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Saturday, November 28

Today’s Readings: Psalm 63; Micah 7:11-20; Matthew 20:29-34; 1 Peter 4:7-19

Have you ever noticed there are some skills you have that benefit you greatly in some situations but are a hindrance in other situations? I have one of those skills. That skill is my natural tendency to be a problem solver.

When I’m working with groups, for instance, my ability to solve problems can be incredibly helpful. The skill is also helpful around the house as I tend to take on challenges right away and bring them to resolution. There is one area in my life, however, where that can be a problem. That area? My service extending pastoral care to those in need.

You see one of the greatest mistakes I made in my first few years of ministry was to assume those who came to me in my role as pastor expected me to be a problem solver and “fix” their problem. Over time I learned two things about what people hope for when they seek me out. First (and foremost) they want a sensitive and compassionate person who will listen and genuinely care about their plight. And second, they want a helpful resource person against whom they can bounce off ideas. Rarely – if ever – do they come expecting you to simply “fix” the problem for them. Once I learned those lessons, my life got a lot easier (and my ministry became much more effective).

If I had paid closer attention to the examples from Jesus ministry in the Bible, I would have learned much earlier effective ways to facilitate the healing presence of God. Take today’s story from Matthew as an example. When Jesus encountered the blind men sitting by the roadside, he set a good example for us to follow in dealing with individuals in need. When Jesus first encountered the men, he didn’t force himself into the situation; instead, Jesus stepped back and waited to be invited in. Once he was invited in, Jesus didn’t make any assumptions about what the men wanted of him. He asked an open ended question (“What do you want me to do for you?”), and then waited for their response. It was only then that Jesus went the next step and facilitated healing for the two.

I’m sure you have instances in your own life where others seek you out for advice and/or counsel. If so, I would encourage you to remember Jesus’ powerful example, and resist the urge to “fix” the situation on your own terms. Instead, use the tools toward which Jesus pointed us and see what sort of healing you might be able to facilitate for your loved one. Til next time…

Friday, November 27

Today’s Readings: Psalm 84; Isaiah 24:14-23; Matthew 20:17-28; 1 Peter 3:13-4:6

I learn all sorts of interesting stuff via my participation on Facebook. This week I learned that there was a document unleashed on the world called The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience. You can find a copy of the document at

While there are certainly many perspectives contained in the document with which I disagree; I would certainly defend the right of those who participated in the formation of the document to take their stand of conscience. I would expect they would defend my right to disagree. If not, they would be hyprocrites since their third truth they seek to defend is “the rights of conscience and religious liberty.”

There is aspect of the Declaration, however, that disturbs me greatly. In referencing their support of their three foundational principles, the creators of the document wrote: “[the fondational principles] are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture…” Here’s what that piece of the statement raises for me.

Since Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the 4th Century, Christianity has enjoyed a place of power and privilege in most Western societies. Sadly at times this power and privilege has caused us to lose sight of the very principles Jesus espoused (see an overview of Christian history ranging from the Crusades and Inquisition to the establishment of the slave trade). We have developed such a sense of entitlement that we have come to confuse honest dialogue with “an assault from powerful forces in our culture”. In other words, we have confused the sort of suffering that was referenced in places like today’s passage from 1 Peter with the loss of one’s sense of entitlement.

Even more so, there seems to be a hidden notion that suffering/loss of entitlement is always bad and must be done away with. I would disagree. As the author of 1 Peter noted: “Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (1 Peter 3:14 from The Message).

So what does this mean in everyday terms?

Lots of folks would interpret the ramifications differently. For me here’s what it means. As a Christian, I feel compelled to actively respond to the issues that are important to me first hand – rather than simply make broad pronouncements to others. When it comes to issues involving unplanned/unwanted pregnancies, for instance, I have spent a good deal of time over the years working to ensure individuals had access to information and resources that would prevent those pregnancies. When it comes to issues involving the health and vitality of marriages, I provide pre-martial/pre-holy unon counseling to couples I join and make sure I make myself available to couples in crisis seeking spiritual support. When it comes to issues involving “the rights of conscience and religious liberty”, I work to defend those rights by speaking my conscience and encouraging those around me to do the same – even if they disagree with me. Each of these actions has brought about some degree of personal suffering/risk.

I would be the first to admit it takes a lot longer to approach issues this way. In the end, however, I have found such an approach to be immensely gratifying as I have seen it change attitudes and lives (including my own!).

So how do you perceive what it means to suffer for what is right? Does it mean enduring a loss of power and privilege, or does suffering involve other things for you? Til next time…

Thursday, November 26

Today’s Readings: Psalm 116; Zephaniah 3:1-13; Matthew 20:1-16; 1 Peter 2:11-25

During the Lenten season eight and a half years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a Bible study led by the interim pastor of my home church at the time. The study was a series exploring the parables of Jesus.

In that Bible study, the pastor commented that Jesus is sneaky in the way he set up his parables because he was always giving us details that – in the larger scope of things – weren’t relevant to the point he was trying to make. Those details were given as a sort of test to see if you could see beyond the details and grasp his larger point.

In today’s parable from Matthew, for instance, Jesus gives lots of details about the times of day the various workers started working. Those details are given to set us up to assume those who worked longer hours would get paid more. Jesus point, however, is that in the end everyone got the same payoff - regardless of when the individuals started working.

The parable is one more example of how the values Jesus’ points us toward often don’t make sense by human standards. The values he calls us to contain more grace, more mercy, and more compassion that we dare imagine. That’s why we so often get caught off guard by the lesson of Jesus’ parables. So how do Jesus’ expansive values affect you? Do they put you off because they don’t seem “fair” according to human standards; or do they excite and motivate you to further explore the radically inclusive values which Jesus embodied? Til next time…

Wednesday, November 25

Today’s Readings: Psalm 96; Obadiah 15-21; Matthew 19:23-30; 1 Peter 2:1-10

When I was in high school I had an experience like virtually everyone on the face of the earth. There was a kid who was in the grade behind me who got on my nerves more than any other human being on the face of the planet. He was the most conceited person I had ever met. He was convinced, for instance, that he was God’s gift to women. He was also the most condescending person I had ever been around. He thought he was smarter and wittier than anyone else. Oh, and did I forget to mention he was incredibly two-faced. He would pretend to be one of your best friends to your face, and then berate you when he hung out with others.

For the first couple of years after I graduated, I would check in with friends to see how my former classmates were doing. Whenever I did this, I always made a point of asking about this individual. I hate to admit it now, but there was a part of me that was hoping he would fail (i.e. drop of college, have a troubled relationship, etc.).

I know, I know – I was being incredibly small and petty. Eventually I got over it. In an odd sort of way I’m thankful for having had that experience, however, because it allows me to understand some of the sentiments contained in passages like today’s passage from Obadiah.

As I read the opening words from the passage – “God’s Judgment Day is near for all the godless nations” – I can almost feel the adrenalin rush that felt when I would be around my nemesis in the halls of my old high school. “As you have done, it will be done to you” – the passage continues... As I read those words I’m almost tempted to stick out my tongue and say, “Neiner, Neiner, Neiner”. Needless to say, they reflect that very human part of us that wants to see those who have wronged us fail miserably (especially if they have caused us pain or done us wrong).

Thankfully, today’s passage from Obadiah doesn’t leave us there – in a place where we could be content to simply gloat over the downfall of an enemy. No, the passage ultimately reminds us what’s really important – that a rule (or way of being) be established “that honor’s God’s kingdom” (Obadiah 21 from The Message). That bottom line helps get my thinking back on track.

Perhaps you have someone in your life who pushes all of your buttons – someone whose downfall you are secretly even hoping (dare I say praying) for. If that’s the case, I would encourage you to quit personalizing the situation and let go of your simmering animosity. Re-channel your energies into praying for something far more important: the establishment of a world “that honor’s God’s kingdom”. Til next time…

Tuesday, November 24

Today’s Readings: Psalm 12; Nahum 1:1-13; Matthew 19:13-22; 1 Peter 1:13-25

Like many progressive Christians, I struggle with knowing what to do with the traditional language of atonement theology. By that I mean I struggle to know what to do with words that suggest Jesus was a blood sacrifice offered in order to make up for humanity’s sin - language such as that contained in today’s passage from 1 Peter that reads: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19 from The Message).

I struggle with the “blood” language because I can’t help but resist the notion that the only way God could take God’s relationship with humanity to a new level was through such an act of sheer brutality.

As I sat with my resistance to atonement theology today in my time of centering, I began to experience the word “blood” in a new way. I began to think of it not as a ticket meant to be cashed in to purchase one’s redemption but rather as the ultimate expression of Jesus’ love. It is that love that takes me to another level of awareness/being in my relationship with God.

That means I read the culminating words of 1 Peter 1:18-19 as: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the previous [love] of Christ”. That’s where I can find value in such words.

Enough of my ramblings about this thing called atonement theology. How do you view it? That’s a question that should keep you engaged throughout the day. Til next time…

Monday, November 23

Today’s Readings: Psalm 62; Joel 3:1-2, 9-17; Matthew 19:1-12; 1 Peter 1:1-12

It would be nice if the most meaningful lessons from life came during easy times. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Sometimes the most important learnings we live into are those that happen during the tough times. I learned this during my sophomore and junior years of high school.

You see I had been born with a condition called club feet. That means that in my case both of my feet were bent virtually backwards. I had a series of corrective surgeries at the Shriner’s Hospital during my first year of life. The surgeries went well, and I was soon able to do the same things as the other kids. I loved sports and participated in football, wrestling, and tennis from the time that I was in the third grade on. In addition to the fun I had playing the sports, I also got to experience what it was like to be in the popular crowd.

Then, during my sophomore year of high school, the doctors told me I needed to undergo another series of corrective surgeries. These surgeries interrupted my participation in sports during my sophomore and junior years of high school. I went from being one of the insiders because of my identity as an athlete to being pushed out to the outer rings of some of the same social circles.

Through the experience I learned that popularity usually isn’t just about who you are as a person – your degree of popularity is also linked to your access to things like money, power, and social status. It was a tough – but helpful – lesson for me to learn at the ripe old age of 15. I was able to become a stronger, more empathetic person because of that difficult experience.

I was reminded of that experience as I read the author’s words from 1 Peter today when he wrote: “Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine” (1 Peter 1:6 from The Message). Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience – a time of difficulty when the content of both your character and faith was forged. If so, I would invite you to sit back and reflect on how that experience allowed you to come through it with a better understanding of yourself and your faith. Til next time…