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Sunday, December 30

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 111; Isaiah 63:7-9; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23; Hebrews 2:10-18; Psalm 95

Lots of us have a hard time trying to explain why bad things happen. As a result, we often resort to cliché’s at such moments. Unfortunately these clichés often end up hurting folks we try to reach out to. For instance, if someone loses a loved one and hears someone offer a cliché like “Well, I guess God needed them more than we did” or “I guess God is using this trial to test our faith”, it can push the grieving person further away from God. I’ve learned at least two things over the years in dealing with folks during difficult times. First, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut when I don’t understand something so I don’t make things any worse for the folks struggling with the tragedy. In place of clichés, I’ve learned instead to offer a ministry of presence at such times. And second, I’ve learned that the most important faith question I can ask isn’t “Why did God do this/allow this to happen?” Instead, the most helpful question for me to ask is “Where is God in the midst of all this?” In a sense that is what the author of today’s passage from Hebrews is alluding to. In speaking of Jesus’ circumstance, the author writes God made “the author of [our] salvation perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:10 – NIV). That passage reminds me that God can use tough times to accomplish remarkable things. Further, it encourages me to explore those times of suffering in my own life to discover how the suffering was used to transform my life and take me to new, previously unexplored places. Places that I otherwise might not have gone. I invite you to do that work in your own life as well. How have your times of suffering transformed you and your faith? And during our times of trial in the New Year, may we draw strength from the One who suffered as well. Til next time…

Saturday, December 29

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 18:1-50; Isaiah 41:14-20; John 4:7-15; Revelation 1:1-8

One of my least favorite aspects of working out is the constant cotton mouth or dry mouth you deal with during your workout. If you’re anything like me, every few minutes you feel compelled to run across the gym and hit the water fountain. This compulsion is what motivates many of us to bring our own water bottles to the gym with us to prevent those trips across the gym. In many ways, there’s a similar dynamic at work in our lives. Given the strenuous demands and duties in our lives, we get overextended and find ourselves needing to return to our source of temporary refreshment so that we can get through the routine of our day. What if I were to tell you there is a source of refreshment that would constantly stay with you and keep you refreshed –a source that – like your trusted water bottle in the gym – would be with you constantly? Actually, I wouldn’t need to tell you about the source of refreshment and renewal myself – for the author of John’s Gospel beat me to the punch and tells us all of such a source. In John 4:13-14 (NIV), Jesus tells the Samaritan woman (and those of us looking for a constant source of refreshment and renewal) the following words: “Everyone who drinks this [ordinary] water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him [or her] will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him [or her] will become in him [or her] a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Today I ask you to consider your source of refreshment and renewal. Are you quenching your thirst using ordinary water or are you seeking refreshment from a deeper, more lasting source. A source that – like your trusty gym water bottle – is with you always? May your thirst remained quenched this day and always. Til next time…

Friday, December 28

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 77 & 57; Jeremiah 31:15-17; Matthew 2:13-18; Revelation 21:1-7

It’s easy to fall prey to the notion that once the Christ-child appears, all our problems will be solved. And yet this morning’s reading from Matthew reminded me such thinking isn’t entirely accurate. For in this morning’s passage we learn of one of the earliest responses to the appearance of the Christ-child – a bloody attempt by King Herod to find the child and do away with him. When he couldn’t do that, Herod initiated the bloody extermination of all boys under the age of two in the area. Not exactly the sort of warm and fuzzy response you would have envisioned. This response reminded me of a concept I spent much time exploring this fall: the dark night of the soul. What I learned in my explorations of the concept is that dark nights of the soul are often triggered by an experience of insight or clarity. This experience then sets off a purging in one’s life as you let go of those things spiritually holding you back so you can embrace the new things before you. I personally can’t think of anything that introduces a greater sense of insight or clarity than the Christ-child. Of course in the Christmas story, Herod didn’t want to let go of those things holding him back. He much preferred the status quo; hence, his actions to strike out and try to eliminate the threat. In some ways you and I are in a situation like Herod’s. We have heard and experienced the coming of the Christ child once again. As a result, we have to decide what we want to do about that coming. Do we want to do what Herod did and try to do away with the Christ-child (or worse yet, tuck him away along the other Christmas decorations until you haul him about this time next year) or shall we do like Joseph and Mary and embrace the Christ-child and do whatever it takes to protect its role in our life – even if it means treks to the most unlikely of places?! The question is yours to wrestle with today. Til next time…

Thursday, December 27

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 104:1-35, 41; Proverbs 8:22-30; John 13:2-20; 1 John 1:1-9

Over the years I’ve learned that each of us has a particular challenge when it comes to putting our beliefs into practice. Some of us who come from evangelical backgrounds, for instance, often get uncomfortable with comprehensive bible studies that use historical and cultural tools since they believe Scripture is the inspired word of God and – by its very nature - is above the use of such tools. Some of us from Pentecostal backgrounds struggle mightily with contemplative prayer experiences since such practices don’t fit easily with our highly expressive ways of connecting with God. So what is one of the growing edges for those of us in progressive faith communities? Finding a theology of sin. Progressives stumble with this because many of us were raised in faith communities that went to such lengths emphasizing the sinfulness of humanity that they lost sight of some of the wonderful aspects of human nature. This lack of balance between the good and bad aspects of our nature caused a loss of credibility among many progressives. Today’s reading from 1 John challenges us to find a theology of sin as it says: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8 – NIV). The question for today, then, is “How can we find a way of understanding sin that honors the whole part of our being in such a way that it simultaneously acknowledges both the good of which we are capable AND the need for the One who can help us transcends our moral and spiritual limitations and become the person God calls us to be?” Instead of answering that question for you, I’ll leave you to wrestle with it for yourself in coming days as you seek to find your own understanding of this thing called sin. Rather, I should say I'll leave you alone with God to work out your understanding knowing that you're in GREAT hands. Til next time…

Wednesday, December 26

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 107:1-45; 2 Chronicles 24:17-22; Acts 7:55-8:8; Acts 6:1-7

One of the greatest benefits of a sabbatical for a pastor is that it gives him/her the rare opportunity to step back and evaluate his/her ministry. One thing I noticed about myself while I was on sabbatical is that in my first five years of ministry I often fell pray to one of the greatest temptations known to small church pastors: I got involved in virtually every aspect of the church’s ministry. With this being my first call, I didn’t take the time to prioritize the tasks before me and focus my time and energy in those areas that God had particularly gifted me. Instead, I allowed myself to get spread too thin. It’s no wonder I often felt overwhelmed! If only I had paid more attention to today’s passage from Acts 6:1-7. For in that passage we are given a wonderful example of the Twelve’s ability to prioritize their time and energy. When faced with increasing disputes between the Grecian Jews and the Hebraic Jews, for instance, did the Twelve try to do what I did – wade in and fix everything for everyone? No. They said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables” (Acts 6:2). As a result, they appointed other seven persons to handle the emerging disputes for them. This freed them up to focus on what they had really been called to do. Of course pastors aren’t the only ones who struggle with priorities. Most people do - perhaps even you! As we sit on the verge of the new year, today it might be good to make some time to revisit your own priorities. Ask yourself questions like “What are the things God is call ME to do?”, “Do I have enough time in my life to attend to these areas?” “If not, what things should go so that I do have the time to attend to these areas?” The gifts of boundaries and a clearer sense of call will be two valuable things you can give to the Christ-child this Christmas season. Til next time…

Tuesday, December 25

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 110; Isaiah 62:6-7, 10-12; Luke 2:8-20; Titus 3:4-7; Psalm 85

Lots of folks began their day today by opening gifts – gifts that contain things like new sweaters, or dresses, or coats, or scarves. And in coming days they will take advantage of almost every opportunity to showcase those gifts by wearing them out. What’s the first thing that happens when you wear a gift out? Folks will compliment you on the item and – before you know it – you’ll be engaged in a conversation telling the other person all about the gift: who bought it for you; where they bought it; and so forth. While we are excited to jump on any opportunity to talk about most of our gifts, there is one gift in particular that many of us are hesitant to talk about. The gift of God’s love revealed in the manger. Why is that? I suppose part of the reason is because many of us were taught to believe that talking about our faith (evangelism, if you will) is about memorizing and reciting certain Scriptures to others or being aggressive and pushing your particular theology down someone else’s throat. Because of the negative experiences we might have had in the past with such approaches, we end up becoming totally silent about the gift of our faith. Today’s passage from Luke gives us another way to talk about our faith. Verse 17 tells us how the shepherds responded to their encounter with the Christ child: “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (NIV). The verse tells us the shepherds didn’t worry about trying to memorize all of the right Scripture to impress others. Nor did the shepherds try to establish an air-tight theology that would win folks over to their particular beliefs. No, the shepherds did none of that. Instead, they simply had an experience, got excited, and told others about their personal experience. Isn’t that what God calls us to do? Share our experience. In the days following Christmas, if someone comments that you look particularly happy or content, take a chance and let them know it isn’t your new sweater or dress that is the source of your happiness. Let them know what the real source is! Til next time…

Monday, December 24

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 96; Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 1:1-20; Titus 2:11-14; Psalm 2

As we sit just 8 days away from a new year, the words that caught my attention during my devotional time were the opening words of Psalm 96. Those words in the New International Version of the Bible read: “Sing to the Lord a new song...” The psalmist’s words got me to thinking about what it means to open yourself – I mean REALLY open yourself – to singing a new song within the context of your life. You see so many of us feel trapped by other people’s perception of who we really are. Consequently, despite the fact that there are so many aspects of God’s creation that we would like to explore, we never explore them. And why not? Because others have convinced us “that that’s not who we really are”. The words from the psalmist today practically beg us to lay aside those perceptions and open ourselves to new songs. Today, give yourself permission to explore the possibility of singing a new song in your life. Then in the coming days start incorporating that new song into your life. See what happens. As long as the new song you are singing is offered to God – and not an excuse for mere self-gratification – chances are the music that will flow out of you will be beautiful. Happy singing! Til next time…