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Saturday, March 27, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 9:1-36

When Mike and I lived in Denver, there was one place we enjoyed getting out to occasionally. It was a club named Charlies’. Charlies’ had a down to earth crowd, and it played two kinds of music: dance music and country music. I had never spent much time listening to country music - so the little time we spent at Charlies’ expanded my musical repertoire greatly.

One thing Charlies’ offered that was unusual was free dance lessons. I thought it would be something fun and new to try and – let’s face it – the price was right. So we did. We struggled through the experience a couple times before we decided to quit.

And what about the experience of those country dancing lessons made us throw in the towel?

There were lots of superficial reasons. Things like the lack of other participants that made us feel exposed on the dance floor, the quality of the music, and such – but ultimately there was one thing that did us in more than any other. That was we couldn’t figure out who was going to lead. Mike had had some prior experience so you would have thought it would have been him who led. Something about my alpha-dog nature, however, caused me to resist that. Since we couldn’t decide who would lead, we ended up walking away from the experience.

This notion of who is leading is important when it comes to a variety of issues in life. This is especially true when it comes to our spiritual life. Jesus knew that very clearly – for in talking with his disciples, Jesus said: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat – I am.”

There are times when I have had a similar experience in my spiritual walk as I had on the dance floor with Mike – times when my alpha-dog nature kicks in and tells me I’d rather walk away than allow Jesus to lead. Thankfully, I’ve learned more patience over the years and realized what I would be missing out if I didn’t set my ego and self-will aside and let Jesus lead. The more I’ve done that – the more I’ve enjoyed the dance in this music called life.

Today I would ask you: who is it that leads in your life? Are you still insisting on leading, or have you arrived at the place where you let God as revealed through Jesus take the lead?

Til next time…

Friday, March 26, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 8:26-56

As I’ve done pastoral care with families of all shapes and sizes over the years, I’ve learned a lot about how human beings deal with change. One of the most important things I’ve learned has to do with who change is hardest for. Most people assume that change is hardest on the individual who is making the change. That is certainly true in some cases. In other cases, however, I believe that change is often hardest on those around the one who makes the change.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. Let’s say the father of a family has a drinking problem. Over the years, the rest of the family learns to adjust their lives in order to accommodate the father’s drinking. The man’s wife, for instance, might get use to making telephone calls to explain her husband’s absence to his co-workers and loved ones. The man’s son might get used to picking up his drunken father off the floor or couch and getting him back to the bedroom. The man’s daughter might get used to making sure no one listens to the television or radio too loudly so that no one wakes up their drunken father. Every member of the family learns exactly how to act in order to keep things running.

Then one day the father hits bottom and decides to stop drinking. On the surface, you would think each family member would be thrilled with that development. In some cases, that’s absolutely true; in other cases, the change angers family members.

“Why wouldn’t the family members be thrilled?” you might ask.

Because each of the family members would be forced to abandon familiar ways of thinking and being and discover new ways of living. Some family members hate the thought of having to adapt to a new reality. In other words, they buy into an old proverb that says, “Better the devil you know than the Devil you don’t.”

That principle is at the heart of the first story in today’s reading. In that story, Jesus goes into a community and heals one of their members who was possessed by demons. Instead of being grateful that one of the members of the community has been healed, members of the community respond by getting upset and going after the one that caused the change – Jesus!

Today I would invite you to examine your life and see if there are relationships in your life where a loved one has made a radical change in his or her life that forced you to re-examine your way of being. How did you deal with that change? Did you try to avoid the new reality by redirecting your frustrations in other directions, or did you focus your energy on try to adapt to the new world this change called into being?

Til next time…

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 8:1-25

As I have mentioned several times in my blog, I am an individual who is in the process of recovering from co-dependence. When I say that to others, they asking what I mean by the word codependence. My most direct response is: “Codependence is when you depend upon others to determine how you think and feel.”

So how does this look in real life?

When I’m in a codependent place, for instance, I start thinking: “If I’m doing a good job as a pastor then both the individuals within the church and the church itself will grow.”

As long as individuals and the church are growing, then I’m in a good headspace. When individuals or the church goes through a difficult time, however, I begin to turn on myself and accept complete responsibility for the situation. I wish I could say such thinking has been rare for me; sadly, however, that’s a road I’ve gone down that path more than I’d like to admit.

In today’s parable from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’ words remind me of an important point. There are more factors in the equation than I tend to remember. There’s the sower (i.e. me); there’s the seed (i.e. the Message); and there’s the ground (i.e. the individuals and the church). Each of those three elements must be willing to do their part in order to produce a healthy environment. One of those elements can’t step forward and absolve the others of their responsibility. Each element must claim its share. In other words, we’re all in it together. When I ground myself in the wisdom of that principle, I become not only a health pastor – but a healthy person as well.

All of this makes me wonder if there are areas in your life where your thinking might be codependent? Areas in which you are holding yourself accountable not only for your own behavior but for the response of another/others as well. If so, remember the Parable of the Sower. It will remind you to focus on your own piece of the process. Let others accept responsibility for themselves.

Til next time…

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 7:36-50

There are many things about the society in which we live that I can honestly celebrate. There are other things about it that cause me incredible frustration. There is one thing in particular that drives me up a wall; how unforgiving we can be to one another.

If you read the newspapers, for instance, you’ll find story after story about how a person has made either a personal or professional mistake and was immediately taken down. All we seem to care about is either getting rid of the individual as fast as possible or making the individual into the punch line of jokes.

I’ve watched this happen in numerous areas. I watched it play out in the dynamics over what happened with former President Clinton, I watched it happen to the president of the National Evangelical Association Ted Haggard, and I watched it happen to Cy Young pitcher Roger Clemens. It is rare when we give an individual who has made a mistake the opportunity to move beyond it to a place of wholeness.

This approach stands in stark contrast to what Jesus was talking about in today’s reading when he spoke about forgiveness. In setting up the point of his story, Jesus laid out the following scenario: “Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”

Simon fell into “trap” beautifully by saying, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”

Jesus then used that answer to justify the inclusion of those who society might consider “screw ups”.

Today I would ask you to consider whether or not there is someone in your life – a loved one or perhaps a celebrity – in whose fall you were quick to respond with judgment or dismissal: someone whom you thought was beyond the possibility of redemption. If you find that someone, consider the powerful things that might happen if you did what Jesus did - created room for the person to demonstrate the transformative effect of the forgiveness they have experienced.

Til next time…

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 7:1-35

As Americans living in the 21st Century, many of us have grown accustomed to a culture that allows us to profess one set of priorities and values with our lips and another set with our lives.

We can say, for instance, that family is the most important thing to us. And yet when it comes to spending time with our family, they may get only the time that’s been left over after every other commitment in our life has been tended to.

Or – as a people – we Americans might say that children are our most precious resource. And yet if you looked at the pay scale for those who work in child care centers taking care of our children, you’ll find that most of them are paid much less than those who take care of our cars.

As long as we say the right thing, many of us feel as if we get a free ticket to live our lives in a completely different manner. There is one force in our lives, however, that doesn’t allow us to get away with such duplicity.

That force?


He has an amazing way of exposing those differences between our professed values and our lived realities. In this morning’s passage from Luke, for instance, Jesus culminated his teaching by saying: “Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they. The proof of the pudding is in the eating” (The Message).

If someone were to examine your life today – scouring over things such as your daily calendar or your checkbook – what would they learn about you and the way you invest your resources such as your time and money? What proof might they find in your pudding?

Til next time…

Monday, March 22, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 6:27-49

The passage of the Health Care Reform was a wonderful moment to live through. Our household certainly knew first hand of the limitations of the current health care system. You see several years ago, I chose to withdraw my participation in the denomination health care plan since the premiums were extremely expensive and the coverage was very limited. This meant we went on Mike’s insurance plan.

At first this wasn’t a problem because Mike enjoyed his job. Over the years, however, Mike’s enjoyment of his position in Denver declined dramatically. In fact it got to the point where Mike hated his job. Unfortunately, Mike was forced to continue in the position because we wouldn’t have been able to get coverage due to a pre-existing condition that one of us had. That meant Mike was forced to spend four years in a job he hated simply so we could have health insurance. Our story never showed up in any of the statistics used in the debate over the issue; unfortunately, it was a story that millions of American had lived as well. Needless to say, we felt very strongly about the need for reform.

Whenever I would hear opponents of the reform use fear-based arguments to support their position, I would get extremely agitated and ask: “Doesn’t that person care about the tens of millions of people in our country who have no health insurance?!” And from there, things would attitudinally deteriorate for me very quickly.

It’s at just such moments I am challenged with the words Jesus spoke in today’s reading: “Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person.”

Thinking of those words in the midst of the healthcare debate reminded me that those words aren’t simply platitudes - they are difficult words meant to guide us through the most challenging moments of our lives. If I can hold on to the spirit of those words at the most trying of moments, then I can hold on to them almost any time.

Today, I would ask, “What circumstance pushes your buttons and causes you to want to ignore Jesus’ call to love your enemy?” Once you identify that situation and the threat it poses to your spiritual centeredness, you are half way there.

Til next time…