August 31, 2019
Scripture: 1st John 2:3
This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commandments.
Thought for the Day: This is not what I hear people of faith communicating. I hear more talk about proper belief, yet a person can believe all kinds of things that have no real impact upon daily life. I believe the sky is blue, but at no point is that belief shaping the way I live my life. Belief, as scripture portrays it, is not an intellectual acknowledgement. As you’ve heard me say before, the early Christians understood belief as to belove. You can believe something without changing your behavior, but the moment you fall in love is the moment that things begin to change. In 1st John, the idea of knowing is not just another way of describing an intellectual acknowledgment. It is a relationship of love where joy becomes the driving force. I don’t do what I am commanded to do because I’m forced, but because I love and have experienced love. The world would be a much better place if people knew that we loved God because we followed his commandments. And of course, those were two fold: love God and love neighbor. We can talk, scream and even post on social media while kicking handstands, but none of it will suggest that we know and love God.
Prayer: As much as I might enjoy enlightening people with some great insight, it is not going to change a life. Lead me, Gracious God, into the needed work of loving the world around me. Let my life do more talking, especially as I interact with those who are grieving, hurting, marginalized and forgotten. I do not do this work to promote myself, but to honor you. Amen.
August 30, 2019
Scripture: 1st John 1:5-6
This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: “God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” If we claim, “We have fellowship with him,” and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully.
Thought for the Day: Elisabeth Kübler-Ross provided many great insights around death and dying, but she is best known for articulating the five stages of grief. I don’t know how many times I have borrowed her ideas to provide context to someone’s emotional pain. A number of years ago, I found a quote from Kübler-Ross that I found both helpful and profound. She wrote:
People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.
When we read about the importance of fellowship in 1st John, it is more than having potluck dinners together. The Greek word we translate as fellowship is koinonia, and there are times when koinonia was used as a euphemism for a sexual encounter. That’s not what 1st John is suggesting here, but knowing that information provides us insight into the depth of meaning this word carried. So when we read about fellowship or lack there of, the author wants us to understand that divine light isn’t to simply shine upon us, but is to dwell within us. Too often in life, something painful happens and it obstructs the light…leaving us in the shadows of despair. But if we have fellowship with God, the light dwells within us and nothing can impede the light.
Prayer: It is a daily practice, O Source of Light, for me to make sure there is space for you to dwell. I collect a lot of unnecessary junk along the way, crowding out what is important and life-giving. Though it is fall, let me do a little spring cleaning — taking out bitterness, envy, hate, guilt and anything else that is not of you. Let me do more than set them aside, but through your merciful kindness, I shall seek the strength to truly dispose of them for good. This is not something I can do on my own, so give me some faithful friends who will work alongside your gracious Spirit. This I request in the name of Jesus. Amen.
August 29, 2019
Scripture: Isaiah 43:19
Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness.
A Thursday Prayer: We await your new thing, O Spirit of the Possible. We wait, but is our waiting a spiritualization of our procrastination? Do we relish a postponement when others provide cover with the suggestion, “It may not be God’s time”? When violence has become the norm – when children are murdered in classrooms – when hate appears to find welcome in mainstream thinking, we do not need to wait for a sign. You have provided us, O Spirit of the Living Christ, a clear picture of the world you want and the world we are to embody. Give us the courage to act boldly as Jesus did. Allow for our daily lives, the choices we make, the language we use and the ideas we defend to clearly align with the Jesus of the cross. The enfleshing of your will, O God, reveals for us how love is to be enfleshed in us. May your Spirit help keep our own fears and insecurities in check, so the new thing you are doing may sprout and grow in the wasteland of our violent culture. We make this request in the name of Jesus, and in the memory of all those whose images we see scroll on the nightly news. Amen.
August 28, 2019
Scripture: 1st John 1:3-4
What we have seen and heard, we also announce it to you so that you can have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy can be complete.
Thought for the Day: What is the goal of Christianity? How do you understand the goal? Answering these questions is really quite revealing in regard to a person’s understanding of God and what it means to live as a follower of Jesus. Fellowship is central to the author of 1st John. Community with God and with one another appears to be the (or maybe one of the) central goal(s) of Christianity according to 1st John. As you look at Luke’s Gospel or Paul’s Letter to the Church at Galatia or any other part of Christian Scripture, you will find different understandings of that goal. That may sound troubling to some people, but even though there are many different thoughts on what the goal might be, there is an important connecting point in all of them. Not only is there a goal for each author, but there is a clear understanding of what it looks like to work toward the goal. Without having a specific goal and direction to your faith, you can always claim success because there is no way of actually measuring it. A clear and definable purpose begins with a named goal informed by the unconditional love of God. It is followed by a game plan that includes practical and measurable objectives. It will look a little different from one person to the next, in the same way it looked different among the different authors of scripture who were each living in very different contexts. I started this post with two questions, but I hope to workout the answer to those questions in a very personal and tangible way. Yet some prefer the vague and nebulous approach to Christianity where, at any given moment, they are achieving nothing and thus can claim success.
Prayer: Bring me into the work of your amazing and transformative love. Provide me, Merciful God, with clear picture of who I am, what my gifts are, and the place where those gifts can bring the greatest amount of good. Keep me focused on where this good work is going, for it is easy to become distracted and fall into a complacency brought about by an ambiguous picture of what your gift, Jesus, has called me to do. It is in his name that I pray. Amen.
It appears to me that some folks choose a political ideology that serves their interests alone, and then they go in search of a religion that will defend their self-serving ideology. What would it be like to join a faith community that challenges your self-serving ideology and promises to walk with you through transformation? A religion that protects selfishness, greed and narcissistic behavior is a religion created in human-likeness. A religion that invites you to live for the sake of others, even when it demands personal sacrifice, requires a belief system created in the image of something divine.
August 27, 2019
Scripture: 1st John 1:1-2
We announce to you what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have seen and our hands handled, about the word of life. The life was revealed, and we have seen, and we testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us.
Thought for the Day: What do think is meant by “…we have seen and our hands handled…” in regard to the word of life? When it comes to the Christian faith, I tend to be a little geeky, enjoying the theological discussions and even a little bantering with clergy friends. We can get into some pretty heady conversations in regard to what others might find irrelevant or even weird. I’m sure a lot of professions have similar insider talk that leaves an outsider yawning. In 1st John, this word of life is something they have heard, seen and touched. The language, “word of life,” sounds a bit ethereal, but it cannot be contained within the theoretical. It is confirmed by our senses, and for that reason, there is a response. One of the greatest challenges facing the church in the United States is transitioning faith from the abstract of study or worship to the trenches of daily life. There is even pushback, with people saying things like, “You’re getting too political” or “You’ve gone too far” or “I come to church to feel good, not to be challenged.” What the word of life seems to offer is a peace amidst the turmoil, but when peace turns to complacency, there will be God-generated turmoil to awaken us from the complacency. Reflection, contemplation and discussion are all wonderful parts of the faith, but they should never be viewed as the final objective. When I’m living my faith, my only hope is that others hear, see and are able to literally touch God’s love.
Prayer: The incarnation of your love, O Word of Life, was your fullest expression of what our mission is – to make sure your radical, redemptive and reckless love is made available to the ears, eyes and hands of those around us. Amen.
August 26, 2019
Prayer for the Week:
You are present!
You are forever available!
You are forever and always with us!
This is the declaration of scripture,
and our faith is the ongoing trek
toward greater appreciation
of what this signifies for us,
our way of thinking,
our way of living.
you have always
found a way to come close,
even when we wandered away.
There is no place we can go—
no depth of despair,
no sinful conduct,
no embarrassing thought,
no selfish reaction,
no apathetic attitude
where you are not already
and working to reclaim us
with your redeeming love.
As those who have been rescued
again and again
by your far-reaching presence,
may our lives be the vehicle
by which your Spirit moves
among those who believe
they are beyond your grace.
This is where you have gone,
and this is where we shall go.
August 25, 2019
Scripture: Matthew 26:39
Then Jesus went a short distance farther and fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”
Thought for the Day: This morning, we will be talking about the idea of possible. What is possible? What is attainable? What is waiting to be unleashed? Of course, Jesus uses the word in search of an escape clause. It is one of the more poignant illustrations of Jesus’ humanity. I think we can all read the story leading to his brutal execution and say to ourselves: I would have been even more direct. Where is the side exit because I am out of here! The word we translate as possible is more than just some crazy wish. The word suggest power, some real leverage is making it happen. But it also speaks of value and purpose. You might translate it as, “My Father, if there is some genuine value to me stepping away from this, may it be so. But it is less about my needs and more about the value you need to unleash.” Anytime we are trying to decide whether to give something away or make a sacrificial gift, the question is usually: How is this going to impact me? Jesus is turning it back on God and asking: How might my actions participate in unlocking and unleashing the God-possibility that is currently dormant and ineffective.
Prayer: Give me the courage to risk what is necessary to participate in what you, O Merciful God, are seeking to do. I am not looking to be a fan in the stands, but seeking to share actively in your good work. Amen.
August 24, 2019
Scripture: Matthew 19:26
Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible for human beings. But all things are possible for God.”
Thought for the Day: People often assume this verse is found in Jesus’ sermon on how to make a risky investment pay off, or maybe this is the advice given to the non-athletic young person before trying out for the varsity basketball team. “…all things are possible for God.” Actually, it comes at the end of Jesus’ discussion on rich people’s chance of getting into heaven. I always remind people in the United States how, on a worldwide scale, most all of us are technically rich. Yikes! It is the same chance as a camel making it through the eye of a needle. It might appear impossible, but Jesus goes on to suggest that “…all things are possible for God.” Does this let us off the hook, or is Jesus suggesting that even God can make a stingy rich person into someone who is generous? Wherever we are on the economic scale, most of us (there are definite exceptions) could and maybe need to make some changes to how we live our lives. This is not about giving more money to the church, but about wastefulness or idolatry of things we want to buy or selfishness that turns us against others. Jesus talked about money a lot, and it wasn’t because he was hoping to collect it and build himself an expensive building. He was genuinely concerned about the capacity of money to obscure our vision of what is good, healthy and life-giving. I can name some wasteful spending in my own life, but I hear grace from Jesus…grace that challenges me to ask myself, “Why did I waste it in the first place?” -and- “How might I make the needed changes?”
Prayer: With confession comes some good soul searching. Be the gracious guide, O Lord, who loves me even when my justification is more smoke and mirrors. At the end of the day, you want me to be healthy and happy, and a means by which those gifts are shared with the world. I’m sure there is some work I need to do, so let’s get to it. Amen.