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Saturdy, August 22

Today’s Readings: Psalm 24; 2 Samuel 24:1-2, (3-9) 10-25; Mark 12:12-17; Acts 28:11-22; Psalm 103

There are lots of different approaches people take toward life. Some of those approaches are obvious, and some are carefully nuanced. I learned from an early age that while there are lots of variations on themes, most folks line up in one of two camps. To use an old cliché, there are those folks who look at a glass half-filled and see it as half-empty; and then there are those who look at the same glass and see it as being half-full. So what accounts for why people look at exactly the same situation and come to totally different conclusions? Lot of things. One of the most important influences is one’s attitude. When I taught at the juvenile detention center, for instance, some kids would see their brush with the law as an important wake up call. These kids would often turn their life around almost immediately. Others saw their incarceration as the beginning of the end – figuring that since they now had a police record their future was bleak so they might as well give up. It was amazing how accurate the offenders’ predictions were when it came to their own futures! Paul’s words in today’s passage from Acts reminded me of the importance of one’s attitude. In looking at the challenges around him, Paul could have easily come to a “the glass is half empty” conclusion by figuring, “What’s the point? They’re just going to hem me and my ministry in no matter what I do.” He didn’t. Instead, he characterized all of the limitations around him as things that made him “a hostage here for hope” (Acts 28:20 from The Message). What an amazing phrase! This makes me wonder about your approach toward life. Do you tend to be (to use the language from Winnie the Pooh) an Eeyore person who constantly focuses on the negative; or are you a Paul person who can make the most out of whatever frustrations surround you? The answer to that question won’t be determined by the external events of your life; it’ll be determined within your head and heart. Til next time…

Friday, August 21

Today’s Readings: Psalm 80; 2 Samuel 23:1-17; Mark 12:1-11; Acts 28:1-10; Psalm 89:26-52

I was sitting with a church group recently as they were debating an issue of import. Like any important issue, the topic under discussion was complex and had political overtones. As the group processed the issue, they were hesitant to take action because they were worried the course of action might seem biased to some and might upset people. I was cast in the role of the observer that night, but as I listened I thought to myself: “Where along the way did we pick up the notion that our faith out to be comfortable and well received by all? When do we forget that the reign of God is going to be offensive to some and seen as something that must be silenced?” Let’s face it: there are many, many folks out there who cannot accept the Gospels’ assertion that God loves all people and desires to live in relation with all people. Sadly, some find this message totally offensive and reject its premise. No matter how hard we may try to make that message palatable, they will reject such a message outright. The words from today’s Gospel reading reminded me of the radical nature of the Gospel. Jesus himself reminds us of this when he quoted Psalm 118:22: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (from the NRSV). So where are you at with all of this? Are you seeking to live out a faith that is completely safe and acceptable to all; or are you pursuing a Gospel that will shake things up and be rejected by some – ever some of the builders? Til next time…

Thursday, August 20

Today’s Readings: Psalm 144; 2 Samuel 22:21-51; Mark 11:27-33; Acts 27:39-44; Psalm 27

My journey toward wholeness was delayed tremendously by some of the messages I was sent as a young person who grew up in the church. That’s because I was told as a young person that it was not okay to be gay. As a result of that message, I went through my childhood relating to others by suppressing an important piece of my identity. I thought to myself, “If I could be perfect then other would have to love and accept me!” A funny thing happened. People did love and accept me – but their love and acceptance meant very little to me. That’s because I thought to myself, “Sure, they may say they are my friends now; but if they REALLY knew who I was, then they wouldn’t like me anymore.” The more I tried to suppress those pieces of myself that I thought were unacceptable to others, the angrier and more isolated I became. In fact, it wasn’t until I started the coming out process that I felt truly loved and accepted by others for the first time in my life. I imagine my experience paralleled David’s – for in today’s passage from 2 Samuel David noted: “God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before [God]” (2 Samuel 22:21 from The Message). As a pastor, I’ve dealt with a lot of people who think they have to edit their lives in order to be in relationship with God. They try leaving out the pieces of their journey – pieces that involve things like an addiction; an experience of abuse; or feelings they felt simply weren’t very Christian. In doing so, they developed a sort of love/hate relationship with God. On one hand, they professed a deep and abiding love of God. On the other hand, they seethed with resentment against God because they felt as if God didn’t love them for who they really were. Maybe you can relate to that. Maybe you’ve felt like you’ve had to censor your own life in order to be acceptable to God. If that’s the case, today I would invite you to do what David did: put ALL of the pieces of your life before God. If you do that, you might experience the incredible rush of being loved by God: not for who you pretend to be, but for who you REALLY are! Til next time…

Wednesday, August 19

Today’s Readings: Psalm 18:1-24; 2 Samuel 22:1-20; Mark 11:20-26; Acts 27:33-38; Psalm 18:25-50

I consider myself an amazing judge of character. I’ve had this gift for many years. It served me particularly well in the days when I worked in the juvenile corrections system since I often had to make decisions in working with offenders that could have put my life at risk. As good as my instincts were, I’ll never forget the time I work for several months with a guy named Steve. Steve was a hardened individual who had come from a critical and demanding family. He was one of the most negative people I had ever met. He never had a good word for anyone. Most days when I knew I had to work with Steve I would get a sickening knot in my stomach. As much as I am an optimist by nature, I went into every encounter with Steve expecting the worst. I was convinced there was no possibility of Steve ever changing. Then a funny thing happened. Over the course of the several months I worked with Steve, I detected a shift in his attitude. Slowly his criticisms began to drop away until suddenly one day I realized he actually said something positive. I was shocked. A transformation had taken place in the one place I thought it would NEVER occur. I was reminded of that incident when I read today’s Gospel reading from Mark – where Jesus was quoted as saying, “Embrace this God-life. Really embrace it, and nothing will be too much for you” (Mark 11:22 from The Message). I read that passage for years and thought the most unimaginable thing God could do would be to move mountains. Then I got older and realized that I thought it was even more impossible for God to move some hearts and change some lives – until I began to have experience after experience where that actually happened. Today – as you sit with the spirit of today’s Gospel reading – I would invite you to consider if there is someone in your life you have written off: someone’s whose transformation would seem as unlikely as moving a mountain. If so, invite God’s loving and transformative presence into the relationship and then take a step back and see what happens. The change may not happen overnight. Just don’t be too surprised when that change begins to take place. Til next time…

Tuesday, August 18

Today’s Readings: Psalm 122; 2 Samuel 21:1-22; Mark 11:12-19; Acts 27:27-32; Psalm 48

Nine years ago, I travelled with a group of seminary students to Cleveland, OH to attend a world-wide gathering of United Methodists called General Conference. The gathering was dealing with several controversial proposals so the seminary organizers asked one of our pastoral care professors to spend a little time with us to help us get emotionally and spiritually ready for the contentious situation. In getting us ready for General Conference, the professor said something interesting. She said that the level of emotion we could anticipate would be very great indeed. “Those levels are so intense,” she said, “because of what we are taught about church. We’re taught that in church it is inappropriate to have emotions. However, as human beings we have emotions. This forces us to either stuff those emotions or pretend they don’t exist. That works for awhile, but eventually,” she continued, “they bubble to the surface and get expressed – often in really big ways since they’ve been stuffed/denied for so long. You can make the experience at the gathering better if you ignore what you’ve been told about how to act in church and experience you emotions openly and honestly as they happen.” That advice helped us greatly. Not only were those words psychologically helpful, they were also biblical – for in today’s passage from Mark we are given not one but two examples of how Jesus was in touch with his emotions. When Jesus encountered the fig tree and found it bare when he was hungry, what did he do? He did a very un-Christlike (but very human) thing: he cursed it. And when Jesus saw the moneylenders in the Temple – making a mockery of the values he associated with God – how did he react? He got angry. In other words, Jesus was in touch with his emotions and expressed them. Today, I would invite you to explore the way you deal with emotions. Do you follow the instructions of your elders when you were young and subvert/ignore your emotions, or are you able to be in touch with your and express them? Til next time…

Monday, August 17

Today’s Readings: Psalm 90; 2 Samuel 19:24-43; Mark 11:1-11; Acts 27:21-26; Psalm 118

The past several weeks have been extremely intense weeks for me. I’ve been working feverishly to tie loose ends up in my life and ministry here in Aurora, CO. I’ve also been laying some groundwork for my future ministry in Woodland Hills, CA. In between time, Mike and I have been working tirelessly to get our home on the market here in Colorado and finalize the details of our housing in California. I have never been spread so thin before in my life. At times, I have felt at – or very near – my breaking point as I’ve been pulled in so many directions. It seems as if virtually every aspect of our lives is up in the air. So how do I manage living with the stress day after day? In a variety of ways. One of the most helpful is through simple words of assurance contained in the sacred writings of our faith. As we prepare to leave our beloved home in Colorado behind, it’s good to hear the psalmist remind me where home really is. “God, it seems you’ve been our home forever…” (Psalm 90:1 from The Message). And when I start to feel overwhelmed by all of the changes happening in my life, I draw strength from the permanency of God’s presence. “Long before the mountains were born, long before you brought earth itself to birth, from ‘once upon a time’ to ‘kingdom come’ – you are God…” (Psalm 90:2 from The Message). Those words from today’s first Psalm calm me and ground me in a way that few other resources do. You may not be moving across the country in two weeks, but perhaps you are living through a time of change or transition in your own life. If so, I would encourage you to hold on to the words of the psalmist. They’ll bring you a sense of assurance and security that you would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Til next time…

Sunday, August 16

Today's Reading: 1 Kings 2:10-12 & 3:3-14

It’s hard to believe that it’s been eleven years since I made a shift in my career path. For those of you who might not remember, that shift involved a move from politics to ministry.

When I made that shift, a whole lot of my friends were confused. They thought I was making the move from one field to a totally unrelated field. Listening to them shake their heads and talk, you would have thought I was going from being a hair dresser to being a lion tamer. They acted as if there was no overlap whatsoever between the two fields.

At the time, however, I lacked the words to explain the similarities between the two – so I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “You’ll just have to trust that I know what I’m doing.”

Well the last few months I’ve finally able to articulate the overlap: and that overlap has to do with three things both fields share in common.

First, the field of politics and ministry both deal with resources. Second, they both touch on some of our deepest emotions; and third, they encourage us to use the grey matter found between our ears. Those are the areas of similarity.

But you know what?

As I explored those similarities, I realized that each field comes at each of these areas from completely opposite perspectives.

Take the issue of resources, for example. Those engaged in the field of politics look at the resources available to us and come to one conclusion: those resources are scarce. So much of their careers are spent trying to decide who is worthy of those scarce resources. Next time you listen to a political debate on issues ranging from human rights to immigration to health care reform – listen carefully and you’ll hear folks say, “If we give other folks some resources, you’ll lose you’re your resources because there’s only so much to go around!”

Those of us engaged in ministry, however, look at resources and focus on their abundance. While you may get us to begrudgingly admit there’s a limited amount of physical resources (especially around the time the church adopts its annual budget), we’ll be just as quick to point to the story of the fishes and loaves and conclude that no matter how limited those resources might initially appear, we’ll always have enough to see us through!

Let’s move on to the second area of commonality - emotions. While there are dozens of emotions that human beings are capable of experiencing, those engaged in the practice of politics hone in on one – and ride it as far as it will take them. That emotion is fear. They work folks up in a frenzy pitting one group against another. You don’t have to listen long before you’ll hear most politicians speak in terms of “Republican vs. Democrat”, “immigrants vs. citizens”, “insured vs. uninsured”, and “straight vs. gay”. Whatever group or groups you belong to, they’ll tell you, “Look out. Be afraid of the other. If you vote for me, I’ll protect you.”

Those engaged in the ethical practice of ministry – please note I said the word ethical – will appeal to another emotion: hope. While we’re aware of the fears out there that often show up in the form of the crosses we have to bear, any good minister won’t let you stay focused only on the cross. They’ll point you toward the empty tomb and expose the pathetic limitations of fear.

And that takes me to the third and final point of similarity between the two fields: the grey matter between our ears. Those engaged in the field of politics will point to that grey matter and say its highest form of use is to create this thing called intelligence. They’ll tell you that if you read enough of the right materials, study enough, and accumulate enough statistics, that you’ll be able to build an airtight case to support your cause – whatever that cause might be.

Folks engaged in the practice of ministry, however, don’t see intelligence as the ultimate goal. In fact, many of us find it interesting that one politician - British Prime Minister Benjamin Disreali - said there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

So if intelligence isn’t the highest form of use of that grey matter between your ears for religious folks, what is?

Well, we get that answer from today’s sacred reading from 1 Kings. In that passage, God gave the new king of Israel – Solomon – the chance to ask for anything.

And guess what he asked for?


That – my friends –is the highest use for the grey matter between our ears.

“Wisdom?” you might be thinking to yourself. “Isn’t that a fancy word that means the same thing as intelligence?”

Not quite.

In fact, this week I stumbled upon a wonderful resource that can help us understand that difference.

Intelligence, theologian Tremper Longman III notes, is primarily about facts, figures, and statistics. Things that we can accumulate on our own – by ourself – in a vacuum.

Wisdom, he goes on to say, is about something else – it’s about relationship. While wisdom can be informed by things like facts, figures, and statistics – it can never be wholly acquired by oneself. It is something that must – I repeat MUST – be rooted in one’s relationship with another.

Of course as people of faith, the first and foremost relationship wisdom must be grounded in is in our relationship with God. And in Solomon’s case, his wisdom was. Solomon was in such intimate relationship with God that Solomon’s information was even gleaned in a non-conscious state when he was asleep in Gibeon. And the wisdom culled from that connection spilled over to Solomon’s waking life as well.

Now Solomon may not have had things to worry about like we do, but he did have other challenges. And one of the greatest displays of wisdom in our entire tradition came just one chapter after today’s reading – when two women approached him with one baby. Both women claimed to be the mother of the child. Now, Solomon didn’t have the fancy DNA or paternity tests that we have today. So in order to settle the paternity suit, Solomon used his grey matter and turned to one thing to settle the case: relationship.

In order to do that, Solomon facetiously proposed that the two women have the baby cut in half so that each could receive one half of the disputed baby. He knew that the real mother would put her relationship with her baby first, and refuse to allow the child to be harmed. The wisdom Solomon employed worked beautifully!

Friends, I know that each of us here this morning has many challenges before us. Some of those challenges are political, some are personal, and some are spiritual. And one of the first responses you’ll likely have is to follow the values of our society and retreat inward – to the grey matter – as you attempt to settle matters in your own time, in your own space, and in a vacuum.

Resist those urges.

Instead, use that grey matter in the way as it was intended: as a bridge to help you cross over into deeper relationship - first with your God, and then with those around you. If you do that, at each of these critical stages of your life you’ll make decisions that aren’t smart – you’ll make decision that are wise.