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Saturday, February 14

Today’s Readings: Psalm 140; Joshua 10:1-15; John 7:53-8:11; 1 Corinthians 9:19-27; Psalm 18:25-50

Of all the people in the Bible who get a bad rap, I would say there’s one who stands out for me more than any other. That person? The apostle Paul. And why do I say that? Well, I know many folks who have come to think of Paul as the embodiment of intolerance. They point to words attributed to Paul in the pastoral letters that would limit the role of women in the church and point toward a rigid hierarchy in the church and think those things represent the essence of Paul. Those who take such a position don’t realize that most biblical scholars believe that roughly half of the books in the New Testament that were attributed to Paul by tradition were actually written by someone else! So if those exclusionary things that I spoke of don’t represent the essence of Paul, what words do? I would point towards today’s words from 1 Corinthians. In today’s passage from 1 Corinthians we get an image of Paul as being a proponent of what I feel is the single most important dimension of evangelism: flexibility. This dimension was revealed when Paul wrote: “I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view” (1 Corinthians 9:22 from The Message). Too often modern folks equate evangelism with imposing your perceptions and beliefs on another in a dogmatic manner. Paul points us toward another model where we step outside of ourselves and share our faith from the vantage point of another. Such an effort shows that you care enough about the other to see things from their perspective. So how do you go about sharing your faith? Do you stay rigidly locked into your own social location and talk AT others, or do you follow Paul’s advice and step outside of yourself and share your faith in terms to which others can relate? Til next time…

Friday, February 13

Today’s Readings: Psalm 3; Joshua 9:3-16, 22-27; John 7:37-52; 1 Corinthians 9:12b-18; Psalm 18:1-24

There have been lots of by-products of the rise of Christian fundamentalism since the 1920’s. One by-product has been the increased political power of those who identify as fundamentalists – especially since the 1980’s. Another by-product has been the increased division of folks who identify as Christians as fundamentalists often separated themselves from those in the mainline denominations. Another by-product has been the increased polarization of folks on social issues reminiscent of the cultural war that Pat Buchanon declared in 1992. All of these have been traumatic changes for all of us to live through (even for fundamentalists themselves, I would add!). So what’s been the most difficult consequence of all this? Well, in my opinion, the most difficult consequence to live with hasn’t been political or social: it’s been personal. You see fundamentalists have been so successful that they’ve planted seeds of doubt that God loves individuals. Are you a divorced person? “Well, then you’re in trouble,” fundamentalists would argue, “since the Bible speaks clearly about divorce in Matthew 5:31!” Are you lesbian, gay, or bisexual? “Leviticus 18:22 says you’re an abomination,” a fundamentalist might point out. And what about those in interfaith marriages or relationships? They’ve got words for you too. “Exodus 34:16 doesn’t look too kindly on those relationships!” they would argue. In situation after situation and circumstance after circumstance, some fundamentalists have denied the sacred worth and dignity of individuals. And even though many of their targets do not hold the same beliefs, the fundamentalists have been wildly successful in terms of sowing seeds of doubt in their mind. Sadly, many have come to believe they are unloved by God. That – I believe – is the greatest tragedy of the fundamentalist movement. So is this phenomenon of feeling unloved (or unlovable) a 20th Century American phenomenon? No. Today’s second Psalm proves it – for in that Psalm the psalmist admits: “[God] stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved – surprised to be loved!” (Psalm 18:19 from The Message). Over the years I’ve worked with tons of people – even those inside the church! – who have shared similar notions of being surprised that God loved them. Some in the church work so diligently in hopes of proving themselves lovable. How sad! Today’s words from the psalmist remind me of the single most important aspect of our calls to serve God: that is to let ALL of God’s children know they are loved. That is my fundamental principle. As you go out into a complex world that will pull you in many directions, don’t lose sight of that aspect of your call. Share with ALL those you meet the wonderful news that they are loved! Til next time…

Thursday, February 12

Today’s Readings: Psalm 95; Joshua 8:1-21; John 7:14-24; 1 Corinthians 8:7-13; Psalm 31

As a person who is extremely visual, I often need a concrete expression of something to really absorb the information. When I meet someone, for instance, I’m much more likely to remember the person’s name if I see it in writing. If I’m simply told the name, chances are I’ll forget it. Same thing goes when I am rearranging furniture in a room. If I can sketch out the possible layout of the room before I begin, I’m much more comfortable when it comes time to begin moving the objects. I’ve even found this true for how I practice my faith. So what object have I discovered that helps me grasp the essence of my faith as a Christian? The cross. Now some would hear that and assume the cross is a helpful physical expression of my faith since it connotes the radical sense of discipleship to which we are called. That’s certainly true on one level. I find the cross helpful for even more basic reasons, however. The physical design of our modern cross reminds me of what I feel are two foundational aspects of our faith. The horizontal beam, for instance, reminds me of arms. These arms represent a call to reach out to the world in love and service. And the vertical beam? Well, for me the vertical beam represents a balance between head and heart. I was reminded of this connection between head and heart in today’s Gospel reading from John. As Jesus was verbally jostling with the crowd about what standards they should use to evaluate one’s behavior, we are told Jesus said: “Don’t be nitpickers; use your head – and heart! – to discern what is right, to test what is authentically right” (John 7:24 from The Message). So how are you in terms of following Jesus’ advice? Is your faith based on just one of the extremes (head OR heart); or do you work at developing a healthy balance between the two? Next time you glance at a cross, you might thinking of using the cross as a reminder to aspire to better balance the two. Til next time…

Wednesday, February 11

Today’s Readings: Psalm 69:1-36; Joshua 8:30-35; John 7:25-36; 1 Corinthians 9:1-12a

Several years ago Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages that people go through in dealing with the loss of a loved one: (1) denial and isolation; (2) anger; (3) bargaining; (4) depression; and (5) acceptance. I’ve had many chances over the years to work with folks as they’ve gone through each of the stages. While some people don’t always go through the stages sequentially (and others repeat some of the stages more than once in their process) it’s important that individuals go through all of the stages before they come to terms with their loss. What I appreciate about Kubler-Ross’s work is that it helps us realize that as human beings, we have to welcome the full gamut of our emotions in order to arrive at a place of mental health. I would make the same case in terms of our relationship with God: we have to welcome the full gamut of our emotions in order to arrive at a place of spiritual health as well. Some folks, however, are uncomfortable with expressing what they perceive as negative emotions within the context of their relationship with God. I think that’s too bad. In fact, whenever I encounter such folks, I ask them if they’ve ever read the Psalms – for the Psalms are a wonderful example of human beings expressing the fullness of their emotions within the context of their relationship with God. In today’s Psalm, for instance, we hear the psalmist expression anger and frustrations (i.e. “Because of you I look like an idiot”). We also hear expressions of isolation (i.e. “I looked in vain for one friendly face. Not one. I couldn’t find one shoulder to cry on”). We even hear a little depression going on (i.e. “I’m broken by their taunts, flat on my face, reduced to nothing”). Each of these expressions are reminders that it’s okay to be real with God. The psalmist doesn’t leave us there, however; he reminds us that we shouldn’t get stuck in those places of anger, isolation, and depression. He urges us to see our process through all the way to completion so that we too might say: “Let me shout God’s name with a praising song, let me tell of [God’s] greatness in a prayer of thanks!” Today, during your time of centering, I would encourage you to be real with God and express the fullness of your heart - including those parts that you previously tried to clean up and make more presentable. After you’ve done that, open yourself to the possibility of radical transformation as you see your process all the way through. Til next time…

Tuesday, February 10

Today’s Readings: Psalm 120; Joshua 7:16-26; John 7:1-13; 1 Corinthians 8:1-6; Psalm 4

I can sure empathize with Paul in today’s reading from 1 Corinthians. He’s facing a controversial issue that has folks divided down the middle in terms of opinions. A large portion of the group thinks it should be okay to eat the meat non-Christians have sacrificed to their idols; another large portion of the group thinks it should not be okay to eat the meat. From the outside, it would seem Paul’s is facing an impossible situation. As a pastor serving a local church, I can certainly empathize with Paul’s bind - for nearly every aspect of our ministry has a similar ratio involved (half of the group wants it one way and half want it the other). When it comes to the act of centering in worship, for instance, some folks want absolute quiet to center while other folks want centering time to include physical and verbal interaction. When it comes time for service music, some folks want traditional music and others want new music. When it comes to the life of the church, some think the primary emphasis should lie on spirituality and others think it should lie on missions. And when it comes time for the reading of Scripture, some folks want one translation used and others want another. It is largely because of these constant tensions that many individuals leave ministry after a short period of time. So how does a spiritual person navigate through the course of such choppy waters? For me, the key lies in Paul’s words in verses 2 and 3: “We sometimes tend to think we know all we need to know to answer these kinds of questions – but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. We never really know enough until we recognize that God alone knows it all” (1 Corinthians 8:2-3 from The Message). In other words, there are three parts to the answer: (1) humility, (2) humility, and (3) humility. If I were asked to identify the one trait that is most characteristic of those who truly follow Jesus, it would be humility. So what role does humility play in your life? If your not sure, wait until a controversy erupts in some area of your life and watch how you react. You will get an answer to today’s question by watching your response. Til next time…

Monday, February 9

Today’s Readings: Psalm 106; Joshua 7:1-15; John 6:60-71; 1 Corinthians 7:32-40; Psalm 55

As someone who appreciates the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul a great deal, today’s reading from 1 Corinthians is one of my favorite passages. I say that not because of the content of the passage; I say it because of what the passage reveals about Paul’s character. In discussing the topic of marriage and singleness, Paul begins by expressing what seems to be a preference for single life. He then goes on to back off from this statement a bit when he wrote: “Marriage is spiritually and morally right and not inferior to singleness in any way.” He then goes on to say what I feel is the most revealing aspect of his faith in verse 38 when he wrote: “... because of the times we live in, I do have pastoral reasons for encouraging singleness” [emphasis added]. Two verses later he added: “By now you know that I think she’ll be better off staying single. The Mater, in my opinion, thinks so, too” (1 Corinthians 7:40 from The Message - emphasis added). So what do I like so well about verses 38 & 40? I love the fact that Paul contextualizes his faith (v 38) and has the humility necessary to qualify it (v 40) as well. In other words, he doesn’t come across as the arrogant person that some have accused him of being. The insights into Paul’s character provide a wonderful lesson for us to sit with today. How do you conduct yourself? Do you walk through the world generalizing your faith with a total lack of humility; or are you able to follow Paul’s example and contextualize your faith in a spirit of radical humility? Til next time…

Sunday, February 8

Here's my reflection/sermon for the day:

Today's Reading: Mark 1:29-39

For several months, I had been receiving on line invitations from people I knew to join something called I had no clue what was, so I ignored the invitations. Finally, early last week I received an invitation from an old high school friend who I deeply respected so I thought I would look into it.

In my exhaustive research, I found out that was a website whose sole purpose was to be a social networking tool that could help you reconnect with people from your past. It sounded harmless enough, so I joined. And within the first twenty-four hours, I had re-connected with nearly a dozen folks from high school.

It was fascinating to learn what those people had been up to over the last twenty-five years. One of the guys who had been a quiet, laid back person in school was now an inspirational speaker. One of the girls who was a socialite was now a faculty member at a prestigious university. Another was managing a band. If you would have asked us during our last year of high school in 1985 to predict where we would be today, none of us could have predicted!

Two days into my web presence, I got an email from an old friend asking what I was doing. I paused as I started typing my response, however, because you never know how people are going to react when they hear you’re a pastor. I finished my email, hit the send button, and waited for a reply.

A few hours later, it came.

“That’s cool about you being a pastor and all. But I’m not really a church person so I have no clue what you people do. What exactly do pastors do, anyway?”

I didn’t blame him for asking because most folks have no clue what we do with ourselves the 167 hours a week when we aren’t in worship.

“Well,” I typed back, “it depends on the day. In the past week, for instance, I’ve done things like spend three days visiting hospitals, doing half a dozen visits, mentoring two candidates for ordination, putting on a denominational training, attended a couple of mandatory denominational meetings, written a couple of sermons, answered some late night phone calls, and hung out at the Pepsi Center for an Avalanche game.”

“Wow, you’re all over the place,” my friend wrote back. “How do you maintain your focus?”

“That is the question,” I replied. I smiled as I hit the send button. I smiled because the email exchange reminded me a great deal of someone I had been thinking about this week. A person who – like myself - found himself pulled in a hundred different directions. A person who made a house call to touch base with a sick relative of a friend. A person who worked into the late hours of the night bringing healing and relief to the afflicted. A person who spent his early mornings tucked quietly away for moments of centering. And a person who put a ton of mileage on his own chasis traveling the countryside.

That person?


I found this stories about Jesus particularly interesting for reasons that differ markedly from other pastors I know who were planning to preach on the text. In talking with my clergy peers, most of them were fascinated with the aspects of the story that told of Jesus’ ability to heal. Others were intrigued by Jesus’ silencing of the demons in verse 34. Some wanted to explore what they perceived of as the sexist dimension of the story involving Peter’s mother-in-law. Still others planned to emphasize Jesus’ commitment to cultivating his own spiritual life.

All of those themes would certainly be worth exploring. But for me, my primary interest took me in a different direction – a direction along the lines of the question my friend raised in his email. I wanted to use the passage to arrive at a better understanding of how someone who is pulled in a thousand different directions during the course of his or her day can make it through the day without burning out, or collapsing.

Is there anyone else here who might like to pursue that direction in hopes it can help you do the same thing?

Well, for those who are interested in pursing that topic, I want to take a moment and share the insight I gleaned from this morning’s passage. The rest of you who aren’t interested have my permission to eavesdrop.

I found the answer to my question hidden quietly in the second to last sentence of this morning’s passage. Immediately after being informed by the disciples of the various new demands on his time, Jesus responded by saying: “Let’s go to the rest of the villages so I can preach there also. This is why I’ve come.” I actually like the New Revised Standard Version’s translation of that statement better that translates “preaching” as “proclaim the message”.

You see Jesus had such a clear sense of purpose that he was able to use it to guide his life from moment to moment. When a loved one of a disciple was in serious need of relief, Jesus instinctively knew that proclamation should take the form of lifting a fever. When he moved through the crowds and bumped into the afflicted, he knew that proclamation took the form of healing. When the excised demons threatened to speak of Jesus’ powers to others – Jesus knew that the notoriety he would gain would interfere with his ability to proclaim the reign of God – so he immediately silenced them. And when faced with the prospect of developing a ministry focused simply around healing, Jesus walked away from the opportunity – knowing that it would force him to lose sight of his call.

Everything in Jesus’ life was measured against the standard of his passion – proclaiming the message through word and deed.

So how do everyday folks like you and I who are simultaneously pulled in a thousand directions, begin to develop that sort of clarity?

There are literally thousands of books and hundreds of seminars on the topic. But this morning, I want to give you one idea that can help you arrive at such a place.

The idea is something that helps you discover what the world would call your guiding passion – or what our faith would call your spiritual gift.

My primary spiritual gift, for instance, is the gift of healing. And if you watch me closely during the course of a day, you’ll notice I consistently gravitate toward opportunities where I can use my gift. When given the opportunity to rush off to my third denominational meeting of the week, or do a hospital visit – guess where you’ll find me? If I have the chance to mediate a conflict between two people, or spend a little extra time doing research for a sermon – guess where you’ll find me? If I have the chance to mentor a clergy colleague in crisis, or sit in the office answering sales calls – guess where I’ll be? That simple seven letter word – healing – is the principle that guides my life.

My question for you today is this: what’s yours?

Thirty-nine of you have already taken steps to answer that question by filling out the spiritual gifts inventory that I introduced into the life of the community 3 years ago.

Rick’s primary spiritual gift is the gift of administration – that is he has the gift to “organize people and resources for greater efficiency, effectiveness, and success.” Deb Overn? She has the primary spiritual gift of compassion – that means she has the gift of “deep intuition and insight” into the human condition. Mary Royston? She has the primary spiritual gift of faith – that is the gift of “confidence that [the] people of God can rise above any obstacle”. And Jon Kukick? He has the primary spiritual gift of servanthood – that means he does “not choose to serve, but serve[s] from a sense of identity and call.” Thirty-nine of you have taken the first steps to find that guiding principle in your life that can help you find a sense of clarity. For those of you who have not yet taken it, you’ll find copies on the circular table outside the sanctuary doors.

This year – during the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter – my primary emphasis will be on working with folks to first discover and then begin developing your spiritual gifts. My hope is that by the time we reach Easter this year, you’ll be more equipped to sort through the various demands others would place on you so that you can arrive at the most important place of all – the place where God is calling you.