05-31-19

Scripture: John 21:15

When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

Thought for the Day: To whom was Jesus referring when he said, “…more than these”? Who are the “these”? He could have been referring to the other Apostles who were seated close by, or maybe he was referring to a larger crowd of folks. I tend to hear it as both generic and specific. What I mean is that Jesus probably had some specific group in mind when speaking to Peter, but when I say it is also general, I think there is a different “these” for all of us. Who is the “these” in your life? Who are the people or things who consume your time, energy and resources in a way that does not reflect the life of Christ? Years ago, I had a tough conversation with a member of my congregation (he no longer was a member after the conversation) who had come into my office to complain about my sermon the previous Sunday. It had stepped on his toes. He told me that I had no right to go where I had gone in the sermon. All I had asked was: Does the way you conduct yourself in your work life and business dealings reflect Jesus? I’m not too sure where the conversation went from there, except to say that he wasn’t going to give into the idea that Jesus was interested in how he did business. Now I don’t want to make this guy the villain in the story, but I imagine Jesus asking him, “Do you love me more than your desire to make a profit at any cost?” Again, I don’t want to make him sound like some outlier. I’m pretty sure Jesus is whispering in my ear, “Bruce, do you love me more than….” I want to be able to respond, “Of course, Lord,” but I have a feeling there are parts of my life that do not necessarily demonstrate it.

Prayer: There is always something else to discover, always something new to be revealed. Continue to increase my capacity to discern, O Lord, for I seek to follow you with more and more of who I am. There is much that remains within my grip, things I have not even noticed. In your grace, help me to both acknowledge and relinquish my hold upon that which is not you. Amen.

05-30-19

Scripture: John 21:12-14

Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Thought for the Day: Does anyone else find it strange that it says, “None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.” Why do you need to ask, “Who are you?” if you already know who it is? Of course, this is one of the resurrection appearances, and I can only imagine the confusion and emotional turmoil within these Jesus followers. One moment you think your teacher has been executed, and the next moment he shows up. You want to believe what you see, but you are having a hard time believing what you see. Even for the most faithful and steady of Christians, I find this to be a fair depiction of what it means to live the life of faith. It came as a shock to most Christians that Mother Teresa lived most of her life tormented by doubt. She wanted to believe, and she did, but she also experienced so much pain and suffering each and every day. Some might say it was a sign of weakness, but I think it’s a sign of one’s humanity. Most of us find ourselves in a constant struggle between belief and non-belief, between conviction and uncertainty, between hope and despair. It is those who are honest who will probably weather the storm in such a way that they will impact the world in a positive and healthy way.

Prayer: However I enter this day, Spirit of Mercy, I pray that my struggles lead to a genuineness within my imperfect faith. It might be easy on my best days, but even then, there are questions and doubts and even a few fears. At the end of the day, may I trust in your unceasing love that encircles me even when uncertainty appears to be winning the day. Amen.

05-29-19

Scripture: John 21:5-7

Jesus called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked) and jumped into the water.

Thought for the Day: Recently I was reminded that May 4 was World Naked Gardening Day. There are so many practical reasons why I think this is a bad idea, despite the fact that it is potentially dangerous… rose bushes and all. Of course, it appears that Peter was attempting to institute a National Naked Fishing Day. Read the story carefully. This is one of those examples where just because the Bible suggests that the Apostles fished naked, I don’t believe we should feel obligated to do so as Christians. Again, I can think of numerous hazards in doing so. And as I think about the fishermen I know personally, nothing against you all, but I really don’t want to see you naked. This was an exercise in recognizing the unique historic setting of scripture. In that time, naked fishing was the norm. In the first century, people didn’t have swimming suits, fishing waders, that lucky fishing shirt, etc. In fact, most of them only had one set of clothes. Besides, a tunic and robe were not good when bringing in the nets required you to jump overboard. I am a firm believer that modern day Christians read way too much of our current world’s practices and cultural norms into the ancient world. It takes some additional work to allow the ancient texts to speak from that ancient context, with all of its oddities. Yet there is a richness and beauty that is too often overlooked when we miss the fact that Peter was fishing naked…and other such things.

Prayer: Provide me a genuine curiosity as I explore the scriptures and the ancient world in which they were written. Help me, Gracious God, to recognize the wonderfully unique practices of that time as a way of better understanding Jesus and his message. Amen.

05-28-19

Scripture: John 21:1

Later, Jesus himself appeared again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. This is how it happened:

Thought for the Day: Did you know that the Sea of Tiberias is just another name for the Sea of Galilee? Do you refer to that beverage that comes in a can as Soda or Pop? It tends to be a regional thing, and the same was probably true in the latter part of the first century. For this reason, the language chosen by the author of the Gospel probably tells us something about the audience of the Gospel. If you are writing what you believe to be the single most important story ever told, you don’t want to be tossing around geographic locations that leave people asking, “Where’s that?” You don’t want to distract from the key story. It might sound insignificant, yet it encourages me to be very aware of my own language. The staff often hears me talk about Worship Stoppers. There are certain words and phrases that cradle Christians toss around. These words and phrases appear in our music and prayers, yet if you do not know the context, they can often leave a person asking questions about the word or phrase when that was the least important thing. Unless I am preaching specifically on the “blood of the lamb,” I tend to stay away from that phrase. A new person to this Jesus thing is going to hear some casual reference to the blood of the lamb and wonder what is in those goblets on the table in the front of the sanctuary. What did these people do an hour before worship? Suddenly the person’s mind is not in the place we want it to be. To talk about the “blood of the lamb” requires a lengthy discussion on the Exodus and the Passover, but it also requires us to confront some really bad theology from the 11th and 12th century that continues to influence us today. I have often told people: Instead of going down the wormhole of theological linguistics, just tell people that they are beautiful and precious gifts of God. We can get to the lamb thing later.

Prayer: You, O Merciful God, made things very simple in your gift Jesus. Why is it that we complicate it? Let me keep my message simple, letting love drive everything. This I pray in the name of the Lamb whose blood was shed on Calvary for the wretchedness of humanity’s moral and venial sins that seek to thwart the advent of your eternal transcendence. Amen. …or maybe I’ll just pray in the name of Jesus whose love even includes those of us whose pride likes to throw around complicated theological terminology. Amen.

05-27-19

Prayer for the Week: You love us as individuals, and you love us into community. Creative God, we are designed to find life and joy in relationship. Whether we name it or not, our lives are a web of dependency, woven together for reciprocity and health. As our egos grow, and our passion for individualism overshadows reality, reveal once again the divine intent for your creation. Your hope embodied in Jesus teaches us how to live responsibly and respectfully, yet as we grow in our admiration of your grace, we begin to see life, not lived for self, but for the sake of others. May your church, may Cypress Creek Christian Church, represent to the neighborhoods around us a clear picture of this self-giving and self-sacrificing love. Though, at times, we will fail, we know that your mercy will not turn away. You will remain faithful to us as we strive to demonstrate how you intended for us to live together. May the love of Jesus be the paradigm that continues to pull us forward into a greater expression of life together. May the poor and the rich and everyone in between – may the healthy and sick and everyone in between – may the hopeful and hopeless and everyone in between – find their place in this larger body made holy and beautiful by you, Lord God. This we request through the power of Jesus Christ. Amen.

05-26-19

Scripture: 1st John 3:24

All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Thought for the Day: I had an interesting conversation with someone in a hospital waiting room recently. The question hinged on the idea: Is God with us only when we do what God desires or is God with us always? If you are a student of the Bible, then you know there are passages that could be used to argue either way. And there have been those who have used the lack of God’s presence in their lives as an excuse for why they did not do what they should have done. Which is, if you really think about it, a circular argument that spins around and around and around. I tend to think that that the life of Jesus is the answer the question. Jesus never waited around for people to start following God’s ways before showing up. He fully immersed himself in the lives of those who were struggling to follow or had outright stopped following the ways of God. Our decision to “obey his commandments” is an acknowledgment of God’s presence, and God’s presence is what helps us “obey his commandments.” If God waited on the sideline for us to start to obeying, I have a feeling that God would be there a long time.

Prayer: We give thanks for your everlasting presence, O Living God, for it is your loving presence that draws us into faithfulness and Christ-like actions. Amen.

05-25-19

Scripture: 1st John 3:15

All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.

Thought for the Day: As I said in an earlier devotional, 1st John does not sugarcoat anything. Every other sentence can feel like a smack upside the head. Of course, does everyone who hates also murder? I do not believe that’s the case. Though I hear the words of Jesus echoed in these words from 1st John – when Jesus compared hatred and murder in the Sermon on the Mount. Could it be that hate is not the same as murder, but it does fan the flames, provide excuses and create a rationale for those who choose to act violently? I’m not one that believes everything is a slippery slope, but when it comes to hatred, there are a lot of people with their toes curled over the edge of a very slippery slope. Jesus and 1st John saw the danger, and their words were a challenge for all of us to be intentional when it comes to moving away from that hate-generated point of no return.

Prayer: I want your eternal life, the abundant life, to dwell within me, Merciful God. I know that such a gift cannot reside if my life is so full of hate. Continue to work with me as I strive to find peace within, to offer forgiveness, to let go of bitterness and resentment. I want your eternal life, the abundant life, to dwell within me, but it will require faithful work. Be my guide. Amen.