Even Joy, in Disbelief

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Mark 8:14 Jesus’ disciples had forgotten to bring any bread, so they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 He gave them strict orders: “Watch out and be on your guard for the yeast of the Pharisees as well as the yeast of Herod.”

16 The disciples discussed this among themselves, “He said this because we have no bread.”

17 Jesus knew what they were discussing and said, “Why are you talking about the fact that you don’t have any bread? Don’t you grasp what has happened? Don’t you understand? Are your hearts so resistant to what God is doing? 18  Don’t you have eyes? Why can’t you see? Don’t you have ears? Why can’t you hear? Don’t you remember? 19  When I broke five loaves of bread for those five thousand people, how many baskets full of leftovers did you gather?”

They answered, “Twelve.”

20 “And when I broke seven loaves of bread for those four thousand people, how many baskets full of leftovers did you gather?”

They answered, “Seven.”

21 Jesus said to them, “And you still don’t understand?”

O (Observation): The disciples just witnessed Jesus feeding 5,000 and 4,000. Now they are headed off to other ministries…but when they got on the boat they only had 1 loaf of bread.

<Puts on sarcastic face on and drones on in sarcastic tone:>

Whatever would they do!

<shakes head>

Not only do the disciples not put 2 and 2 together…they are now like the Pharisees…not understanding that God is doing a work through Jesus. That God is bringing heaven to earth. Each are blinded in their own way.

A (Application): How many times have we witnessed or experienced God’s presence? And yet, when times get tough…we still doubt.

Does that mean we are terrible Christians? Absolutely not! We are like the Pharisees and we are like the disciples, both groups failing to completely understand what God is up to.

Perhaps part of our unbelieving is that we just can’t comprehend how magnificent our God is. Sometimes, when we are beaten down by this world, we think God has forgotten about us. Or worse, when the Church beats people down, we fail at carrying the grace-filled mysteries of our great God.

Let us repent so that our lack of faith may be acknowledged. Let us repent, so that God may fill our broken and contrite hearts. That we might somehow experience joy in the midst of our unbelief.

And then, let us take action to respond to care for those who are pushed to the margins and be grace and hope for them…even in our imperfect nature.

P (Prayer): Lord, make me whole. Amen.

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Prepping for the Thanksgiving Pilgrimage

pilgrimage

Photo credit here.

S (Scripture):  Psalm 123

3 Have mercy on us, Lord! Have mercy
because we’ve had more than enough shame.
4 We’ve had more than enough mockery from the self-confident,
more than enough shame from the proud.

O (Observation):  Sometimes some of the psalms will run in themes; other times, the psalms are a bit random in their placement / order.   This is a case in which a few of the adjacent psalms have a bit of a connection, with the theme of “Pilgrimage psalms.”

One can see a cluster of Hebrew people, walking along dusty roads leading towards Jerusalem, kids laughing while sitting on the cart being pulled by the donkey.   Weary from travel, they repeat the words: “I raise my eyes to you – you who rule heaven.  Have mercy on us, Lord!  We’ve had more than enough shame.”

They come, seeking wisdom and comfort from the Lord.  They pilgrimage to be reminded that God is in the world, making things right for all who believe.  That God stands with the downtrodden, the weak, and the poor…for the rich will rarely stand with the poor, and the self-confident will rarely show mercy.

A (Application):  As Thanksgiving approaches (less than 2 weeks away), we have the privilege of thinking about all of the things for which we are thankful.   We journey to see family and friends, kids playing (or hopefully, sleeping) in the back of the car, while we check our smartphones for directions (or to take side roads to avoid the traffic from the accident a few miles ahead).

But do we take time on those trips to recognize God’s Spirit pulling us together as friends and family?  That unspoken draw, that gravitational pull, that tug within our heart…to gather together…that pull is the Spirit drawing us together.  We draw together to put away the shame for a few days – at least, hopefully.

I recognize that for some, the shame deepens at the holiday season.  Trips are made reluctantly, because the shame will get worse, by family members that wish to disown you, or show apathy towards you and your life.

So as we pilgrimage…let us go with our eyes lifted towards heaven…where God hears our calls and our cries.

May we show thankfulness and gratitude, and be surrounded by those we love.

And check out Seth Godin’s Thanksgiving Reader, a free resource that will help you to remember that Thanksgiving is about gratitude and possibility.  Perhaps just one or two of the readings from it would lift your spirits and bring joy to you and those you gather with this coming Thanksgiving holiday.

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep us mindful of the joy you have in store for us…joy that overshadows the shame we feel in this world.  Amen.

An Oldy, but a Goodie!

Photo credit here. 

S (Scripture): Psalm 95
1 Come, let’s sing out loud to the Lord!
Let’s raise a joyful shout to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let’s come before him with thanks!
Let’s shout songs of joy to him!
3 The Lord is a great God,
the great king over all other gods.
4 The earth’s depths are in his hands;
the mountain heights belong to him;
5 the sea, which he made, is his
along with the dry ground,
which his own hands formed.

O (Observation):  Very much centered on God as Creator, this psalm gives thanks and praise to God.   Coming from a background that seems fairly stable, this psalm was likely written in a time of peace for God’s people.   

Times were not always so for God’s people, but when they got the chance to simply praise God, they did.  

A (Application):  Getting away and giving thanks and praise to God are part of the Christian life.  Retreating and centering one’s life – whether that retreat be a weekend worship service, or a pilgrimage like the ELCA Youth Gathering (coming up in Houston in June 2018) or the ELCA Rostered Ministers Gathering (happening now in Atlanta) – is essential for our physical, emotional, social, and spiritual health. We need some time away to quiet our minds and separate ourselves from the demands on our time.   

Giving thanks to God is a natural thing for a Christian, even (or especially) in times of doubt or uncertainty.   Acknowledging that God watches over us and never lets us drown is of key importance to us.  

As I read this psalm, I couldn’t help but think of the times I’ve sung this psalm in retreat (read: worship).   Lots of YouTube videos of many different arrangements of this psalm exist.  

Let this be a reminder that our Lutheran liturgy is not some standalone material fabricated by folks in fancy robes.  Rather, the words are mined from the Mountain of scripture before us.  Some digging had to be done, to discover the gems that lay inside the Scruptires already.   No need to re-create.   Re-fashion into song? Yes.  But re-create?  No.  

Peace!

P (Prayer):  Lord, you are amazing and all of your creation is good.  Help us to preserve this earth and respect all you have created.   Amen.  

Can We (Christians) All Get Along?

S (Scripture): Philippians 1:27 Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel…29 God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. 30 You are having the same struggle that you saw me face and now hear that I’m still facing.

2:1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, 2 complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. 3 Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. 4 Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.

O (Observation):  Paul knows what it means to be persecuted because of following Jesus.  He has served Jesus ever since his Damascus Road experience.  And now, Paul is teaching his followers what it means to follow Jesus…that following Jesus brings joy, but also persecution.   The persecutions will not be experienced alone.  Jesus shares those persecutions with his followers.  

Getting along with other followers of Jesus will also be a challenge and will be a persecution in its own way, too.  Each will have to suffer his or her own ego to take a back seat to the needs of the other.    That means not only will they be called upon to experience joy with the world around them…they would have to figure out how to get along with other Christ followers!

A (Application): Following Jesus means suffering your wants and desires to have a lower priority than Jesus’ call to discipleship. This means thinking of yourself less (like CS Lewis’ famous quote), without thinking less of yourself.  

In our world, we have quite the scarcity mindset.  We think: “If someone else wins, I must be losing.”    If someone else’s needs are met before mine, then I am weak and the other is strong.    

This scarcity spills over into our spiritual beliefs.   Can someone else who follows Christ believe something different than me about, say…the end times…or what it means to be “saved”…or how to baptize (sprinkle or immersion)…or whether I can hang out and support those of other faiths…or the LGBTQ community?   To many, we cannot have different sets of standards and follow the same Christ.   This is why we have over 30,000 denominations.  We can’t get along!

I wonder what Paul would think?

I know what I think:  we let the good and bad mingle together, doing the best we can to listen to God and respond.  I hope this includes a wide variety of opinions about what it means to follow Christ, without making anyone feel like they can’t be in fellowship together.   Let us bring joy to the world, because Jesus brought us joy in the first place.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to see that winning and losing are not the goal…but instead, following you wherever you may lead us…and to do so with great joy.  Amen. 

Thanking the Lord This Afternoon


S (Scripture): Isaiah 12:3 You will draw water with joy from the springs of salvation.
4 And you will say on that day:
“Thank the Lord; call on God’s name;
proclaim God’s deeds among the peoples;
declare that God’s name is exalted.
5 Sing to the Lord, who has done glorious things;
proclaim this throughout all the earth.”

O (Observation): God’s people sing a hymn of trust.   Sometimes they would speak words of trust to reassure themselves that God promises a good end for God’s people, even if current circumstances are bleak. 

A (Application):  Sitting with extended family on the lake.   Family reunion time.  Chairs on the edge of the lake.  Kids swimming out to the small island.   Laughing. Playing.  Teaching little ones how to skip stones on the surface of the lake.   

Thanking the Lord this morning.  Enjoying creation.  Trusting in the Lord. 

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep us trusting in you for all we need and have.  Amen.  

Theology of Work


(Photo credit: here)

S (Scripture): Ecclesiastes 5:13 There is a grievous ill that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owners to their hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture; though they are parents of children, they have nothing in their hands. 15 As they came from their mother’s womb, so they shall go again, naked as they came; they shall take nothing for their toil, which they may carry away with their hands. 16 This also is a grievous ill: just as they came, so shall they go; and what gain do they have from toiling for the wind? 17 Besides, all their days they eat in darkness, in much vexation and sickness and resentment.

18 This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot. 19 Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For they will scarcely brood over the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with the joy of their hearts.

O (Observation):  Solomon has seen what wealth can do to a person.  Wealth can turn a person inward, caring only for himself or herself.   To what end?   To a cold and lonely end.    When a rich person dies, that person cannot take their earthly goods with them.   Toiling is not bad…but if one toils to gain more things…one does so in vain.  

But Solomon gives us another view of toil: joy in contentment.   Brooding over the work gains nothing.   Instead, find the work God has called each to do, and in that, find joy!

A (Application): I continue to be amazed at our capitalistic society in the US and the growing discontent we have in our lives.   The gadgets and gizmos and vacations we all desire can drive us away from contentment and towards a poor view of our work:  work = money for stuff.   

The joy of work gives us purpose and a way to contribute to society.   The wonderful part of capitalism is the opportunity to explore any of your callings and to seek to be paid for it.   However, the downfall of capitalism is that those who cannot work, or those who cannot see work as something to be enjoyed decide that they don’t fit in, and thus, end up on the streets or living off of handouts.  

I pray that everyone find the inherent dignity in all of humanity.   I pray that everyone find the calling God has instilled in them.  I pray that we are all compassionate enough help those whose work does not allow them enough pay to live on their own.   

I pray that we all enjoy our work for the sake of bringing God glory!

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to be thankful and grateful for our callings in this world!  Amen.

Why Being Wicked is So Enticing

(Photo of Matthew McConnaughey as “the man in black” in the upcoming film, The Dark Tower, adapted from the Stephen King book series by the same name.  Photo credit here.)

S (Scripture): Psalm 73

1 Truly God is good to the upright,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant;
I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 

4 For they have no pain;
their bodies are sound and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not plagued like other people.

O (Observation):  The psalmist acknowledges that God calls all to be righteous, but for some reason, the psalmist is jealous of the wicked!

This author is not jealous of the person’s wickedness, but rather, jealous of the apparent prosperity of the wicked…

A (Application):  The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…

We so easily can be manipulated by our own egos.   We can see someone who – through dishonest or wicked means – gains popularity and / or wealth – and we can become jealous.  We can start to think about putting ourselves into that person’s place.  If I can just ignore this bit of justice or ignore that neighbor’s need…I, too, can be rich or famous.   

Look! The wicked have no pain. They are sleek!

Yeah, right!   The wicked have pain…they just don’t show you…  The pain comes in lack of support…lack of guidance…lack of joy.   
We can all be tempted to allow wickedness to guide us, because it seems to pay off in worldly ways.  Yet, what is gained?   And what is lost? 

Instead of relying on wickedness, we can rely on the Lord to supply our needs (not our wants).   

Do not let evil lure you into its trap.   Sin is just death  masquerading as life.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, remind us that we are yours and that you supply our every need.  Amen.