04-30-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS
April 30, 2020
Scripture
: Romans 10:9
Because if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and in your heart you have faith that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Thought for the Day: I was a young seminary student when I was confronted on the streets of West Lafayette, Indiana, by a very passionate Christian who kept on asking, “Do you believe Jesus is Lord?” It was usually followed by a rather threatening suggestion for those who did not believe. Many who walked by gave a quick affirmative answer, though I believe most folks just wanted to get away without any other confrontation. I, on the other hand, wanted to engage the man. “So, what do you mean by Lord,” I asked him. “Well if you believed then you would know,” I was told. Being a little smug, I responded by telling him that such an answer was usually given by someone who didn’t know. He got angry and rattle off four or five scriptures that still didn’t answer my question. We went back and forth, but in the end, he never answered the question. It is one thing to claim Jesus as Lord, but it is hard to claim, with any sense of integrity, something you cannot explain.

As I understand it, to claim Jesus as Lord, is to say that I am willing to make his Kingdom and its values central to my life. In short, what Jesus said and did should be clearly seen in the lives of those who claim him as Lord. This is where my encounter gets a bit humorous, for though the man had every right to make his proclamation, the way he posed his question – with such anger and arrogance – seemed nothing like Jesus. If he wanted to encourage people to claim Jesus as Lord, I would have recommended a story, a parable of sorts, and not with a closing that demanded belief. Jesus often told stories and just let them be, as if he trusted the power of the story to be like a seed settling into the soil of his listeners’ souls.

In the end, to claim Jesus as Lord is to say that I desire to be a good citizen of God’s Kingdom here on earth, a Kingdom defined by mercy and gentleness, love and grace. And any invitation to others to join me shouldn’t use intimidation, fear or angry declarations.

Prayer: Lord God, make your way our way, your ways our ways. It won’t be easy as it is so often counter intuitive, and may not produce the immediate results that so many want to see. Yet you have sent forth a model, and provided us a mentor, in Jesus of Nazareth. Thank you! Amen.


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04-29-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS
April 29, 2020
Scripture
: Romans 10:4
Christ is the goal of the Law, which leads to righteousness for all who have faith in God.

Thought for the Day: Depending on what translation of the Bible you use, the opening of the verse might say that Christ is the end or the culmination, but I personally like the use of the word: goal. Even more interesting is that Christ is the goal, the end that we are seeking. It is only when Christ is the goal that our lives might begin to portray the righteousness of God. Too often followers of Jesus believe the goal is heaven or a righteous life, or maybe for some, the goal is regular church attendance (that would be nice right now). Yet those are secondary to Christ as the goal.

Have you ever become distracted from the real task at hand? Maybe something as simple as doing the dishes, but you notice how the sink is a bit dirty. So you get the Comet and start scrubbing, and once the sink looks great, you walk away without completing the original task of washing the dishes. But if you would have washed the dishes in the first place, the sink would have been cleaned as a result of washing the dishes.

That might be a bit of an over simplification, but when we make Christ the goal, and remain focused on that goal, we begin to better understand the depth of grace and the unconditional nature of love. It is only when Christ is the goal that we are able to observe a life where grace and love were lived so well. If we want to live a righteous life, a life that is right in the eyes of God, then it is necessary to have a model of that life and to know that we are loved by God, not because we have achieved righteousness, but simply because God has chosen to love us. Christ is the beginning and end of all that is necessary to live a life that is right in the eyes of God. When Christ is our goal, everything else will begin to fall into place.

Prayer: Through the study of scripture and moments of prayer – just like this one – I know that you, Lord God, will help me make Christ the goal. Assist me in that work, for though I hope to be a good person and to someday know the fullness of life in heaven, those need to be put aside as I put your gift, Jesus Christ, as the end and goal of my life-energy. It is in his name that I pray. Amen.


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04-28-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS
April 28, 2020
Scripture
: Roman 10:1-3
Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire is for Israel’s salvation. That’s my prayer to God for them. I can vouch for them: they are enthusiastic about God. However, it isn’t informed by knowledge. They don’t submit to God’s righteousness because they don’t understand his righteousness, and they try to establish their own righteousness.

Thought for the Day: What exactly did Paul mean with his use of the word righteousness? The word could be translated as justice, but that still doesn’t necessarily help us in understanding what Paul was describing. There has been a tendency to think of it in terms of retributive justice, or basically punishment. But is there any sense of Good News with the old adage of getting what you deserve? There is another movement these days that talks about restorative justice, which seeks wholeness for the victim, the guilty and everyone else. It’s much easier to write people off as culpable and undeserving, yet before long we all fall into that category. Paul was vouching for his sisters and brothers in the Jewish community with whom he had some disagreements, specifically struggling with their understanding of God’s righteousness/justice. I think he would have similar concerns with how we think about righteousness and justice. At the core of Paul’s thinking was grace, an equal distribution of God’s love to all… no matter if I was a little less deserving than someone else. This is the rightness of God, and we are being invited to reflect it in every aspect of our lives. Who have we (individual or group) considered more undeserving than us, and thus we treat them as outside of God’s grace. Paul, in love, would vouch for us but then add that our understanding of righteousness is off base.

Prayer: In every moment when I am trying to show how good and right I am, I pray for Jesus to point to his life as the model of goodness and rightness. Holy God, you can find failures and shortcomings in all of us, yet sadly, we are fighting over whose failures and shortcomings are a little less bad. It is a fight for mediocrity as we stand on the backs of those we have crushed. This is far from your understanding of righteousness and justice because we’re just trying to establish our own righteousness. Forgive us and then allow your love to be the model for how we are to live with one another. In the name of the one who was just and right, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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04-27-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS
April 27, 2020
Prayer for the Week
: Thank you for being a participant in our lives, O Lord. Tether us to you and your love from which we can draw the needed encouragement amidst the uncertainty of life. Center us in the ways of Jesus, for it is there that we see your loving kindness that is steady, consistent and never ending. Whenever we begin to feel a bit shaken, and we are tempted by what the marketers are trying to sell, give us Jesus. Allow for your loving Spirit to be the resin that binds us as the One body of Christ, for not only shall we find strength together, but we will provide that gift to the world. Our prayer is offered this day in the name of and to the glory of Jesus Christ. Amen.



04-26-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS
April 26, 2020
Scripture
: 1 Corinthians 4:1
Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.

Thought for the Day: The language Paul used of servant and steward is an intriguing combination. The Greek word translated as servant in this verse describes someone who works on a boat, below deck, and rows. It came to describe most anyone who worked with his/her hands. I must confess that I’ve always liked the image of a person participating in a team, providing the power to move the boat to where the leader (in this case, Christ) is directing. One of the metaphors used to describe the church by the early Christians was a boat. At the same time, we have been entrusted as stewards to manage specific news (God’s mysteries) that has become known through the Spirit (1 Cor. 2). It’s as if these two images (servant and steward) need to be together. Our task isn’t simply to sit back and enjoy the mysteries of God that are made known through the Spirit, but to move the church into those places where the message needs to be heard and revealed: the message that Paul calls the mystery of Christ crucified, yet vindicated as the Lord of glory (Friday’s devotional). Or as I might put it: sacrificial love was killed by the powers of hate, yet God gave this love full confirmation through the resurrection. Let us take these good words to the world!

Prayer: So many places and so many people need to hear some Good News! We may not be able to take it in the usual ways, but we trust that you’ll show us how, O Merciful God. Wherever we need to be in this endeavor, even if it is below deck where no one will see our work, we are absolutely fine …assuming we are doing what you need us to do. Amen.


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04-25-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS
April 25, 2020
Guest Writer
: Rev. Paula Gembala
Scripture
: Philippians 4:8
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Thought for the Day: First, I want to give a disclaimer, I am not a therapist or doctor and any suggestions or symptoms I mention come from either experience working with others or the internet.

Last week I talked about stress and anxiety. That is different than depression. Speaking for myself, I admit to having days or times of feeling down. As long as this only occurs from time to time, it is very normal. Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness are indications of depression. Other signs of depression include: loss of interest in daily activities, experience changes in appetite or weight changes, an altered sleep pattern, feelings of anger or irritability, experience a loss of energy, become self loathing, dive into reckless behaviors, have concentration problems or unexplained aches and pains.

What can we do when we experience symptoms of depression? First know that this is very common, especially in times such as this. If you are experiencing a down day – have it. Let yourself feel the emotions – just don’t stay there. Look for the good in each day or event. Set attainable goals – start with just 1 or 2. When you accomplish those goals, reward yourself. Set a schedule – this may help you feel in control. Do something you enjoy; even with our current limitations, we can find things we enjoy. Listen to music or spend time in nature. Write thank you cards to others or take a walk. My best solution is to spend time talking to God, let him know your feelings. Read scripture or a devotional each day.

Know that you are not alone and this will come to pass. If I can be of help to any of you, give me a call or email me. We are in this together!

Prayer: Great God our Hope in times of chaos and trouble, be our strength and our guide, show us the way to seek hope in each day. Remind us daily that you want to be in relationship with us and for us to be in relationship with one another. In this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to reach out and lean on each other. We know you are here with us at all times and will never leave us. Hear our prayer in the name precious name of Jesus. Amen.


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04-24-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS
April 24, 2020

Scripture
: 1st Corinthians 2:7-8
But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Thought for the Day: For Paul, the whole notion of Christ crucified was a statement about the world as it was. Paul spoke of Christ crucified, not simply that Christ who was killed. Crucifixion belonged to Rome, the powerful of the day. It was Paul’s way of suggesting how the world often believed it had a victory over the ways of love, but this one crucified was in fact the Lord of glory, the one vindicated by God. Human life is a retelling of that story over and over again. We see it in daily occurrences, while also glimpsing pieces of it in more sweeping and cosmic strive. In both small happenings and universal struggles there might appear to be a defeat of love, yet our hope remains in this movement from Christ crucified to vindication in the Lord of glory. It has happened; it is happening; it will happen.

Prayer: Provide me, O Lord of Glory, those experiences along my path that reinforce the story of your love that has been and will continue to be triumphant as darkness attempts to take a prideful victory lap. Amen.



04–23-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS
April 23, 2020

Guest Writer
: Dr. Joel Plaag
Scripture: Lamentations 3
16 He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
17 I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Thought for the Day
: I spoke on the phone with someone this week who asked, “Joel, how do you feel about this quarantine thing?”

I edited all morning – trying to use active verbs instead of “be,” and taking out horrible catchphrases that dominate my writing: “Note the….” “I’ve noted that the….”. I had been counting the number of times I use the word “you” when she called, and taken out the dashes that pepper my prose – a scourge of good writing.

Always the introvert. 

Introverts are not shy people; we simply gain our energy from within, rather than externally.  As a teenager, I spent hours in the garage, practicing for the next singing competition, learning the words, falling in love with the notes, understanding the composer; or I rode my bike for miles, just me and the wind.  I feel closest to God when I connect in silence.

The pandemic gave me a chance to do this again.  I enjoy new activities.  I tend to the yard, I plant, I walk, I water the flowers, I brush the dogs, I talk on the phone, and I write.  I come up to my office at church and am alone there too.  Yes, life is not normal, but the past few weeks have been an answer to the prayer of needed respite from an increasingly busy and hectic schedule. 

What had I been hiding behind the busy-ness?  Was there fear of rejection or self-doubt, irrational uneasiness about the precariousness of my life?  Was there a dreaded fear of failure that would eventually be punctuated by homelessness and destitution?   

Now, with the schedule wiped clean, the fears have been replaced by a sense of peace and comfort; I keep writing, hope, enjoy the silence, and wait.  I realize again that God has always had my back; has always led me down paths I didn’t really want to go only to find that at the end of the journey was a destination far better than anything I had planned for myself.

My answer to my friend on the phone, “I’m happy and content.”

God has been good to me, and through this all, I really am. (another “be” verb)

Prayer: Our hope is not gone, for we hope in you. Help us find peace in today’s stillness. Help us find patience. Help us find mercy. Help us find truth. Open our eyes, O God, that your wonders, often in splendor, may be made present before our wandering and distracted eyes. When we despair or bemoan our current outcast state, help us to understand that Your Word reminds us that our hope, our splendor, is not gone, it exists through you. For our hope is in you, O God above all understanding. We lay our fears of the future at your feet. Amen.


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04-22-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS
April 22, 2020

Scripture
: Isaiah 55:8
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

Thought for the Day: I think about these words as they relate to the Apostle Paul who invited his readers to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). Those words were a part of my walk a few days ago, but not emphasizing my failure to achieve the beautiful ideal seen in the life of Jesus (and desired by Isaiah). Instead, the mind of Christ is that of grace, and so I am given permission to be gracious to myself which is actually the gift that Christ would bring to all of us even as we fall short of having the mind of Christ. I know that sounds a little circular in the logic, but in this moment as we are reacting and responding (not always well) to a crisis that is new every morning, I feel relatively confident in saying that Jesus would have in his mind something like, “Give yourself some slack. You’ve never done this before. It is ok to have a crazy range of emotions all in the same hour. It is perfectly normal to want more information and more answers. And for that reason – be kind and gracious to yourself, especially in those moments when you don’t feel as if you are emulating me as well as you should. We will get better at this together.”

Prayer: Thank you for grace! Thank you for setting the example of grace! Thank you for being gracious, O Lord, when I am not showing a lot of grace. I need that if I am going to have any hope of becoming more gracious. Amen.



04-21-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS
April 21, 2020

Scripture
: Isaiah 53:6
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Thought for the Day: None of us like to admit that we might have gone astray, but times like this give us (have given me) a chance to ask some weighty and relevant questions that life as usual used to always provide plenty of rationale for avoidance. We are people who claim a genuine concern for the vulnerable, no matter who they are. But suddenly we are being thrust into conversations where decisions about the vulnerable are not hypothetical at all. More painful is to realize that these questions (and decisions) have never been hypothetical, but most of the time we did not see the all the ramifications. Isaiah showed his prophetic anger against those who seemed oblivious to the impact of their choices/decisions upon the most vulnerable in the community. Places of privilege and power obscure our vision, and too often create an assumption that we had everyone’s best interest in mind …when in fact our choices missed important factors about the complexities of other people’s lives.

Prayer: Every moment is an opportunity assuming I am listening to you, O Lord. But this moment is truly ripe with opportunities to visualize what life could be if we take seriously what there is to be learned. Teach me by showing me! Show me by using the daily lives of others as the classroom. Amen.


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