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Saturday, August 30

Today’s Readings: Psalm 103; Exodus 13:17-14:4; Luke 13:10-17; Romans 12:9-13; Psalm 6

Lots of spiritual leaders will bemoan the fact that people in their spiritual communities don’t view the sacred writings of their tradition as important to their spiritual journeys. I’m not one for simply complaining about things like this; instead, I like to put the energies that others would invest into complaining into trying to create solutions. Because of this tendency, I started asking myself early in my ministry, “Why don’t people see the Bible as a valuable spiritual resource?” A part of my answer was that people don’t appreciate the value of the Bible because of the radically different worldviews that exist between the world the sacred writings were written in and the world in which we live today. So I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy trying to provide tools that could help folks bridge the gap between the two worlds. One tool that I’ve used in the process is Eugene’s Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible titled The Message. Today’s Gospel reading provides a good example of how his paraphrase does that. You see many modern folks wrestle with the notion of Jesus’ healings because the healings put their modern worldview (where everything is explainable through reason and science) in contrast with a pre-modern worldview (where there was room in life for mystery and supernaturalism). Most of the early translations of Scripture talk about the woman’s condition in a very absolute terms – in ways that are a barrier for our modern minds. The King James Version, for instance, says the woman “had a spirit of infirmity” while the New Revised Standard Version says the woman had “a spirit that had crippled her”. Peterson’s paraphrasing, on the other hand, says the woman was “twisted and bent over with arthritis that she couldn’t even look up”. Here’s how Peterson’s approach can be helpful bridging the gap between the modern and pre-modern worlds. When most modern folks hear the King James Version or the New Revised Standard Version, they encounter the word “spirit” and immediately think of the story only in supernatural terms. Consequently, their minds cause them to check out from the story on some levels. When you hear the woman described as being twisted and bent – it creates a different feel toward the story. You may not be afflicted with exactly the same condition as the woman (arthritis) but the words “twisted and bent” invite you to consider the ways in which you are twisted and bent. For instance you might be twisted and bent in terms of your values or priorities, or you might be twisted and bent in terms of your outlook (self-centered rather than God-centered). No matter how we think of ourselves as being twisted and bent, we share one thing in common with the woman – we often find ourselves contorted into circumstances where we too find it difficult to "look up". When you begin to engage the healing story from such a perspective, it’s much more difficult to walk away from the story for it reminds us of the power of God at work through Jesus that helps straighten us up. Helping people make these sorts of connections is what my call to ministry is all about – helping people understand that each and every aspect of our tradition (including the Bible!) can help take us to new places of insight and growth if only we give them the chance to do so. So today I’ll leave you with one question: “In what ways are you twisted and bent – in what ways are you in need of healing?” Once you figure that out, you can follow the woman’s example and start spending some time near the God of Jesus. As you do so, listen closely for the liberative words of Jesus to come to you: “You’re free!” Those words that may come to you in one of many number of forms will signal your new ability to stand up straight and tall and give glory to God! Til next time…

Friday, August 29

Today’s Readings: Psalm 97; Exodus 13:1-2, 11-16; Luke 13:1-9; Romans 12:3-8; Psalm 37

One of my favorite metaphors for the church comes from Paul’s writings; it’s when Paul refers to the church as a body. Why do I like Paul’s metaphor of the body so much? I suppose it’s because the metaphor has two important implications. First, the metaphor implies the interconnectedness of all parts of the church; and second, the metaphor acknowledges the fact that we all have something important to contribute to the whole. In today’s passage from Romans, Paul uses the metaphor to put forward what I feel is a crucial piece of advice that further extends the metaphor. Paul wrote, “… let’s go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t” (Romans 12:6 from The Message). Those words struck a chord with me because all too often I hear people minimizing their contributions by saying things like, “I don’t do much – I just teach Sunday school” or “I’m not as gifted as some – all I can do is help out with maintenance issues around the building” or “I can’t do what some can – I just help out Ms. Jones by giving her a ride once a week”. In each case the folks involved have forgotten to value what they were made to be and have allowed themselves to fall into the trap of comparing themselves to others. If that’s where you are in your life – in a place where you feel compelled to minimize your gifts – stop! Take a moment and remind yourself of Paul’s metaphor and celebrate the many ways in which your unique gifts have contributed to the overall health and well-being of the body. Once you’ve gotten in touch with your contribution, find another person who is minimizing their value within the body and take a moment to share a word of encouragement with them about how they are contributing as well. In doing that, you won’t just be helping one person – you’ll be strengthening the entire body. Til next time…

Thursday, August 28

Today’s Readings: Psalm 1; Exodus 13:3-10; Luke 12:49-59; Romans 12:1-2; Psalm 115

I was talking with my friend Tricia recently about a friend of hers named George. George had recently felt a call from God that turned his life upside down. The call was so strong George felt the urge to walk away from a variety of his relationships and commitments in order to pursue it. When Tricia expressed concern about all of the sudden changes in his life, George said, “You would understand if you had experienced God the way I did.” This got me to thinking about what many folks feel is the nature of our calls to discipleship. Lots of folks think such a call entails doing radical things like walking away from one’s family, one’s job, and one’s day-to-day commitments (i.e. the way the disciples’ walked away from their families, their jobs, and their commitments when Jesus first called them). I would certainly be the first to admit that sometimes calls do happen in such ways. After all, that’s what happened to me when I received my call to parish ministry. But calls don’t always happen that way for others. And sometimes, the most difficult way to experience a call is when it happens in the midst of your everyday life. Paul points to this experience of call in today’s passage from Romans when he wrote: “Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for God” (Romans 12:1-2 from The Message). Many folks think the first type of call (“the walking-away-from everything” call) is the most difficult type of call anyone can ever experience. I can attest that it does present pretty major challenges to a person. But in other ways the second type of call (the “turn-everything-over-to-God-right-where-you-are” call) can be even more difficult. It can be more difficult because you constantly have to face the temptation to give in to apathy or the status quo rather than follow the leading of the Spirit to bring God into your life in transformative new ways. So what type of call have you experienced in your life? The “walk-away-from-it-all” or the “turn-everything-over-to-God-right-where-you-are” call? The biggest challenge we face doesn’t come from the type of call we receive; no, the biggest challenge we face is answering that call. Til next time…

Wednesday, August 27

Today’s Readings: Psalm 116; Exodus 12:40-51; Luke 12:32-48; Romans 11:29-36; Psalm 112

As most folks realize, things have shifted dramatically for Christian faith communities over the last several years. That’s because for most of the Twentieth Century, we lived in a time known as the Christian period. During this period, Christianity enjoyed a special status or privilege within our society. This meant, for instance, that during the month of December schools held Christmas pageants rather than winter pageants; public gatherings were opened with prayers that ended with the words “…in Jesus’ name”; and political candidates were expected to openly talk about their Christian faith in order to win an election. One of the benefits of the Christian period for local churches was that they didn’t have to work very hard in order to draw members; they simply opened their doors and people flocked in. Over the latter part of the Twentieth Century, however, this place of power and privilege disappeared to the point that we are now living in a period that many call the Post-Christian period. There are many in the Christian community who decry this shift. I don’t. For as I’ve said in many of my earlier postings, I think the Christian movement tends to lose its way when it becomes associated with power and privilege. So what clues do we have for how to live into this post-Christian era? Well, there’s one embedded in today’s Gospel reading for Luke. In order to identify it though I need to put Jesus’ words in a different context. You see when most folks read the words attributed to Jesus (i.e. “The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being”) they interpret them solely in a literal way. They understand "treasure" as those things that diminish people’s faith in God. If someone's treasure is money, for instance, he or she will build his or her life around the pursuit of money; if someone's treasure is self-gratification, she or he will build her or his life around seeking self-gratification. That thinking certainly makes sense because that’s what Jesus was saying at the time. I believe there is another way of experiencing Jesus’ words 2,000 years later, however, that can give Christian faith communities guidance during these tumultuous post-Christian days. My new way of experiencing Jesus’ words is predicated on seeing the word "treasure" differently – not as something that diminishes one’s faith but rather as something that deepens one’s faith. Let me explain. As I noted earlier, churches in the Christian period never had to consider whether or not the things they were doing were meeting the needs of members. That’s because it really didn’t matter. People would still come regardless of the effectiveness of the ministry. In the post-Christian period, however, it is essential that a faith community meet the needs of its members. If you don’t meet those needs, people will no longer come. So what are the needs? In my experience people’s needs lie where their treasure lies – the place that allows them to get in touch with their spiritual gifts and their call! If a faith community can work with folks to help them discover where their treasure lies and then put that treasure within the context of their faith, they can create a powerful ministry built not on obligation and duty but on transformation and hope. And after all, isn’t that what we are all about: transformation and hope?! We can create faith communities that are places where people “most want to be”. Today I would invite you to take some time and ask yourself, “Where does my treasure lie?” Once you answer that question, start thinking about how you can locate that treasure within the realm of your spiritual life in order to take your relationship with God to new heights! Til next time…

Tuesday, August 26

Today’s Readings: Psalm 99; Exodus 12:28-39; Luke 12:13-31; Romans 11:25-28; Psalm 39

It’s easy these days to become overwhelmed with news that gets you down. Military conflicts that seem endless, raising gas prices, falling home values, escalating rates of home foreclosures… you name it, and we are facing it. It’s no wonder that so many folks have a difficult time staying positive! One of the best parts of being a pastor is that you get to hang out with amazing people who consistently give me reason to hope. And how do they do that? By taking Jesus’ words in today’s parable from Luke to heart. Let me tell you what I mean by that. In today’s parable, Jesus tells the story of a rich man who oversaw the production of a terrific crop. His response? Instead of sharing his accumulated riches with others, the rich man built bigger barns to hoard his profits. Following the demise of the selfish rich man, Jesus warns – “that’s what you get when you fill your barn with Self and not with God” (Luke 12:21 from The Message). Each day I see people of faith who have taken Jesus’ parable to heart and heeded Jesus’ call to fill their barns with God. I get to see Caryn, the Habitat for Humanity coordinator in our community, selflessly organize folks to help provide affordable housing for those in need in our community. I get to see Lou make time in her schedule each Tuesday to take donations of food and clothing across town to a local food bank. Each Friday I get to see Kathy deliver boxes of food to households that would otherwise go hungry. I get to see Mary serve selflessly at the keyboard each Sunday as she provides amazing worship music that takes people to new spiritual places. I get to see Jon, Laura, Scott, Deb, Donna, Marcia & Betty staff a subsidized food program that helps feed families in our community each month. I get to see Peggy, Kathy, and Kerrie provide spiritual formation opportunities for the children in our community. I get to see Bob, Deb, Renee, Betty, Mike, Rob and Mary provide vision and direction for friends and members of our faith community through their work on council. I get to see Rica, Red, and Bob provide loving care for our facility that allows us to extend radical hospitality to those throughout our community. I get to see Cher, Kevin & Theresa organize food and transportation for those in need in our community. When it comes to acts of love and service – you name it, and I get to see it. Today, instead of issuing a thought-provoking challenge, I want to end by saluting those of you who have taken Jesus’ words to heart and have filled your barns with God. It’s people like you who bring the Reign of God a little closer each and every day! Til next time…

Monday, August 25

Today’s Readings: Psalm 120; Exodus 12:14-27; Luke 11:53-12:12; Romans 11:22-24; Psalm 135

I was talking with some friends yesterday about the Emerging Movement that’s happening within the Christian community. In talking with them, I made one observation about the dynamics of our faith today. I said, “When we’ve talked about change within the Christian community for the past thirty years, we’ve usually done so stressing just one thing – superficial techniques. In the context of worship, for instance, we’ve talked about making change by adding a LED projector and screen or adding drums and electric guitars. That was about as far as conversations regarding change went. As we look at the changes occurring today within the Christian Community the change is no longer about superficial technique – the change is about substance: about increasing the integrity and depth of our faith.” This is the sort of change Jesus was calling his disciples to in today’s reading from Luke when he said, “You can’t keep your true self hidden forever; before long you’ll be exposed. You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever; sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known” (Luke 12:2 from The Message). So how did a movement that was founded on authenticity and integrity find pockets of itself slipping and become about putting on masks? There are probably tons of different answers to the questions. Certainly the growth of the bureaucracy fueled the slide. There’s another subtle way the slide was expedited; through the clothes we wear to church. In the early days of the church, folks wanted to dress up when they came to church as a sign of respect and reverence for God. That was a good thing. Over time, however, the dynamics involved in dressing up began to spill over into other attitudes within the church. People subconsciously began equating dressing up in terms of clothes with dressing up spiritually/emotionally; as a result, they began to leave some of their doubts and fears at home since they felt it would be inappropriate to bring them with them to church. Then dressing up spilled over to the social dynamics of the church. The clothes we wore started determining what kind of community we were and what kind of people would fit in “our” community. Little by little – without even realizing it – our attitudes about what we wear to church helped push us further in our slide from the authenticity of which Jesus spoke toward an approach toward church that became about mask wearing. So am I suggesting that we start dressing down to church and wearing our grubbies? No. That would be a superficial, technique-oriented solution that I spoke of earlier. My suggestion is that we take steps to bring our external experience in line with our internal experience – that we take a risk like the one Jesus spoke of and quit putting on our masks. If we do that, we’ll realize that the most important thing we bring into church is not the clothes we wear – it’s the condition of our heart. Til next time…