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Saturday, January 26

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 54; Isaiah 45:18-25; Matthew 4:1-11; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Psalm 91

This week I had a conversation with a friend about the purpose of my daily blog. The conversation was an opportunity to clarify for myself the purpose of this blog. You see in these days when blogs have become trendy (i.e. folks trade the site of their blogs the way folks use to trade business cards), lots of folks think blogs are about the ego or needs of the blogger. They think of a blog as an attempt by an individual to show the world how deep and/or clever the blogger is. The purpose for my blog, however, is much different. Much of my purpose for the blog comes from the spirit contained in Psalm 91:14 – a portion of which Eugene Peterson paraphrased in The Message to read: “I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust me.” Here’s how that passage expresses my purpose for blogging. After five years of parish ministry, I’ve realized that one of the reasons folks have such a challenge dealing with tough times is that they don’t nurture their understanding and experience of God during their day-to-day lives. In other words, to use the sentiments expressed by the psalmist, they don’t invest time in getting to know and trust God. Sadly, this often includes folks who are often active in the life of the church. In the face of this reality, I realized that as a pastor I had a choice. I could shrug my shoulders, say, “Well, in this world of competing demands that’s the way it is. Folks are just to busy to spend time getting to know and trust God so I’ll just accept that fact,” and then retreat to my study to craft a series of clever spiritual clich├ęs to pull folks through their times of crises. Frankly, I didn’t like that option. My other option was to provide opportunities for folks to get to know and trust God each day through my ministry. Hence, my commitment to a daily program of readings that allows people to get to know and trust God through the sacred readings of our tradition. But providing a list of daily readings wasn’t enough – for I know that one of the sad consequences of the professionalization of ministry was that folks began to question whether or not their spiritual leadesr were living up to the standards they were espousing for their congregants. So I realized that a crucial component to get folks to realize this devotional time IS important was to show them its important enough that I do it myself. It’s a part of this radical approach that Jesus taught me called “practice what you preach”. So I create daily blog entries based on my daily encounters with God through our sacred readings. I do want to make one thing clear about my entries. I don’t think my blog entries are particularly witty. Nor do I think them clever by most standards. All I do know is that they are heart-felt. And each blog entry is written with one – and only one – purpose in mind: to help encourage you to get to know and trust God better for yourself. I fervently hope that you aren’t simply reading my words each day; rather, I pray you are focusing on reading the expressions of God’s word as contained in the set of daily readings for yourself. My consuming prayer is that each of us will grow in our ability to know and trust God so that we get use to meeting with God each and every day – and not just at our times of crisis. Til next time…

Friday, January 25

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 149; Isaiah 45:5-17; Luke 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 2:10-16; Psalm 36

One of the most frustrating expressions a person entering the life of a local church can hear when first offering an idea for ministry is this: “We already tried that years ago and it didn’t work so we shouldn’t try it again!” While such a remark is usually offered in a well-intentioned way (i.e. we don’t want you to waste your energy on an idea that won’t work), what such a remark forgets is that time and circumstances change. That remark fails to acknowledge those changes. In this morning’s story from Luke, we encounter a similar dynamic when Jesus instructs the disciples to do something they had already tried before – letting down their fishing nets into a stretch of water. While the disciples initially fell prey to the “we’ve tried that before and it didn’t work” way of thinking, they did something radical. They submerged their negative instinct and instead decided to follow Jesus’ instruction. Their faithful efforts paid off in ways they couldn’t have imagined. The story makes a compelling point: often the most difficult risk to take isn’t the risk to try something new – often the greatest challenge is to go back and try something you had tried before that didn’t work out. Think about that in the context of your life. Perhaps there is a relationship that you’ve written off… maybe you’re at a job that you’ve given up on… perhaps you’ve resigned yourself to living life without meaning. There are a thousand things it could be. Today I invite you to find an area of your life that you’ve written off, and return to it. Only this time, don’t go alone. Take the spirit of the living Christ with you. Then do one of the most radical things possible – drop your net. You can drop it in a thousand ways – through an apology, through an honest and loving naming of your true feelings, through an act of intentional recommitment: the only limit on how you symbolically drop your net is your imagination and your willingness to risk. Then see what happens. You just might be surprised! Til next time…

Thursday, January 24

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 3; Isaiah 44:24-45:7; John 1:43-51; 1 Corinthians 2:1-9; Psalm 73

Each Tuesday evening, a group of friends and members of the church I serve gather in a local coffee shop to talk about the following Sunday’s lectionary readings. The conversation is free flowing and looks nothing like a traditional Bible study (by the way, consider yourself invited to the group that meets each Tuesday evening from 6:30-7:30 PM at Panera Bread at 12293 E Iliff Ave in Aurora, CO). One of the major topics of conversation last Tuesday was how we respond to God’s call. This is because we were looking at the story of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John’s call in Matthew 4:18-22. What caught our attention was the assertion that each of these disciples responded to their call right away. We wrestled with several aspects of the story (i.e. how could they just walk away from family without notifying them) and ultimately examined the question, “Could I have done that?” A tough question indeed – especially those of us who are Type A personalities whose natural response is, “I better rush home, notify my loved ones, stop delivery of the paper, pay the bills ahead, pack…” Today’s passage from the Gospel of John gives us another experience of call. When Philip received his call and ran to tell Nathanael about this Promised One from Nazareth, Nathanael responds in a way that many of us might: with skepticism. More specifically, he says: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46 – NIV). What I appreciate about the story of Nathanael’s call is that Jesus didn’t get overly upset at Nathanael and rebuke him for his slow response; instead, Jesus took him where he was at. Of course he didn’t leave him there – but that’s fodder for another day’s entry. Anyway, today I invite you to reconnect with your own early experiences of Jesus’ claim upon you. How did you react? How did the Spirit of God react to your reaction? Then give thanks for the One whose grace and mercy reaches out to each of us – not at a place where God would like us to be, but the place where we actually are. Til next time…

Wednesday, January 23

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 5; Isaiah 4:9-20; Matthew 8:18-27; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Psalm 65

Two entries ago, I railed about one of my biggest frustrations in the development of our tradition. That was the energy that entered our tradition when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and set in motion energies that threatened to stamp out diversity within our faith tradition. One of today’s readings raised another frustration of mine about the development of our Christian tradition as well. The second frustration has to do with the way some Christians have come to view the physical world around us. Some have read the accounts of creation contained in Genesis and concluded that since God gave humanity dominion over the created order we could do with it as we liked. One of the tragic results of this approach is global warming. The 65th Psalm provides another model for how we might view creation. Starting in Psalm 65:9, the psalmist cries out: “Oh, visit the earth, ask her to join the dance! Deck her out in spring showers, fill the God-River with living water. Pain the wheat fields golden. Creation was made for this!” (The Message). What beautiful words! Today, I invite you to think about how you approach the physical world. Do your patterns of consumption further tax an already overburdened planet, or do your actions (i.e. your simplified lifestyle and your commitment to recycling) point the planet toward a long overdue time of healing and reconciliation? My hope and prayer today is that we all grow in our appreciation of the natural world so that we might ask the earth to join us in our dance of redemption. Til next time…

Tuesday, January 22

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 47; Isaiah 44:6-8, 21-23; Luke 7:18-23; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Psalm 4

Yesterday, I spent my time in the entry talking about my frustration how the political world influenced the development of Christianity. Today, I’m struck by another way in which our larger cultural values here in the West (especially here in the US) have shaped the development of our tradition as well. In reading 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, I was struck by the opening verse: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (NIV). The verse got me to thinking about how the story of Jesus looks from the outside. Here’s an individual who – at the age of 30 – received a call (very late in life by the world’s standards). He then gathered around him a group of 12 (very small group of supporters by the world’s standards). He then engaged in his ministry for three years (very short career by the world’s standards). As a result of his on going conflicts with the religious and political authorities, he was crucified next to criminals (very demeaning by the world’s standards). On so many levels this story of Jesus would appear foolish to the world. And yet for Christians the power of the story is that God works through those circumstances and uses them to provide what to us is an unparalleled work of redemption. And how have churches in the West (particularly in the US) shaped themselves over the past two millenna? To reflect the values of the cross? No. Instead, we have constructed our faith communities based on the values of this world. In the era of mega-churches, for instance, our buildings are large, elaborate, and ornate. We have developed paths to leadership that separates people (lay vs. clergy) instead of integrate them. And we define communal success in earthly terms (i.e. number of members and the size of budget) rather than spiritual terms. So how do we get back on track and look a little more foolish to the world? We do that by returning to the power of the cross. Today I encourage you to spend some time thinking about how that return would look in your life. I look forward to journeying with you back to the cross as we rediscover its powers in new ways. Til next time…

Monday, January 21

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 59; Isaiah 43:14-44:5; Luke 3:15-22; 1 Corinthians 1:10-17; Psalm 141
As someone who LOVES studying history, I’m shocked how little history most folks know. This is especially true when it comes to the history of our own faith as Christians. One of the most important turning points in the development of Christianity occurred in the early 4th Century when the emperor of Rome, Constantine, converted to Christianity? And why was that important? Because it changed the way our faith was both perceived and defined. Before the emperor’s conversion, for instance, Christianity was a faith that was practiced on the margins of society. Once the emperor converted and issued the Edict of Milan, Christianity became a faith that enjoyed societal privilege and status. In many circles this changed the way the Gospel was proclaimed. Some people (especially people of privilege) started minimizing the radical, Liberative elements of the faith and instead used the Gospel as a primary defender of the status quo. Another huge shift that occurred had to do with the way differences were handled in Christian community. Prior to the emperor’s conversion, people were actually relatively safe to express different understandings of their faith. That’s why they had things like the Donatist and Arian controversies. Differences not only existed but were acknowledged by people of faith. What a concept!!!! Once the emperor converted to Christianity, however, theological difference became the enemy. One of the emperor’s jobs was to “enforce doctrine, root out heresy, and uphold ecclesiastical unity”.[1] Sadly Constantine did a great job of this as he set in motion a dynamic that crushed and shamed expressions of difference within the body of Christ over the past 1,800 years. Today’s lectionary reading from 1 Corinthians was a breath of fresh air for me in that it reminded me that for the first four centuries of our faith, God gifted us with different understandings of their faith (yes, I am one of those radicals that believes differences are not of the devil but of God J). Of course as with many gifts from God, they are not easy to receive. So today’s passage lays out for me a wonderfully pastoral perspective on how we can live with these differences. We aren’t told to physically or spiritually crush these differences. Nor are we told to vilify those who see things differently. No, instead we were given these words: “You must get along with each other. You must learn to be considerate of one another, cultivating a life in common” (1 Corinthians 1:10 – The Message). Imagine how differently the history of our faith would have unfolded if we had embraced the spirit from this passage. Things like the Inquisition would have never happened. Today, on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I invite you to think about ways in which you could participate in a process whereby diverse – I don’t mean theoretically diverse here, I mean TRULY diverse – people of faith can come together and cultivate this life in common. Perhaps then we can undo some of the sins some Christians have committed over the past 2,000 years in the name of Jesus and move a bit further along in our realization of God’s reign here on earth. Til next time…
[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_I_and_Christianity

Sunday, January 20

Hi there: After a hectic weekend of ministry, I am exhausted today so I'm going to have to take a day off. I'll see you back here tomorrow! Til next time...