April 7, 2020
Scripture: Matthew 23:13
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
Thought for the Day: This is the first of what are often called the Seven Woes. Jesus does not present his usual compassion, but as he moves throughout this Holy Week, he lays down some challenges, mostly on the religious leadership. So basically most of you are fine, but I’m the one who needs to listen and to feel the discomfort. Today, I hear these words of Jesus with a specific group of clergy in mind. There are some churches that continue to meet face-to-face in this pandemic. Now Christians are always quick to remind me that we do not judge, but let’s be very clear about what scripture teaches us. As followers of Jesus, we do not judge the people around us who are still searching and exploring spirituality. We love these people, as we do all folks. But Jesus, Paul, Peter and other voices in the early church spoke harshly against aspects of their own religious establishment. They judged garbage theology and self-centered religious leaders in the early Christian movement. There was often little room for compassion or kindness if one claimed to be a follower of Jesus but did a poor job of portraying Jesus. What I see happening among a handful of Christian leaders who are opening their church buildings is an arrogance and complete disregard to the central teaching of love. Instead, there is manipulation as a few pastors lay guilt at the feet of the fearful, suggesting that spiritual strength and health are tied to a demonstration of faith – which they suggest is coming to a church service in this pandemic. And of course, these pastors are strangely enjoying the publicity. They might have talked themselves into believing their actions are God-inspired, but it sure appears more like a narcissistic attribute that is inviting others to endanger themselves so that a leader can have his (I’ve only seen male pastors) ego fed. If we want to talk real demonstrations of faith, let’s talk about those who are going into the hospitals each day and placing themselves at risk. Faith is not about getting some sort of magical protection against the virus. Faith is the awareness of a calling from God and the courage to fall that call.
Thus ends the lesson from Bruce’s Soapbox, but let me add that ego is one of the great concerns for most of us preachers. I confess that it is one of the areas where I spend a lot of time in prayer and self-reflection as the desire for praise and affirmation can become more powerful than one’s desire to serve Jesus. This is where sisters and brothers in the faith need to call out one another with honesty and grace. I have a handful of friends who have full permission to hold me accountable, to call me out when I need to be called out. I also go to them for advice and insight, and they have been known to tell me things I did not want to hear. Yet in most cases, their wisdom has been God-given.
Prayer: Gracious God, continue to inspire our creativity in regard to what it means to worship and serve you. Thinking that we must worship face-to-face diminishes our perception of you and how you work in this world. Our thoughts can never limit you, but they can limit our capacity to see you. May your Spirit awaken within each of us a vision of how you are at work in this moment. Amen.
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April 6, 2020
Prayer for Holy Week:
It is different from any ordinary week!
It does not resemble any previous Holy Week!
A journey in confinement;
following Jesus in a time of quarantine;
waiting in a time of waiting.
O Holy Spirit, O Jesus who beckons us to walk this difficult road, awaken us to faithfulness in the moment. So many who shared in that first Palm Parade convinced themselves that nothing would stand in their way. Strong voices — Passionate cries — Steadfast declarations! But as the dust cleared, and the path was revealed, so many disappeared – so many felt the discomfort and chose a self-imposed quarantine from the calling of Christ.
Fidelity and devotion in a time such as this shouldn’t be any different than any other day, but it is. Allow for this Holy Week to form us as those whose convictions and commitment can never be isolated or distanced. Call us once again to witness and experience your love, O God, enfleshed in Jesus —
Jesus in the Upper Room,
and the Tomb.
Let your church be made ready for Easter – Reborn, Empowered and Teeming with love.
Let your church dispersed, but not disbanded, embrace the news that death could not restrain love.
Let your church embrace the news that a virus cannot and will not suppress resurrection.
This is our dedicated petition as we begin Holy Week.
April 5, 2020
Scripture: 1 Samuel 25:25-26
Please, my master, pay no attention to this despicable man Nabal. He’s exactly what his name says he is! His name means fool, and he is foolish! But I myself, your servant, didn’t see the young men that you, my master, sent. I pledge, my master, as surely as the LORD lives and as you live, that the LORD has held you back from bloodshed and taking vengeance into your own hands! But now let your enemies and those who seek to harm my master be exactly like Nabal!
Thought for the Day: A lesser known character in scripture is a woman named Abigail. She is married to a jerk (scripture uses words like hardheaded, fool and evil to describe him) named Nabal which actually means fool. That should probably be our first clue. Let’s just say he has ticked off King David, and Nabal is about ready to receive a major beatdown from the King. Abigail meets David and his army along the road, to catch him before he gets to Nabal. She is described as intelligent and full of good judgment. It’s as if Abigail is everything that Nabal is not. Not only does she stand between David and Nabal, but David’s plan was to kill all of Nabal’s men…who were in fact innocent. How often is someone needing to fix the errors of the arrogant and extraordinarily brainless? How often is the foolishness of one dangerous to the many? We need the Abigails of this world who are willing to leap in front of the fast moving train (that was David and his army) to explain and calm the situation, doing so to save the lives of the blameless. Let us pray that God sends plenty of Abigails our way.
Prayer: For the gracious hearts of those who do good work, O Lord, I give you thanks! I express this gratitude for those who are often cleaning up the messes of individuals whose egos were a little bit too big. Amen.
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April 4, 2020
Scripture: Judges 4:4-5
Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was a leader of Israel at that time. She would sit under Deborah’s palm tree between Ramah and Bethel in the Ephraim highlands, and the Israelites would come to her to settle disputes.
Thought for the Day: Deborah is one of the 12 Judges in the Book of Judges, though she is the only woman among the group. I must confess that I have always been drawn to Deborah because she tells you how it’s going to be, and she doesn’t mince words, especially when she breaks into song (chapter 5). When Barak was hesitant about going into battle, and suggested that he would go only if Deborah went with him, her response was classic. She said, “I’ll definitely go with you. However, the path you’re taking won’t bring honor to you, because the LORD will hand over Sisera to a woman” (vs.9). In a time when women rarely had a voice, and quite often their characters in scripture were not valued enough to even receive a name, I appreciate what I can only describe as one who was sassy, saucy and secure. In today’s world, a strong and confident woman is still not respected in the way a man is (sadly), but in those ancient days, Deborah must have caught some people off guard. It’s interesting that she not only received attention in the Book of Judges, but she received two full chapters, only being out “worded” by the story of Samson. Since the victors, and those in power, write history and the national stories, what does it tell us that men (probably a man wrote Judges) included Deborah in the story?
Prayer: I don’t ever wish to be arrogant, O God of Grace, but I desire to be strong and confident in my faith. Let Deborah be a model for me as I live and serve with a spirit of assurance and resilience. Amen.
April 3, 2020
Scripture: Joshua 2:3-6
Then the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come only to search out the whole land.” But the woman took the two men and hid them. Then she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they came from. And when it was time to close the gate at dark, the men went out. Where the men went I do not know. Pursue them quickly, for you can overtake them.” She had, however, brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax that she had laid out on the roof.
Thought for the Day: Rahab is the second woman of strength and grace that I want to reflect on this week. Now what makes this a bit challenging is that Rahab lied. It is always dangerous to suggest that doing something wrong can actually do something good. It does happen, but I have a concern about opening that door too wide. With that said, women throughout history have required a bit more creativity and wisdom to navigate the patriarchal structures of society. Often the rules did not apply to them, and the rules given to them by society would often change without warning. Yet Rahab’s motives were pure, for she later (vs.11) offered an explanation to the Israelite spies that she hid. She said, “We heard this and our hearts turned to water. Because of you, people can no longer work up their courage. This is because the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on earth below.” Word had come to Rahab about what God had done for the Israelites and with the Israelites. The story she heard was so compelling that doing nothing was not an option. She not only saved the lives of two individuals through her quick and creative response, but she also participated in the movement of God in the world. What does it say about an individual who knows nothing about this God of the Hebrew people one day, and then after hearing a story was so moved as to put her own life on the line for complete strangers? There must have been within her a unique spiritual availability that made accommodations for this new and life-giving understanding of the divine. To be that available, and then to act upon it with grace and sacrifice, is really quite amazing. It’s interesting, Rahab heard the story of God liberating the enslaved Israelites, and then she did the very same thing – just on a slightly smaller scale.
Prayer: Whenever my take on you, O God, is skewed and off base, I ask for the spiritual openness of Rahab. Allow me to see you so clearly that my life reflects what I have seen in you. Amen.
April 2, 2020
Scripture: Genesis 20:10-11
And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What were you thinking of, that you did this thing?” Abraham said, “I did it because I thought, There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.
Thought for the Day: For the next few days, I want to look at some strong and grace-filled women in the Bible. In yesterday’s online study, I talked about Abraham and Sarah, and the faithfulness and hope they demonstrated throughout their lives. I was also quick to remind people that Abraham and Sarah were far from perfect, often questioning and doing other less than stellar things along the way. In today’s story, Abraham gets nervous and basically denies that Sarah is his wife. This leads to the powerful man, Abimelech, taking Sarah to be one of his wives. It’s interesting, there is no sense that Abraham is upset or even questioning his decision of silence. Now I’m not a woman, and I have no plans of speaking with any sort of authority on behalf of women, but I’m going to guess that such actions would have really ticked off most women. I know it was a different time, with different expectations around gender and power. But let’s be honest, that is just embarrassing! I’ve heard preachers suggest that it was all a part of Abraham’s larger plan, but there is nothing in scripture to suggest such a thing. This is one of the great characters in the Bible showing a moment of weakness, might I even call it cowardliness. I’m not looking for him to play the macho guy, but to so easily deny the most important relationship in his life says something about Abraham. But let’s get back to Sarah. Again, it’s a different time and place, and Sarah probably did not have a lot of options at this point. She chooses to re-engage the relationship she has with Abraham after God intervenes. It’s as if Sarah recognizes Abraham’s sheer stupidity and timidity, while also seeing the greater picture of their God-given mission. Let’s be clear, women need to protect themselves against violence of all kinds – they should never feel obligated to return to a relationship that is unhealthy or dangerous. With that said, I don’t believe that’s the case with Sarah. In this situation, I picture Sarah rolling her eyes and shaking her head in disbelief at the excuses Abraham made to Abimelech, but she was not going to let some spineless dimwittedness to stand in the way of God’s calling. I find that impressive!
Prayer: Holy God, thank you for shaking people up whenever fear has them doing something really stupid. Let me be a bit more honest – if I’m the one doing something really stupid, allow your grace to gently shake me up. And if at all possible, may I have a Sarah who demonstrates grace in the face of my shallow and ridiculous choices. Amen.
April 1, 2020
Scripture: Genesis 37:28
When some Midianite traders passed by, they pulled Joseph up out of the cistern. They sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver, and they brought Joseph to Egypt.
Thought for the Day: So I was chatting with Hannah on the phone yesterday, discussing some music for Palm Sunday. As I flipped through the Hymnal, I turned to a page with a bat (see picture below) tucked inside. Yes, a bat! If you remember, when Cypress Creek Christian Church had bats show-up in the Centrum (5 years ago), the staff as a joke cutout and placed hundreds of little paper bats throughout my office. For months, I found bats hidden in strange places. At the time, the bats in the Centrum were a crisis! It felt a bit overwhelming as I (and the church’s leadership team) had never dealt with bats in a sanctuary (like 3000 bats). It is interesting how the flood eclipsed the bats, and now the COVID-19 eclipses the flood. Here’s the thing – any crisis is a crisis, and it’s not about comparing or weighing one against another. Any crisis – big or small – is about the moment, and we can’t be spending a lot of time in a world of side-by-side analysis. The story of Joseph is about a guy who went from one crisis to another crisis. I’m sure there were some pleasant moments along the way that simply were not recorded in scripture, but how do you compare being sold by your brothers into slavery to being thrown in prison for a crime you didn’t commit. Pardon my language, but both of them suck. The thing with Joseph was that he recognized God and served God in every moment to the best of his ability, whether it was tragic or triumphant.
Prayer: O Provider of Grace, give me another allocation of your abundant mercy and unconditional love. There is so much happening, yet even in the struggle I desire to see you and to serve you. I do not know what tomorrow will bring, but the current challenge is plenty. Yet, I believe your grace shall be sufficient. Amen.
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