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Saturday, January 10

Today’s Readings: Psalm 93; Isaiah 65:1-9; John 6:1-14; Revelation 3:1-6; Psalm 11

It’s easy to take a story like today’s story from the Gospel of John where Jesus feeds the crowd of 5,000 plus with just five barley loaves and two fish and turn into a platitude like: “God will provide what you need when you need it”. It’s especially powerful, however, when you have a lived experience of such a story. My own lived experience of today’s parable came back in 1999. That year I had just finished my first campaign for elected office. I had had a great experience! Folks were already talking with me about next steps in my new political career. Having lived in the community of Spokane for nearly 10 years (and in the area for 28), I had my roots firmly established. So what happened? Did I do what most people in their right mind would have done – hang around and continue to establish my life there? No. I answered my call to go to seminary 1,100 miles away. As I filled out my application to attend seminary that winter, I remember thinking: “What are you thinking? You have no money left in your savings account after the campaign – no way of paying for your education or supporting yourself once you’ve moved down there. Why would you even consider doing this!?” And yet I knew I couldn’t say no to my call. When I arrived Denver, I had a part-time job in a local church within five days and – after my first semester – paid for my seminary education through scholarships that I could never have anticipated. I watched as my meager supply of loaves and fish were turned into basketfuls. I would note, parenthetically, that those basketfuls didn’t appear overnight. It was a day-to-day process that took 3 years to fully play out. What sustained me through the experience, however, was living in a place of thanksgiving and sufficiency from one day to the next – trusting that while I may not have always had what I wanted, I had what I needed. That experience transformed my life and forever changed the way I live out my faith. Perhaps you are living in a place of real or perceived scarcity. If you are, my advice would be to focus on whatever manifestation of loaves and fish you currently have at your disposal – even if all you have is a crumb and a bit of a fish tail. Once you have identified them, then take a step of faith and intentionally invite God’s presence into the circumstance as you watch those loaves and fish multiply. Til next time…

Friday, January 9

Today’s Readings: Psalm 83; Isaiah 63:1-5; John 5:1-15; Revelation 2:18-29; Psalm 62

As someone who grew up in a small town whose population was less than 2,000 at the time I lived there, I learned a saying that has stayed with me my entire life: “You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution”. The saying made sense because within the context of small town life, you didn’t have a lot of resources at your disposal to have things fixed for you. You either rolled up your sleeves and got to work fixing the problem yourself, or you sat back and allowed the problem to continue due to your complacency. I may have moved out of that small town when I turned 18, but that principle has guided my life ever since. When I moved to larger cities, I realized that principle wasn’t very popular. Most folks much preferred sitting back and complaining about things over taking the time to actually get involved and do something. You can see a little of this tendency evident in today’s reading from Isaiah. In the passage, the prophet starts by noting, “I’ve been treading the winepress alone. No one was there to help me … I looked for someone to help – no one” (Isaiah 63:3 & 5 from The Message). So what did the prophet do when he realized he was in it alone – at least from a human perspective? Did he give up and simply grow more bitter toward those who refused to fix his problems for him? No. He went ahead and did it himself. (For the sake of time, I’ll conveniently choose to ignore that he was motivated to do so by the fact that he was “fed and fueled by rage.” That will be fodder for another day’s entry.) Anyway… perhaps there is an area in your life where you have been sitting on the sidelines – hoping for change and yet unwilling to invest the time and/or energy to bring about that change. If you have such an area, I would encourage you to take some of the energy you spent complaining and invest it in actually trying to effect such change. With God’s strength and support behind you, you’ll be thrilled to discover that you’re no longer part of the problem – you’re now a part of the solution! Til next time…

Thursday, January 8

Today’s Readings: Psalm 5; Isaiah 59:15b-21; John 4:46-54; Revelation 2:8-17; Psalm 113

One of the interesting elements of the Epiphany story from last Sunday was how God reached out and revealed Godself to those outside the formal religious structures of the day. God chose to reach out to the wise men, for instance, instead of to the priests or Pharisees. That same trend of God reaching out to the outsider is picked up once again in today’s Gospel reading in John when we hear the story of the healing of the official’s son. In that story, we are introduced to a person whose faith effects a remarkable healing. That individual, ironically, did not come from the safe confines of the established religious establishment of his day. He was located outside of those confines. That pattern this week got me to thinking about all the ways our location within established religious traditions might at times hold us back at times in our spiritual lives. If God had revealed Godself to faithful members of a church council instead of to the wise men, for instance, would the members of the council said, “Gee, we would love to follow you but we have responsibilities to fulfill around here so why don’t you go on ahead without us”? Or if Jesus had made himself available to effect a healing for a faithful church-goer, would that faithful church-goer have asked Jesus what letters he had behind his name (i.e. M. Div. or Ph.D) before he would have presented his loved one for healing? Today, I would encourage you to open your head and heart as you consider the ways our commitments might be obstacles that prevent us from experiencing the fullness of God’s presence and power in our lives. Perhaps we can find ways of living into that sense of openness that the wise men and the court official had so that we might have deeper experiences of the Divine. Til next time…

Wednesday, January 7

Today’s Readings: Psalm 45; Isaiah 52:3-6; John 2:1-11; Revelation 2:1-7; Psalm 44

When it comes to the portrayal of relationships in our society, we often put our emphasis on the wrong end of the relationship. Many movies and television shows, for instance, portray relationships in such a way that it seems as if the most powerful stage of the relationship is at the beginning. They focus on the magic of the first kiss, the first days where it feels virtually impossible to be out of one another’s presence, and one’s inability to think of anything other than your significant other. While those initial feelings are indeed powerful, individuals in a long term relationship know that they are hardly the best feelings. Many of the best feelings come years later in ways that can only happen when a relationship has grown and matured. The time when you’re coming down with a cold and your spouse/partner instinctively comes home with your favorite remedy. The first moments after a big fight when both parties realize their love for each other has to come before either of the egos involved and you make up. The time spent in each other’s presence – in complete silence! Each of those experiences convicts me of the fact that things in a healthy relationship don’t get worse over time – they get better! Of course, that principle doesn’t just hold in our relationships with other human beings; it holds in our relationship with God. I was reminded of this principle through today’s Gospel reading of John. Shortly after Jesus’ performs the miracle of turning water to wine at the wedding in Cana, the host was said to have remarked: “Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now” (John 2:10 from The Message). Perhaps you feel as if you’ve gotten in a bit of a rut in your spiritual life - perhaps you’ve wondered if the power of those first days in your relationship with God has dulled. If that’s the case, hold on to today’s story from John and give thanks that we are in the sort of relationship with God that has the ability to get better over time: if only we let it. Til next time…

Tuesday, January 6

Today’s Readings: Psalm 72; Isaiah 60:1-7; Matthew 2:1-12; Ephesians 3:1-12; Psalm 68

One of the people I’ve worked with over the years was a gentleman in his mid-60’s. The gentleman adored children throughout his entire life; in fact, he was the father of three children himself. Several years before I met the gentleman, his wife had unexpectedly asked him for a divorce. In the decade that followed his divorce, two of his children refused any contact with him. This nearly killed the gentleman. He was convinced that he would never again see his children, and despair naturally overtook him. Then – after a decade had passed – one of his estranged children suddenly reached out to him. His other child followed suit shortly thereafter. The two reunions the gentleman never dreamed would happen in his lifetime – happened! I thought of that situation today as I read the words of hope and reunion from the book of Isaiah. A portion of those words read: “Your sons coming from great distances, your daughters carried by their nannies. When you see them coming you’ll smile-big smiles! Your heart will swell and, yes, burst!” (Isaiah 60:4 from The Message). As I read those words, I couldn’t help but think how quick we are to write off the troubled relationships in our lives. Our pride and our sense of ego often become barriers that make reconciliation seem impossible. Thankfully, words like those from the book of Isaiah remind us that the healing presence of God can do the work of reconciliation that we would otherwise think impossible. Perhaps there is a relationship in your life that you’ve given up on – a relationship that you think is beyond redemption. If that’s the case, take some time today and invite God’s healing presence into that relationship. You make not experience an immediate reconciliation with the other person, but chances are you’ll begin to experience an initial sense of healing within yourself as you begin to let go of despair and open yourself to hope. Til next time…

Monday, January 5

Today’s Readings: Psalm 133; Joshua 1:1-9; John 15:1-17; Hebrews 11:32-12:2; Psalm 82

One of the most challenging pastoral care situations I deal with is helping individuals cope with the death of a loved one. This is particularly challenging when the deceased love one is a close family member (i.e. parent, child, spouse, etc). One of the most natural ways people initially deal with such a loss is to completely shut down for a period of time. Part of the reason we shut down is because we become overwhelmed by the tremendous pain we feel at the time of the loss. Another reason we tend to shut down is that a part of us feels as is we are dishonoring our deceased loved one if we were to continue with our life. Today’s reading from Joshua reminds us, however, that moving on with one’s life after a loss is an essential aspect of our life. (I would note here that when I saw “move on with our life”, I don’t mean minimize the loss or sweep it under the rug; instead, I mean find ways of connecting with life in such a way that you can hold on to a sense of purpose and meaning for yourself.) Moses and Joshua must have been extremely close given what they had experienced together during their time leading the people through the desert. Sadly, Moses was not able to see that journey through to its completion. It would have been so easy for Joshua to completely lose himself in his pain and shut down. He didn’t, however. Joshua knew that God was calling him to important work – work that would help culminate the Israelites efforts for the past 40 years. So Joshua did the unthinkable. He drew upon the incomprehensible strength and courage of his faith and helped the people arrive in the Promised Land despite his personal pain and feelings of dislocation. Many of us find ourselves in a similar place as Joshua. In the midst of our loss, we have those in our lives who depend on us and need us to go on. The next time you find yourself in such a place, where you start to feel guilty about moving on – remember Joshua’s story. It might help you deal with your own grief process. Til next time…