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Saturday, November 21

Today’s Readings: Psalm 122; Nehemiah 7:73b-8:3, 5-18; Matthew 18:21-35; Revelation 22:14-21

Last night we had the second session of our young adults’ confirmation class at Woodland Hills Community Church. We spent our time together talking about the nature of the Bible.

As we were finishing a part of our discussion on the New Testament, one of the participants asked, “So does God’s revelation end with the last book of the Bible or is God continuing to say more?” What a profound question that was!

There are certainly those who believe that once the biblical cannon was closed and the Bible as we know it today was finalized that that meant God was absolutely done speaking. Those who understand the Bible that way would point to today’s passage from Revelation in order to prove their point. “I warn anyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book,” the author wrote, “if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book” (Revelation 22:18 from the NRSV).

There are others such as myself, however, who do not believe that God stopped speaking/communicating with us when the biblical cannon was closed. We – many of us who are members of The United Church of Christ – would counter by saying, “God is still speaking.” By this we mean that the Holy Spirit continues to be active and speak to us in new and exhilarating ways.

My question for you today is this: what is your take on all this? Do you believe that the fullness of God’s revelation to us was fully captured once and for all within the pages of the Bible, or do you believe that God’s truth continues to reveal itself outside the bounds of a printed page? Til next time…

Friday, November 20

Today’s Readings: Psalm 88; Nehemiah 9:26-38; Matthew 18:10-20; Revelation 22:6-13

Every once in a while I stumble upon a piece of advice or a statement of life-principle that seems really good on the surface. Once I start digging into it and try applying it, however, I discover things are much more complex than I first realized.

Take today’s passage from the Gospel according to Matthew. In that larger passage, there is a short statement attributed to Jesus that reads “If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, doesn’t [the person] leave the ninety-nine and go after the one?” (Matthew 18:12 from The Message).

On the surface that sounds like a wonderful statement of love and concern on behalf of One that passionately cares about each and every one of the sheep in the flock. When it comes time to live that out, however, it becomes a logistical nightmare. For instance during the course of my lifetime I have led several groups where one sheep comes along who is so focused on his/her own needs that they couldn’t care less about the rest of the 99. They consistently create situations where pursuing the one could bring into question the continued health and well-being of the 99. This is what I mean by creating a logistical nightmare.

While my heart instinctively wants to send me out after the individual sheep in each and every instance, I have come to realize that I must strike a balance between care and concern for the one and care and concern for the 99. My attempt to reach this balance is something I re-visit on a regular basis.

So how do you grow into seeking a sense of balance between the one and the 99 in your own life? Do you intuitively go after the one in every instance and let the 99 fend for themselves; or do you find ways of striking a balance between the interests and well being of both the individual sheep and the flock? Til next time…

Thursday, November 19

Today’s Readings: Psalm 143; Nehemiah 9:1-15; Matthew 18:1-9; Revelation 21:22-22:5

As some of you who have read my blog for awhile know, the previous church I served was an ecumenical church. This meant that in addition to being affiliated with my own denomination (the United Church of Christ) it was also affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and The United Methodist Church. Because of its ecumenical nature, I went to great lengths to include elements of each tradition whenever possible.

One of the things the Presbyterian tradition regularly includes in its worship services is a prayer of confession – so I included a prayer of confession each week. At first, the spiritual practice was challenging for me since I tended to be someone who was drawn to the spark of the Divine contained with individuals and preferred to focus on the possibility for good that lies within human beings. Over time, however, the prayer of confession opened me up and helped me see the tremendous value of acknowledging our limitations as well. Ironically, the practice of confession helped me accept and embrace every aspect of myself – not just the pieces that I thought were praiseworthy. Over time I personally came to value the practice of confession greatly.

The author(s) of today’s passage from Nehemiah understood the value of confession as well – for in the passage we are told that as a part of their process of restoration the Israelites “stood and confessed their sins” (Nehemiah 9:2 from the NRSV). My question for your consideration today is this: what role does confession play in your own spiritual journey? Til next time…

Wednesday, November 18

Today’s Readings: Psalm 65; Ezra 10:1-17; Matthew 17:22-27; Revelation 21:9-21

At last night’s Sacred Grounds conversation group, we were discussing some of the tensions that are contained within the scriptures themselves. One of these tensions are between those passages that speak of God in universal terms (passages such as today’s passage from Psalm where the psalmist says of God “You are the hope of all the ends of the earth” – Psalm 65:5) and those passages that speak of God in exclusivistic terms (passages such as today’s passage from Ezra where Ezra instructs the people to “separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives” – Ezra 10:11).

So which way is it? Does God love and embrace all people, or does God like some better than others?

A person could certainly pull particular texts out of the Bible to prove one’s point on either side of this debate. Rather than look for a particular text to make my point, I look for what some call the meta-narrative - the larger theme that transcends any particular text and consistently runs throughout the Bible. When I do that, I personally come down on the side of the God who loves and embraces all people.

So where do people get the idea that God is exclusivistic? Often, following situations portrayed in scripture where things have gone horribly wrong and individuals and/or communities feel the need to produce a scapegoat. I can certainly relate to that human tendency since often my first instinct is to blame someone else when things have gone wrong.

So where do you come down in this great debate? Do you see God as one who embraces all, or do you gravitate toward God as One who plays favorites? Til next time…

Tuesday, November 17

Today’s Readings: Psalm 54; Ezra 9:1-15; Matthew 17:14-21; Revelation 21:1-8

There are some passages in the Bible that are incredibly loaded in their meanings. As a result, some people love those passages and some people dislike them greatly. Take Jesus’ culminating words from today’s Gospel reading from Matthew as an example.

After chiding the disciples for their shortage of faith, Jesus is quoted as saying: “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 from the NRSV). Folks who love the passage point to it as a vehicle of inspiration that has carried them through some of the toughest times of their lives by giving them hope that truly anything is possible. Those who dislike those words would say, “When I was diagnosed with cancer, I prayed and believed I would be cured but I’m wasn’t. I had much more faith than a mustard seed and it got me nowhere!” I’ve certainly heard both takes on the passage more than once during my eight years of ministry.

So how do I personally read this piece of Scripture?

Well, I read it with this thought in mind: my faith doesn’t necessarily alter the events that happen to me; rather, it alters the way I respond to those things that happen to me. By this I mean that my faith gives me a nearly endless supply of optimism that – no matter what happens – I’ll have the strength to see it through one way or another. Sometimes it means enduring the bad times until the good times come again. Sometimes it means having the strength to live through the difficult goodbyes and agonizing separations – believing that the loss won’t be the final word in the situation.

So how do you receive those controversial words “and nothing will be impossible for you”? Til next time…

Monday, November 16

Today’s Readings: Psalm 57; Ezra 7:27-28 & 8:21-36; Matthew 17:1-13; Revelation 20:7-15

One of my favorite classes in seminary was a course called Ritual & Worship. It was taught by a tremendously gifted professor by the name of Thomas Troeger. The class explored a variety of topics which were all related to the worship life of our faith communities.

One day in class we talked about how difficult it can be for individuals to respond to moments that feel especially holy. At such moments, Professor Troeger noted, people often try to mask their discomfort by doing things like making jokes or pushing through the moment, rather than simply acknowledge the moment for what it is.

In other words, we respond in much the way Peter responded to the Transfiguration in today’s reading from Matthew. For just after manifestations of Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, Peter tried to respond to the holy moment in a rather random way - by offering to build a dwelling for the three individuals. The absurdity of his offer was the result of Peter’s unwillingness to simply be in the holiness of the moment.

Today I would invite you to consider how you respond to those holy moments in your life. If you encounter one such moment today, I would encourage you to resist the urge to do something in response – and instead, simply be in the moment. Til next time…