In Due Season

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S (Scripture): Ecclesiastes 3:

1

There’s a season for everything

    and a time for every matter under the heavens:

    a time for giving birth and a time for dying,

    a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,

    a time for killing and a time for healing,

    a time for tearing down and a time for building up,

    a time for crying and a time for laughing,

    a time for mourning and a time for dancing,

    a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,

    a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,

    a time for searching and a time for losing,

    a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,

    a time for tearing and a time for repairing,

    a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,

    a time for loving and a time for hating,

    a time for war and a time for peace.

O (Observation): King Solomon (supposed author of Ecclesiastes) sought wisdom from God – above all else. God granted Solomon wisdom – a double-batch of it, since he didn’t request strength or riches.

Solomon seems almost morose. Like life isn’t worth living after all. What’s the point? You live, you die. And what is different? Almost like asking: “So, universe…now that Michael is gone…what’s different?” The universe says: “Um…who’s Michael?”

A (Application): Maybe Solomon’s take was different. Maybe Solomon’s main learning was this: don’t take yourself too seriously, and enjoy life!

All things will happen. We don’t know when or how. Just don’t think the world revolves around you. Good will come and good will go. Bad will come and bad will go. But God will remain. God will see us through it all. For God dwells with us.

In the meantime, be excellent to each other!

P (Prayer): Lord, remains with me / us. Amen.

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Where is God in the Good & Bad?

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S (Scripture): Job 4:4 

Your words have raised up the falling;

    you’ve steadied failing knees.

But now it comes to you, and you are dismayed;

    it has struck you, and you are frightened.

Isn’t your religion the source of your confidence;

    the integrity of your conduct, the source of your hope?

Think! What innocent person has ever perished?

    When have those who do the right thing been destroyed?

As I’ve observed, those who plow sin

    and sow trouble will harvest it.

When God breathes deeply, they perish;

    by a breath of his nostril they are annihilated.

O (Observation): Eliphaz is one of Job’s friends. He is trying to speak from a perspective of logic to help explain to Job the reason for what is going on. At this point, Job’s livestock and family have been killed. Job himself has had boils / lesions all over his body. Job is in mourning.

Eliphaz reminds Job that Job’s faith has been a witness to many who have suffered loss. And yet, Eliphaz is confused to see that Job has not taken on his own council for himself.

To explain things, Eliphaz conflates some ideas in a less than helpful manner. He thinks bad things only happen to sinners. He can’t see bad things happening to good people. Job is good. But bad things around him have happened. Therefore (according to Eliphaz) something bad must have been going on.

A (Application): Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. We see it all the time. And we get upset or jealous.

We think God should reward us for the good we do, and correct us when we do bad. This is kind of how most of us raise our kids. Reward the good. Punish the bad.

Perhaps we can think in this way: God doesn’t tempt or taunt or expose us. God meets us where we are and doesn’t control us or our actions. Instead, God gives us grace and the space to do what we will with that grace.

Sometimes that grace is exactly what we will need when our world comes crashing down around us. And when we have something go right in our lives, we can rejoice in that moment.

P (Prayer): God, help us to sense your presence in our lives in the good and the bad. Amen.

Who Am I?

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S (Scripture): Romans 11:16 But if part of a batch of dough is offered to God as holy, the whole batch of dough is holy too. If a root is holy, the branches will be holy too. 17 If some of the branches were broken off, and you were a wild olive branch, and you were grafted in among the other branches and shared the root that produces the rich oil of the olive tree, 18 then don’t brag like you’re better than the other branches. If you do brag, be careful: it’s not you that sustains the root, but it’s the root that sustains you.

O (Observation): Paul speaks to Gentile Christians in a way that assured them that they, too (in addition to the Jewish Christians), received salvation in full. Any who believe in Christ are saved.

At the same time, they should not boast of their salvation as if they earned it for themselves. They are a branch grafted into salvation. The root sustains the branch.

A (Application): How many of us think we sustain ourselves? Don’t we just need to dig down deep inside ourselves to feel happy? To feel like we are enough?

I struggle with self-worth. To what is my identity tied?

Here are some suggestions of the “root” that Paul mentions…which point to my (and your) self-worth:

  • Child of God
  • Seal of the Holy Spirit on my forehead in my baptism.
  • Candle to remind me to shine God’s light before others
  • Luke 15 – the older brother (“everything I have is yours”)

In what ways do you sense your identity for the good?

P (Prayer): God, remind me that I am yours…and that is enough…for you are Good! Amen.

The One Thing ☝🏼

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S (Scripture): Acts 20:21 You know I have testified to both Jews and Greeks that they must change their hearts and lives as they turn to God and have faith in our Lord Jesus. 22 Now, compelled by the Spirit, I’m going to Jerusalem. I don’t know what will happen to me there. 23 What I do know is that the Holy Spirit testifies to me from city to city that prisons and troubles await me. 24 But nothing, not even my life, is more important than my completing my mission. This is nothing other than the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus: to testify about the good news of God’s grace.

O (Observation): Paul knows the one thing that is most important, above all else:

To testify about the good news of God’s grace.

He knows that dangers lie ahead, and he testifies anyway. He testifies to both Jews and Greeks. And he does all of this based on his call to serve God.

Regardless of the danger that might befall him, Paul carries on.

A (Application): Ever seen City Slickers? You know, the movie with Billy Crystal and Jack Palance. Palance plays a rough and tough cowboy named Curly.

Curly keeps telling the city slickers that the most important thing was this: then he would hold up his hand in a fist and point his index finger skyward. He would say: “the one thing.” The one thing was the most important thing. The problem is, he doesn’t tell anyone what that ONE thing is.

The idea was that we all have “one thing” that is the most important thing in the world for each of us. And no one can tell you what your one thing is. Curly didn’t tell the city slickers what that one thing is for them, because they each had to discern that for themselves.

How about you? What is your one thing? We know what Paul’s was.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to clarify our “one thing” that you have called us to. Amen.

Bonus: YouTube clip of the “one thing” conversation. (Disclaimer: foul language).

Ready or Not, Here I Come!

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S (Scripture): Mark 4:1 Jesus began to teach beside the lake again. Such a large crowd gathered that he climbed into a boat there on the lake. He sat in the boat while the whole crowd was nearby on the shore. He said many things to them in parables. While teaching them, he said, “Listen to this! A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path; and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. When the sun came up, it scorched the plants; and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked the seeds, and they produced nothing. Other seed fell into good soil and bore fruit. Upon growing and increasing, the seed produced in one case a yield of thirty to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of one hundred to one.”

10 When they were alone, the people around Jesus, along with the Twelve, asked him about the parables. 11 He said to them, “The secret of God’s kingdom has been given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables. 12 This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven.

13 “Don’t you understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14  The farmer scatters the word. 15  This is the meaning of the seed that fell on the path: When the word is scattered and people hear it, right away Satan comes and steals the word that was planted in them. 16  Here’s the meaning of the seed that fell on rocky ground: When people hear the word, they immediately receive it joyfully. 17  Because they have no roots, they last for only a little while. When they experience distress or abuse because of the word, they immediately fall away. 18  Others are like the seed scattered among the thorny plants. These are the ones who have heard the word; 19  but the worries of this life, the false appeal of wealth, and the desire for more things break in and choke the word, and it bears no fruit. 20  The seed scattered on good soil are those who hear the word and embrace it. They bear fruit, in one case a yield of thirty to one, in another case sixty to one, and in another case one hundred to one.”

O (Observation): A confusing word from Jesus leaves the disciples a bit puzzled. Instead of trying to see this as insider information, Jesus is reminding these disciples that just because one is “on the inside” (that is, one who loves and fears God) does not mean that insiders get an advantage over others. Jesus doesn’t say the disciples are good soil. They might be the soil / ground in any of these 4 situations.

Jesus quotes Isaiah 6 here, reminding the original hearers that Jesus’ story is not his own, but God’s. After all, Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God. He is simply helping to usher it in amongst God’s people while in the flesh.

Jesus says that the Kingdom comes, regardless of the state in which it is received. Humans are not in power over the soil / ground in which they find themselves. This is Good News for the oppressed and downtrodden. They just might be the good soil. And this is a word of caution to the haughty and the proud, for they just might be the path, the rocky ground, or the weeds.

A (Application): Why does this have to be so complicated? Can’t we just know? Not according to the Gospel of Mark!

Mark 1:1 – “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.” This is how the Gospel of Mark starts. The Good News is coming. Salvation is coming. And no one can tell – not even the disciples – who can receive this Good News. The eyes and ears of the best of us can be covered up. We can all become blind to the Good News, even though we claim it every week.

We have all been surprised at one time or another in whom the Word takes root. We are also surprised – at times – that the Word does NOT take root in others. We just don’t know. So, we hope. We pray. We remain humble and glory in the fact that some who embrace the Word are fruit coming forth 30-fold, 60-fold, 100-fold.

That kind of growth is beyond our comprehension, but at least we can give thanks when it does happen.

P (Prayer): Lord, you usher in your Kingdom, whether we are ready or not. Bring it! Keep bringing it! May we have ears to hear. Amen.

In the Face of the Bad, Practice the Better

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 12:Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.  8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

O (Observation):  Paul was said to have had a physical ailment that kept him from ever being fully healthy, physically.   I’d have to do more research on this, but regardless of the ailment, Paul makes a theological point.

Paul understands his physical ailment, or weakness, to be reminded that he is not whole…not without Christ.  Paul understands that even though he is weak, that simply makes room for Christ to show up and make him whole.  

What does it look like for Christ to make Paul whole?  Jesus’ grace, filling in where Paul is weak. 

A (Application):  When Christians throw around knowledge or Scripture to publicly condemn Christians or non-Christians, I get more than a little irked.   Maybe I get irked because I have a hard time with rebuttals.  I need time to think something through, and to consider all the angles before I respond.  When I respond too hastily, I find that I get too emotional in my responses, or too narrow-minded.   

We can all serve as Jesus did, sharing the Gospel, bringing healing and forgiveness, even bringing new life where there is none.   But when others criticize you for it, don’t feel like you need a rebuttal.   If you are doing something in Christ’s name that is giving life to something or someone else, fear not.  Embrace the apparent weakness, that Jesus’ grace might be sufficient to satisfy you.    

As we take the example of Jesus, we might simply turn from the negative attitudes around us, and do something GOOD in response.  Richard Rohr shares the core values of the Center for Action and Contemplation on their website.  One core principle is this:

“the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better”

As Christians and non-Christians alike try to knock you down when you serve or speak in the name of Jesus…let them…for in your weakness, Jesus’ grace will fill you.  Practice the better. Let this be Jesus’ way of filling you with grace.  

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us filled with your grace, that we might practice the better in the face of the bad.  Amen.  

Overcome Evil with Good

S (Scripture): Romans 12:14 Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. 19 Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

O (Observation):  Paul so often gives us words as difficult to swallow as the words of Jesus himself.   

In the midst of a violent regime in Rome, rather than fight, Paul calls upon the people of God to stand united in a peaceable front.  Their relationship with the rulers in Rome was tenuous, but peaceable…most of the time.  Rome was violent towards Christians, yet if they kept to themselves, the government would leave God’s people alone, for the most part.     

And so, through acts of random kindness, God’s people would survive and eventually thrive.  Not by their own direct action, but by confusing the people in charge by showing them love…letting God take on the big stuff.  

A (Application):  So hard…with the divisive nature of society these days, how do we move forward united?   Maybe one act of random kindness at a time?   Maybe less talk, and more action…action out of love for our neighbor.  

Perhaps we simply be polite to those who dislike us.  But how?  That can be so damn difficult.  

But ours is to do good.  Ours is not to believe in the falsity of “redemptive violence” (nod to Rob Bell for that phrase in his recent podcast).   Real life is not Hollywood.  The cycle of redemptive violence tries to bring an end – I win, you lose.   But the truth is that cycle never ends.  Instead, we always try to one-up each other.  So…Paul steers us away from this.  

The cycle of redemptive violence drives entertainment (like in tv shows like The a Walking Dead, or movies like The Avengers).   There is no end.  We adapt this violence to our way of thinking, rather than subject ourselves to Paul’s (and really Christ’s) words.   

This is my struggle today.  How is it for you?

P (Prayer): Lord, you call us to bring words of peace and hope, where there is despair.   Help us in this monumental task. Amen.