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Saturday, March 20, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 6:1-26

There are some moments when you read pieces of scripture in the abstract and focus on their poetic qualities; there are other times when you read those same pieces of scripture as if they are an instructional manual to which you hang on for dear life. You never quite know when you’ll read a passage in which manner.

Take this morning’s scriptural passage from Luke, for example. That passage includes a section most commonly referred to as The Beatitudes. Under normal circumstances, I read The Beatitudes as a lyrical exploration of how Jesus’ values are at odds with the world’s values. I often walk away from The Beatitudes with a warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from an enhanced sense of mission and purpose for my life.

Today, however, I read them as if they were an instruction manual to pull me through challenging times. Let me tell you why I say that.

One of the most exhilarating moments in an individual’s life is when you receive a sense that you are being called to something. I lived that experience last summer and fall as I received a call to go to a new ministry. In the process of answering that call, however, I quickly realized there were tremendous sacrifices that had to be made. Some of those sacrifices were personal (i.e. leaving behind many people that I had grown to love and a ministry with which I had grown comfortable) while others were financial (i.e. trying to sell a piece of property in a historically bad economy). In the process of answering the call, I accrued a tremendous amount of loss in each area.

I had lived through the experience of “losing” people in my life when I had moved away to attend seminary so I had what it would take to live through that series of personal losses. The financial losses were much more of a challenge for me to live through. After six months of exploring every angle available to us to deal with the financial challenges that we had been living through, that coming-to-terms process culminated yesterday when I cashed out a quarter of my retirement to pay off most of the debt that had accrued from the move.

That was a tough decision to make. And then happens? I sat down this morning and read those wonderful words from the Gospel of Luke: “You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all, God’s kingdom is there for the finding…”

Instead of receiving those words as platitudes, I connected with their deeper meaning. I read those words and realized the beauty of what you gain in life when you put something before your material wants and needs. I thought about the series of relationships I have gained these past six months and the challenges and rewards of working with a community that’s in the process of transformation – and how richly blessed I feel from all of this. I wouldn’t have known any of this had I not been willing to take a risk and lose it all.

I know it’s easy in our culture to hold on to the known and the comfortable: to make the status quo a god of sorts. But today I ask you to consider if there is a place in your own life where God might be calling you to take a risk and step out in faith. At first the sense of loss might cause you to want to ignore God’s call – but remember this: there is something far greater than loss that accompanies a call. And that something is the series of blessings that come with it.

Til next time…

Friday, March 19, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 5

One of my very favorite sayings was given by St. Francis of Assisi. The saying goes something like this (I say something because I’ve seen several variations on the theme): “Preach the Gospel at all times – if necessary, use words.”

The purpose of those words is to call us to embody the principles and teachings of Jesus first and foremost with our lives. Words should only be used later to testify to our experience of the God revealed through Jesus. What a wonderful way of establishing priorities!

Of course St Francis wasn’t the first to suggest that our lives are the most important testament to our faith. There was this other gentleman named Jesus who was also pretty big on that idea.

In today’s reading from Luke 5, for instance, Jesus is quoted as saying to the leper whom he had just healed: “Your cleansed and obedient life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done” (The Message).

If you are anything like me, it seems much easier to talk about the principles of my faith rather than actually live by those principles.

Today’s reading then gives me a great challenge. It invites me to examine my life and see if there are places and/or relationships where I would much rather talk about the implications of my faith rather than embody them. Maybe you have an area like that in your life as well. If so, take a few moments throughout your day and remember the grounding sentiments of Jesus’ words – let your life bear witness to what I have done…

Til next time…

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 4

In seminary I was exposed to a concept that was totally new to me called bibliolatry.

“What is bibliolatry?” you might ask.

Well, in its broadest sense bibliolatry is the worship of a particular book. Within the context of the discussion in which it was first introduced to me, the professor said that bibliolatry is when Christians put the worship of the Bible above the worship of God.

“That’s absurd,” you might think. “Isn’t the Bible intimately connected with God? How can you separate the two?”

I can certainly understand why you might wonder that. However, over the years I have run into more than one person that has fallen prey to the temptation of which my professor spoke. When you engage bibliolators, for instance, they talk about God only in relation to scriptural references. Every matter of concern is also considered settled once references to scripture have been made. It’s almost as if bibliolators have become so focused on the written word that they no longer have need for God. Kind of ironic, isn’t it?

Today’s passage from Luke 4 shows the dangers of relying solely on scripture – for in the passage it’ not just a holy person like Jesus who uses scripture to make his point: the devil is also quite adept at using scripture to his advantage. The devil’s use of scripture in the story is a great wake up call for us for it reminds us that simply quoting a text is not enough. What’s most important is having a vital relationship with/connection to a God toward whom the text points. That’s what matters most!

Today, I would ask you to think about what role the sacred writings of our faith play in your faith. Do those writings inform you relationship with/connection to God, or have those writings become a substitute for it?

Til next time…

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 3

On the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator, my personality type is ENTJ. Each of those four letters indicates something different about my personhood. The second letter, for instance, refers broadly to the way in which I go about gathering information to make a decision. Some people are S’s – meaning they are sensory folks who gather information from facts and figures as they prepare to make decisions. N (intuitive) people like myself are different. We go by our gut instinct. We don’t like to be too tied down to facts and figures.

This way of being extends to all areas of my life – including the way I read Scripture. Often times when I get to passages that I feel are redundant or contain information that is not relevant to my life, I find myself skimming some of the material. When I get to genealogies like the one contained in today’s passage, I’ll quickly skim over it and perhaps look for a couple of names that I recognize before moving on. Or when I read about John the Baptist saying, “It’s your life that must change, not your skin” – I figure it’s a bit of overkill when he spells out what life change would look like for individuals like the tax collectors and soldiers.

Here’s where my personality type can get me into trouble. What those two items from today’s reading tell me are that Jesus’ words and his story aren’t simply some abstraction; those words and that story are rooted in the “small” details of our lives – details that help the story leap off the page and into the context of our life.

In the midst of the busyness of your life – a life filled with details – I would invite you to find time to pause and ask yourself, “In what details do I see God today?”

Til next time…

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 2

Several years ago, a new friend entered my life. I’ll call the friend Susan. Susan had a tremendous sense of humor, and I enjoyed spending time with her a great deal. We shared lots to time together over a period of several months and got to know each other very well.

Then one day Susan suddenly disappeared on me. I sent several emails to her that went unanswered. I tried calling both her home and cell phone and got only her voice mail. I had no clue what had happened to her.

Over time, I explored every possible avenue about what I might have done that caused her to suddenly withdrawal from me. I tried to remember if I had made a flip comment that caused her pain. I re-read several of our email exchanges to see if some conversation might have gone awry. I practically drove myself out of my mind wondering what I had done to cause the separation.

Then one morning about a year later, I turned my cell phone on and there was a message from Susan waiting for me. In her voicemail, she explained that her father had gotten seriously ill with cancer. His illness threw Susan into a tailspin. In the months that followed his diagnosis, his health declined rapidly. Susan’s father finally passed a few earlier.

Susan went on in the voicemail to explain that her pain had caused her to shut down completely. That was why she was unable to respond to my emails and voicemails. Only now - as the shock was beginning to wear off - was she able to talk. In the days that followed we had a great time renewing our friendship.

That episode taught me an important lesson about life. Not everything that occurs in life is about me. The silence that I assumed was caused by something I said or did wasn’t about me at all.

Of course I’m not the only one to twist an occurrence and make it about me when it really wasn’t. In today’s passage from the second chapter of Luke, we hear the story of a twelve year old boy (Jesus) who wandered off from his parents (Mary and Joseph). When Mary and Joseph found Jesus after a time of separation, Mary said: “Young man, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you.” To which Jesus replied: “Didn’t you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?” It was Jesus’ compassionate way of saying, “My absence wasn’t about you – Mary and Joseph.”

The incident from Jesus’ childhood invites us to explore the events of our own lives and ask: “Is there something that has happened in one of my relationships that I have made about me that is perhaps not about me at all?”

Til next time…

Monday, March 15, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 1

I know my reading schedule must seem totally random to you. I thought I should take a moment and explain what’s driving it. This year, I want to read the entire Bible through so I’m using a version of Eugene Peterson’s The Message called Remix//Pause. The version gives one Old Testament reading a day and one New Testament reading a day. Instead of trying to read both selections each day, I’m starting the year by reading just the New Testament readings to help focus myself. Unfortunately the order of New Testament readings was created to fit the themes of the accompanying Old Testament readings – so without the Old Testament readings, the order may seem completely random. For that I apologize. If you hang in there with me, I should reach the Old Testament sometime in May. I hope that helps you understand where I’m coming from.

One of my all-time favorite television shows is Ally McBeal. This past Christmas, my partner Mike bought me the DVD box set of the entire series. Over the past several weeks, I’ve been watching episodes from season one. In one of the first season episodes, Ally is introduced to an eccentric psychiatrist played by Tracey Ullman. The psychiatrist suggests that Ally chose a theme song as a way of helping Ally better understand herself.

Ever since I heard that suggestion, I wondered what song would I chose to be my theme. I pondered the question for several weeks. Then one day early this Lenten season, as I was preparing to drive to my appointment for spiritual direction, I found an old CD that had slipped down in a crack beside my car seat. It was a CD of Ray Charles. I hadn’t heard it for awhile so I slid the CD into my player. Within a few minutes, I heard the song that I immediately claimed as my theme song.

It was a song written by Paul McCartney (though he had help with the music from a couple of friends named John and George). Though the inspiration for the song was a dream that Paul had about his mother Mary McCartney (who had died from cancer when Paul was just 14), one can hear the song and think of it in the context of today’s passage from Luke 1 – especially the part where the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and informs her of her upcoming pregnancy. Mary responds to the news by saying, “Let it be with me just as you say.”

Let it be… what simple yet profound words to live by.

That refrain captures my desire to live in the moment and let go of my control issues; that’s why I’ve chosen it for my theme song. I offer the link below to Ray Charles’ rendition of the song. I hope the music invites you to claim the wisdom of Mary’s words for yourself.

Til next time…

Craig's Theme Song