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Saturday, May 2

Today’s Readings: Psalm 57; Daniel 6:1-15; John 10:1-10; 2 Timothy 4:9-22; Psalm 59

Featured Reading:
Daniel 6:1-15

Over the years I’ve learned that heroes come in many different forms. One of the individuals I most admire is a man named Eli Herring. Eli played offensive tackle for the Cougars of Brigham Young University in 1987 and 1991-94. Eli was extremely talented and was a sure bet to make it in the National Football League. The was just one problem: Eli was a devout Mormon and refused to play football on Sundays. He made his convictions clear to all of the NFL teams. In spite of that fact, the Oakland Raiders insisted on drafting Eli in the sixth round of the 1995 NFL draft. Now at that point it would have been easy for Eli to rationalize that he had tried to walk away from football but circumstances wouldn’t allow him to do so. He undoubtedly would have made millions of dollars had he set aside his convictions and played football. Instead, Eli stuck by his principles and walked away from the offer. Today, Eli is the father of six and works as a school teacher and assistant football coach at Mountain View High School in Orem, UT. When I first heard Eli’s story, it reminded me of the story of another principled person of faith – Daniel. Today’s reading from the book of Daniel spells out the moral dilemma Daniel faced. And while Daniel’s decision didn’t involve fame and fortune as did Eli’s, it did involve taking a considerable risk to position himself against the prevailing societal values around him. Thankfully, Daniel took the principled position and did the right thing. In both Eli and Daniel’s case, there definitely was some cost associated with doing the right thing. For Eli, the cost was literal (lots and lots of $$$$). For Daniel, the cost was figurative (a little time in the lion’s den). Both individuals, however, left us with great examples of the challenges that are inherent in living a life of faith. So how has your faith impacted the way you live your life? Have the principles that have grown out of your faith put you at odds with society, or have society’s norms dictated the way you live out your faith? Til next time…

Friday, May 1

Today’s Readings: Psalm 80; Daniel 5:13-30; Mark 12:1-11; 2 Timothy 4:1-8; Psalm 64

Featured Reading: Daniel 5:13-30

Bernie was an amazing guy. He married his high school sweetheart, Ruth. He raised two hard working sons, Mark and Andrew. He was even a successful businessman who made millions (and gave back millions) as well. He, for instance, donated $6 million to fund lymphoma research, and he gave tremendous support to non-profit agencies such as the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation that helped fund youth programs and the JEHT Foundation (which stands for Justice, Equality, Human Dignity and Tolerance Foundation). While all of these are certainly noteworthy accomplishments, I can guarantee that all of these things will pale in comparison when held up against another of Bernie’s “achievements”. Bernie (whose last name is Madoff) will go down in history as having instigated the largest investor fraud ever committed by a single person according to So how does a person make the leap from being a pillar of the community to being an agent of personal and corporate destruction? Some of the answers to that question lie in today’s reading from Daniel. In speaking of another pillar of the community, Daniel pointed out those things that had contributed to King Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar had “developed a big head and a hard spirit” (Daniel 5:20 from The Message). And King Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Belshazzar? Well, he was no better. King Belshazzar had become “arrogant” and toasted his “gods of silver and gold” (Daniel 5:23 from The Message). All of these indictments are great reminders of what can happen when we lose sight of what – and who! – ought to be most foundational in our lives. While you and I may not be kings or financiers, we do have our own spheres of influences – spheres in which the values and priorities we live by shape countless lives. I would invite you to reflect on the examples of Bernie Madoff, King Nebuchadnezzar, and King Belshazzr and use them as motivations for keeping our primary allegiance in life where it most belongs: with God. Til next time…

Thursday, April 30

Today’s Readings: Psalm 121; Daniel 5:1-12; Mark 10:22-31; 2 Timothy 3:1-17; Psalm 53

Featured Reading:
Mark 10:22-31

If you look around these days, there are a lot of things going on that are totally beyond our control: the global economic meltdown, the environmental crisis, the spread of the swine flu. These are challenging days to live in to say the least. My sense is that the days are challenging for reasons that many folks have not quite thought through completely. You see many of us – particularly those of us with some means – are use to being able to have a large degree of control over our lives. As a result, we had the ability to feel protected or insulated from the crises around us. When folks started talking about the demise of social security a decade ago, for example, there were those who shrugged their shoulders and said, “What do I have to worry about? I’ve got a pretty sum stocked away in personal investments. I’m safe!” Same thing happened with health care issues. Prior to the spread of the swine flu, some folks thought, “While others might have to worry about the spread of disease, I’m in good shape. I’ve got health coverage that will take care of me no matter what.” The events of the past year, however, have shaken that sense of trust in one’s ability to manage everything. The value of our investment portfolios has plummeted, and we are facing health challenges whose scope is far broader than most health plans. In some ways, we are facing some of the same issues that the wealthy young man faced in today’s Gospel reading. The difference is that the wealthy young man had the option of clinging to the illusion that his resources were enought to take care of himself. In some ways we are further along because we no longer have the luxury of believing our material resources alone are enough. So how do we live into a new reality? We start to take Jesus’ words more seriously. When asked what chance ordinary people have to get into God’s kin-dom if wealthy people have a tough time, Jesus responded by saying: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it” (Mark 10:26-27 from The Message). So today – as you turn on the television or read the newspaper and find yourself started to get anxious in the face of the frightening news – ask yourself, “Whose resources am I most relying upon to pull me through?” Til next time…

Wednesday, April 29

Today’s Readings: Psalm 21; Daniel 4:28-37; Mark 9:38-50; 2 Timothy 2:14-26; Psalm 19

Featured Reading:
Mark 9:38-50

At our Sacred Grounds conversation group last night, we talked about our primary lectionary passage for next Sunday. That piece of Scripture (John 10:11-18) lifts up the notion that one of Jesus’ goals was to establish “one flock” with “one shepherd”. As we explored this idea, we wondered if it really would be possible to establish one flock these days given there is such division and polarization within the Christian community. Could we envision a world where James Dobson and gay Episcopalian Bishop Eugene Robinson could exist within the same flock?! I was reminded of this conversation when I read today’s words from the Gospel of Mark – for in that passage Jesus chastised the disciples for stopping a man who was doing Jesus’ work simply because he didn’t belong to their group. So often we modern disciples – who have grown used to living in a polarized world – spend a great deal of time trying to criticize the ministries of other Christians because they aren’t a part of our in group. What a sad state of affairs. The challenge for us modern disciples is to mature in our spiritual walks to the point where we can celebrate – and not be threatened by - the ministries of those who reach individuals who would otherwise be outside the reach of our own ministries: to live in a world, for instance, where progressive Christians aren’t threatened by evangelical Christians and where charismatic Christians aren’t threatened by liturgical Christians. If we ever achieved such a goal perhaps people in the world might start looking at us and see not an institution but expressions of the living, breathing body of Christ. I pray for the arrival of such a time. Til next time…

Tuesday, April 28

Today’s Readings: Psalm 109; Daniel 4:19-27; John 20:24-31; 2 Timothy 1:15-2:13; Psalm 90

Featured Reading:
John 20:24-31

The other evening at the first confirmation class for the youth in our faith community, we looked at the two creation stories contained in Genesis (Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-14). In looking at the two accounts side by side, we examined the differences between each account and discussed how these differences reflect different theological assumptions made about the process of creation. The differences between the stories provided us with a rich opportunity to explore different understandings of the nature of God. In today’s passage from the Gospel of John, I almost wish we had a second telling of the story to go alongside the first. Why is that? Because a part of me struggles with the only reason the author of John’s Gospel gives for Jesus’ offer to let Thomas feel his wounds. The author wrote: “These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it” (John20:30-31 from The Message). So what other reasons might a second telling of the story offer in order to explain Jesus’ offer? I would hope that it would tell us that part of Jesus motivation was born out of concern for Thomas – an associate and friend who was struggling to come to terms with what had happened. Such a telling of the story would balance the need for proof with a sense of compassion. If you were to tell Thomas’ story, given the Jesus that you have come to know on your faith journey, how would you explain Jesus’ motivation for his offer to Thomas? Til next time…

Monday, April 27

Today’s Readings: Psalm 96; Daniel 4:1-18; John 20:19-23; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Psalm 98

Featured Reading:
Psalm 98

The opening words to today’s second Psalm present a real challenge for me. Those words read: “Sing to God a brand-new song. God’s made a world of wonders! God rolled up God’s sleeves; God set things right” (Psalm 98). It's hard for me to connect with those words today because I’m living in a world where so many things don’t seem as if they have been set right. For the past week I’ve been living in a world with much pain and frailty. The last phrase I would use at this moment to describe the world I’m living would be wonder-filled! So how do I find a way to engage the sentiments of the psalmist in a meaningful way and not simply be dismissive of his (or her) sense of wonder? Well, I remind myself that the sentiments the psalmist is tapping into represent a forest approach to life: an approach that looks beyond the individual problems or challenges (the trees) in order to see the big picture (the forest). So where are you today? Are you in a place like me where the trees are looming large and it’s difficult to even think of looking for the forest, or have you put those individual trees into the bigger picture and got glimpses of the forest for yourself? No matter where you find yourself on this trees/forest continuum, I would encourage you (and me!) to stop for a moment and give thanks for those “forest” people in our lives - like the psalmist - who can help us regain one of the most important things we can even have in this life: a sense of perspective. Til next time…

Sunday, April 26

Featured Reading: Luke 24:36b-48

Today's reflection/sermon:

I love the internet for many, many reasons: one of which is because it provides me with many therapeutic outlets. Let me give you an example of just one way the internet provides this service for me.

As someone who is prone to get worked up over things I read or see on television, it’s easy for me to jump on line and do a little research to justify my dissenting opinion. This feeling of validation helps me calm down and feel a bit more relaxed. In fact, I had an experience of this just yesterday afternoon.

Yesterday, after an exhausting week of ministry, I finally found time to sit down in front of the television for a minute around 6:00 PM. And wouldn’t you know it? Right away I encountered a group of folks participating in what I believe to be “The Most Useless Job on the Face of the Earth”. I started to get very annoyed.

Now before I tell you what that job was, let me tell you how the internet helped me deal with my frustration.

I jumped up from the couch, went to the computer, and googled “The Most Useless Job on the Face of the Earth”. I wanted to see if others would back me up. While I couldn’t find an official ranking of “The Most Useless Job on the Face of the Earth” from a credible news source, I did find several blogs where individuals gave their opinion.

The first writer suggested suntan lotion salespersons in Alaska had the most useless job. Another suggested that Britney Spear’s publicist had the most useless job. There was even an international flavor to the conversation when a Spaniard nominated the King of Spain as the most useless position on earth.

Sadly, I failed to run across anyone who shared my opinion. So I thought I might use this opportunity to share my answer with you all.

My nominee for “The Most Useless Job on the Face of the Earth” is NFL Draft Analyst.

“And how did such a group of people make it on my list?” you might ask.

My annoyance with said folks started three years ago when they called my favorite team - the Houston Texans’ - decision to pass on running back Reggie Bush “a monumental mistake”. At the time one of the NFL analysts called Reggie Bush football’s equivalent of Michael Jordan – and predicted the Texans would regret their decision to draft Defensive End Mario Williams instead for years to come.

Fast forward three years. Reggie Bush has become Reggie Who?; and the man the Texans did draft has recorded more sacks during the last 2 years than any other human being drafted behind him.

As I walked from my computer back to the couch and watched those NFL analysts on the screen for a few more minutes, I asked myself, “What is it about them that gets me so worked up?”

And I came up with the following answer. In their attempt to pass themselves off as experts, they are quick to jump to premature conclusions. They rarely have the wisdom to sit back and allow things to unfold so they could get a sense of perspective.

And then that pesky little voice in the back of my head – you know, the one that sometimes speaks to us - spoke up and asked: “Do you think NFL Draft Analysts are the only one that jump to premature conclusions?”

I hate it when that voice uses reason against me!

“No,” I sheepishly said.

In fact in this morning’s passage from the Gospel of Luke, we were introduced to another group that had jumped to premature conclusions: the disciples. For the disciples – like the committed group of NFL fans gathered in the Radio City Music Hall for the Draft– had lived through their own set of remarkable experiences. They had lived through Jesus’ public ministry of teaching and healing; they had lived through Jesus’ arrest and trail; and they had lived through Jesus’ crucifixion and those early reports of Jesus’ resurrection.

Now, the disciples could have stepped back and given the situation a little time and perspective before jumping to conclusions. But did they? No! Instead, in the days following Jesus’ traumatic departure they decided to make two things their new companion: fear and doubt.

It would be easy to stand in our current social location, glance across the millennia separating us from the disciples, and criticize them for how the responded to Jesus’ death and resurrection. And yet we better hold off on doing that. For let’s think about our own lives for a moment and how we respond to those uncertainties we face. Think, for instance, about the times when we experience brokenness in the context of our relationships. How do we respond? Do we stay open to the possibility of transformation that can emerge from those cracks in our lives; or do we prematurely conclude that our lives are over? Think about those times when we experience vocational upheaval following the denial of a promotion or the loss of a position. Do we open ourselves to the new possibilities that lie before us, or do we lose ourselves to thoughts of what was? Think about those times when we are confronted with our own mortality, or the mortality of a loved one. Do we become so focused on what might be, that we lose sight of what is? More often that not, in each of these instances we do what those first disciples did: we cling to fear and doubt.

Friends, in spite of our human tendency to jump to premature conclusions before the fullness of our stories unfold, we have words of hope before us in this morning’s Gospel reading. For in that story, we are reminded that we are not left alone to wrestle with our fears and our doubt. We are connected to the One who can manifest himself in our lives and do for us what he did for those first disciples: open our hearts and bring peace and understanding.

Now, I’d be more than a little irresponsible if I didn’t say a word about the understanding made available to us. It would be nice if that understanding came through means that we could control – through the books that we choose to read, through the workshops we decide to attend, and through the thoughts we entertain. But the challenge of this morning’s passage is the notion that for the disciples, the path to understanding was not a path they could construct or control; rather, it was a path to which they were open.

And so as we go forth to face the overwhelming challenges of our lives, my prayer for us is this: I pray that we will fight our urge to jump to premature conclusions, and instead give ourselves the time and the space to arrive at a place of understanding. For it is that God-given sense of understanding that will ultimately see us through.