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Saturday, January 24

Today’s Readings: Psalm 54; Jonah 3:1-10; John 3:22-36; 1 Corinthian 4:1-15; Psalm 9

I had a rather surreal experience this past week. I had the opportunity to return to the seminary from which I graduated and participate in a discussion about the emerging/emergent church movement. As I walked into a classroom in which I had sat so often as a student, I became aware of some fundamental shifts that had taken place within me over the past seven years. I realized, for instance, that seven years ago I believed that books were the greatest source of information regarding the practice of ministry. Now – while I still believe that books can be an importance source of information about the practice of ministry – I believe that the Spirit provides a far greater source of grounding for the practice of my ministry. Seven years ago I believed that the institutional church was in need of change. Now, I believe the institutional church is in need of transformation. Seven years ago, I believed that religious leadership was about fixing things. Now, I believe that spiritual leadership is about facilitating things. Needless to say, the changes within myself caused me to feel a little out of place. As I sat with those feelings, I found a great deal of comfort in Paul’s words from today’s passage from 1 Corinthians. “It matters very little to me what you think of me, even less where I rank in popular opinion. I don’t even rank myself.” Those words encouraged me to stop trying to rank myself using my own standards from the past and simply accept myself for whom I am today: a servant of God. That is the only standard that ultimately matters. I wander what standard you use to evaluate your own life. Do you use your own standards, the standards of another, or God’s? Til next time…

Friday, January 23

Today’s Readings: Psalm 88; Jonah 1:17-2:10; John 3:16-21; 1 Corinthians 3:18-23; Psalm 130

As I’ve alluded to in my blog on more than one occasion, Jonah is one of my favorite books in the Bible. I love it for several reasons. I love it because it is so easy to relate to. I also love it because it has many challenging lessons with which we can wrestle. Today’s reading from Jonah is a good example of this. You see lots of us have very specific ideas about how things are supposed to unfold when we cry out for help. If we cry out for help when we are out of work, for instance, we are supposed to find a job in our field that pays the wages we expect. If we are having relationship problems and cry out for help, we are supposed to find reconciliation that takes the relationship back to the way it used to be. If we cry out for help when we are fighting an injury or illness, we expect to be restored to our previous condition. Jonah reminds us that our requests aren’t always met in exactly the way we would like them to be. When Jonah was tossed off the ship and into the turbulent water, for example, he cried out for deliverance from the waters. And where did he end up? In the belly of a fish. And when Jonah cried out to God from the belly of the fish for deliverance from the fish, where did he end up? On the shore - with a command to head directly to the dreaded city of Nineveh. The lesson for us today is to be honest with ourselves when we find ourselves crying out for assistance. We ought to ask ourselves, “What do I really want? Do I truly want help, or do I really want a specific outcome?” If we truly say we want help, we need to make sure we are open to receiving it on terms other than our own. Til next time…

Thursday, January 22

Today’s Readings: Psalm 109; Jonah 1:1-16; John 2:23-3:15; 1 Corinthians 3:10-17; Psalm 139

Over the years, I’ve found that many lay people have a huge misconception about those of us who are pastors. Most folks assume that the vast majority of us receive our calls very early in life and that we whole-heartedly embrace our calls from the moment we receive them. I have found that’s often not the case. While many of us do have a sense of call that emerges fairly early in our lives, many of us spend years doing every thing within our power to resist that call. And why is that? I suppose it has to do with sensing the magnitude of the call. That’s one reason I love the book of Jonah. It presents a realistic portrayal of an individual responding to his or her call. Of course pastors aren’t the only ones in life who receive calls. I believe that every person has a call. For some that call is to be a parent, for some it’s to be a doctor, and for others it’s to be an unpaid caregiver for a loved one... And many individuals unconsciously find themselves doing what we pastors do in response to our call – running away from them! Today, I would invite you to spend some time meditating on what you feel is your call. Once you’ve spent some time contemplating your call, pay attention to your first response to that call. If you find yourself starting to run, know that if it is truly your call – chances are things will work out: whether you cooperate initially or not. Til next time…

Wednesday, January 21

Today’s Readings: Psalm 22:1-31; Isaiah 49:1-7; John 2:13-22; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

In the 1990’s a trend started within many of the mega-churches in our country. In an attempt to meet every perceived need of those attending, they started bringing in goods and services for their members. This was an intentional part of their growth strategy. Some churches, for instance, would bring in bookstores that sold books and a variety of religious goods. Other churches then went the next step and brought in coffee shops so people didn’t have to stop at Starbuck’s on their way to church. As someone who LOVES his coffee, I can certainly understand the appeal of such a decision! All of this, however, created an atmosphere of “one-stop shopping” in some of our churches that went unquestioned for over a decade because – from all outward appearances – such an approach seemed to work. The mega-churches grew like wildfire during the 1990’s! But does just because something “works” mean that is a healthy spiritual approach? I would say no. Today’s reading from John raises the question about what is/is not a healthy approach toward building spiritual community. In that passage, Jesus made it clear that there were more important things than simply the wants of the individual that should drive the life of a faith community - the primarily thing being the integrity of the house of worship. As you look to create spiritual community in your own life, what are you looking for? Are you looking for a “shopping mall” that can promise to meet all of your personal wants, or are you looking for a place that helps you connect with God? There’s an important difference between those approaches. Til next time…

Tuesday, January 20

Today’s Readings: Psalm 102; Isaiah 48:12-22; John 2:1-12; 1 Corinthians 2:10-16; Psalm 119:153-176

I have had mixed feelings in the days leading up to today’s Inauguration. I can certainly celebrate the fact that we have overcome a significant barrier that has blocked the full participation of many Americans in our society over the past three hundred plus years: race. As I hear people swept up in the excitement over the Inauguration talk, however, I am deeply saddened that they don’t realize that while one barrier has been overcome – many other structural barriers still exist. Today, for instance, we inaugurate someone who has made his strong support of segregation publically known (i.e. marriage for opposite gender relationships and civil unions for same-gender relationships). This saddens me more than I can put into words. So how do I deal with my mixed emotions on this day? Well, I do so by acknowledging that no human being (myself included) is ever going to fully get “it”. Every last one of us will have areas of our life where we extend the fullness of God’s love and grace, and every last one of us will have areas that are blind spots: areas where we refuse to extend the fullness of God’s love and grace to others. This includes our president-elect. The beauty of today’s timely reading from Isaiah is that it reminds us that in spite of those limitations, God can still work through us. God was able to use Cyrus – an imperfect leader from Babylon – to help get the Israelites back to Israel. Just think what God could accomplish through you and I. Today, as we inaugurate a new era of leadership in this country, my hope and prayer is that we will ground ourselves in the One (and only) place the fullness of our faith ought to lie: God. Til next time…

Monday, January 19

Today’s Readings: Psalm 58; Isaiah 48:1-11; John 1:43-51; 1 Corinthians 2:1-9; Psalm 8

The passage from John starts innocently enough. We hear of Jesus’ encounter with Philipp that ends with the seemingly innocent words “Come and follow me” (John 1:44 from The Message). I say “seemingly innocent words” because you truly never know where those words will take you when you first say them. Let me give you an example of what I mean. In the early 1990’s, I was a newly appointed member of the City of Spokane’s Human Rights Commission. The Commissioners became aware of an anti-gay training event that was being held at one of the local businesses in our community. Human rights activists from throughout the community decided to stage a peaceful protest to show that the event did not represent the values of our larger community. Shortly before the protest was to begin, however, we got word that members of the white-supremacist group The Aryan Nations (the Aryan Nations compound was about 45 minutes away) would be in attendance. They promised that blood would be spilled if any protesters had the nerve to show up. Each of us protesters had to decide if the decision to show up was worth it. In virtually every case, it was. Thankfully, the members of the Aryan Nations didn’t show up in force; they were used simply as a smokescreen to try to intimidate us. Those moments leading up to the protest were some of the richest moments in my spiritual life as they helped ground me in the reality that this thing called discipleship (this following Jesus) isn’t always easy. As Martin Luther King, Jr. and his associates showed us, there is often a price to pay. Today, I would ask you to consider two questions. First, when you hear those words resonate across the millennia – “Come and follow me” – what are their implications for your life? Second, where do you think those words might take you? Til next time…

Sunday, January 18

Here's my reflection/sermon for today (Sunday, January 18)

At our lectionary discussion group last Tuesday evening, the group started off fairly cautiously exploring the concept of what it would mean to be known. It didn’t take long, however, for one member of the group to throw caution to the wind and ask a rather provocative question.

“I can see how it would be a good thing to be known if you were a regular person,” the member began, “but what would it be like to be known completely if you had issues – I mean serious issues. If you lacked a conscience... If you were a sociopath, for instance?”

As the group sat quietly for a moment contemplating the question, wouldn’t you know it – my mind began racing. And within a matter of seconds, it landed on a particular individual that I had encountered on a television show.

On October 1, 2006 the world was introduced to a character in a Showtime program titled simply: “Dexter”. The show told the story of a thirty-something year old man by the name of Dexter Morgan.

Dexter was a young man whose life had begun with a horrific trauma that most of us here could not imagine living through. His single mother who – at one time had been a drug user – had turned police informant. She was involved in a sting where her cover was blown. As a result, she was taken with her children to a small storage unit by associates of the drug dealers and brutally murdered in front of her two young sons: Brian and Dexter. As if being forced to watch the brutal murder of their mother wasn’t bad enough, Brian and Dexter were left alone in the bloody storage unit for days with their mother’s body.

One of the policemen who eventually found the boys made the decision to adopt Dexter – knowing full well all of the details of Dexter’s life. Despite years of interventions that followed, Dexter’s adoptive father – Harry – knew that Dexter had deep-seeded issues that he would probably never be able to fully overcome: mainly a propensity toward violence and a fascination with blood.

Given that knowledge of Dexter, Harry made two decisions in a bold attempt to salvage Dexter’s life. First, he decided to get Dexter involved in hunting – which he hoped would serve as an outlet for Dexter’s propensity toward violence. And second, he helped set Dexter on a path of study that led him to a career as a blood spatter specialist in the Miami police department – a career where he could be around blood and not get himself in trouble.

These two actions represented desperate attempts by Harry to take the knowledge he had of Dexter and make the best of a bad situation. And while Harry’s plan seemed to work for a while, eventually it broke down – and Dexter turned into a vigilante serial killer who administered his own brand of justice.

All week long, my mind pondered a question regarding the issue of what it meant to be known that grew out of both the Tuesday evening discussion and Dexter’s circumstance. That question was this: what makes being known by another human being different than being known by God.

The more I thought about the question, the more a sense of clarity began to emerge for me. Let’s see if I can help bring some of that clarity to you as well.

When we think about what it means to know another person – there’s usually a passive side to that process. We think that in order to know another person we simply need to get inside their head a bit and discover what makes them tick. It’s there that we often stop – at the point of understanding. Under the guise of getting to know someone, we allow the other person to stay the same.

So what about the act of being known by God? How’s that different?

In his commentary on the book of Psalms, J. Clinton McCann, Jr. says that the implication of the Psalm, is three-fold: “our lives derive from God, [our lives] belong to God, and [our lives] find their true destination in God’s purpose” (New Interpreter's Bible 1237). That is where the seed of the difference lies.

You see unlike the process of being known by another person - where the goal is to stay largely the same - the goal now becomes something else: transformation – transformation in the sense that we come to understand our lives are no longer simply our own, they are God’s.

Nowhere is that simple but profound truth more evident than through the person of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Had Martin allowed himself to settle for a goal of simply being known by others; Martin would have gone to his grave as the person others knew him to be in 1957. He would have gone to his grave with descriptors like “preacher’s kid”, “doctor of philosophy”, “husband”, “father”, and “pastor”. He would have accepted the status quo that surrounded him, and he would have taught us to accept the status quo as well.

Thankfully, Martin didn’t settle for simply being known by others. He aspired to be known by One much greater. A knowledge that was rooted in the awareness of where his life was derived from, whom he belonged to, and where his true destination lie. First, he allowed the power of what the psalmist called that “wonderful knowledge” to seep in and transform his life. Then he took that power out into the world and transformed our lives as well.

Friends, as I conclude my time with you this morning, I want to leave you with this simple and straightforward challenge. This holiday weekend I ask you to open yourselves up and allow yourselves to be made known: not simply for whom you are today – but for whom God is calling you to become tomorrow. If you do that one thing, we won’t be a room full of people who have gathered to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. – we’ll be a room full of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s.