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Sunday, August 3

Today’s Readings: Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Genesis 32:22-31; Matthew 14:13-21; Romans 9:1-5

There’s a subtle but similar theme that runs through today’s Psalm & today’s passage from Genesis. It’s a theme that I think is crucial for helping folks establish a healthy spiritual life. So what’s the theme? That it is okay to engage, challenge – or even wrestle with – the Holy. As a pastor, I’ve encountered lots of folks over the years who are in a difficult circumstances. They’re facing a bout of unemployment, they’ve received a life-threatening diagnosis, or they’ve recently experienced the unexpected loss of a loved one. Whatever the circumstance, folks in these situations often feel conflicted because they desperately want to cry out to God and express the depth of their true feelings; sadly, they’ve been taught by some that it’s inappropriate (or even sacrilegious) to do so. As a result, they end up stuffing their feelings. They continue to stuff their feelings until an unbearable amount of anger or resentment builds up, and then they pull back from their relationship with God. If you are in a similar situation where you haven’t allowed yourself to get real with God – follow the example of the psalmist and let out “the most honest prayer [God] will hear” (Psalm 17:1 – The Message). No matter what form your feelings take, draw comfort from the fact that God is big enough to receive whatever feelings we have to offer. Til next time…

Saturday, August 2

Today’s Readings: Psalm 18:1-30; Genesis 45:16-28; Luke 7:18-35; Acts 20:7-12

In yesterday’s entry, I culminated my reflection by offering one of the aspects of Jesus’ nature that I felt was most characteristic of Jesus; that aspect was his compassion. Today’s reading from Acts gives me the opportunity to reflect on yet another aspect of Jesus. Today I don’t want to focus simply on an adjective that I would use to describe Jesus; today, I want to focus on a word that characterizes Jesus’ approach toward ministry. Let me take a moment and set that word up for you. I’ll never forget an epiphany I had when I was sitting in my first New Testament course in seminary. We were studying the Book of Acts in depth when something powerful hit me. In many of the stories contained in the Book of Acts, the disciples were performing many of the same miracles that Jesus performed – including raising folks from the dead (as was the case in this morning’s story from Acts about Paul raising Eutychus from the dead). Of course this should not have surprised me. I had read these same passages dozens of times and was aware of Jesus’ words about what his followers would be capable (i.e. “The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things” – John 14:12 from The Message). So why didn’t I pick up on this before? I guess it was because most folks who had taught me about the Scriptures emphasized what Jesus did FOR us; they totally downplayed what Jesus EMPOWERED his followers to do. In fact, I can’t remember a single instance where the word empowerment was linked to Jesus – that word was usually reserved for the Holy Spirit. Since my epiphany that day in class, I’ve tried to pick up that notion and focus my ministry on empowering others: not because empowerment is the “cool” or “trendy” approach to doing ministry. No, I choose to emphasize empowerment because that’s the example Jesus set for his followers. Today, I would invite you to reflect on where you come down on that continuum in terms of understanding Jesus: do you see him as someone who did things for us, or do you see him as someone who empowers us to do things, or somewhere in between? Once you locate him on your own theological spectrum, take some time and see how your understanding of him has shaped the quality and character of your own spiritual life. Til next time…

Friday, August 1

Today’s Readings: Psalm 17; Genesis 45:1-15; Luke 7:1-17; Acts 20:1-16; Psalm 20

I’m in the process of preparing for two memorial services next week. One thing that I usually do at memorial services is provide for the opportunity for individuals to say a few words about the deceased person. I do this primarily for one reason. You see when most of us know someone, there’s usually one particular aspect of that individual that we know well (i.e. Uncle Jerry’s sense of humor; Cousin Melinda’s intellect, etc). That one aspect often comes to define the entire person for us. At a memorial service – when lots of folks gather who knew the individual in a variety of ways – the shared remembrances remind us that the departed individual was so much more complex than we may have realized. I love reading the various Gospel accounts of Jesus for a similar reason, for each of the accounts reveal a different aspect of Jesus’ nature. In this morning’s passage form Luke, for instance, we are introduced to a wonderful aspect of Jesus that often gets minimized: Jesus’ sense of compassion. This aspect is particularly lifted up in the second half of the reading where we hear the story of Jesus’ encounter with a widow who had just lost her son. In the midst of the funeral procession, we are told that “when Jesus saw the [widow who had lost her son], his heart broke. He said to her, ‘Don’t cry.’ Then he went over and touched the coffin” (Luke 7:11-12 – The Message). What a tender and beautiful side of Jesus! In this day and age when many will point toward other sides of Jesus (i.e. the angry Jesus throwing the money-changers out of the Temple, the culture bound Jesus refusing the Syro-Phoenician woman’s request for healing, or the apocalyptical Jesus who points toward the time when the wheat will be separated from the weeds), it’s important to claim the deeply compassionate Jesus – for that is the side of Jesus that pulls together all of the other pieces for me. Til next time…

Thursday, July 31

Today’s Readings: Psalm 71; Genesis 44:18-34; Luke 6:39-49; Acts 19:29-41; Psalm 36

I spent much of the 1980’s and 1990’s getting incredibly worked up about the presence of the Religious Right. I took a great deal of pleasure back then in pointing out the rampant hypocrisy and shortcomings of many of their leaders (i.e. Jimmy Swaggart & the Bakers). You could certainly always count on me to let loose in tirades directed against Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson. Then a dramatic change occurred in me around the start of the 21st Century, and I quit opening my mouth against these folks. What happened? Well, I started opening my eyes and paying attention to folks' on the other end of the political and theological spectrum. I started to notice friends who railed about the evils of corporate pollution, for instance, fail to practice recycling in their own homes. I watched as colleagues criticized the government workforce for not being diverse enough – and yet they were totally oblivious to the fact that they had no friends of color in their own personal lives. I sat back and watched as folks spouted off about the importance of immigration reform - and then went out and hired illegal aliens to work in their own homes and small businesses. In other words, I learned that neither the Right nor the Left had a monopoly on things like hypocrisy and self-righteousness. All of this is to say that it took me a while to really understand what Jesus meant when he said, “It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this I-know-better-than-you mentality again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your own part” (Luke 6:41-42 – The Message). The longer I sat with Jesus’ words, the more I realized that anyone who professes to follow Jesus should spend the bulk of their time getting their own house in order before they even start thinking about trying to fix someone else's house. One of the funny things that has happened to me since I quit self-righteously spouting off against the Radical Right is that some folks have misinterpreted my silence and accused me of agreeing with them. I get a kick out of such thinking. Instead of getting insecure and attempting to rebut those accusations, I try to re-channel my energy into doing what Jesus said – into “living [my] own part”. I figure the rest will take care of itself. Today, I would encourage you to embrace Jesus’ call to live your own part and stop trying to manage other people’s parts. Til next time…

Wednesday, July 30

Today’s Readings: Psalm 96; Genesis 44:1-17; Luke 6:27-38; Acts 19:21-28; Psalm 90

One of my closest guarded secrets in life is that I’m what some people call a Fanilow (that’s a terms used to describe fans of Barry Manilow). As a musician who myself leans toward big, schmaltzy ballads, Barry’s music has always hit a spot with me. I figured I was destined to be a fan since Barry and I even share the same birthday: June 17 (he’s a few years older than me I feel compelled to note, however). Anyway, on one of his album’s titled “Showstoppers”, Barry recorded a song from the musical "Will Roger’s Follies" that I had never heard before titled “Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like”. A portion of the lyrics go as follows: “Met the worst and met the best; some that put me to the test. Almost made me change my mind; yet somehow I'd always find. If you don't expect too much there’s a certain human touch homo sapiens have got~ other animals have not. Try the shoes on that are his; feel what makes him what he is. What's it like inside his skin - living in the skin he's in. Just like me a lump of sod; there but for the grace of God.” In many ways the lyric is taping in to the sentiment expressed in today’s Gospel reading from Luke. The passage includes these words: “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously” (Luke 6:27-30 – The Message). As I put the sentiments of composer Cye Coleman together with the words attributed to Jesus in Luke, there is profound wisdom there. If there’s one thing ministry has taught me its that when you stop and take the time to get to know someone and listen to their stories (or as Cye Coleman wrote “try the shoes on that are his”), you can’t help but walk away with a respect and empathy for even the most difficult personalities – for many times the difficult attitudes they project toward others is masking deep pain. Once you take the time to tap in to the pain and let it out (which would include Jesus’ advice to “respond with energies of prayer for that person”) everything begins to change – in their world and in yours. Perhaps there is a difficult person in your life that you have written off. If there is, I would suggest over the coming days that you take Cye & Jesus’ advice and stretch yourself to get to know the person a little better. You just might find a new love and respect for the other if you do that. Til next time…

Tuesday, July 29

Today’s Readings: Psalm 67; Genesis 43:16-34; Luke 6:12-26; Acts 19:11-20; Psalm 4

As I have shared with you in previous posts, I’m someone who struggles on a daily basis to come to terms with my issues of co-dependence. That’s because I was raised from day one to be a people pleaser. Because of that, I have this sort of impression burned on my psyche that suggests things are automatically okay if people like me or what I’m doing and that things are automatically not okay if people are upset with me or don’t like what I’m doing. In a perfect world where individuals didn’t have hidden agendas or unhealthy needs, I suppose such thinking might work. In the imperfect world in which we live where lots of folks have hidden agendas and unhealthy needs, let me tell you something: “Such an approach does not work!” Of course it took me 40 years to figure that out for myself. If I had carefully read today’s Gospel reading earlier in my life, I might have saved myself some years of painful life experience. In today’s Gospel reading we are told that Jesus’ said: “Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable” (Luke 6:22 – The Message). As I thought about it – especially that second sentence – Jesus’ words make perfect sense: an alcoholic will like you more if you provide them a drink; a control freak will like you more if you give in to their demands; and a self-centered person will like you more if you give them what they want. While each of the persons in these scenarios may like you better if you simply go along, I don’t think you are doing any of them a favor when you do so. It’s only when you have the strength of character to stand up and say things like “No, I won’t give you the drink”, “No, I won’t be intimidated by you and simply give in to your demand”, “No, there are other factors in this decision to consider beside just your opinion” that you bring the truth close to the person. Of course their only natural response will be to become uncomfortable. I don’t know if you have a similar struggle with a propensity to please others. If you do, remember those words from today’s reading and realize a portion of our call is to bring the truth a little too close for comfort for many – including ourselves. Once you realize this, it’ll help you remember that there are more important things to be worried about than simply being liked by others. Til next time…

Monday, July 28

Today’s Readings: Psalm 21; Genesis 43:1-15; Luke 6:1-11; Acts 19:8-10; Psalm 133

Over the years, my paths have crossed with lots of people who have made an impression on me. One person I bumped into nearly 20 years ago now was a woman whom I’ll call Susan. Susan was a co-worker of mine. She was a woman of deep faith. She made a practice, for instance, of attending mass each and every day. Whenever we would discuss current issues or politics in the staff break room, she was the first to make a correlation between her faith and her position on an issue or a candidate. One day I learned something about Susan that surprised me. Folks in the mental health community were working hard to build a home for developmentally disabled folks in Susan’s neighborhood. Guess which of the neighbors took it upon herself to lead a signature gathering position to block the construction of the home? You got it: Susan. And what was her thinking? She didn’t want “such a place” driving down the property value of her home. I remember thinking, “How does a person spend so much time participating in the ritual expressions of their faith and completely miss the point of that faith?” Of course I wasn’t the first one to think that. I have good company. For in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus finds himself wondering the same thing when he was criticized by the Pharisees first for preparing food on the Sabbath and then healing on the Sabbath. In each instance, the religious folks lost sight of what was really important. It would be easy to look down on Susan and the Pharisees as the only ones who do this, but truth be told most of us have similar blind spots in our lives. Today, I invite you to scan the horizon of your life and see if there are places where you have done this – lost sight of what was really important in terms of living out your faith. If you find such an area, take a moment and turn that area over to God and see if that might help you remember what’s really important. Til next time…