Monday, April 30, 2012

Read Whole Books

I've posted instructions for meditating on small bits of scripture: a practice I've found to be of incalculable value, but today I want to highlight the benefit of reading swaths of scripture all at once. By reading one verse at a time we discover insights that we miss in a quick read through.  There is, however, a disadvantage to taking scripture a piece at a time. The disadvantage is this: we lose the context for that verse. 

 Mark 9:47 reads, “If your eye causes you to sin, gauge it out and throw it away,” This verse is confusing.  If read without its context one could conclude that Christ commanded his followers to mutilate themselves in order to enter God's kingdom. Poor mislead people have occasionally actually done this.
 
If you're wondering whether Jesus literally intended his followers to blind themselves, then just read to the following chapter. Jesus makes it crystal clear that human works, including self-mutilation, cannot earn God's kingdom (Mark 10:26-27). If the context of two chapters isn't enough then the context of the book ought to be. Mark leaves no ambiguity about whose actions can and will save mankind.

Image By: Jan Tito
The great thing about reading full sections of the Bible is that it helps us to grasp the big picture of God's message. Every little detail of God's word is worthy of our attention, but just as each stroke of an artist's brush is intentional and meaningful, we won't get the artists intention unless we occasionally step back to look at the whole picture. So read whole books.  Most of the New testament books were meant to be read as letters are read: in one go.

If you have attention problems you might consider listening to a recording. The Bible Experience is one that I personally love. Additionally you might try reading a Message Bible (Free Here) which can make a long read less tiring.

I pray you find joy in the beautiful composition of God's word. Happy Reading!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fifteen Verses That Combat Cynicism

Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the full (John 10:10).  Nothing in the world can compare with the satisfaction found in a fulfilled Christian life.  Regrettably cynicism and sarcasm can creep into our lives; however, as Christians we have unique power to resist this trend.  With the Holy Spirit within us, and plentiful reasons to rejoice we can change the world. Jesus Christ didn't die on the cross so that we could wag our heads and complain about what's wrong with the world. He came to redeem the world, and the world is being redeemed. If you've slipped into cynicism here are fifteen Bible verses that combat negativity. Follow the links to examine the context of these verses, or try meditating on one of them using Lectio Divina. May you find courage and empowerment.
Photo By Suzan Black

Fifteen Verses That Combat Cynicism

 

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.

So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

RE: Psalm 36

Psalm 36 is exquisite. Take a look at the structure of this psalm with me. It started by painting a picture of how awful people are, how evil their intentions are and how corrupt their desire are, and then it jumps without preamble into praising the might and mercy of the Lord. The jump is sudden and the contrast so jarring that it reminds me of the end of Romans 7. God's magnificence drowns out and consumes lesser realities.

Photo By John-Morgan
As humans we are objects of corruption. We can see it easily when we look around at each other, but the psalmist only briefly directs our attention to corruption and failure, and this he does only as a context for God's righteousness. The purpose of the psalmist is to directs our attention to the Lord who is so stunningly complete, so majestic, and so perfect that he contradicts all that is human. Yet this perfect God loves and protects imperfect men; as opposite as he is, he persists in his loving pursuit of of humanity, full of transformative love and compassion.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

RE: Psalm 35 Wherein God Is Asked To Take Sides

Photo By Ivva
In Psalm 35 the Psalmist begs and pleads with God to be on his side. I cannot imagine a more universal desire than to have the God of the universe favour you. I even encounter this desire among agnostics who say that if there is a God they hope he's just, and if he's just he'll be good to them. We all want God to be on our side. There is seldom a war fought by anyone who doesn't believe God to be on their side. In Joshua 5:13-15 Joshua asks the Lord, “Are you for us, or for our enemies?” The Lord's reply is cryptic; God is not on a side.

God is love. He loves us with perfect and infinite love, and I'm coming to believe that God even loves us more than we love ourselves, and wants more for us than we want for ourselves. Left to our own, we might ask God to give us wealth and peace, but God gives us greater peace and greater wealth in Christ than our minds can conceive.  Through the Holy Spirit, God gives us more that we can ask or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20). God is not on our sinful self-destructive side; but God loves us too much for that.

Challenge:
Who's side are you on?  Is it more your own than it is God's?  Jesus promises that if we seek his kingdom first that he will provide for us (Matthew 6:33).  Take comfort in that word today know that you are free to love generously.

RE: A Call To Conscience Chapter Eight

Our God Is Marching On


I had goosebumps crawling up and down my skin from reading Our God Is Marching On today.  It was partly because I was listening to deeply emotional string music. The combination of the two was incredible. King was as resilient and empowering as ever but this speech was undeniably different from those that came before it. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a gift for encouragement, and for finding humanity in every person. That gift came through in his words, but in this speech he finally had something to brag about; he had more than faith and courage to share, but he had triumphs to boast of. It's amazing how long he had hitherto stirred peoples hearts with only hopeful words.

This speech was also more informative than previous ones. His explanation of how the Jim Crow Laws came about was news to me, and as upsetting as it was I hope you'll read it.

Toward the end of the Reconstruction era, something very significant happened. (Listen to him) That is what was known as the Populist Movement. (Speak, sir) The leaders of this movement began awakening the poor white masses (Yes, sir) and the former Negro slaves to the fact that they were being fleeced by the emerging Bourbon interests. Not only that, but they began uniting the Negro and white masses (Yeah) into a voting bloc that threatened to drive the Bourbon interests from the command posts of political power in the South.
To meet this threat, the southern aristocracy began immediately to engineer this development of a segregated society. (Right) I want you to follow me through here because this is very important to see the roots of racism and the denial of the right to vote. Through their control of mass media, they revised the doctrine of white supremacy. They saturated the thinking of the poor white masses with it, (Yes) thus clouding their minds to the real issue involved in the Populist Movement. They then directed the placement on the books of the South of laws that made it a crime for Negroes and whites to come together as equals at any level. (Yes, sir) And that did it. That crippled and eventually destroyed the Populist Movement of the nineteenth century.
. . . the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. (Yes, sir) He gave him Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, (Yes, sir) he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. (Right sir) And he ate Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. (Yes, sir) And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, (Speak) their last outpost of psychological oblivion. (Yes, sir)
Thus, the threat of the free exercise of the ballot by the Negro and the white masses alike (Uh huh) resulted in the establishment of a segregated society. They segregated southern money from the poor whites; they segregated southern mores from the rich whites; (Yes, sir) they segregated southern churches from Christianity (Yes, sir); they segregated southern minds from honest thinking; (Yes, sir) and they segregated the Negro from everything. (Yes, sir).  -Dr. King 1965

It's a tragic fact that humans can derive self-worth from devaluing others.  Bullies, bosses, fathers, and tyrants can all fall victim to the same deception that crushed Populism. 

Challenge:

Who are you better than?  Who do you think is stupid, lazy, or inconsiderate?  They might be any or all of those things, but as Christians we have no right to judge them, and certainly no right to devalue them.  Scripture tells us that we all have sinned (Romans 3:23), and that there is no one righteous (Romans 3:10).  We aren't better than your enemies, only Jesus was better than his enemies and he chose to die for them.  Let go of your judgments today; leave that task to God. 




Monday, April 23, 2012

RE: Psalm 34 And The Fear Of The Lord

 
I was parallelized by fear. I had been praying in a field, weeping profuse apologies to a God I thought was too just to listen to my prayers. Then in an instant I felt the mighty presence of the Lord, and he told me to be quiet. I actually stopped thinking thoughts because I was afraid that thinking would violate God's order to be quiet. In the silence that followed, I began to listen.
After about an hour of silent fear, someone else spoke to me. They mentioned a story I'd heard before about unconditional love, and in a single moment my fear evaporated. I comprehended something greater than my inadequacy: the vast and immeasurable love of the God that died to forgive me. Fear left me. My life has never been the same.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” - Proverbs 1:7

Since I first met the Lord I've been surprised to hear Christians speak affectionately of the fear of the Lord. While fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, it is just that, a beginning. Fear of the Lord made me crave reconciliation with God, and I was not disappointed. God reconciled himself to me in Christ Jesus. Since that day fear has held no place in my relationship with God. I have had bouts of fear to be sure, but no more than I have had bouts of sin or doubt. The fact is that I am now God's son, and if he redeemed me when I was corrupt, he will do more now that I am redeemed (Romans 5:8-9).

Photo By Babasteve
The fear of the Lord was the beginning of my journey with him, but as I've gotten to know God my fear has sharply receded. Fear is, after all a lousy basis for any relationship. When a leader is feared we call them a tyrant; fear of a spouse is a sign of abuse, and so too is fear of a parent. God is not a tyrant and God is not abuse; God is love (1 John 4:8). John says perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

Do you fear the Lord? If you do, then I have some great news. You don't have to be afraid any more. You must have faith in order to fear the Lord. Take that faith a step further and lay your fear down. Once God's people had reason to fear him, and were commanded to fear him (Psalm 34:8-9) But I do not believe that fear must be part of our redeemed relationship with God. Jesus called his disciples friends (John 15:15). I'm not afraid of my friends, and I'm not afraid of my God. God loves me, and there's no fear in love.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

RE: Psalm 33



Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. (33:2-3)

Image By Deflam
Do you imagine a real harp when you read about one? I encounter very few harps in my daily life. My first mental reference for a harp is the Loony Toons, so when I think of a harp I think of a silly little thing that a cartoon angel plays in heaven after their anvil related death. If I don't think of the Loony Toons I think of those annoying bards from Skyrim. Those bards were awful.

I watched a bunch of harp videos today, and it turns out that real harps are not cute, or dainty. They are large, cumbersome, and can produce transcendently beautiful sounds. I heard them played so well that at times I became dizzy and forgot where I was.




Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.  -Martin Luther
Sometimes reading the Bible can feel like a chore. When that happens do what you can to reignite your passion for scripture. I recommend today that you read Psalm 33 with one of the following videos playing in a separate tab.


Allow the music to calm the agitations of your soul, while inviting God to enlighten and enrich your heart and mind through his word. Enjoy.

Friday, April 20, 2012

RE: Psalm 32 & Lectio Divina

Photo By: BabaSteve

Lectio Divina

If you’re familiar with Lectio Divina, pick a verse or two from Psalm 32 and enjoy it.  However, if you’re unfamiliar with Lectio Divina, then I'm afraid your life is woefully incomplete.  Don’t worry though; it is easy to learn, and will enrich the rest of your natural life if you use it.  
 

What's Lectio Divina?

Latin for “Divine Reading” Lectio Divina is a Christian practice of meditation that dates back to the third century.

Why Should I Meditate?

If God commanding his people to mediate on his word (Joshua 1:8) isn’t enough motivation for you then go ahead and check out some articles about the benefits of meditation in Psychology Today, MIT News, or The Houston Chronicler.  Meditation is really good for you in almost every conceivable way; as the more has been learned about mediation more and more health experts have been promoting it.  A lot of Christians are wary of meditation because some eastern religions teach meditation.  Some eastern religions also teach compassion, but this would be a very bad reason for us to throw away our long history of compassion.  In fact there is no excuse for a Christian not to practice compassion; God commanded it, and he commands meditation as well (Colossians 3:12).

How Do I Mediate?

Honestly the Wikipedia entry on Lectio Divina is pretty good, but just in case that’s too much history and jargon for you I’ve broken it down for you real simply:

To Practice Lectio Divina:

Prepare

Clear your mind and environment of distractions.  Turn off your music and close your other tabs.  Break deeply and be aware of your thoughts.

Read

Read a verse or two.  I recommend Psalm 32:1 for today.  Read your selection repeatedly, and allow it to fill your thoughts.

Reflect

Turn the verse over in your mind, looking at it from new perspectives.  What does it mean?  What is God saying to you today?

Pray

Pray.  React in prayer to the verse or verse you just read and thought about.  Praise God, make requests, and voice anxieties.  God is listening.

Contemplate

Be still and know the Lord is God.  Be quiet.  God hears your prayers and he answers them.  He loves you very much and is with you.

RE: A Call To Conscience Chapter Seven

Martin Luther King Junior's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech


It gives me faith in mankind that Martin Luther King Junior was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize within his own lifetime. I was aware that he had won the prize, but I did not know until today that he had lived to receive it. King appears to be full of wisdom and godly words when looked at through the lens of history, but I usually think that his message would not be treated seriously by the politicians of today. I think he would be considered a hopeless idealist and an extremist.

I've had a reservation about King that I've not mentioned until now. King speaks about building an incredible world; he casts a beautiful vision of a new world order. My cynicism and rational Lutheran temperament make me wary of such an ideal vision. I've been told since childhood that I live in a fallen world and that it will always be a fallen world. I know that at the end of days Jesus will gather all his people to himself and there will be no more mourning. I ache with desire for the day when God's kingdom will come. King challenges me to bring God's kingdom of brotherhood, peace, and unconditional love now, and not to wait for the end of days.

Photo By Lel4nd
Regardless of which ideas are appealing or unappealing to me, I ought to appraise King's vision based on the incredible fruit it bore and continues to bear. King changed my country; he changed the world. He has become a beckon of Gospel light that even atheists turn to for guidance and illumination. King believed that God was building his kingdom here on Earth every day. My skepticism doesn't empower me to change the world the way King did. Skepticism holds me back; I see that now, so it is time to leave skepticism behind. Whatever limits exist for God's kingdom on earth are God's business and not mine. There are enough real challenges without me inventing limits for myself and my fellow man. Anything is possible with God (Matthew 19:26), and so long as anything is possible I invite you to join me in building the kingdom of God that King spoke about, a place of brotherhood and unconditional love. Perhaps in our fallen world we cannot achieve perfection, but that's no reason to settle for the status quo. It's time, for me at least, to repent of cynicism and pursue an unrealistic vision for the world. May God's kingdom come on earth.

Thanks Mr. President

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Some time ago I had a friend who liked to complain about the president, and some of the things he managed to blame on the president were incredible. Whether a friend was out of work, insurance was too expensive, or gas prices were too high, you could depend on him for a loud and sarcastic, “Thanks Mr. President!” He blamed the president for at least one problem just about every time I saw him. He made a practice of it. As you might imagine, his diligent negativity got old fast.

Whining about the president is not funny, nor is it clever. It is an annoying, fruitlessly, and patently unchristian behaviour. Please understand me, it is acceptable and even necessary to, at times, speak out against the actions of a politician who you find fault with. We do not owe any earthly leader our silent unconditional submission. Making a practice out of complaining is something outside of godly citizenship.

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Consider the effect of this man's constant interjections of “Thanks Mr. President!” They helped to feed a culture of negativity wherever he went.  He irritated folks who liked the president, and he invited more complaining from folks who shared his views. Imagine if instead of sarcastically thanking some politician at every opportunity, we made a practice of authentically thanking God. After all, it's God's will for us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We're even encouraged to give thanks during hardship, which scripture encourages us to endure as loving discipline from God himself (Hebrews 12:7). Paul even encouraged his readers to glory in their suffering because of the character it ultimately produced (Romans 5:3-5). Even if God didn't work all things out for our good (Romans 8:28); Christians would still be expected to respect the authorities (Romans 13:1-7), just as Paul encouraged the early Christians to show respect for the Roman Emperor, who in Paul's day was Nero.


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Challenge:

Take a moment today to thank God for someone negative who brings you down. Whether it's a boss, a co-worker, or someone closer to home, it's God's will that we give thanks in all circumstances. God is enthusiastic to forgive all sin, both yours and theirs. Since you're freely forgiven, pass that forgiveness along to the person who's been dragging you down. You don't have to tell them. It can stay between you and God, but if you don't forgive them then they'll be free to continue to discourage and infuriate you. Enjoy the freedom that forgiveness brings today.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

RE: Psalm 31


While at Concordia I had classmates who sometimes felt like they weren't real Christians simply because their faith story was not dramatic. Most of them were baptized as infants, but had heard the exciting testimonies of born again ex-Islamic extremists, recovering alcoholics, and ex-gangsters. They heard the stories of how God had intervened in powerful ways in the lives of extraordinary individuals, and they felt a little jealous because God had only intervened in simple ways in their own short lives. Feeling jealous of the hardships of others is not rational; this is a childish perspective to take on, but I confess that I feel this way myself.
Photo By: Jamesdale10

Psalm 31 evokes this kind of jealousy in me. I am a white, college educated, citizen of the United States of America. If I have suffered at all I have suffered little. I do not know what it is like to see the Lord's love while in a city under siege (31:21), I have never been literally delivered from a pursuing enemy (31:16), I have not known terror on every side (31:13).



When I take a mature look at the psalm I know that it is a blessing to have not experienced the suffering or affliction that the psalmist experienced. I may yet experience it or I may never experience it. That is not important. Our condition, station, and even our experiences are of peripheral importance when we properly focus on the cross. Jesus came so that at the end of days all people might enter a life free of distress, anxiety, or fear. If we suffer we can look to this psalm and know that God is with those who suffer, but even if we don't suffer we can look at this psalm and delight to remember that one man suffered once for all (1 Peter 3:18). Like him we can freely and gladly entrust our lives, our destiny, and our spirits (31:5) to the God that loves us all.

Monday, April 16, 2012

RE: A Call To Conscience Chapter Six

Photo By: David Dixon
Eulogy For The Martyred Children is the shortest speech yet included in A Call To Conscience, so if you haven't read any of of King's speeches, I encourage you to at least read this one. King delivered this eulogy at the funeral service of three children who fell victim to the bombing of a church. I have never been to the funeral service of a child.  A classmate of mine took his life when I was in high school but I'm certain that I cannot imagine the pain a parent feels at the death of a child.  King understood that no words could properly console the families after so great a loss and kept his message short.

Although it was brief, the eulogy was thick with the strong and unyielding hope that King wove into all of his sermons. While condemning the actions of hateful men he exhorted listeners to hold tight to hope, saying:

“We must not become bitter (Yeah, That’s right), nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. (Yeah, Yes) Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.”(King 1963)

His unyielding admonishment to cling to hope, even in the wake of these racially motivated murders is astounding. I am not that good a person. I know that I become bitter and can harbor a desire to retaliate with violence when I feel powerless. I believe the secret to King's endurance was that he absolutely depended on God to be the one to work out a final victory. That kind of dependence is something I'm still learning; I pray I get there. I pray we all get there.
Photo By: slagheap

“And so my friends, they did not die in vain. (Yeah) God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. (Oh yes) And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive.” (King 1963)


Sunday, April 15, 2012

RE: Psalm 30

While sitting at my desk I got an unexpected and alarming phone call. My father-in-law was calling me to inform me that his car, which he'd given Beth and I the use of, had been towed and was quickly accumulating a staggering load of fines. I almost cried after I hung up the phone. I had been planning on paying taxes that day, taxes we could barely afford to pay off. I had no idea what we were going to do, and I was in no mood to pray, or to reflect on how God has always provided, nor was I inclined to remember the scripture I had just read about God's promise to provide. I didn't want to act wise or self-controlled; I wanted to punch things and yell. Thank God my boss noticed something was wrong and prayed with me before I had time to embarrass myself.
Photo Credit: HAWK Takahashi

Things worked out splendidly and I've no intention of explaining how.  I will say that God provided and that a few things which were at least as unexpected as an impounded car helped save the day. Right now everything is fine, situations are resolved and the song in my heart is Psalm 30, but next time I find myself in what appears to be a hopeless situation, I pray I can remember the lilies of the field.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

RE: Psalm 29

 
There’s a reason that we are drawn to epic scenery, stories, and characters: our God is epic.  The voice of the Lord shakes the desert (29:8) and twists oaks (29:9), and why shouldn’t it?  It is the same voice that spoke the swirling galaxies into existence.  It blows my mind that the same world-forming, oak-twisting voice also speaks the tender and warm words of Jesus.  Jesus’ gentle words are no less powerful than any that ever shook the earth.  Jesus’ words have done more than shake, they’ve transformed how much of the world thinks and lives.  I encourage you to reflect on the following excerpt from the sermon on the mount and ask yourself how the voice of Jesus would transform you today.

Matthew 5:3-10


Photo Credit: Zach Dischner
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.














Friday, April 13, 2012

RE: Psalm 28

I was bullied a bit as a kid. Once when I still attended a Christian school, an older boy on the school bus stomp kicked my face. I didn't tell anyone, since bullying was pretty common and I didn't want to look weak. I wanted to look strong. In fact, the desire to appear powerful became a driving force around this time in my life. I wanted to show that I was strong so I wouldn't get hurt any more. I didn't want anyone to get hurt any more. I hated bullies ferociously, so I committed myself to becoming stronger than they were. Tragically, I found out that the more I tried to be the strongest, the more my friends just got hurt by me instead of by someone else. Trying to stand up against bullies, I quickly became a one myself.

I don't think this experience is too unique. Trying to out wit and out gun the corruption and evil in our lives we easily become poisoned by our bitterness and resentment, and can ultimately become worse than what we hated at first.   It is once we recognise our own sinful power struggle that we pray the words, Do not drag me off with the wicked,with the workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbours while evil is in their hearts (28:3). And it is with full knowledge that we are no better than our enemies that we beg for forgiveness and Blessed be the Lord! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy (28:6). Thank God he remains patient and loving even when we are temperamental, judgemental, and fearful.

The Lord is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed (
28:8).


Photo credit: Ian Kahn

Thursday, April 12, 2012

RE: Psalm 27

There are few verses in all of poetry that move my heart so much as, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me” (27:10).  There were a great many times, particularly in high school, when I could not bring myself to believe that God was working things out for my good as he’d promised to do (Rom 8:28).  At those times this chapter has been reinforcement for God’s many other promises.  On any given day God may not be obviously in control, on any given day we may find ourselves poor, sick, or crippled with anxiety.  On these days Psalm 27 takes up the cry of our breaking hearts: begging God to show his goodness (17:9), and refusing to despair until he does (27:13-14).


Photo Credit: "In A Lonely Place" by PCT

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

RE: Psalm 26

I don’t want to upset anybody, but I think this psalm sounds self righteous.  The psalmist sounds an awful lot like the pompous Pharisee in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14).  Arrogant or not it’s in the Bible; at times like this it is essential to remember that the Bible is what we call, Divinely Inspired.  The speaker in this psalm is not a religious windbag, but the very Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God has every right to brag.  The Spirit of God cries out on our behalf, here in this psalm and in every moment.  This poem even takes on new meaning when we read it from a New Testament perspective.  Consider the words, “LORD, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells” (26:8).  The temple mentioned is us (1 Cor 6:19).  You and I are the house where God lives and the place where his glory dwells.  He loves it here; he loves you.  Read this psalm joyfully, knowing that God finds pleasure in you and his Spirit intercedes for us. (Rom 8:26)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

RE: Psalm 25

No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause. -Psalm 25:3


During times of doubt and struggle I have read and reread this verse until the words echoed in my head for days at a time. At times the world is an oppressive and bewildering place to live. At I do not even feel that I understand my own life. In these times Psalm 25 is of particular value. This psalm is simply a promise that God is worth the faith we've put in him.

There are many little proverbs that we use to encourage one another, sadly I do not usually find them encouraging. Truisms are well meant, but I can't buy into them. It would be better to take the encouragement wherever I can find it, but God reaches out to me, even in my cynicism, and offers Psalm 25.

What do you put your hope in?



Monday, April 9, 2012

Jackson Pollock & Jesus

Today my wife purposed having a Jackson Pollock activity night for our youth group. If you're unfamiliar with Pollock he was a painter who literally threw paint at canvases; he flung and drizzled color off of brushes and broken glass until he felt satisfied. Whether or not you'll agree to call his pieces art, you will at least have to agree that the process does sound like fun. This fun process is what my wife proposed, and I'm ashamed to admit that my first inclination was to wonder where the “Spiritual Value” was in such an activity. I started thinking about how to put paint flinging into a devotion. Which is fine, it is good to communicate the gospel by all possible means; however, there is much more to life than a few prescribed ways to think about and interact with God. I want to say this very clearly: there is nothing wring with fun for fun's sake, or art for art's sake.

Not every moment of every day needs to be drenched in somber reflection or passionate worship. God is over all and through all and in all(Eph 4:6). He says to think about everything that is praiseworthy (Eph 4:8). He even promises a perfect day when there will be no more teaching about him(Heb 8:11). He has made for us a world full of clay, color, light, and also olives. We were not originally created for the purposes of going to church and reading quietly. We were created in the image of God, to be like God. It should come as no surprise that being like God includes being creative, fun, romantic, or playful. Still I forget.

Well that was my devotional thought about how not everything needs to be a devotional thought. I'm gonna go throw knives, drink tea, and read Inkheart. Go find something to enjoy.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Sunday

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” -John 20:19-21
Dear Friends,
Today is Easter; Jesus is risen and the dramas of lent are over. I'm not perfectly sure why you're reading this because today is not the day for solemn reflection; today is a day for parties! Find a party and get started immediately; make it a party befitting the royalty God has made you. Celebrate like a convict who's been released early; rejoice like a soldier who's long final battle has been won. Today is a day to grin like an idiot and hug people because your many sins are completely and finally forgiven; they are taken away and will never be revisited by your saving lover, Jesus Christ.
Challenge: You're still reading? Get out of here and get to a party! This day has been given to us to remember God's magnificent victory over the sin, death, and the devil; so stop reading and go dance, laugh, and eat with your many brothers and sisters. Rejoice! Death is swallowed up in victory!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Holy Saturday & Waiting

 Beth brings you today's post:

Molly Mahoney: Now we wait.  
Mr. Edward Magorium: No. We breathe. We pulse. We regenerate. Our hearts beat. Our minds create. Our souls ingest. 37 seconds, well used, is a lifetime. 
~From Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

I always feel kind of bad for this Saturday. It doesn’t get a special name, doesn’t get a church service. If you practice the Catholic faith you may find yourself at an Easter Vigil on Saturday night, but that’s about as big a deal as today gets, and even that is really just waiting around for tomorrow. Tomorrow there will be trumpets and lilies, perhaps Easter baskets and family dinners. Tomorrow, even if the clouds are grey, will be bright and light and full of rejoicing. But today...What is today?
Today, we wait. We have gotten through the fasting of Lent, reflected on all of what Jesus suffered for us, and now we wait to hear the Good News: that He has risen for us, for our new life. But today we hear nothing. The disciples heard nothing that day. They locked themselves in a room waiting in fear (Luke 24).
God has not designed us for fear. He has designed us for life! Even 37 seconds can be a lifetime of rejoicing, of discovering, of knowing the Truth that you can rejoice in daily, even if it is still Lent. How much more can 24 hours be? Today is not a day to just wait. It is a day to Live.

Challenge: Do something new and beautiful today. Perhaps watch
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium for inspiration. Let God change how you wait.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday Lectio Divina

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” - Isaiah 53:4

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” - Isaiah 53:5

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” - Isaiah 53:6

Challenge:

Make sure you have at least ten minutes.
Find a quiet place alone.
Pick one of the verses above.
Follow these steps for Lectio Divina:

Read: Read the verse aloud between ten and twenty times. Pay attention to what stands out to you.

Reflect: Think about the verse. Turn it over in your mind; look at in from different perspectives. What is God saying, to you, today, in this verse?

Pray: Pray your thoughts out to God. Whether it's thanking, apologising, asking, or praising, give all your thoughts over to God.

Rest: Wait here. You are in God's presence. If you asked him for something then now is a time to prepare to receive it. If you apologised, now is a good time to accept his forgiveness. Be still and know the Lord is God.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday Heartbreak

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” -Matthew 26:26-30

This dinner breaks my heart. Jesus knows. Jesus knows that Peter will deny him, Judas will betray him, the rest will abandon him, and he will be left to face torture and death completely alone. Jesus knows all that and he still has one last dinner with his friends who he knew would desert him. Jesus knows all that and still washes their feet, still encourages them, and still hands them the Cup.  Jesus was not surprised by his disciples’ failings. He came into the world because of their failings, to redeem them and to redeem us.

Challenge: Jesus wants you to know that he loves you no matter what. Go through your day today remembering that because of Jesus’ sacrifice, nothing can ever separate you from his love (Rom 8:38-39).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Holy Wednesday: Looking Out For Number One

“Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.” –Matthew 26:14-16

Who do you depend on to care for you? If your answer is, “myself” then you have something in common with Judas. Like many of us, Judas looked for ways to gain an edge and to turn a profit. He was determined to take care of himself. By betraying Jesus, Judas was simply taking advantage of a money making opportunity. He was so focused on profits that he lost the only real treasure he ever had.

Challenge: Ask yourself how you measure success. Is it in profits, grades, wins, commitment, or intelligence? At times we’ve valued these earthly treasures above the eternal treasures of love, mercy, and hope. We too have betrayed the savior of the world. Mercifully it is precisely this betrayal that he died to forgive.

RE: Holy Thursday By: William Blake

In commemoration of Holy Week, William Blake has prepared a pair of poems for us. The first one is called Holy Thursday, and gives a nice, cute little depiction of some orphans singing about Jesus.

Holy Thursday (Song's Of Innocence) By William Blake


‘Twas on a Holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,

The children walking two and two, in red and blue and green,

Grey headed beadles walk’d before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul's they like Thames’ waters flow.


Oh what a multitude they seem’d, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own.

The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.



Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,

Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of Heaven among.

Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor;
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.


The second is also called Holy Thursday, and it calls shenanigans on the first poem.


Holy Thursday (Song's Of Experience) By William Blake


Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

And their sun does never shine,
And their fields are bleak and bare,
And their ways are filled with thorns:
It is eternal winter there.

For where'er the sun does shine,
And where'er the rain does fall,
Babes should never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.

William Blake wrote in London in the 1700s, a time when the poorest peoples, the widows and orphans, were not treated especially well. It is to a society of inequality that Blake wrote these Holy Thursday poems. Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, is the day Jesus ate the last supper with his disciples. Before the meal he washed their feet, a servant's task meant to set an example of service for all Christians. Since then Christians have traditionally used the day to perform humble acts of service for the poor and needy. Over time, acts of true service were warped and replaced with more symbolic acts. One such act was to bring the orphans of London's Foundling Hospital to sing at St. Paul's Cathedral. Allowing the orphans to sing for the parishioners was considered as a treat for such poor children. Blake didn't think, “allowing the poor to sing to you” was quite on par with Christ's example of humble service.

I don't think Blake's 1700s criticisms are irrelevant. I think we have just as much temptation today to engage in symbolic acts of service and neglect real ones. We “like” causes on Facebook, we attend Christian rallies, and Christian concerts, and post Christian articles. There's no inherent problem with any of these activities, just like there's nothing wrong with orphans singing in a cathedral. My challenge to you today is to find a way to serve your neighbor in a tangible way. After all if one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?(James 2:6)

Song's of Innocence and Song's of Experience are for sale on Amazon, and free at Project Gutenberg.