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Sunday, October 26

Today’s Readings: Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Matthew 22:34-46; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that when you deal with human beings, you have to not only get use to – but actually come to expect - lots and lots of contradictions. Let me use an example from politics to make my point. If you think about the Clinton Administration, many people criticized Clinton for doing what? Listening to the people by simply following the polls. Fast forward to the next president – President Bush. President Bush has a completely different style; he is known for often ignoring the voice of the people and listening only to his voice. And what do pundits criticize him for? Not listening to the people. I’ve come to the conclusion that when it comes to the human condition people generally want whatever it is they don’t currently have. In today’s passage from 1 Thessalonians, we are introduced to a different way of leading one’s life – a style that’s dependent upon listening primarily to neither the voice of the people nor one’s own voice. No, this style of leadership is all about listening to something else: God. In speaking of Silas, Timothy, and himself; Paul wrote: “Be assured that when we speak to you we’re not after crowd approval – only God approval. Since we’ve been put through that battery of tests, you’re guaranteed that both we and the Message are free of error, mixed motives, or hidden agendas” (1 Thessalonians 2:3-4 from The Message). My question for you to consider today is this: “When it comes to living your own life, what voice do you listen to? Do you listen primarily to the voice of others; do you listen primarily to your own voice; or do you listen primarily for the voice of God?” The voice to which you listen will determine the direction in which your life goes. Til next time…

Saturday, October 25

Today’s Readings: Psalm 17; Numbers 20:14-29; Matthew 5:38-48; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Psalm 107

If you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality test, when it comes to the last pairing of letters (P or J) in the personality test I am a strooooooooong J. In case you aren’t familiar with the test let me tell you what those letters means. The two letters have to do with how individuals approach the decision-making process. People who are P’s (Perceivers) tend to avoid or delay final decisions. They like to keep their options open as long as humanly possible and worry that if you make a decision you might eliminate the choice that might have proven most beneficial in the long run. People who are J’s (Judgers’s) want to be decisive. The last thing on earth they want to do is drag their feet and “waste” time with too much consideration. As you can probably tell, neither of these approaches would work without folks on the other side to balance the energies. If you only had P’s involved in a project, for instance, the work at hand might never get done (really); if you only had J’s involved, you would get a quick decision – but one that might not have been the best one to make (experience has shown me this is a case more times than I would like to admit). I say all of this to let you know that today’s passage from Numbers is one that tends to drive J’s like me nuts. If I had been in Moses’ shoes, I would have been all about getting the people from Point A to Point B in the quickest, most efficient manner possible. I would have been in such a hurry that I probably wouldn’t have stopped to think to ask the King of Edom for permission to cut through his land; I would have just done it. Thankfully, Moses had a whole lot more P in him than I did – for he had the wisdom to slow down and do the right thing. The lesson I carry away from today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament is that the sacred stories of our faith remind us the world wasn’t set up to accommodate our personalities and our preferences. This means that life will have a way of pushing our buttons: it may involve too many or too few others in the process; it may involve more facts/intuition than you would like; it might depend more on the head or the heart than you would like; it may move faster or slower than you would like (Myers-Briggs folks will understand why I chose these examples). In the midst of our daily frustrations, however, we are called to do what Moses did: trust in the One who lies at the source of creation and know that eventually we will arrive. Keep that lesson in mind today as you deal with the detours that life will throw your way. Til next time…

Friday, October 24

Today’s Readings: Psalm 104; Numbers 20:1-13; Matthew 5:27-37; Ephesians 6:18-24; Psalm 127

We live in a world where niceties are not only accepted but often encouraged. If we notice someone got a haircut, for instance, some of us have been trained to say, “Nice haircut!” – whether or not we think it really is. Or if we sit in on a presentation by someone, we have been trained to say, “Nice job!” – whether or not we think it really was. These niceties become the grease that moves the wheel on many of our social interactions. While they may help us get along with our fellow human beings, Jesus warns us about extending those niceties into our spiritual lives. In today’s Gospel reading, we hear Jesus saying: “You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true” (Matthew 5:34-36 from The Message). The blunt words remind us that our spiritual lives ought to be about something other than niceties; they ought to be about authenticity. These words challenge me to examine my own life and find those places where niceties have displaced authenticity. Perhaps you’ll join me in exploring this challenge. The self-examination will undoubtedly be difficult but the growth that will result should make it all worthwhile. Til next time…

Thursday, October 23

Today’s Readings: Psalm 83; Numbers 17:1-11; Matthew 5:21-26; Ephesians 6:10-17; Psalm 92

As I made the transition from a lay person to a clergy person, my perspective on several things changed. One change that was a dramatic one for me was my relationship with scripture. You see there were several pieces of scripture I had a hard time connecting with as a lay person. As someone who doesn’t have a poetic bone in is body, for instance, I struggled to appreciate the Psalms for in many cases their language and imagery went right over my head. As a clergy person, however, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the Psalms because I have seen the raw emotion contained in them connect with lay people in crises dozens of times in powerful and transformative ways. As a lay person I also had a hard time appreciating many of the letters to local churches. I saw the letters as dated expressions that had little to offer us as we faced the complexities of modern life. As a clergy person, however, I appreciate the letters’ ability to identify the timeless challenges we face (both individually and collectively) in our attempts to live out our faith. Today’s reading from Ephesians is an especially good example of that. I suppose it’s always been easy for communities of faith to focus on non-essential elements of their life together in order to try to strengthen or grow their community. Today, for instance, we would talk about growing our churches by developing glossy new brochures, fancy new websites, or trendy new music for our worship services. Back then, they too probably had their own painless solutions to the challenges of living together. Paul’s words cut right through these solutions and got to the real heart of the problem. He says the things we need to focus on to strengthen our lives are things like “truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation”. He then goes on to identify two spiritual disciplines that are foundational to lasting health and vitality: God’s word and prayer. Perhaps there are areas in your life where you have been looking for an easy fix – areas where you would like to settle for mass-marketed, user-friendly approaches that can make things better over night. If that’s the case, remember Paul’s timely words that remind us the road to health and vitality isn’t about catchy slogans or trendy gimmicks – it’s about timeless principles. The road to health and vitality isn’t about simply finding our own voice either; it’s about following spiritual disciplines that can help us hear God’s voice. While the approach outlined for us today in Ephesians might require a little more attention that we would like, it’s an approach that will prove well worth the effort. Til next time…

Wednesday, October 22

Today’s Readings: Psalm 140; Numbers 22:21-38; Matthew 6:19-24; 2 Thessalonians 2:5-12; Psalm 64

A couple of days ago, I saw a piece on the news about service dogs that work with people with epilepsy. The service dogs have an amazing capacity to not only help their owners with every day tasks in the owners’ environment – they also have the ability to alert others when a seizure is coming on within their owner. This trait is nothing short of amazing. The piece reminded me that there is often more than one way of connecting with things around us. Often, we human beings aren’t fully tuned in to some of these other ways of seeing/detecting things. Today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament contains the story where a human being demonstrated his limited capacity of perception; the reading contains the story of Balaam. In that story, Balaam was traveling on his donkey when an angel from God appeared in front of Balaam in an attempt to slow Balaam down and get his attention. Balaam was completely oblivious to the angel. Thankfully, his donkey was not – the donkey veered off the path each time he saw the angel. And how did Balaam respond to the donkey’s expanded vision? Did Balaam give the donkey the benefit of the doubt and thank him? Nope. Balaam beat the donkey for not seeing things the way he did. Eventually Balaam’s eyes were opened and he saw the expanded reality. How often in our lives do we do the same thing – how many times do we become so fixated on reality as we see it that we would lash out at those who would dare to reveal different aspects of reality? Today, I would encourage you to pay attention to elements of your own surroundings to see if they might be calling you to see an expanded perception of reality. If that happens, resist your impulse to resist the insight since it doesn’t fit neatly into your preconceived box. Instead, open yourself to what it might be pointing you toward. Til next time…

Tuesday, October 21

Today’s Readings: Psalm 71; Numbers 16:20-35; Matthew 5:11-16; Ephesians 5:25-33; Psalm 126

In many ways, I’m a huge fan of the separation of church and state. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know why. If you haven’t, my basic reason is that I believe it’s dangerous to merge church and state because this merger would thrust power and social status onto the church in such a way that it would compromise our core values. It would likely cause us to lose any sense of what discipleship means as we might get drunk with a sense of power and privilege. Having said that, I do have one concern about the effects of separating church and state. Some have taken this principle so far that they have compartmentalized their lives to a shocking degree – so much so that it has become difficult these days to tell followers of Jesus apart from others. I believe this trend to first compartmentalize and then water down our faith so we can fit in would DEEPLY disturb Jesus. In today’s Gospel passage, for instance, Jesus reminded us of the important of standing out when he said: “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?” (Matthew 5:13 from The Message). So where are you at with all of this? Have you so completely integrated yourself into the world and its set of values that others would be surprised to learn of your faith; or have you maintained your saltiness so that others have sensed there is something different about you? May God continue to strengthen us so that our lives can bring out the God-flavors of this earth. Til next time…

Monday, October 20

Today’s Readings: Psalm 143; Numbers 16:1-19; Matthew 5:1-10; Ephesians 5:1-15; Psalm 124

In my 41 years, I’ve lived through a lot of things. When I was a child I lived through Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War. When I was a teen ager I lived through the onset of the HIV/AIDS Crisis and the Iran Contra Scandals. When I was in my twenties I lived through the Black Monday (Stock Market Crash of 1987) and the Iran-Contra scandals. In my thirties I lived through the impeachment hearings for a President and the terrorist attacks on New York, Pennsylvania & Washington, DC. In other words, I’ve seen some tough times. All of these times pale in comparison to the feelings of malaise that have overtaken us these days. The combination of many factors has taken a huge toll on peoples’ psyches these days. It’s against such a backdrop that today’s message from Ephesians comes – and some of the words are down right shocking in terms of their challenge to us. The most startling piece comes at the end of Ephesians 5:4 where Paul tells us that as people of faith “thanksgiving [ought to be] our dialect” (from The Message). In the context of the larger passage, Paul is calling his audience to move from the language of gossip toward the language of thanksgiving. In other words, he tells his audience to move from the negative to the positive. Today, our biggest challenge is perhaps slightly different. While the negative practice of gossip still remains a challenge for some of us, the larger challenge these days is to be sucked into a spirit of fear and hopelessness. Instead of choosing those things, Paul would point us in another direction: back toward a place of thanksgiving and gratitude. So how do we do that? How do we make this seemingly impossible shift in our focus from one of fear and hopelessness to one of thanksgiving? Well, the answer is hidden within the second question: we shift our focus. Instead of focusing on the things we either don’t have, or are in fear of losing; we can focus on those things we have that are permanent (i.e. God’s grace & love). Instead of focusing on the things that scare us, we can focus on those things that bring us hope. If - during these days of overwhelming fear and uncertainty - we can follow Paul’s advice and pick up thanksgiving as our dialect, we just might be surprised at how quickly the things around us will begin to change. The truth will be, however, that it’s not the world that will change; instead, it will be our perception of the world that will change. Til next time…