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Saturday, April 5

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 140; Daniel 3:19-30; John 14:18-24; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Psalm 34

One of my favorite bumper stickers picks up on a favorite theme found in some portions of the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures. The bumper sticker, however, takes the well known theme and gives it a new twist. The bumper sticker reads: “An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind”. The words attributed to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading make much of the same point. When Judas asks Jesus why he is about to make himself plain to some but not others, Jesus responds with these words: “Because a loveless world is a sightless world.” He goes on to add: “If anyone loves me, he will carefully keep my word and my Father will love him – we’ll move right into the neighborhood” (John 14:22-23 – The Message). As a post-modernist, those words have proven very important to me in my faith journey. Let me tell you why I say that. You see when I was growing up I was taught by modernists that the neighborhood you moved into was determined largely by the beliefs in your head. People who believed in theological things like a literal interpretation of Scripture and a bodily resurrection and who held social positions opposed to homosexuality and abortion lived in one neighborhood. Let’s call this neighborhood A. Others who believed in an allegorical interpretation of Scripture and resurrection as metaphor and who were strong supporters of civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons and advocates for reproductive freedom lived in another neighborhood. Let’s call this neighborhood B. Many folks feel comfortable living their entire lives in one of these camps – being self-congratulatory for having moved into the right neighborhood. What fascinated me as I watched folks from both neighborhoods over the years was that I met just as many hard-hearted, arrogant fundamentalists from Camp A as I met from Camp B. These encounters with folks from both camps took me back to Jesus’ words that reminded me of what really determined the composition of the neighborhood. It wasn’t beliefs – it was love: the love most powerfully embodied in Jesus Christ. Today, I would invite you to consider what neighborhood you have spiritually moved into. Are you living in a neighborhood determined simply by beliefs, or do you live in one based upon the love revealed in and through Jesus? Til next time…

Friday, April 4

Hi there:
One of the challenges of small church ministry is that a pastor ends up doing a WIDE variety of tasks. One of those tasks I've taken on is webmaster for our church. I'm in the process of transitioning our website from Frontpage (a VERY user friendly web design software) to Dreamweaver (a very NON FRIENDLY web design software). I've been eating, drinking, and sleeping the program for the last 4 days. This morning, I need to take care of a couple last minute details to get our website to an acceptable point so I can hand off the web updating duties to our new church secretary. This hand off of duties is somthing I've longed for for 4 1/2 years so I'm tremendously excited!!! Anyway, my apologies about missing my devotion for today. Just keep me in your prayers as I culminate this amazingly frustrating process.

Thursday, April 3

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 82; Daniel:2:31-49; John 14:1-7; 1 Peter 2:4-10; Psalm 60

Back in January I made my very first trip to Las Vegas. Part of the reason we could afford the trip is that Mike and I signed up to attend a time share presentation during our stay. In return for attending the time-share presentation, we received free lodging for the long weekend. I’ll never forget the presentation and the energy in the room that day. The presentation started by showing the demolition of many of the old (translation – affordable) hotels on the strip. As images of the old hotel being demolished were shown, they showed the cost per night of a room in that hotel. Immediately after these pictures they would show images of the brand new hotel that replaced the old one. Again, the cost per night of a room in the new hotel was shown. Hotel prices had increased in most cases 6 fold! The bottom line was this: “Prices as shooting through the roof. Buy a time share now - in the most sought after vacation destination in the world, mind you - and be one of the lucky few who will still be able to get into Vegas!” As each couple sat around a tables with a company representative hearing the sales spiel, horns would go off and balloons would be released when a couple made a commitment to buy a time share. So what’s this got to do with our readings today? In reading today’s passage from John, I realized that if one were to look objectively at much of the evangelism efforts made by Christians over the centuries (especially by Christians in the United States in the last 200 years), those efforts would resemble the time share presentation. There have been appeals, for instance, to buy a share now and take pride in getting something others can’t or won’t. I call this the ego-based approach. There have been appeals based on the “not everyone can get in on the deal so it’s important to ACT NOW – otherwise, you too get shut out of the experience”. I call this the fear-based approach. There have even been responses involving the spiritual equivalents of horns and balloons at the time of a closing to get you too to buy now. I call this the “Don’t-you-want-to-fit-in-with-everybody-else?” approach. Needless to say, these approaches concern me. Instead of buying into this cultural approach, my spirit instead strongly resonates with the opening words from today’s passage from John. In the passage, Jesus is quoted as saying: “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you?” (The Message). Those words are a challenge to some of my sisters and brothers in the Christian community who would like to believe that there are just a few rooms available (not in “Vegas” but in “heaven”). I suppose they are worried that the notion of many rooms being available might bring down the spiritual equivalent of the property values. Today, I invite you to explore your theological approach toward this issue. Are you someone whose spiritual life thrives on the belief that you’re getting something that most others aren’t and that makes you special, or are you someone who basks in the warmth of God’s grace and mercy – knowing that grace and mercy has created a home with enough rooms for everyone? Til next time…

Wednesday, April 2

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 43; Daniel 2:17-30; John 21:20-25; 1 Peter 1:22-2:3; Psalm 113

I couldn’t help but smile in reading today’s Gospel passage from John for the story revealed one of our most basic traits. Let me set that trait up for you. As Jesus, Peter, and others were walking along in the story, we are told that Peter did what many of us do. He turned his focus from his own walk and began focusing on someone else – in Peter’s case the disciple Jesus loved. When Peter shifted his focus from himself onto the other, Peter then devoted his energy in trying to decipher the other disciple’s journey. He asked Jesus, “What’s going to happen to him?” Jesus response to Peter was short and to the point: “What’s it to you?” In that short exchange, Jesus’ points out one of the most common spiritual liabilities we face. You see so often we become totally focused on others. We’ll look to someone who succeeds, for instance, and analyze their life to try to figure out their shortcomings so we can then cry out: “God, that’s not fair. I’m a good person and I struggle while so-and-so isn’t a good person and is thriving!” As a result, our spiritual lives become peppered with doses of anger and resentment. Has that ever happened to you? If so, today I would encourage you to follow Jesus’ advice and keep your focus where it belongs: on your own spiritual journey. You might be surprised at the unexpected growth that occurs in your life as you stop trying to tend to other people's gardens and start paying attention to your own. Til next time…

Tuesday, April 1

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 12; Daniel 2:1-16; John 21:15-19; 1 Peter 1:13-21; Psalm 145

I grew up in a household where serving others was a given. My parents served on a variety of committees in the church in which I was raised. In addition to their church service, my father served on the local school board for 20 years and my mother volunteered on the planning commission in our town. I never once thought their work was special when I was young. I simply assumed everyone lived lives of service. It wasn’t until I got older that I began to look around and realize this wasn’t the case. An increasing number of folks didn’t volunteer at all – and when they did, the first question they would often ask was, “What’s in it for me?” What made me even sadder was my realization that this wasn’t the just the case in the secular world – it was becoming the norm in many of our churches as well. In the 1980’s and 1990’s churches of all sizes wer forced to hire folks to do things like missions and youth ministry for the congregation since members no longer “had time” to serve those in their own faith community! All of this is to say that we have wandered quite a distance from the sentiments Jesus expressed to Simon Peter in today’s passage from John. In that passage, Jesus asks Simon Peter, “Do you love me?” And after Simon Peter affirms his love of Jesus, Jesus makes a surprising request. Twice Jesus says “Feed my sheep” and once he says “Shepherd my sheep”. In an age where more and more of our spiritual journeys are directed inward – toward self-actualization and self-realization as the ultimate expressions of faith – Jesus reminds Simon Peter (and us) that one of the most appropriate responses to our love for the God is service – not to self but to others. As I look back now at my parents’ acts of service, I can better understand why they were able to make time to serve as they balanced the impossible demands of work and family. Today, I would invite you to explore how much time and energy you devote to feeding God’s sheep. Chances are there is a correlation between the amount and quality of time you spend feeding the sheep and the quality of your relationship with the Shepherd. Til next time…

Monday, March 31

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 132; Daniel 1:1-21; John 21:1-14; 1 Peter 1:1-2, 10-12; Psalm 28

Second career pastors bring a very different set of experiences with them into parish ministry than those who go right into the parish. I could give you several examples of what we bring, but for today’s purposes I’ll focus on just one. Lots of folks assume that pastors are nice, idealistic folks who walk around with their heads in the clouds and have no clue about what real life in the cut-throat world is like. As a result, folks in the pews often take what we say with a grain of salt. As we saw in scandals like the Enron Crisis a few years ago, some folks felt entirely comfortable sitting in the pews on Sundays listening to admonitions to live godly lives and then went to work on Mondays and engaging in all sorts of unethical practices. They could do this because they justified it by saying, “That’s what it takes in the real world to get ahead.” I experienced this attitude a lot during my ten years in “the real world” when I moved in political and educational circles. Today’s reading from Daniel, however, challenges the notion that you have to sell out your beliefs to get ahead. For in today’s reading, Daniel and his friends were thrown into the fast track to the monarchy. They very easily could have played the games that many of us play and thought to themselves, “Well, we’ll go along with the expectations of others until we gain power and THEN we’ll return to our faith and principles.” They didn’t do that, however. Instead, they chose to remain true to their God and their principles and ended up exceeding the expectations of others. Today, I invite you to explore your attitude toward living a faithful life. Is your faith something that you hold onto as long as it’s convenient, or is your faith something that empowers you to take risks and perhaps stand alone? Til next time…

Sunday, March 30

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 133; Acts 2:14a, 22-32; John 20:19-31; 1 Peter 1:3-9; Psalm 117

One of the aspects of our faith that most encourages me is God’s continued willingness to take us where we are at and then work with us. A great example of this is manifested in the way Jesus’ reacts to Thomas in today’s Gospel passage. In that passage, Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them behind the locked doors. What was Thomas’ response when he heard what happened? He did what many of us would have done – he doubted. It would have been easy at this point to make a pariah out of Thomas and turn him into another Judas-figure in the story. After all, Jesus had already lost one disciple. What’s one more? And yet Jesus went in exactly the opposite direction. When Jesus appeared to Thomas, Jesus reached out and met the need that Thomas had in order to strengthen Thomas’ faith. This freed Thomas up to go on with his life and ministry. That has been my experience with this God revealed in Jesus. At my moments of doubt and insecurity - when I find myself wanting to make demands of God in order to continue the relationship - there God’s grace and mercy appears and accepts me where I’m at. The best part of it, however, is that God doesn’t leave me there. Just as today’s story culminates with Jesus putting forth a bigger vision for Thomas and the others – “Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing” – the living Spirit often put forth bigger visions for me that help me move beyond the places of doubt and insecurity where I’d been stuck. Today, let us give thanks for a God who meets us where we are at and then helps move us forward. Til next time…