Putting to Death What Really Hinders Us

Since the beginning satan has been telling us lies about our not being or having enough. He told Eve that she needed to know what the forbidden tree would give her. She was not enough. Humanity was thrown out of the garden and we’ve all borne the pain ever since. In John 11:45-57 we read about what happened right after Jesus restored Lazarus to life. If you didn’t know better you might expect a party. No, it is a plan for an execution.image

The worldly leaders, in this case they were the Pharisees, were afraid of the Roman authorities. They were an occupied nation. The chief priest and leaders feared that the Romans would take away the source of their power, the Temple. The Pharisees had local authority as long as they kept the peace and made sure the Romans received their tax reverence on time. Their concern was that if Jesus continued to do astounding things like raise the dead, they people would think He was the Messiah and rise up against the Roman over-lords.

Fear is at the heart of it all. The Pharisees feared loosing control of the people. Keeping the peace sounded like a worthy cause. The end result was crucifying the Savior of the World.

We like to think we are different. If we had lived when Jesus walked the earth we would have followed Him faithfully. The reality is that in Gethsemane His closest friends ran off and Peter followed, but denied knowing Him, three times. People haven’t really changed. I have been sick all week. I had a busy work load. These posts are not going up on time. I decided to quit. I thought I’d buy my worried mind some peace by quitting. Quitting a series in no way compares with murder, but I was read to kill a series because I was not enough.

I had all the arguments worked out. My logic was faultless. I stated on a whim, finding out only two days before the series was scheduled to start. I wanted peace, but peace at what cost? Quitting would only reaffirm my insufficiency. I figured I would delete the whole 31 days original post and links and forget I ever started this series.

I pulled out the Lectionary reading to see what I had missed and as I read them I felt like a Pharisee. I was doing away with a series because I didn’t have time this week. The series is titled 31 Days. I did not give it 31 days and then declare myself a failure. So here I am. I don’t know how many posts will go up. But I am going to do my humble best to share reflections on the Word of God.

Dear Jesus, when I listen to the lies about my own unworthiness help me remember that You willingly went to the cross to pay the price for my failures. You did sacrifice Yourself for the world, including me. I thank You and fall in worship before You. All You ask is that I keep trying to serve You. Help me to follow-You-through. In Your Holy Name I pray. Amen.

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The Ministry of Reconciliation

imageWe have been called; each of us in the waters of Baptism. We have all been given the mission of sharing the Good News of God’s love made clear in Jesus Christ. The text for today, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, calls it the ministry of reconciliation.

The job we share is to help everyone know that God has made peace with man through Jesus’ blood. We are “ambassadors for Christ.” We have Good News for the world yet too often, we are afraid to speak lest we offend someone. We are to speak of reconciliation and peace. Our call is to restore wholeness. Let us be brave ambassadors and speak up.

All things are made new in Christ! These are just the words a hurting and broken world needs to hear. Today I will try to keep up the refrain. Will you join me?

Dear Jesus, You who never sinned became sin on the cross and took my punishment for me. Thank you! Those words alone are inadequate. I offer You myself in gratitude. You only ask that I share the gift of reconciliation with others. Help me today to speak of Your love for all. Help me to demonstrate something of Your unconditional love, by forgiving others. Help me to remember that all things are being made new. In Your precious Name I pray. Amen.

Bless Our Work

imagePsalm 144 is one of King David’s psalms. Here he requests that God will help him in his role as king. When I first read this I did not relate to the request for a warrior’s hands and fingers. Then it dawned upon me David was a warrior-king.

In this psalm he is asking God to help him in his work. It is not that different from when we ask for help meeting the bosses expectations or keeping the parishioners or customers, as the case may be, coming back. David starts ends and pauses in the middle of his request to be a successful king with the recognition that God our rock and refuge, we are like a breath or passing shadow, and happy are those whose God is the Lord.

David is such a human man. He has great triumphs and acclaim for the Lord. He makes terrible mistakes and repents. Through his ups and downs, the growing and failing of his faith he always turns back to God. Even in this psalm where he is asking for worldly success he stops and praises God several times. David gets distracted by life but he never long forgets the one who made life.

Dear Heavenly Father, I come before You today knowing that You know what I need better than I do. I trust in Your boundless grace. Yet I ask that if it be Your will you bless my work and make it fruitful for You. I know that whatever happens You are with me to comfort and guide me. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

Share the Fruit

The gospel text for today is Matthew 21:33-46. In order to honor the Sabbath I am keeping this post deliberately short. Today I ask only a question that I keep asking myself all day. Am I producing and sharing the fruit of the Kingdom of God?
Love
Joy
Peace
Patience
Kindness
Goodness
Faithfulness
Gentleness
Self-Control

I am planning my pies for the big, annual Church supper later this month. Here is a picture of last year’s mincemeat pie.

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Listen

I like to write about things that are uplifting and encouraging. This is only day 4 and I happened to land upon a text from Jeremiah! Today’s Lectionary reading is Jeremiah 6:1-10. The passage is a warning for the people of Jerusalem that invasion and destruction lay near. We all remember poor Jeremiah, a prisoner in a hole in the ground. The rulers and people who were profiting by the current regime in Jerusalem did not want to hear what he said.

Jeremiah told the people about the city of Jerusalem, “there is nothing but oppression within her. As a well keeps its water fresh, so she keeps fresh her wickedness” (vs. 6c&7). This was a culture that reveled in wrong-doing. A quick glance at the magazine covers in the check-out line of the supermarket reveal striking parallels. The difference between our culture and theirs lies in verse 10.

“To whom shall I speak and give warning,
that they may hear?
See, their ears are closed,
they cannot listen.
The word of the Lord is to them an object of scorn;
they take no pleasure in it.”

They would not listen to the word of The Lord. They rejected God and His prophet over and over. Period. That lead to their downfall. When God sent Jonah to Nineveh the people in that city repented, listened to the word of The Lord and God saved the city from destruction. This is by no means the only instance in the Bible where God saved a people who were doomed because they listened to Him and changed their ways. As God told Jonah He didn’t want to see people,cities and even the animals living in them destroyed.

Certainly, there are people in our culture who reject the Bible, but there are vast numbers who do not. It is not an object of scorn to most. It is true that too many don’t really take time to read it. However, it is not only the best-selling book of all time, but also the most popular app of all.image

This morning I think that is the point. I did not want to write about a text from Jeremiah, because it is depressing. I did write this because reading the whole of the Bible gives us a perspective we could not achieve only reading the happy parts. Some parts of life leave us feeling like Jeremiah, in a hole in the ground. Those parts add depth and character to us. We grow strong and focused through adversity. We don’t want to let ourselves get so consumed with the “good life” that we forget about eternal life.

Today I recommit to listening to the word of God. Cheerful or despairing it all leads me to be uplifted since it shifts my attention onto my need for my Savior, Jesus Christ. As I wrote yesterday, my focus on my own needs and wants leads me from true devotion. Jeremiah reminds me of why it is so important that Jesus went to the cross for me. As the old hymn says, “On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is shifting sand.”

Blessed Savior, you went to the cross to set me free from my mistakes. Help me to live anew, restored to turn my attention off myself and back to you. Let me listen to your word, all of it, with fresh eyes, seeing your forgiveness and promise of salvation. You are my hope and my joy. Amen.

Stop Complaining

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Today’s passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians reminds his original readers to, “Do all things without murmuring and arguing,” (Philippians 2:14 NRSV). Nearly two-thousand years later Churches everywhere can still learn a lot from this reading. Let’s be honest, it is not only in our Churches that we murmur and complain. If your family is anything like mine there is plenty of complaining going on Monday through Saturday.

The rest of the reading for today, Philippians 2:14-18;3:1-4a, is focused on realigning our attention on what is really important-the gospel of Jesus Christ. In my heart I want to be all about loving and serving God, but my biggest obstacle is my own attention wandering off to selfish pursuits. How I feel, what I want to see accomplished, my plans, my opinions, these all get in my way.

In a way, I think Paul is on to something here. First he tells them to stop complaining, then he reminds the Philippians to focus on Jesus. I’m not very good at paying attention when I am hungry or in bad pain, or too tired, etc. I need the reminder first to stop complaining about what I have to eat or how that comment someone just made makes me feel. Next I need to remember that life is not defined by what I need to get done next on my to do list. Stop complaining. Focus on Jesus.

Blessed Lord Jesus, thank you for loving me to death and back to life. Help me to say, “thank you” rather than complain. Teach me to share your love with those around me. Fill me so that I can forget myself. Amen.
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Restore us, O God

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Restore us, O God, we have squandered your fruit.

Psalm 80:7-15 is the Lectionary reading that spoke to me today. The vine God brought out of Egypt that flourished represents the people of Israel. This psalm speaks to the time of exile and destruction that followed the “glory days” of the kingdom under David and Solomon. In our youth we all have “glory days” of hope and promise as the old Bruce Springsteen song declares. At some point we discover that life isn’t as simple as it first appeared.

When we see the weeds, straggled vines and wilting fruit we become discouraged. If we are not producing the fruit we were born to make we define ourselves as failures. The fruit that Christians are supposed to produce (Galatians 5:22-23) include patience and joy. In times of trial we find the harvest lacking and long to quit. This is exactly when we need to persevere. It is the Holy Spirit who produces this fruit through us.

Psalm 80 reminds me that I don’t make joy, patience or love. God can use me to sweeten the world with this fruit if I stay connected to the true vine, Jesus (John 15:1-8), but I am only the worker in the vineyard. He is the owner. It is His harvest. Like the sons in Matthew 21:28-32 my job is just to keep going out into the vineyard to work. If the fruit He is growing in my life is poetry, then my job is to write. If it is photography, then I must take the camera and use it. If it is raising children, I must devote my attention to my family. Whatever the gift I must use it and go into the vineyard, regardless of how run-down and hopeless it may appear.image

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Forgiveness

I’ve been looking at the daily Bible readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. October 1st begins in the middle of the week with the text from Matthew 9:2-8 where Jesus heals a paralyzed man being carried on a mat. Jesus tells the man his sins are forgiven and the scribes are shocked. Who does Jesus think he is? Only God can forgive sins at the final judgement. Jesus tells them that He wants them to know that He has the authority to forgive sins in the world. That, Jesus says, was his point in forgiving the man to achieve healing.

My tendency is to become annoyed at texts that seem to reinforce the attitude that sickness is punishment for wrong-doing. Jesus clearly reprimands His disciples for this notion in the passage of the man born blind (John 9). Here in Matthew 9 Jesus is clearly making a point of His authority to forgive sins,now in this life. I think He is pointing out to all of us in this passage that we fall into a habit of thinking that we get what we deserve. The scribes believed that sins could not be forgiven until the Messiah came and made everything right in the end times. The Messiah was with them, but they missed Him because they were looking for a military leader to give them worldly authority. Jesus came to make us right with God, not give us authority over men. Our trouble today is that we often default to thinking like people still waiting.

Jesus has already died a brutal death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus has already risen on Easter, the first-born from the dead. Why do I live like it is Maundy Thursday, and I’ve just eaten my last meal and terror awaits? I fall into the trap of thinking I have not done enough good. I have lost too much time. It is too late for me to fulfill my purpose in life. Or, most often, I did not get enough checked off my to do list today. I call myself a failure. Jesus calls us all forgiven. We don’t have to wait until our life is over to see if our good deeds outweigh our mistakes. By the power of the cross we are forgiven.

Each day is a new start. Jesus, The Son of Man, The Messiah has the authority to forgive our sins. He has given me a new start in the waters of baptism. In baptism we are reborn children of God. Why do I act like I have to earn my approval? I can’t earn my way to salvation, I’m too human. I make mistakes. But, Jesus has redeemed me. I’m not a hopeless case. I am a redeemed child of the living God. I can start over. The rest of today is one of hope. Tomorrow is filled with possibility. Sure, I’ll make mistakes, those are opportunities to learn.

Lord Jesus, please heal me of my habit of trying to earn approval. I did nothing to deserve your love, but I accept it. I am willing to admit my unending need for you. I am complete in you. Make of my life what you will. Help me to try again. And again…Thank you for your eternal love and forgiveness. In your holy name, Jesus, I pray. Amen.

31 Days of Lectionary Devotions

For October 2014 I am starting a new series of devotions for each day based on the Lectionary readings. For those of you not familiar with the Lectionary, it is a way that Christians have broken the Bible up into theme related texts that are used in many Churches around the world. I am following the Revised Common Lectionary. If your Church uses the Lectionary it is the source for the Sunday Bible readings and sermon, so you may hear these topics covered in more depth in worship on Sunday. I hope that it will be a way that many people can enjoy thinking more deeply about the Bible by reflecting on topics throughout the week.

Each day as I post the link I will add it to this page so that someone who stumbles upon it in May can easily find the reflections all on a particular topic. Each day you will need to click on the link for that day. On the positive side the Lectionary runs in three-year cycles, so in 2017, you can also find reflections on what will be again the daily texts.

I am not posting the actual Bible texts for each day, as that will make the posts unduly lengthy. You may choose the translation of your choice or link to a Lectionary reading update, such as the one below.

Day 1 Matthew 9:2-8. Forgiveness

Day 2. Psalm 80. Restore Us

Day 3. Stop Complaining. Philippians 2:14-18;3:1-4a

Day 4 Listen Jeremiah 6:1-10

Day5.     Share the Fruit.    Matthew 21:33-46

Day 6. Bless Our Work. Psalm 144

Day 7. Ministry of Reconciliation 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Day 8.    Putting to Death What Really Hinders Us.     John 11:45-57

 

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