest days, I can't say that I handled the stress well.  I got lost in fear and uncertainty, and the darkest clouds of mourning gathered so closely around my soul that I didn't bother to look for the light.  I'm not proud of my reactions, just honest.
  The Psalmist rises at midnight, in the darkest hour of the night, to praise God, because the Psalmist is certain of where his hope comes from.  Knowing that the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord, the Psalmist searches for it, even in the darkest hours, because he is confidant that the future is in God's hands.
  As for me, I've been through some dark valleys.  I've seen death linger at houses too soon, and I've seen brokenness erode relationships.  I've seen sin creep into the depths of my heart.  In the darkest hours, I've looked inward, and found myself lacking.
  The Psalmist looks to the hills, from where our help comes.  If I were wiser, I would do the same.  I know now what the answer to life's hardest questions is, and I pray that in your trials, when the cords of the wicked ensnare you, that the steadfast love of the Lord will be made real through the presence of the community of faith and the work of the Holy Spirit, that God might draw you closer and remind you of the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Psalm 119:49-56

Psalm 119:49-56 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  What do you take comfort in?
  There are a lot of comfortable options.  Rachel loves warm & fuzzy socks, and a bowl of warm soup helps as well.  I opt for a nice spot on the couch and a cup of hot tea.  I'd pick a hot tub if I could find one as well, but I don't want to push things. 
  There are also sorts of options for comfort.  Some of it is finding comfort in your place in society.  We get comfortable in our jobs or our neighborhoods.  A temptation is to look down on other people, or even to put them down so that you feel more comfortable.  Sometimes, unfamiliar people show up, and we have to decide whether to welcome them and risk being challenged, or to reject them as a way to pad our own comfort.  Christ makes enemies of the Pharisees when he challenges their places of comfort, because the Pharisees sought comfort at the expense of others.  Christ teaches us that when we place our ultimate trust in God, the comfort we receive there allows us to endure all sorts of worldly discomfort and not be troubled by it.
  The Psalmist is beset by enemies, but he continues to find comfort in God's promises and in God's rules.  He is derided by his foes, but rather than seeking his comfort in his place, he seeks his comfort in God.  Nothing can take this from us, whereas if we define our comfort in something worldly, we'll lose it eventually. 
  Cling first to God.  Seek God first, and everything else follows.  Seek everything else first, and our vision is obscured as to the things that truly matter.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Psalm 119:41-48

Psalm 119:41-48
English Standard Version (ESV)

  To be completely honest, I don't love all laws.  If it were up to me, I'd do away with the speed limit, and I'd love to not have to pay taxes.  There are probably others that I could come up with if forced to make a list, but I do understand the reason behind them -- they exist to help society function better.
  The Old Testament Law had a purpose as well.  It was a gift to the people, to help them live every part of life to honor God.  It provided a path back to righteousness as well, but the people couldn't keep it.  They continued to dwell in sin, condemned by the Law.
  But it was the Law that was along the path to salvation, because while the Law revealed to the people their sin, it also revealed their inability to save themselves, and their need for our Savior.  Our need for a Savior.  We cannot save ourselves, because we cannot perfectly obey the Law, and so we look to God, and it is God's steadfast love that provides salvation according to God's promises.  Not according to our works or our gifts, but according to God's promises.
  The path has always led to the cross, and the cross is where we see the fullness of God's plan -- there the violations of the Law were poured upon Christ, were he received them, paid the price, and liberated you and I for all of time.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Psalm 119:33-40

Psalm 119:33-40 
English Standard Version (ESV)
**********

  Martin Luther said the heart is a factory of idols.  Solzyneitsin said that the line between good and evil runs down the middle of every human heart.  Paul says that we cannot do the things we ought.  I once said that people are wonderfully flawed.
  This passage illustrates how flawed we can be.  The prayer of the Psalmist is for God to teach him, but also to give him understanding, that he may begin to keep the law and observe it with his whole heart.  This is what Jesus was pushing us towards -- it's not enough just to know the law, and it's not enough to keep it with only our actions -- but we are to keep it with the entirety of our hearts, which is what leads Jesus to teach us that hate is the same as murder in the depths of our hearts.
  And so we ask for God to keep our heart away from greed, and to keep our eyes away from tempting things that lead us astray.  We ask for assurance, for so many roads lead away from God, but the narrow way leads to God. 
  What's wondrous is to pair this with the message of the Gospels.  We know how hard it is to be faithful, but Christ teaches us, Christ shows us, that God comes to us and offers us the free gift of grace and love.  We are challenged to be faithful, but we are not called to earn our salvation -- it is enough to receive it as the gift that it is.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Psalm 119:25-32

Psalm 119:25-32
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Ever hear of the imposter syndrome?  It's where we feel like we're a fraud and completely unqualified, and we're just waiting for everyone else to discover how unqualified we are, at which point we'll be tossed from the room.  It's the same feeling that restrains us from asking questions in lecture halls, because we don't want to expose ourselves as knowing something that it seems like everyone else knows.
  In faith, as in the rest of life, we often beat ourselves up for not knowing the answers, for getting things wrong.  But here, the Psalmist asks God to graciously teach us the law.  This is how God approaches us -- in grace and truth, calling us forward into new life, not browbeating us for falling short.  When we confess our ways to God, God teaches us the statutes.  We can melt in sorrow, but God teaches to strengthen us.  Let us choose to cling to God, not to our shame, that we may meditate on God's works and rejoice in God's wisdom!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Psalm 119:17-24

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

  They say you can tell how tough someone really is by what happens when they walk through a spiderweb.
  In the same way, how do you react when enemies plot against you?  If I was perfectly faithful, I wouldn't be bothered by it, because I'd be so confident in God's provision that I would know that my enemies could not damage even a hair on my head.  In reality, I often am afraid and insecure, uncertain of how the opposition of others might mean for me and for my place in the world -- because I get hung up on my place in the world, my social standing and my position and my reputation.  These things matter to me, and for some good reasons, and some vain ones.
  May our eyes be opened, that we may behold wondrous things -- and some of those wondrous things will be a reminder that the riches of this world pale in comparison.  In growing our confidence and hope in the Lord, we lose our scorn and contempt for others, because we are so focused on God and the hope of heaven that all we have left is love.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Psalm 119:9-16

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

  Martin Luther called the human heart a factory of idols, and he was certainly correct when speaking of my heart!  When our hearts tempt us to be proud of our humility, you know that we can find a way to sin almost anywhere.  Even in our best moments, temptation sneaks in and lures us away from the life Christ calls us to live.  It is so easy to be double-minded, to fixate on the things of this world or building our own kingdoms. 
  It's comforting to know that Christ called the disciples with the full knowledge that they would deny or betray or abandon him later on.  Christ called them first, loved them first, and Christ does the same to you and to me.  The grace of God is what makes our salvation possible, and the more we focus on God (and the less on ourselves), the better we are able to join the Psalmist in delighting in God's testimonies as much as in all riches.
  So store up the Word in your heart, and meditate on Scripture daily, that our delight may be rooted in God.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Psalm 119:1-8

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

  I'm sure I've said it here before, but I once heard a preacher say that joy is the flag that you fly in the castle of your heart when the King is at home. 
  The Psalms are a complicated book, a book that is real with the sorrows and joys and trials of real life.  Here, in the beginning of the 119th Psalm, we get a glimpse of the joy of the faithful heart.  It leaps off the page, the contentment that the Psalmist has found after faithfully seeking the Lord.  I haven't used that many exclamation points all year!
  For those of us who are imperfect, there is a temptation to lament our failure to be blameless, but the more important message here is a goal.  To seek to follow God with all of our hearts leads to joy.  The Kingdom of God, where sin will be banished, will be a place of joy, of wonder, of rejoicing. 
  There is sacrifice in opting to follow Jesus' selfless example, but this is what it leads to -- joy and wonder!  So choose faithfulness, and know that the ultimate reward is far greater than any short term cost.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Lamentations 3:21-27

Lamentations 3:21-27 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  During an eclipse, the sun does not cease to shine -- it is merely obscured by some other planetary object, and while we could opt to despair in those moments when darkness reigns, we instead rely on the knowledge that it is a passing moment.
  In the same vein, the suffering and sin in the world does not prevent the Lord's love from continuing.  It may obscure the steadfast love of God, but the darkness does not shut out the light.  The mercies of the Lord are new this morning -- and God is faithful still.  For those who cling to hope, they will be rewarded by the faithfulness of God.  Those who choose despair will be surprised to discover that God's love will conquer darkness and continue to reign.
  The steadfast love of the Lord does not cease.  Great is God's faithfulness!

Extending Credit

  There are credit cycles -- over time, as the economy booms and contracts, banks will either tighten or loosen their credit requirements.  When the economy is strong, banks will loosen their requirements, lending money far and wide.  When the economy begins to contract and loans start to default, the purse strings are tightened and the requirements increase -- at that point, the only people who can borrow money are the ones who don't need it. 
  Rachel received a letter in the mail the other day offering her an easy loan.  This particular entity, which I had not heard of, promised not to do a credit check, a major red flag in my book.  The entire premise was how easy the loan would be to get, with little mention of qualifications.  As an underwriter, it seemed reckless to me.  Banks should have some concerns and be willing to do research before handing out money.
 
  This led me to think about God's willingness to extend credit.  God recklessly invites any and all to dine at the heavenly banquet table, unconcerned about the background of those invited.  Ability to pay isn't a qualifier, since none are able to pay the price necessary to sit at the table with God -- the price is too high, only Christ can pay.  The same offer is made to anyone, from the most derelict sinner in prison to the proud business owner who isn't aware of their need to the minister trying to get by on their own -- each is offered a seat at the table. 
  Such is the love of God.  A free offer is extended to all, with no concerns about the background.  It is powerful love, given regardless of merit or station, and all are eligible for a seat at God's table.

Friday, January 10, 2020

2 Corinthians 1:15-22

2 Corinthians 1:15-22 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  I start my new job on Monday.  In the process of any job search, I have heard a lot of 'no's.  When I was in business school, I was up late almost every night writing cover letters for job applications to companies I usually never heard back from.  To finally hear a company say 'Yes' is refreshing news that brings joy.  (For those interested, I'll be working with Stonehenge Capital on their community development team).
  When we look to Christ, we see the 'Yes' to God's promises that have echoed throughout the ages.  All the hopes that we've based on the portrayals of the Kingdom of God are found to be solid because they are in Christ.  The longing of every human heart finds joy and refreshment in Christ. 
  In response, what does your 'Amen to God for his glory' sound like today? 
  And how are you listening to the Spirit of God in your hearts as God's guarantee that you are established in Christ?

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Philippians 1:12-14

Philippians 1:12-14 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  My life, like yours and everyone else's, is not a series of leaps from mountaintop to mountaintop.  There is time in the valleys, where shadows stretch and the light can be harder to see, and there is time on the plain, wondering what the next chapter might be like.  Often, particularly in those valley experiences, it is all I can do to place one foot in front of the other, and it's easy to opt for self-pity.
  What Paul does remarkably is frame everything up through the lens of advancing the Gospel.  When he's in the dark valleys, he sees this as an opportunity to help others see how Christ's light shines in dark places.  He is imprisoned, but his mind is focused on declaring the Gospel, and so rather than fixate on what is wrong with his situation, he wonders instead how this situation might be an opportunity for others to come to know the grace and love of God.
  The glory of the Gospel is that our conditions do not alter God's love for us.  Christ is with us -- though we walk through the valley of death, we do not fear, because God is with us.  In Paul's imprisonment, the Gospel made him free.  May the wonder of Christ grant us that same freedom of spirit.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Ephesians 1:15-21

Ephesians 1:15-21 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Jesus heals the blind a number of times, and we tend to take some of these for granted, but there is something instructive for us.  We can marvel at Jesus' ability to heal the blind, but we can also take the next step and realize how blind we are.  Jesus tries teaching this to the Pharisees, but they are willfully blind, whereas I think we just stumble into our blindness  We get caught up in the cares of the world and don't nurture our sight, so we lose it, often without even realizing it.
  If you could have the eyes of your heart enlightened, how would your life change?
  If I could, I think I'd see more clearly the hope of the faithful.  If I could see with the eyes of my heart, I'd give thanks for the witness of the church, that is constantly praying for each of the saints of the church to run the race with endurance.  If I could see clearly, I'd have a better understanding of the immeasurable greatness of God's power and recognize that the most faithful thing I can do is bow the knee before the King of heaven.
  Sin clouds my vision, and so I repent of the fact that I stare too longingly at the things of this world, and pray for the wisdom and courage to see, to truly see, the people around me in the same way God sees them.  These are not people to pass by lightly, but rather they are beloved hand-crafted creations of the one true God -- I should treat them as such, with reverent love and humble hearts.  In so doing, I honor the one who created them, and discover my true self through acts of service, and in such a life, I am drawn closer to God, prepared for the eternal Kingdom.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Matthew 2:7-12

Matthew 2:7-12 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  The journey for the wise men would have been hard.  Travel was expensive in those days, and it was dangerous as well.  It was prudent to travel with a group so that you'd have strength in numbers to prevent thieves from striking your camp.  A journey like this would have taken a long time, but the vision in front of the wise men was so compelling that they were willing to undertake these risks, these hardships, because worship of the Christ child was worth it.
  What's important for us, as modern day Christians, is to continue to allow ourselves to be amazed by what God offers us that we're willing to undertake challenging sacrifices or great risks to honor Christ.  Contemplate what God has done -- taking on the form of a child, coming to earth in a vulnerable way, all to show God's great love for us.  This was a costly sacrifice by God, and it was done to lavish grace upon grace on us..  God is opening the door through death into eternal life, and nothing would stop God from carrying out this plan. 
  So realize how incredible it is that God would do this for you, for us, and pray about what you can risk to offer your praise back to God.