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.  

The Wounded Healer (or, The Gift of Affliction)


S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. 6 If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.

8 We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, 11 as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

O (Observation): What Paul has received in terms of consolation from The Lord, he feels he has received in order to console others.   He knows what defeat and failure look and feel like.   He’s been down in the duldrums before…and only God carried him through (sometimes directly, sometimes through his peers).   

Most importantly for Paul, he sees each failure and each need for consolation as a training of sorts.  He will receive consolation, so that when he sees others who need consolation, he will recognize their need and give consolation freely and with heart.  His example of a need for consolation while doing ministry in Asia is a great example of his need for such consolation.  

His kairos (a calling to do mission work in Asia) had a cross (afflictions).   

A (Application):  Wounded Healer is a book written by Henri Nouwen.   In this book, he describes the connection between a healer and the wounded person to which the healer tends.  

The connecting point between wounded and healer is the wounds each person brings into the relationship.   The healer is one who has also been wounded, but has had time to heal.   The wounded has a fresh wound.  The wounds need not be similar in type or nature, but the simple fact that one is wounded is enough of a connecting point.  

One can help another heal only when the healer has been wounded and healed.  (Yes, being healed is a lifelong process.   But one must have been through some life experience of being wounded and healed to be helpful to another who has fresh wounds.)  Over time, the healer will realize that the breadth of life experience (or lack thereof) is not a restraining factor.   The healer must meditate on the times and places in which they have been wounded and to meditate on who or what brought healing.   

As one is healed, just as with Paul, you can tap into that gift of the affliction…indeed, it is now a gift, because you have been graced through the wound, and you can now share your journey with the wounded, not necessarily to heal them, but to walk alongside them, and let God heal them.   

I wish for no one to be afflicted, and yet, this side of the Kingdom…we will receive wounds.  So, the work of healing is the gift we receive.  And we receive this because we will all have been afflicted at some point, as Paul points out.  And while we don’t celebrate the affliction, we see the usefulness of being brought through the affliction, so that we can pass on the gift of consolation with others who are afflicted…rather than judging them for their affliction.  

This whole devotion points to the fact that pastoral care is and can be done by any believer in Christ.   We have all been healed and are being healed every day.   While a pastor receives training for pastoral care…the care can be given by anyone.  

Is a member in the hospital?  Go and visit with them for about 10-15 minutes.  Let them know you’re thinking about them.  Or at least send a card or an email.   Console them.  

Is a member going through a family transition?   Let them know that you are there to listen or take them out to lunch or for some coffee.  Console them.  

Is your child or spouse going through a difficult time?   Don’t offer to solve their problems.  Sit with them.   Console them.   

Afflictions are not caused by God, but God can and does redeem afflictions that we might know what it means to be consoled.  Jesus bore our afflictions and received new life from God.   Jesus, our healer and consoled knows what it means to be wounded…and to be healed.  

See what new life God might bring through you as you console someone around you who is wounded.  
P (Prayer): Lord, heal us from our wounds, that we might be a vessel of new life for the wounded around us.  Amen. 

Women: Quiet Please…(not really :)

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 14:26 What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church. 14:27 If someone speaks in a tongue, it should be two, or at the most three, one after the other, and someone must interpret. 14:28 But if there is no interpreter, he should be silent in the church. Let him speak to himself and to God. 14:29 Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said. 14:30 And if someone sitting down receives a revelation, the person who is speaking should conclude. 14:31 For you can all prophesy one after another, so all can learn and be encouraged. 14:32 Indeed, the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, 14:33 for God is not characterized by disorder but by peace.

As in all the churches of the saints,   14:34 the women   should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak.   Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says. 14:35 If they want to find out about something, they should ask their husbands at home, because it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church.

O (Observation):  In 1 Corinthians 11:5, 10; 14:3-5, Paul makes it clear that women are indeed encouraged to be a part of public prayer and prophecy.  In this text, however, some difficulty exist in figuring out how to deal with Paul’s words about women keeping quiet in the church.

The disruptions that might occur in worship seem to be the only real problem that Paul has.   In Paul’s times, it was morally indiscreet for a wife to publically question her husband.  To keep the peace during a time of worship, Paul encourages these women to keep the silence and perhaps inquire more discreetly.  (Note, however, that Paul does encourage all to participate in v. 26.)

A (Application):  I see a big divide in Christianity, which comes down to the interpretation of Scripture.  We can’t deal with the issue of women having to keep silent in church, unless we first deal the interpretation of Scripture.

One school of thought is that the Scriptures are inerrant…that we must take, word for word, the instruction and admonition and invitations in Scripture.   I have trouble with this way of interpretation.  Taking Jesus at his word is fine.  But the further we move away from Jesus, the muddier things get.  What about creation?  Was it 7 literal days?  Perhaps.  But I won’t teach that as doctrine.  Instead, I see that God created and rested at the end of it.   What about Revelation?  I do not see a literal battle coming, but rather, this is a story of how Jesus wins in the end.

Those who see the Scriptures as inerrant also see verses like those I selected today to make it rather clear that women should be silent in church.   The inerrant viewpoint has problems, then, because Paul clearly invites women to be involved in other areas of faith development and worship, including names of women in his greetings and salutations in several of his letters.

The inerrant view also does not allow for context to be included in interpretation.   Including context seems a sinful way of interpreting the Scriptures (from an inerrant viewpoint).  Paul lived in a very different time and culture than that in which we live, though.   Separating a cultural matter from a doctrinal matter should be given quite some discernment.   Speaking about Christ as the body of which we are the members is very important doctrinally.  But women speaking in church seems to be more of a contextual issue that should allow for interpretation.

Seeing the Scriptures through the lens of Christ is the key for me and many others.   How would Jesus encourage us to see women in the church?   In Jesus we are one…men and women.  We are no longer slave or free, male and female… Oh, wait…Paul said that, right? (Galatians 3:27-28).  How would an inerrant viewpoint allow these two opposing views?

I’ll hang out here in the tension…in the Scriptures being the source and norm of our faith.  And I’ll enjoy the many female leaders in the church that have shaped my life and my faith these 38 years…

P (Prayer):  Lord, thank you for the many female church leaders you have sent into my life.  Amen.

 

Who is Setting the Pace for You?

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S (Scripture):  Luke 24:28  As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

O (Observation):  This text comes not from the Daily Moravian texts…but this is the Gospel text assigned for Sunday, April 30, 2017.   

These two followers of Jesus received news of Jesus’ death.  They are despondent and downtrodden.   On their long walk back home, the resurrected Jesus comes alongside these two men and asks what is troubling them.  They share that Jesus has suffered and died, not recognizing this stranger is Jesus himself!   Jesus reminds them of the salvation stories, starting with Moses and the prophets…on to the current day.  But these followers still don’t quite know what to make of this stranger…(who just happens to be the resurrected Jesus!).

Not until Jesus breaks bread with them is he revealed to them, fully.  Their “eyes were opened and they recognized him.”  Then he left…vanished.   And the disciples realize that Jesus was there in their midst, the whole time.

A (Application):  We don’t always get it.  We don’t always get the fact that Jesus is journeying with us.   The world around us is constantly challenging us.  Kids’ sports practices.  The latest gadget.   The dwindling bank account.   The competition to succeed.   The race to the top.   The need to meet the quotas.   The rat race….over and over and over again.

Breathe.   Just breathe.   Let today be the beginning of something new…a break.   Just for a few minutes…just for a day…maybe for a  few days.   Re-charge.

While you are resting…maybe you will have a chance to recognize God’s presence in your midst.   While we are running, we have a hard time catching our breath or noticing what God is up to in our lives.

You need some downtime to sit, break bread with others…and notice that God is here.  Now.  In your presence.   Do this “rest” thing with someone you love and trust.   See what happens.

Then…get back at it.   Go on.  But now, know that God is with you.  That will change your whole outlook on the race you are running.   You will no longer be running the race for yourself…you will realize that you are not running alone.  You will see that God is with you on your journey…let God set your pace.

P (Prayer):  God, slow us down…pace us…let us know your presence is real.  Amen.

“Have You Heard That Song By…”

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 2:3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling. 4 My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God.

O (Observation):  Paul is telling the church in Corinth that his “street cred” was not from his intellect, but from a demonstration of the Spirit of God.  Had he convinced these new followers with intellect, then perhaps being a disciple could come down to simply intellectual assent and agreement with Paul.  This is not what Paul wants for followers of Christ.   The Spirit is to call them…

Just like in the resurrection experience of the two Mary’s at the tomb in Matthew 28.   Matthew 28 describes this episode of an earthquake and an angel appearing like a flash of lightning, with the empty tomb.   The two Mary’s are witness to the fact that Jesus is no longer in the tomb.   They can try to explain this all to the disciples, but instead they run to the disciples and say, “Come and see!”  They can try to explain it, but they must see for themselves.  And once they “come and see,” the two Mary’s (and indeed, you and I) are called upon to “Go and Tell!”

A (Application):  I was listening to the Rob Bell podcast yesterday (Episode 10, I believe).   He talks about the experience of trying to describe a song.   You can compare it all you want to other songs or musicians, but until that person hears the song for themselves, they won’t fully understand the sound of that song.   Experiencing a song lies beyond the realm of intellect.   You have to “feel” it, experience it.

Becoming a follower of Christ is not just listening to a description of Jesus being fully God and fully human.  A follower does not simply recite a Creed in order to fully understand the life of a disciple.   Becoming a follower of Christ lies beyond the realm of intellect.  Paul knows this, and chooses instead to let the Spirit do it’s thing in order to create and sustain the church in Corinth.

Martin Luther, in The Small Catechism, explains what we believe the Spirit is up to when we recite the words of third article of the Creed:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.

Only the Spirit can move us to believe.  And as such, I cannot know exactly who believes and who doesn’t.

My job is to “come and see” and then “go and tell,” just like the two Mary’s at the tomb in Matthew 28, just like Paul to the church in Corinth.

We are God’s hands and feet, but the Spirit leads the way.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to “come and see,” and then “go and tell,” so that your mighty works may be made known through us.  Amen.

Who is Your Master?

S (Scripture): Romans 14:1 Now receive the one who is weak in the faith, and do not have disputes over differing opinions. 2 One person believes in eating everything, but the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not despise the one who does not, and the one who abstains must not judge the one who eats everything, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5 One person regards one day holier than other days, and another regards them all alike. Each must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day does it for the Lord. The one who eats, eats for the Lord because he gives thanks to God, and the one who abstains from eating abstains for the Lord, and he gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives for himself and none dies for himself. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For this reason Christ died and returned to life, so that he may be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

O (Observation):  Paul helps the Christians in Rome to understand that the actions people take are not to be regarded solely for the action itself.  Jews and Romans were both beginning to believe that Jesus was their Lord, but their actions were different amongst their individual cultures, even as each was faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ.  

So, intent of action is to be considered.  Well…how does one begin to understand intent?

First, one must get to know the person to understand their action.   Second, after getting to know the person, one must seek to understand the intent of their action.  Third, one must begin to understand if the intent is inspired by the person’s devotion to the Lord.   If the person is devoting their action to the Lord, then so be it.  

Could the other person be misguided?  Perhaps.  Might one disagree with the course of action.  Could be.  

Paul doesn’t think anything goes.  Rather, he is focused on those who see Jesus as their master.  If Jesus is truly one’s master, then the intent is good and pure, resulting in action that should not be critiqued.   

And whether the action leads to life or death, Jesus has us covered, thanks to his death and resurrection.  

A (Application):  So which master are we following?   That seems to me to be the key question, for that answer will inform our actions more than anything else.  

Since we are not perfect on this side of the Kingdom, we can certainly falter. So we should be open to constantly discerning who our master is in order to discern if our actions are good and of pure in intent.  

When our master is the Lord Jesus Christ, our actions will bear fruit of some sort.  When our master is anything else, we will serve it and thus ourselves.  

If you’re wondering why someone else is doing something, don’t just judge their action.  Get to know them and in doing so, you will get to know their intent.  If the intent is wholesome, perhaps you need to let go of your resistance.  If their intent is self-serving, don’t expect it to bear fruit.  If their intent is to cause harm, you will have to discern whether or not to help keep that harm from occurring.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, give us wisdom.  Amen.  

Adopted…not Our Doing


S (Scripture): Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ) – if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him.

O (Observation): To be brought into the fold as a child of God, one is adopted.  Whether a descendant of Abraham or not, one is only adopted, and never privileged to claim the name for one’s self.  

As adopted children of God (through the work of the Spirit), one also becomes an heir of God…not just for the gift of eternal life, but that our whole reason for being is transformed from self-seeking behavior, to life-giving behavior for self and others.   

A (Application):  How hard is it to understand that being a child of God is not something we earn on our own?   We give ourselves credit for believing…but that is HARDLY the case to sustain a relationship with God.  

In a wildly irrational act, Jesus chose to suffer for our sake.  Jesus showed that suffering humiliation and death was way more important than allowing the world to engage in the life of “redemptive violence” (thanks, Rob Bell, for that phrase)..that we each have to get our own way, or the last punch!

Instead of my view of Christianity, or your view of Christianity, there is simply Christ crucified.  And as the Spirit joins us to Christ, we no longer have to fear our failures or shortcomings.  Instead, we focus on our callings to live out God’s love in the world. 

We are adopted into God’s family.  Thanks be to God!

P (Prayer):  Lord, we thank you for bringing us into the fold.  Amen.