Archive for November, 2009

Friday, November 6th Luke 13:31-35

November 6, 2009

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'” Luke 13:31-35

Let’s start by making three observations of this text that are a bit surprising. First, some Pharisees came to Jesus to warn him that Herod was looking to get rid of him. At least some of the “bad” guys are “good” guys.

Second, while we normally use masculine gender references for God, here Jesus describes God as a mother hen longing to gather her brood under her wing. If there is room in Jesus’ imagination for seeing God as a “mother”, why can’t there be such room in ours?

And third, Jerusalem, the holy city, the site of the temple and the epicenter of the promises of the faith…is also the killing ground of the prophets. Normally thought of as a place to find God, it turns out to be a place that rejects God. And will do so again when Jesus comes to town.

And yet none of this will stop Jesus. His face is set. His back is bowed. He will not and cannot be stopped until he has walked the entire length of the road set before him.

“Surprise” is an important word for the experience of the Christian faith. The good news of forgiveness, experientially, always comes as surprise. The faith is a lived experience and therefore cannot be pinned down or contained. There are always surprises – the first become last, the least and the last and the lost become the center, the values and ways of the world are turned upside down.

It won’t be long until Jerusalem will have its way with Jesus. But until then, Jesus will not be stopped.

How often does your faith surprise you? How often does your faith take you down roads you didn’t expect, into conflicts you didn’t create, across the paths of people who surprise you? “Good” people who do very bad things or “bad” people who amaze you with acts of love and service?

How often are you tempted to give up? Just throw off thoughts of faithfulness or discipleship and do your own thing? How often are you discouraged?

And yet you haven’t given up, have you? You are still here. You are reading these devotions. You are living your life. You are struggling along. You are following Jesus. Surprise, surprise, surprise – God isn’t through with you yet!

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we hear that image of you longing to gather us like chicks beneath your wings and we want to cuddle up right there and be with you. And yet we recognize that we are all too often numbered among those who reject you and your will for us. Our faith surprises us precisely when we recognize how little control we really have. So we pray that you not give up on us, that we not give up on you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Advertisement

Thursday, November 6th Philippians 3:17-4:1

November 5, 2009

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. Philippians 3:17-4:1

Philippians is a beautiful letter of Christian encouragement. Whenever I read the letter I’m reminded of the more modern concept of “flow.”

To be in the “flow” is like an 8 cylinder engine powering a well designed car through well paved mountain curves. It just purrs along, performing like it was intended to perform. The driver and the car are one machine.

To be in the “flow” in our lives is that sense of everything fitting together, everything working together, our gifts matching the opportunities of our lives. It is that deep sense that we are where we are supposed to be, that we have been created for this moment and this purpose.

We think of Paul as a Christian missionary, and he was, but he wasn’t necessarily a church planter. He seems to have been more of a church developer. In many places Paul is visiting Christian communities that had previously gathered. But the church in Philippi was the first community that Paul had established in that area. From the beginning there had been opposition from both Gentile and Jewish sources but Paul and the others who established the church were able to weather the storms. The Christian community in Philippi certainly held a special place in Paul’s heart.

It was, for Paul, a community as it ought to be. Together they were in the flow.

When Paul says to the Philippians that they ought to “imitate me” he isn’t elevating himself as someone special or particularly laudatory, he is distinguishing himself (and the gospel he proclaims) from those who continue to threaten the Philippian church. In previous verses, he warns the Philippians against the “evil workers…who mutilate the flesh (3:2).” These are the voices of those who want to add external rituals to the internal trust in Jesus that is the center of the Christian faith. Paul is reminding them that their Leader isn’t about earthly religious power plays or displays but about the transformation of hearts and lives.

Back now to the concept of “flow”…

My experience is that “flow” is a relational term. It isn’t something we sense in isolation from the world around us but a sense that comes in relationship with the world around us. It is a sense when inner resources and gifts align and all things work together. Like the air passing over and under the wing of an airplane, the flowing air provides both lift and resistance. The wing itself is fixed but working in conjunction with the thrust of the engine and the physical dynamics of the universe.

Paul’s encouragement here is for the Philippians to see that Jesus is the fixed wing of their faith, the One to which they cling, on whom they depend, and from whom they draw their purpose. As they live and work together, holding fast to that which doesn’t move, they are being carried to where God wants them to be.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, the struggles of our faith today are far more subtle than the active opposition of your first followers. And yet the siren song of the gods of our bellies tempt us all the time. Thank you for the words of encouragement from Paul which remind us that you are carrying us to where we need to be, that all things work together for those who love you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, November 4th Psalm 27:7-10

November 4, 2009

Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation! If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up. Psalm 27:7-10

We’ve all done it. We’re not proud of it. We weren’t at our best when we did it. But we’ve all done it.

In the face of conflict with a loved one, rather than taking the time (and the risk) of dealing directly with the conflict and our feelings about it, we have resorted to that age-old trick we picked up sometime after we turned two – we gave the other person the silent treatment.

I hate the silent treatment! I hate receiving it and I hate the feeling I have when I’m the one doing it!

Walking past the other person as if they are not there. Avoiding eye contact…and if a little accidental eye contact happens, giving it that little Clint Eastwoodian squint. Oh that is an awful thing we do to one another!

But we’ve all done it. Even though it has never gotten us anywhere. Even though it doesn’t lead to winning or losing or anywhere in the middle. It just postpones the real relational work that needs to be done. It is a blatant childish manipulative power grab…oh, I hate when I catch myself doing it!

Yet how many times in our lives have we, at least somewhere inside, wondered if that isn’t exactly what God does to us? Is God giving us the silent treatment?

Psalm 27 is a psalm of praise and a song of deliverance from our enemies. It begins and ends with words of confident expectation that God is stronger than any foe or fear. And yet right here, in the above verses, the psalmist speaks of our fears which are stronger than any enemy. Our spiritual, emotional fears which are as numbing and as unnerving as anything a physical enemy could throw our way.

Our fear of rejection, of abandonment, of forsakenness, of receiving the silent treatment from God…

So the writer cries out, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

Imagine here that we are standing next to a God who refuses to look at us, a God giving us the silent treatment. Suddenly the pain of such rejection motivates us to do what we would never otherwise have the confidence to do – we reach for God’s head, hands over each ear, and we turn that face toward us like a little toddler in arms will do to her mother.

“Look at me!” we cry. “Look at me! Turn your face to me!”

Then comes the decisive moment. The jumping off point. The place where we either give up the power struggle and open our hearts to one another or we give another Clint Woodian squint and march back to our separate but unequal corners.

Right there we have a choice. My choice is that I’m not going to walk away. I’m going to give up the fight of having it my way but I’m not going to let go. “Look at me! Turn your face to me!” And as we melt together I know the love which binds us is more powerful than anything an enemy could throw at us.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we want to know you, not just know about you. We want to feel you, not forget about you. We want a connection with you, as parent and friend, as giver of life, not just giver of gifts. We sense deep inside that to truly know you stills our fears and lifts our faces and enables us to live our lives fully and free. We want to know you, Lord! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, November 3rd Genesis 15:7-18

November 3, 2009

Then he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates…” Genesis 15:7-18

Who can forget that great opening scene from “The Fiddler On the Roof” when Tevye sings about the power of tradition? “WHY? TRADITION!” (Or, to quote a line most often attributed to every single parent who has ever lived…”Because I say so, that’s why!”

This text from Genesis is the beginning of the battle that is still being fought today about the rightful ownership of the land of Israel. The ceremony described is the sealing of the covenant between Abraham and God in which God promises to give his people a future home. It includes the recognition that there will be suffering between now and then, that the people of God will experience a period of bondage and servitude but their faithfulness will result in great promise.

Tradition!

I am a creature of habit and I enjoy my habits. Unfortunately, even the bad ones like the cup of coffee sitting next to me on my desk as I type. I have used the same bathroom products since I was in college, the same shampoo, shaving cream, soap and aftershave. I bet that my time in the shower in the morning doesn’t vary by more than a few seconds.

But a couple of years ago I got a free new razor in the mail. A Gillete Fusion. Kind of futuristic looking. A little strange. But it shaved like butter and I loved it. I’m going to make a change! A new tradition!

Which raises the question….when it is good, right and salutary that traditions change? When it the right time to let go of the past and be open to a brand new future? When will the people of Israel and the people of Palestine (who have their own traditions regarding the “ownership” of the land of their fathers and mothers) come to understand that land that is shared can still be land that is enjoyed?

When is the right time to look closely at our lives, at our family histories, at our current state of affairs and ask ourselves, “Is it time for a change? Is it time to rethink how we think? Is it time to try something new, to change?”

The most healthy traditions are those that evolve. Static traditions become ends in themselves rather than the means to the end for which they were initially established. Lent is a great tradition…because it incorporates the reminder of the value of repentance, of changing, of being redirected. What needs to change for you today?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you make wonderful promises to us as your children, promises of a love that won’t end, of a presence that won’t go away, of a purpose for living that makes a better world now. We pray for the grace to stay open-minded and open-hearted to the world around us, that the traditions of our faith and our lives might give us life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, November 2nd Genesis 15:1-6

November 2, 2009

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:1-6

Read these devotions very long and you will see that there is great importance and value in words. Plain and simple words that have the power to crawl beneath our skin and redefine our reality.

There are phrases that continue to evoke the best in us… “A government of the people, by the people, for the people…” ”The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…” “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” “Some men look and ask why, I ask ‘why not’…” “I have a dream today…”

Today’s passage brings to mind another such phrase that might not be so well known outside of recovery circles but it nonetheless means a lot to many people…”I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him…” This is the short hand version of the first three steps.

God chose Abraham. From our point of view we can see a certain logic in that choice. Abraham was too old and a very unlikely candidate – which means that anything good that happens HAS to be God’s work, no confusion there. Abraham was a foreigner, an outsider, an Aramean – which opens the door to one of the hardest lessons human beings will ever have to learn, a lesson which must be taught to every generation anew, and that is that there are no outsiders, no foreigners, no strangers, in the Kingdom of God.

We can see the logic from our point of view, but clearly no one in Abraham’s time would have seen it, much less Abraham himself. He was baffled, troubled and uncertain. He didn’t see how it could happen. All he could see was why not.

Well, that’s not quite all he could see…

Despite all evidence to the contrary, over against every bit of common sense and human understanding he possessed, Abraham was willing to be willing. He was willing to trust. The text says “he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

That line is another of the great lines in human history. It helped Paul make sense of how it is that God can accept Gentiles born outside of the law. It helped Martin Luther stand up against the resistant forces of the Roman Catholic Church. It opens the door to a relationship with God that begins with faith and continues through the response of good and loving works rather than seeking godliness through our good works.

For me, it makes the faith very simple. I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, in every age, in so many different ways, you send your encouragement into our lives through the power of words. You reach into our spirits as you reached into Abraham’s with the vision of the stars, and you birth the mysterious ability and hunger to trust you. To believe you. And to act on that belief. In Jesus’ name. Amen.