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Saturday, May 23

Today’s Readings: Psalm 19; Ezekiel 1:28b-3:3; Matthew 28:11-20; 1 John 5:13-21; Psalm 14

Last night I had dinner with an associate who was talking about the recent controversy regarding a resolution introduced into Congress by Republican Representative Paul Broun from Georgia. The resolution’s goal is to declare 2010 “The Year of the Bible”. In one article the individual read regarding the controversy, the author indicated recent polling showed that an incredibly high percentage of the US population was now identifying as atheist. The person was alarmed by the report and wanted to know what I thought. I often cringe when folks I don’t know well ask me to respond to newspaper headlines in my role as pastor because my response is never quite what they figure. I know, for instance, that the person assumed I supported the resolution. I do not. I think dangerous things happen whenever a government gives preferential treatment to one particular religion/religious perspective. Just examine any of the theocracies that exist in the Middle East, and you’ll better understand my concerns. The second half of her query, however, was more interesting to me: the part that asked about the rising number of folks that identify themselves as atheists. In diagnosing the challenges we modern folks face, Phillip Yancey wrote – in his book “Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference” – “Most of what I am – my nationality and mother tongue, my race, my looks and body shape, my intelligence, the century in which I was born, the fact that I am still alive and relatively healthy – I had little or no control over. On a larger scale, I cannot affect the rotation of planet earth, or the orbit that maintains a proper distance from the sun so that we neither freeze nor roast, or the gravitational forces that somehow keep our spinning galaxy in exquisite balance.” And then he concludes by sharing the humbling conclusion that springs out of these awarenesses. “There is a God and I am not it” (Yancey 37). As the psalmist reminded us in today’s second psalm – Psalm 14 - there has long been pressure to join the “God is gone!” chorus. This pressure has certainly increased as the realm of our knowledge has grown exponentially and our capacity for things like humility and mystery has declined exponentially. If that’s where you are today – tempted to join in the “God is gone!” chorus – I would ask you to take some time today and open yourselves to the wonders of the world around you: the beauty of a sunset, the warmth of an unexpected embrace, the seeds of hope that grows in your heart despite the bleakness of the newspaper headlines… Spend some time sitting with these wonders that defy explanation. Before long, you might find yourself joining in another chorus: the chorus of the psalmist who sang: “Is there anyone around to save Israel? Yes. God is around; God turns life around.” Til next time…

Friday, May 22

Today’s Readings: Psalm 105:23-45; Ezekiel 1:15-28a; Matthew 22:41-46; 1 John 5:6-12; Psalm 110

One of the blessings I have been given in life is the ability to be okay with mystery or apparent paradoxes. When I was in seminary, I learned that gift wasn’t that unusual. In fact, our sisters and brothers in the Orthodox tradition generally have this gift more than those of us who are Protestants or Catholics. Nevertheless, this gift sometimes puts me at odds with those who want everything clearly defined and articulated. One place this is particularly true is in the area of Christology – the area that deals with the question, “Who was Jesus?” Many folks who are Protestant or Catholic want a simple, straightforward answer to the question. Those with a high Christology who emphasize Jesus’ divinity want an answer along the lines of that given in the Nicene Creed: Jesus was “the Son of God, begotten of the Father, Light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” Those with a low Christology who emphasize Jesus’ humanity want an answer along the lines of: “Jesus was a good moral teacher who – through his example of self-emptying love – shows us how to lead a good life.” Folks on either extreme of this continuum are rarely satisfied with any sense of mystery contained in one’s answer. In today’s Gospel reading, however, those opposed to mystery (the “literalists”) reach the point where words and certainty can no longer carry them. As a result, they shut down. My question for you to consider today, is this: “What role does mystery play in your spiritual life? Are you comfortable sitting with those things that lie beyond the realm of words and reason, or do you feel compelled to reconcile and/or articulate everything?” Til next time…

Thursday, May 21

Today’s Readings: Psalm 47; Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53; Ephesians 1:15-23

When I was a child, there was a couple in my home church that ruled the church as if it were their own personal roost. There names were Howard and Irene. They would use any tool at their disposal to get their way. All that mattered to them was that they get their way. They would scream and yell at meetings, they would gossip about people behind their backs, and they would initiate smear campaigns against anyone (lay or clergy) that was not doing what they wanted. They generally made life miserable for many people in the church. As I got older, I would ask my parents why folks in the church put up with this behavior. “The church is made up of people, and people are flawed,” my mother would say, “so we just have to accept that fact and put up with it.” As I look back on that explanation now, I would not have accepted my mother’s words. I would have challenged them. And why is that? Because I don’t believe the church is simply an institution like any other. To use the words from today’s passage from Ephesians, I believe “the church is Christ’s body” (Ephesians 1:23 from The Message). And as such, we should aspire to live as such – aiming to embody God’s love and grace through our words and deeds in ways that individuals in other institutions wouldn’t. So how do you view the church? Do you see it as just another institution – one in which you expect to deal with the same stuff you would encounter in other places; or do you see the church as the body of Christ – an identity that calls us to live differently? Til next time…

Wednesday, May 20

Today’s Readings: Psalm 1; Ezekiel 1:1-14; Matthew 13:18-23; Ephesians 1:1-10; Psalm 136

If you’re anything like me, it’s probably easy to hear some of the teachings of Jesus and overlay them with hugely moralistic tones that can sometimes be off putting for progressive folks. It’s understandable if you do that, because that’s the way many of the stories and parables are taught. Take today’s passage from Matthew, for example. There are many who would heart Jesus story about the spreading of the seed and assume that the four scenarios he spells out are simply judgments about the person who receives “the seed” (i.e. the seed that stays on the surface, the seed in the gravel, and the seed in the weeds = bad people; the seed on good earth = good people). I think there is a little more depth to Jesus’ story than that. Take the notion of the seed that stays on the surface. There are probably many things that play into the seeds inability to penetrate below the surface: a lack of tilling to break up the soil’s hardened crust, a lack of moisture to soften the soil, a lack of fertilizer to feed the soil, you name it. Same thing goes with the condition of the good soil. There are a lot of things that went into creating conditions for that good soil: tilling to break up the hardened crust, moisture to soften the soil, fertilizer to feed it, etc. In other words, it’s more complicated that just making judgments about the condition of the soil; the story invites us to look at the contributing factors that helped create such an environment. Today – instead of asking the obvious question “What kind of patch are you?” – I would invite you to explore the less obvious question: “Have I sought out spiritual practices/disciplines (i.e. prayer/devotional time/spiritual fellowship/worship,etc) that would turn the parts of me that are superficial/gravelly/weedy patches into productive patches soil?” If not, today would be a great day to begin working your patch of soil. Til next time…

Tuesday, May 19

Today’s Readings: Psalm 60; Isaiah 45:1-8; Matthew 13:1-17; 1 John 5:1-5; Psalm 73

As some who has both loved and made music for many, many years; I have a passion for ALL kinds of music. My love of all music has gotten me in trouble on more than one occasion. For instance, I remember getting into it with my piano teacher when I was in middle school because I asked if I could learn a piece of pop music. My piano teacher refused to grant my request because she said that the only “good” music was classical music! My love of all music also got me in trouble with my youth group leader in junior high. The youth leader overheard me talking with someone about a particular radio station. The leader interrupted our conversation and asked why I was listening to that station since it didn’t play Christian music. Through these experiences I learned that people often want to put things into boxes (i.e. “good music” and “bad music”) that were consistent with their prefered ways of being. Of course music isn’t the only thing people try to put into boxes; people do the same thing with God. They determine acceptable ways for God to operate, and then they try to stuff God into their tiny little boxes. One of these boxes involves the notion of the people through whom God would work. Many assume that God would only work through people who belong to their particular faith tradition. In today’s reading from Isaiah, however, we learn that God worked in ways that transcended that narrow expectation. Isaiah 45:1 refers to the Persian Emperor Cyrus as God’s anointed – the one whom God “took by the hand”. Not only was Cyrus NOT an Israelite – he was Zoastrian! God then went on to say through Isaiah: “I’ve singled you out, called you by name, and given you this privileged work. And you don’t even know me [emphasis added]” (Isaiah 45:4 from The Message). The passage serves as yet another reminder that God often acts in unexpected ways and from the most unexpected of places. Today, I would invite you to explore various areas of your own life. Are there places in your life where you have boxed God out – areas where you have concluded God couldn’t possibly be present or work through? If so, take some time to re-examine those areas. You just might discover that God is active in the most unexpected of places. Til next time…

Monday, May 18

Today’s Readings: Psalm 150; Isaiah 63:3-9; Luke 12:13-21; 1 John 4:13-21; Psalm 39

Those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile know that I’ve struggled with issues of co-dependency at times in my life. Co-dependency can manifest itself in many, many different ways. It can manifest itself in an individual by making it nearly impossible for the person to say “No” to requests. As a result, a person can become totally overwhelmed. Co-dependency can also manifest itself in such a way that a person’s emotions are not driven by their own thoughts and/or feelings – they are driven by other people. Needless to say, these are some pretty unhealthy ways of being. One of the most troublesome manifestations of co-dependency can show itself in the form of never giving voice to one’s own true thoughts or feelings. A person might be angry at another over a real or perceive sleight. When asked about it, however, the person might deny that there’s anything wrong. Consequently, the person’s interpersonal relationships continue to limp along in a deeply unhealthy state. So why am I thinking about manifestations of co-dependency today? Well, when I read today’s second psalm, the opening words leapt off the page at me. “I’m determined to watch steps and tongue so they won’t land me in trouble. I decided to hold my tongue as long as Wicked is in the room. ‘Mum’s the word,’ I said, and kept quiet,” the psalmist said – perfectly describing such potentially co-dependent behavior. “But the longer I kept silence the worse it got,” the psalmist admitted, “my insides got hotter and hotter. My thought boiled over; I spilled my guts.” Thankfully, the psalmist broke his or her cycle of co-dependency and finally gave voice to his or her true feelings. Perhaps there is a situation in your life where you’ve chosen to silence your true feelings – thinking it to be best in the short run for either yourself or the other person. By now your thoughts too are probably boiling over. If that’s the case, I would encourage you to take the risk and speak your truth (whether it be to God or to one another person). While things may get a little more complicated in the short run, in the long run such a risk could lead to healthier relationships – with other people and certainly with yourself. Til next time…

Sunday, May 17

Today’s Scripture: John 15:9-17

As most of you might know, Mountain View kicked off its most recent confirmation class just a couple of weeks ago. The confirmands and I started our time together that first session by talking about different images folks use to think about God. Of course we spent the bulk of our time that first evening talking about God using the most popular image of all: Creator.

The confirmands have followed that initial conversation up by searching out other images that were used for God in Scripture. They’ve found a variety of images ranging from things like “rock”, “shepherd”, and “helper and deliverer” to God as “sun and shield”, “potter”, and so on.

The point of the exercise for the confirmands was that the images we use for God not only affect the way we think about God; those images determine the kind of relationship we build with God as well.

Of course the creators of the confirmation class curriculum weren’t the only ones who knew the important role images play in the development of our spiritual lives. There was another who was keenly aware of this as well.

That individual?


I know Jesus was aware of the important role images can play because in today’s passage from the Gospel of John Jesus used two images to invite us to think about very different ways we can relate to Jesus. The images can be found in verse 15 of today’s reading. The first image Jesus offered was servant.

The second?

That’s right. Friend.

Now, this morning I want to use my time with you to explore each of those images and see if perhaps shifting our focus – from a life where we’re cast in the role of servant to a life where we are cast in the role of friend – can make a difference in our spiritual journey. So let’s begin our time together exploring the notion of relating to Jesus as servant.

If I were to ask you to describe the life lived by a servant, you’d probably begin by pointing out a few characteristics of the role. You might start, for instance, by noting that servants rarely – if ever – take the initiative in the relationship. They typically sit back and wait until they are told what to do before jumping into action.

What else might you say is characteristic of a servant?

“Well,” you might continue, “a servant rarely gets a chance to do what he or she would like to do. Instead, the servant gets stuck doing all of the awful things he or she is told to do.”

Great! How about one more?

A servant also has a minimal investment in the outcome of the tasks before him or her. The servant is usually only worried about doing the bare minimum so he or she doesn’t get in trouble.

In other words, if I were to sum up the life of the servant, I might say that the goal for a servant is to simply survive, or get by.

I think most of us could agree that that’s a fairly accurate description.

So what about friend? How would the role of friend differ from that of servant?

Well, right out of the gates there would be a huge difference when it comes to taking the initiative. Unlike a servant that hangs back and waits to be told what to do, a friend often goes out of his or her way in order to take the initiative him or herself. That would be difference number one.

Let’s move on to difference two. Difference two has to do with how a friend spends his or her time. Unlike servants who spend the bulk of their time doing things they hate, friends have the luxury of spending their time doing those things they love and are passionate about. And if you have a friend where that’s not the case, then I’d say its time to start looking for a new friend.

And how about difference number three – the effort we extend. As I said earlier, servants make a huge point of doing the bare minimum – hoping to simply get by. Not so with friends. A true friend – almost by definition - goes the extra mile in order to positively touch the life of a friend.

So as you can see, when Jesus said: “I’m no longer calling you servants … I’ve named you friends…” – we’re talking about a seismic shift in how Jesus invited us to think about ourselves in relationship to him.

So let’s take all this talk of “servants” and “friends” and move it from the abstract to the personal - to see if we might take something away from this that can affect the quality of our spiritual lives.

In my first seven years of parish ministry, I’ve noticed something fascinating about the way many of us in the institutional church lead our spiritual lives.

We lead our spiritual lives primarily in the servant role. Think about that for a minute. When it comes to the matter of initiative, what do we do? We sit back and wait for a sign from God to push us into gear. “If God really wanted me in choir,” we say to ourselves, “then God would move Grey’s Anatomy from Thursdays to Tuesdays.” Same thing goes with the use of our time. We devote a significant chunk of time to doing things we hate – but think are good for us. “I know I’m called to serve at the soup kitchen because I get that sickening knot in my stomach each month when its time to report.” Ditto for our effort. “I’ll slide by in my relationship with God if I show up for worship every once in a while.” All of those things would be indicators that we’re leading our lives from a servant mentality.

So how did we get to such a point? How did we learn to settle for living as servants - rather than friends - of Christ?

Well – are you ready for this? – our churches taught us to live that way. Many of our churches, for instance, sucked the initiative right out of us when they taught us the right way to behave is to sit down, shut up, and wait for our council or one of the committees to tell us what to do. Our churches guilted us into doing what we hate – because if WE don’t do it, then NOBODY will. Our churches reinforced in us the idea that a church was successful if it could simply kept the doors opened and paid the bills. That’s how they pushed us into the role of servant.

Two years ago at Mountain View, however, we began a process designed to move us out of the servant role and into the friend role in our relationship with the God revealed in Jesus.

That process said a couple things. First, it said that – like a friend – we could actually take the initiative in beginning new ministries at the church. That process suggested that we could actually spend our time doing what we love and were passionate about - rather than what others demanded of us. That process even challenged us to rethink what success might look like.

And that process culminated with the creation of a tool that embodied this new way of being that Jesus invites us to. You’ll find a copy of that tool in your bulletin this morning.

Friends on this Sunday just before Memorial Day weekend – a Sunday that is used by many churches to mark the end of a program year – I ask you to spend some time considering the choice that lies before us in terms of how we want to lead our spiritual lives. Do we want to lead our lives as servants of Christ; or do we want to lead lives as friends of Christ?

I fervently hope that we will make the choice that will take us to new heights in our relationship with God of Jesus: both individually and collectively.