Archive for January, 2010

Thursday, January 14th. 1 Corinthians 12:26

January 15, 2010

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

I’m having a crazy week this week and will be heading out of town tomorrow. So I gave myself permission not to send out devotions this week. But I feel a need to send this note today.

Only the most callous of hearts would not be breaking at the news of the devastation that Tuesday’s hurricane has brought to the desperately poor country of Haiti. The situation there is beyond imagination for those of us who haven’t experienced what they are going through.

The earthquake was naturally indiscriminate. From the wealthiest to the poorest of the poor, thousands have been killed and thousands upon thousands are living in shock, grief and fear.

When tragedy strikes, the Body of Christ mobilizes support. “If one member suffers, all suffer together.”

It is times like this – for a Lutheran like me – that I am reminded of the work that we are able to do together as a whole church that we simply can’t do as individual congregations.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is already responding to the critical needs of survivors in Haiti. Thankfully, the Lutheran offices and staff on the island were spared in the earthquake, making it possible for work to begin immediately. Staff there will focus their immediate efforts on issues of water safety and sanitation, assisting with medical triage, and providing emergency sheltering for the many who are now homeless. The ELCA has long-standing relationships in Haiti through several organizations and the Lutheran Church in Haiti.

In anticipation of your generous gifts, ELCA Disaster Response has authorized $250,000 for immediate relief assistance in Haiti, with the possibility for an additional $500,000 as the full scope of this disaster continues to become clear. Your gifts are needed now to make this type of rapid response possible.

While volunteers, especially skilled workers, will likely be needed in the coming months, the situation on the ground is still far too chaotic – no water, no power, few roads, and very limited communication – to support volunteers traveling to the area in the immediate days.

There are two easy ways you can give:

1. Go to this web site:

https://community.elca.org/NetCommunity/SSLPage.aspx?pid=538

2. Credit card by phone: 800.638.3522

Certainly there are many organizations that will be providing on the ground relief. Give to the organization of your church, but do give. It is the first thing we can do.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, let our prayers join those being lifted up around the world in concern for our suffering brothers and sisters in Haiti. Hear those prayers and let them inspire us to do what we can to help. We know that tragedies happen – use us as your own to relieve suffering and bring hope wherever we can. Be with all who are grieving lost loved ones, those in positions of responsibility that they lead well, and those who are able to bring relief. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Friday, January 8th Galatians 5:22-26

January 8, 2010

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:22-26

Many years ago I read a book that talked about the need for husbands and fathers to have an “iron fist” in a “velvet glove.” Even as I type those words I cringe (too many children have suffered at the hands of fathers with iron fists) but “spare the rod, spoil the child” was not the point that the author was making. Instead, he was arguing for the careful balance of strength and restraint, of boundaries and unconditional love.

He was making an argument for gentleness.

Sometimes I picture Jesus kneeling quietly beside the bed of a little girl, gently speaking the words, “Talitha cum”, and helping her sit up. I see the look of shock on the faces of her parents, the uncontained joy at the healing of their daughter, and even the wonder in Jesus’ face at the power of God’s healing love.

I see Jesus surrounded by children, taking one little boy onto his knee. I hear his voice promising the woman at the well living water even as he speaks of her reality without judgment or scorn. I hear him say “Peace be with you” as he enters that upper room where his disciples are hiding out.

When I picture Jesus, I see gentleness.

Sometimes I see Jesus entering the muddy waters of the Jordan just like everybody else there to be baptized by John that day. That scene always merges with the voices of the scornful who traveled just as far as everybody else, but they were there to make fun of those who were buying what John was selling. Jesus never let scorn stop him. That is strength.

I see Jesus arguing toe to toe with the religious leaders who questioned his pedigree and his authority, even to the point of suggesting he was an agent of Satan. Jesus never backed down. I see him courageously preaching a troubling message in his hometown synagogue, one that almost got him thrown off a cliff. That is strength.

Turning over the tables in the temple, standing silently in the face of the accusing voices of a disappointed crowd, offering forgiveness as his body was torn apart and suffocating on the cross. That is strength.

Paul suggests that living and being guided by the Holy Spirit in our lives opens us to the possibility of also being filled by the gifts of the Spirit. Among those gifts are gentleness – I’m suggesting here that strength is also a form of gentleness. Just as gentleness implies a measure of restraint so too does strength. The strength that Jesus showed came only from restraining his own impulses and temptations to take the easy way out, to be diverted from his godly purpose.

What links gentleness and strength is self control. Again I remember the voices I have heard in the recovery movement – “Pause when agitated.” That is a key to exercising self control.

Slow down and think. Be proactive rather than reactive. Consider the consequences of what we think, say and do. Think long term rather than short term. Be guided by love rather than vengeance. Seek the power of God and live in the Spirit. Do what is right, not only what seems right.

Be gentle, not only with others, but also with ourselves. Being conceited, competing against one another, envying one another – all of those are external projections of our own failure to be gentle with ourselves. We are blessed children of God, loved eternally by God, filled with the Spirit of God’s love. Enjoy that and live out of it.

2010 can be a great year, come what may, when we seek to live in these gifts: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, time belongs to you and we belong to you. We are entering a new year together. Help us make the most of the time that you give us. Conform us to the image of your Son. Fill us with the gifts of your Spirit. Use us as you will, always to your glory and the welfare of your people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, January 7th Galatians 5:22-26

January 7, 2010

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:22-26

Faithfulness is a word that we seldom look too closely at. We see it. We hear it. We might even use it. But do we ever think very hard about what it means?

It is a compound word. The root word is “faith” which is a noun. (Remember? A person, place or thing.) While we might know people named “Faith” and we might speak metaphorically about “standing on faith”, we all assume that faith is more of a “thing” than anything else. But what kind of a thing is it?

Then we add the suffix “ful” to the word faith and we end up with “faithful”. We usually think that the “ful” suffix means the same thing as the word “full.” As “suspenseful” means “full of suspense” (but not that “bashful” means “full of bash.”) But is “faith” really some kind of “thing” of which we can be “full”? I hardly think so.

We normally use the word “faithful” in a religious sense. A Christian, we think, is a faithful person (or at least ought to be). But is that really the case? I consider myself a “faithful” person but I never consider myself “full” of faith. Most of the time my faith is a glimmer in my reality, a speck of something that often goes unnoticed in any meaningful, helpful, way. When it comes to faith, if faith is really some kind of “thing”, then I feel like a leaky bucket. “Faith” keeps leaking out of me so I need a steady resupply to keep me connected and full.

But we also use the word in other ways. We can talk about being faithful to our spouse or significant other, faithful to various traditions of which we are a part. In that sense, faith isn’t a “thing” but a way of acting, living and behaving within an emotional, relational boundary. Faithful has to do with fidelity, loyalty, exclusivity. Faith here is more like an action word, a verb, like “love” – something which the word “thing” is hardly an apt description.

Then comes the next suffix, “ness.” “Ness” is usually thought of as a state of being. “Completeness” is the state of being complete. “Faithfulness” would then be “the state of being full of faith.” But then we’re back to the idea of faith as a “thing” and we’ve already seen that is an inadequate understanding of the word.

But what if we put all of this together, while remembering that this is a list of the GIFTS of the Holy Spirit rather than targets for human achievement? As Christian people we would immediately tie faithfulness to the person of Jesus Christ, who made visible God’s faithfulness toward us. Looking at Jesus, we would see the place of the cross as the epitome of faithfulness. Remembering Jesus, we would see water and bread and wine as places where our faith meets God’s faith, where we surrender our striving and are filled with a love we neither deserve nor understand.

Faithfulness then becomes more of a river in which we are carried along. Persons, places and things take on new meanings because of this faith which is being poured into us. Not to be used but to be used as intended. To be loved as signs of the Giver of gifts. And yes, we’re all leaky buckets – so faithfulness invites us to gather regularly with other people, at the places where we worship, to be filled with that thing which we can never understand, but without which we can never fully and truly live.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you’ve told us that faith can move mountains. Those words are still hard to hear, for faith is such a mystery to us. We know its presence, we know its power, and we know that true faith comes as a gift of your love. Fill us with this gift, that we might be faithful people in all of the corners of our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, January 6th Galatians 5:22-26

January 6, 2010

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:22-26

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California made the news again this past week. His congregation reached the end of the year with a significant budget gap of $900,000. He sent out an urgent appeal and the congregation, both the local congregation and others who care about Saddleback Church through the Internet, responded with gifts of over $2.4 million. That’s generosity.

Like many of you, I bought a copy of The Purpose Driven Life when it first came out. Pastor Warren made a ton of money with the sale of that book and the other books and resources that came after it. Part of what he did with that money was make a gift to Saddleback equal to every dollar he had been paid by the congregation through his years of ministry. Today he and his wife “reverse tithe” – they live on 10% of their income and give 90% away. That’s generosity.

As the first decade of this century came to a close, we read the sobering statistics. Over 10 years there were virtually no job gains. At least two recessions, most notably the one we are in now, has wreaked havoc on the economy and on the income and savings of most people. Over 10% of the working age populationis unemployed. We carry too much debt, partly because our “wants” exceed our abilities but also because the real costs of life have risen beyond our salaries and debt is easy to accumulate. We’re in trouble.

So it is that most non-profit institutions, from colleges to seminaries to local congregations, have found themselves struggling to pay the bills and forced to make very difficult decisions and cuts.

Generosity is a human virtue, not simply a Christian virtue. Christians have an explanation for their generosity – We love because God first loved us; we give because God first gave himself for us – but generosity has never been limited to Christians. The need to give is hardwired into us. But, because of sin, so is the temptation to be greedy. Christians can be as greedy as anyone else.

At any time, particularly in the difficult times in which we are now living, the temptation is to batten down the hatches of our lives, to worry constantly about having enough, to be greedy rather than generous. Rather than giving first, which is a hallmark of generosity, we might instead grudgingly give last if there is anything left.

Any of us involved in congregational life can appreciate the predicament Saddleback Church experienced in December. Any of us serving as pastors understand how difficult it is to ask our people to rise to new heights of generosity. But all of us know that God’s provision will always meet our needs, sometimes only through the path of the generous response of God’s people.

Be generous this new year. Give first. Give joyfully. Give sacrificially. Give proportionately to what you are given. Give intentionally. Trust in God’s provision. Support and encourage one another in your generosity.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, there is so much anxiety and uncertainty in our lives today. We fear that the world is falling down around us, too much is changing, too much seems to be fading away. Give us the grace to resist the temptation to hold back, and fill us with the kind of gratitude that fuels joyful generosity. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, January 5th Galatians 5:22-26

January 5, 2010

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:22-26

Patience and kindness. For me, these are inseparable.

I am not a patient person. Yet I have (begrudgingly at best) come to realize that the world is a place that demands patience. Not simply “expects” but demands patience.

No one can make the sun rise any earlier. A minute will take exactly a minute at every place on the globe, every minute of the day. The mere passage of time demands patience…or it invites impatience.

But what good does impatience do a person? My experience…not much.

I was raised by an on-time mother who lived in eastern North Dakota, a very on-time place. My mother used to say that “you can never be too early but it only takes a minute to make you late.” When I was in school, Ralph Erdrich was the only kid who regularly got into trouble for tardiness, the rest of us were pretty much in our desks when we were supposed to be. Lateness was considered a character defect, like laziness or lying or drunkenness or not fully appreciating lutefisk.

Thus, I became a very on-time person. For most things. Other people in my life, not to mention other people in my world, not so much. I can’t tell you the number of times my truck has left my house with me and people I love dearly sitting in it with me, all of us uncomfortable. I’m angry because I have been impatient for the last 30 minutes – the 15 minutes that passed since we were supposed to leave and the 15 minutes before that when I first realized that we were going to be leaving 15 minutes late. And everyone else uncomfortable because they “know the way I am.”

Most of the time, we got to where we were going on-time anyway…because I am an on-time person.

I’m not generally an unkind person. But my impatience brings out the worst in me. I love my wife dearly and try always to be kind. But inevitably, when my impatience is triggered, unkind words, unkind looks, unkind silence follows right behind. And we both end up slogging our way through another unnecessarily painful moment. Seldom does it occur to me how irrational I am in my impatience or how unjustified in my unkindness!

So it is that Paul links patience and kindness in his list of the gifts of the Spirit. He does the same thing in his famous “love chapter”, 1 Corinthians 13:4, “Love is patient; love is kind…”

People in the recovery movement often talk about living “life on life’s terms.” Perhaps part of what they mean when they say that is that they have learned that forcing life to accommodate itself, or other people to accommodate themselves, to our own personal desires doesn’t really work. Far better to relax, to live and let live, to take life one moment at a time, as those moments come. Impatience precludes such an attitude…and it ruins the drive.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, every day brings us opportunities to practice the humility of patience and the loveliness of kindness. Teach us patience as you support us through the frustrations and the challenges of each day. Forgive us for those times when we are impatient and unkind…but more than that, help us see and experience life, and other people, as the glorious gifts they are. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, January 4th Galatians 5:22-26

January 4, 2010

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:22-26

Welcome to another brand spanking new year! This will be the year that I turn 50 and I’ve already sensed a change in my perceptions.

We watched an Adam Sandler movie over the holidays where his character reflected on the changing perceptions of aging. He talked about the ‘20’s when we rage against personal limitations, our ‘30’s when we rage against institutional injustice and our ‘40’s when we wonder what it is in the refrigerator. I’m feeling a bit like that as we round the bend into 2010.

I haven’t made any new year’s resolutions. But I have a list of them that I would like to make – work harder on learning Spanish, write more, use my time wisely, (an the standards) lose weight, exercise more and make more healthy choices. I’m going to give each an honest shot but I’m not going to rise to the level of “resolve.” Because my life experience has told me that I would just be setting myself up for failure. I don’t want to move into a new year with a plan to fail.

But I am moving into this new year with a Bible passage in mind. It is this famous passage from Galatians. We’re going to listen to these same verses all week. Each day we will focus on one or more of the gifts Paul lists. By the end of the week, I will have them memorized. If, at the end of 2010, I will have grown at all in exhibiting these gifts in my daily life, it will have been a good year.

Love, joy and peace belong together. You could write a book on each but they belong together just the same. The “love” Paul writes about is agape love – self giving, self sacrificing love that is solely interested in the good of the beloved. It isn’t erotic love (love that seeks to use the beloved) or friendly love (love that seeks to enjoy the beloved). It isn’t wishy washy sentimentality but the kind of love that drove Jesus to a cross and the kind of love that forces me into new behaviors toward those I find difficult to love. I can’t get or model that love on my own. It can only come as a gift.

Living in such love opens the door to joy. Joy is an attitude more than a feeling. It is a deep sense in the basic “alrightness” of life under God. In the face of the darkness of the world, joy is a deep abiding sense that the world bends toward justice and that, in time, what we work for will work out. Happiness comes and goes but deep abiding joy is truly a gift of the Spirit that sustains.

And peace. I want to live in and work for peace this year. Peace, not as an absence of conflict but peace as the presence of love. Peace in the midst of struggle. Peace in the face of division. Peace in the face of the unknown and the unseen. The kind of peace that comes as we courageously engage life rather than piously avoiding such engagement. Real peace. Only love can fuel such engagement.

The world needs such love. Joy. And peace.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, walk with us into this new year of life. You’ll hear our resolutions just as you heard our Christmas wish lists. You’ll hear our wishful thinking and sense our lack of resolve. If we are to grow this year, we need the power of your Spirit in our lives and the gifts that only your Spirit can bring. Open us, fill us and use us this new year. In Jesus’ name. Amen.