Thursday, September 30, 2010

Conditions of The Heart

Matthew 6:16-24
Most of this section deals with money if we look at it from just the surface. Going deeper it really is dealing with matters of our heart. Pastoring a church I know there really is not a church that ever has too much money, yet the issue is usually not about money it is about the heart of the people. We give our hearts, make commitments, to many different things. We can see what those commitments are in terms of where we spent our time, talents and our treasures. Looking at these three reveal the condition of our heart. The ways we spend our money whether we have little or great amounts, shows the condition of our hearts. When we hoard it, we are saying we trust money more than God. This is not to say we should have zero savings, what I am saying is are we going beyond savings into hoarding what God is calling us to release, this is not just a money issue, it is the condition of our heart.

Acts 9:1-19
During the formative years of the church it could be argued no one had a harder heart toward the Way of Jesus than Saul. On his way to arrest followers of the Way, Saul has a dramatic encounter with Jesus. More than a physical blindness is the result, there is a change in heart. His heart of stone is exchanged for a heart of flesh (see Ezekiel). After the divine heart surgery Saul becomes Paul and goes on to be the most effect church planter in all of history. Like with heart surgery on our physical bodies careful follow up is required. From time to time we need to have a check up on the condition of our hearts, is the stone coming back? What's the condition of your heart?

Psalms 15
What is required for worship? That is the opening question of the Psalm. Notice the answer, it has nothing to do with the appropriate clothing, nothing to do with financial status, in fact it has very little to do with outward appearance, it is about the heart. Worship is not about style of music, what the preacher says or does not say, what is included in the service etc... Worship is a matter of the heart. We can say and do all the "right" things yet never have our hearts meet with the heart of God. The requirement for worship, willing heart.

Genesis 34-35
If you have been following along our soap opera now turns to additional generations. Dinah, Jacobs daughter, is taken and raped by the people in the land where they live. As you might guess this becomes problematic. Before long there are brothers oozing testosterone plotting and killing all the men of the city. First however, they tricked all the men into circumcising themselves. Tragically, the only mention of Dinah is the violation of her. Not attention is paid by the Scripture writer as to what was happening in Dinah's world. Yet we have revealed the heart of her brothers. Rather than allowing God to avenge the violation, they take matters into their own hands. The reveal they are ready for killing at a moments notice. Jacob who had been down a similar road has his heart broken by what has happened to his daughter and what his sons have done. It seems he had learned from the past and his heart was in a different condition.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Salvation From God At The Center

Matthew 6:1-15
It is not only the law Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount. Spiritual disciplines is also part of the teaching. Insight is offered in how to conduct ourselves when we fast and when we offer acts of righteousness. In this section we find what is commonly called the Lord's Prayer. Not offered as the only way to pray, or even the exact words, the prayer is offered as a model for the areas of prayer. Unfortunately over the centuries the prayer has become a repeated verbatim. This has caused in some cases a lose of meaning behind the prayer. Next time you say the Lord's Prayer I invite you to really think about the words you are saying and not blindly offer the words because it is what you do.

Acts 8:26-40
The story of Philip is one I greatly enjoy. Another one of the Deacons from chapter 6 is now found going around preaching, teaching and being a conduit of God's work. Philip finds himself on lead to a place where he teaches the Ethiopian about who Jesus is that Isaiah points to. Conversion happens and they stop to baptize the Ethiopian. Once the baptism happens Philip is take to another place by the spirit. There are many things we could look at in the passage, the one I want to highlight today is the evangelism of Philip. It would have been easy for Philip to say I am only a deacon, set apart to serve the widows their food, and not tell people about Jesus. Yet he was so in love with Jesus and so full of the Spirit he could not help himself. Often we do not engage in evangelism because we have a greater relationship with this world and fear than we do with Jesus.

Psalm 14
Salvation is from our God and God alone. No matter how hard we try we cannot save another person, and we are not working to convert people to our kingdom. God is the one who will care for the evildoers, God will care for judgment and revenge. So what is our role, praise God and so fill our lives with the Spirit of God, that people see God not us first.

Genesis 32-33
In the midst of Jacob meeting up with his brother whom he deceived several times, there is a wrestling match with God. One of the possible interpretations of the wrestling match with God has to do with Jacob and God coming to terms on the way Jacob has conducted his business up to this point. From this point on in Jacob's life there is no more deception on his part. In fact as Jacob emerges with a limp and a new name, there is a difference in how Jacob conducts his business. While most of his life Jacob followed after God, this wrestling match became a conversion moment. God was a part of Jacob's life yet there was much Jacob took into his own hands. Once he is names Israel, the reliance on God increases exponentially. Perhaps our struggles are producing a greater faith in our lives.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

God's Ways Are Not Ours

Matthew 5:33-48
Once again Jesus takes the established law which the people then and a now for the most part like, and turns our understanding. In all the cases presented in today's section the law seems to permit returning wrong for wrong. Jesus shows that is not how it works in God's world exactly. When we are wronged we are to return wrong with good. Returning with good actually brings about shame to the person who wronged us, not because we have done harm to them. The shame is from our blessing them when their intention was harm. I wonder how that would look today?

Acts 8:1-25
Here we find humanity acting to slow down Christianity before it really gets going. From our human understanding if we want to stop something we attack it. God takes the attack of humanity and uses it to spread Christ throughout the region. As the religious leaders of the day tried to stop the spread, the message of Christ spread all the more quickly.

As the spread happened there were people who received the message, believed and were baptized yet still did not quite get it. Simon is given as an example in this text. He sees the Apostles do great works and wonders, and he wants in. Rather than seeking after God and forming the live God is calling him toward in Christ, he tries to buy it from the Apostles. Simon is using a human method to accomplish what only God can do.

Psalms 13
I am sure you have noticed by now that our timing and God's timing are different. When things are going what we would call well time seems to move too fast. When we are struggling time seems to move too slow. In reality our interaction with our situation has nothing to do with time. Time passes as it will, the difference is in our perception. I am sure you would join me in saying we like life to work out how we plan it and prefer it. The challenge is we do not always know what is best for our life. God knows what it will take to form and mold us into the person we are being called to be. So when we cry how long o Lord, I can hear the response, until you are who I called you to be.

Genesis 31
The soup opera continues. We last saw Jacob tending the flocks of Laban while engaging in a little genetic engineering to build his own flocks. In this episode we find Jacob packing up his family and running away from Laban. In the process Rachel steals the household gods of her father. After several days Laban catches up to Jacob and his entourage. After some good arguing and name calling an agreement is reached. Interestingly Rachel continues to lie about possessing the household gods. This could be written about for house, not the space or time, suffice to say it is not good. In the end Jacob and Laban go their separate ways and murder is avoided for the time being. As all this is happening we are finding out about the character of the people God is using to establish a people. Honestly, their character is suspect at best, lying, cheating, stealing, some pretty flawed people. Still God works with and through their brokenness to establish the people of God. I guess their is hope for the rest of us.

Monday, September 27, 2010

And I Thought I Had Problems

Matthew 5:21-32
Jesus continues his midrash, interpretation of the Jewish law. In each case the establish standard is recognized, then raised to a new level. Previously Jesus commented that he did not come to abolish the law, rather to fulfill it. Apparently fulfilling it meant going a lot deeper than simply doing and not doing the right things. Jesus moves from actions to the motivations connected with those actions. Our thoughts are brought into the equation. Further the ways in which we deal with things is more drastic. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. I am grateful for a non-literal reading here, yet the point remains get rid of the sin in your life and be ruthless about it.

Acts 7:36-60
Stephen continues his defense before the council. At first the story they expect to hear is continued, and then Stephen turns the tables. From a legal defense standpoint Stephen made a tragic mistake, he confronted his accusers about their murder of Jesus. As might be guessed this was not a popular thing with the high council. Before the chapter ends we find Stephen getting stoned to death with this guy named Saul watching and approving. Stephen held his ground and made his stand. There were many ways he could have avoided death, yet he knew he must make his stand. Interestingly right until the end Stephen is seeking God's forgiveness for those who are killing him, the words uses are similar to ones Jesus uttered at the cross, forgive them they do not know what they are doing. What a witness of faithfulness in the midst of persecution.

Psalms 12
I suppose Stephen could have written this Psalm, if not write it I am sure it was in his mind and heart at some point in the above described trial. It can seem like all the godly people are gone and all we see is death and destruction. Oppression, poverty, hunger and deadly disease seem to prevail, yet God speaks in the midst of it all and says I will protect. I have no doubt happens in a supernatural way, I also have no doubt this happens when we, the people of God, take up the mission of God in the world as taught by Jesus Christ.

Genesis 29 and 30
As I read these pages I am convinced I am reading something written for soap opera television. Jacob falls in love and is deceived. Then he has two wives which becomes four. Before it is all said and done he has four wives and twelve children. Still living in his mother's homeland tending his uncles flocks, Jacob prospers. There is a confrontation brewing between his father-in-law, Laban, and Jacob over the work agreements Laban had not fully honored. While all this is going on God is at work putting together the family that would be the base of the twelve tribes of Israel. Looking at it this is one messed up family. Dysfunction seems to be everywhere. There are half brothers and step children, all totaled a very confusing family system. Still God is at work. Even when we think our lives are messed up, and they might be, we are not unusable by God.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Knowing The Story

Matthew 5:13-20
Jesus continues what is often called the Sermon on the Mount. After the reminder that God views the world different than we do, Jesus reminds us that we must stay connected with God, or we will lose our flavor. Then comes important words. All of them are important, however these words need to be carefully read and obeyed. Jesus says he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. The law matters and we need to pay attention to it. At the same time Jesus hints that we must pay attention to the lay as God has given it, not simply are religious has taught and formed it over the years. In the next few sections Jesus will reinterpret the law for the people. Being that Jesus is in his very nature God, this would be God's perspective on the Law not humanities.

Acts 7:1-38
The trial of Stephen is underway and it is his turn to offer a defense. As a starting point Stephen selects the Abraham then moves to Moses. Remember the charges against him were that he was speaking against Abraham, Moses and the Temple. Quickly Stephen shows he knows the story of the people of God which had been handed down through the centuries. At the end of today's reading we see him pointing to a the person to come that Moses spoke about. In building his defense Stephen did not argue about what he was teaching or even beliefs, he simply told the story of the people of God. I wonder how often we argue and defend God when all we really need to do is tell the story God has been writing in our lives?

Psalm 11
I am grateful for the imagery of God as a refuge and the Lord being in the Holy Temple. There are plenty of times when I need a safe place to go, that is the definition of refuge, and God is the ultimate refuge from all that I would need protection from. God being in the Holy Temple says to me that God is always ready to meet with me in worship. It does not have to be Sunday morning, I do not need to have music, liturgy or anything but a heart that is willing to reach out and sit in the presence of God. At any point in life God is in the Holy Temple offering refuge to all who would come.

Genesis 27-28
Once again deception enters the family of Abraham. Jacob deceives his father Isaac in order to get the blessing intended for Esau the firstborn. The most confusing part is not the deception, rather it is the idea that God seems to be honoring it. Twice Jacob uses deception to steal from Esau and God continues to bring blessing to Jacob. However, from before they were born God had spoken to Rebekah about the fact the older shall serve the younger. It seems the events are fulfilling a plan God has. AS all this plays out it is interesting to note where each son turns following the blessing mishap. Jacob is sent by his mother to her family, which if we remember is Abraham's family. Esau goes to the household of Ishmael, still family of Abraham however not the family line of the promise. The roots of modern day Islam are traced back to Ishmael and Esau, while the roots of modern day Christianity and Judaism trace back to Isaac and Jacob. The root story is the same yet the branches take very different patterns. One through a prophet Muhammad, the other through a Savior, Jesus. The story that is your story makes all the difference.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A God's Eye View

With the turn of a page we begin the Sermon on The Mount. Quite possible the longest of the sermons presented in the Gospels, Jesus teaches the basics of life in the Kingdom of Heaven. In the words of the Jewish rabbi this would be Jesus' midrash, or his take on the Law. The opening of the sermon shows the audience he is coming at things from a little different perspective than they were use to. Jesus outlines how the poor, the mourning, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted will have special status in the kingdom of heaven. In Jesus day and in ours that is not the list of people who are thought to be in special connection to the kingdom of God, especially by those who should know better the church. With these words Jesus is making clear the view God has of humanity is different than the view we have of ourselves.

Acts 6
In this chapter of Acts is when we meet Stephen. One of more memorable characters from the Scriptures, Stephen is raised up to be in the ministry of what we call today a Deacon. His role was not to be a teacher of the word or to maintain the order of the church, rather it was to serve those in need. Still we find Stephen could not keep from telling people about the wonders of God, and God used Stephen to show the world the miraculous of God. The end result is the religious people get made and seize Stephen bringing false witness against him. The religious people of the day cannot see what God is doing and they are more concerned with their human construction.

Psalm 10
Anyone who has followed God has had those moments of feeling like God is far away from them. Some might say they have never experienced that, I doubt the truth of the claim. All of us from time to time wonder why God feels so far away. There are all kinds of reasons for this feeling, the psalm writer points the the wicked who have no regard for the Lord, yet they seem to prosper. In some shape or form we have all been there at some point. As is often the case with the Psalms, by the conclusion of the song, it is remembered that God is right there and will take of the earth, all creation, better than we could. It is God who knows the plan not us.

Genesis 25
The development of the Abraham family line is quite interesting. You first have Ishmael who is technically the first born. You have Isaac the favored son, and other children from various women. That in itself is a whole topic not to be dealt with here. Before his death Abraham sends all the folks away except Isaac. However upon the death of Abraham Isaac and Ishmael stand together to bury their father. Ishmael then goes his way and from him comes what the NIV calls the twelve tribal leaders? Sounds kind of like Israel to me. In fact Isaac would have Esau and Jacob where once again the firstborn is not treated as such. Form Jacob would come the twelve tribes of Israel. Within two generations the promise to Abraham is being fulfilled. Still God was not working in the ways people thought to be common. Normally it would be the firstborn who would become the family leader. The firstborn would have a place of privilege, not in the case of Isaac and Jacob. God seems to work from a different viewpoint.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Healing, Stirring, Obedience

Matthew 4:18-25
The ministry of Jesus gets going strong without a long ramping up period. Once the door opens Jesus is on a full out pace to get the Good News among the people. One of the early activities is to gather around him the people who will continue the mission after his death and resurrection. There is not room for negotiations, Jesus asks you to follow, you either go or stay on the fishing boat. Peter, Andrew, James and John decide to follow. From there Jesus jumps in, preaching, teaching and healing. It seems as though the healing attracts many people who were in need of the healing touch of God. Often it is wondered if God still does these things, the simple answer is yes. The more complicated answer is Jesus longs to have that presence in our lives, yet we often do not leave enough room for the Spirit of God to work.

Acts 5:17-42
Peter is going about the plan of God to bring Good News to the people and the religious people of the day get upset and have him and other disciples arrested. The Lord lets the out of prison and the go right back to their work. The religious leaders of the day are not real thrilled with all this and they decide the must do something. Peter and the gang have them pretty stirred up. At the edge of death a voice of reason steps in and reminds the religious people, if this is of God, then we do not want to fight it, if it is of human origin then it will die on its own. The disciple continue the work of Jesus in many ways, including stirring the pot.

Psalm 9
This is one of the longer of the earlier psalms, yet its message is pretty basic. No matter what happens we praise God. Not only that we praise God, that we do it with our whole heart. When we are ready to take matters into our own hands, we must simply turn to God in praise.

Genesis 24
Here we have one of the great stories of the Bible. Abraham realizes he is nearing death and wants to make sure his son Isaac is all set to have a wife and continue the family. The long trek is made back to the home lands of Abraham to find a bride from among the people. Through some pretty amazing circumstances Rebekah is raised up by God. It is like a love story we could find in theaters today. They never knew each other, yet from the moment they set eyes on each other they know that is the person God has selected for them. As the story continues they live the life together and from the couple comes Jacob who would be named Israel, form who all the tribes of Israel would come. Not only was this a storybook romance, it has the hand print of God all over it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Kingdom of Heaven

Matthew 4:12-17
Fresh from baptism Jesus begins to preach. Here in a brief and often overlooked verse we find Jesus giving the overarching message of all his preaching, "repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Salvation matters and we must choose what we do with Jesus death and resurrection. The primary reason Jesus came was not salvation it was to show people what it was like to live the kingdom of heaven. His death and resurrection made it possible for us to live fully in that kingdom in the fullness of time, yet his life and preaching shows us how to embody that now.

Acts 5:1-16
It is one thing to deceive humanity, it is another thing all together to attempt to deceive God. When we tell others we have brought everything before God there is know real way of knowing whether this is true or not through human eyes. However, God knows what you have given and what is being held back. The problem is not in holding back as much as it is in putting on the face of giving everything when you have not. All that we are and have has been given to us by God, and we are entrusted as stewards of it. That means we can manage it how ever we see best. By the same token there will be a calling to account for our stewardship. How much did we give to God?

Psalm 8
A pure song of praise lifted to our God. All of creation is indebted to God, and God has made all of creation glorious. Not much more needs to be said than O Lord our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Genesis 21-23
The person Abraham most longed after is requested of God. Issac is requested by God, and Abraham is willing. There are many things about this passage which I do not like, not the least of which is the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son. Yet here is a picture of how things work in the kingdom. The willingness is what God was testing in Abraham. God may not have us sacrifice that which is most precious to us but there may be a test of our willingness. There are times when we are in fact asked and expected to give up that which is important to us. More than a willingness, and actual sacrifice. Still before the point of sacrifice the issue of willingness must be wrestled with.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Temptation, Praise and Bartering

Matthew 4:1-11
The temptation of Christ is one of the passages of Scripture which gets brought out annually, usually around the beginning of lent. Here three times Satan tempts Jesus, and Jesus rejects the temptation. Among the many fascinating issues in this section the most fascinating is the fact that Satan offers things he does not have the capacity to offer. The basic offer is this, if you do things my way, regardless of what God might think, you will be better than fine you will have all you ever could imagine. Many good people have been pulled into this deception. Satan offers something which he cannot possibly deliver, and most find out after it is too late the real story. The only response to the tempter is returning to the teachings of God. While Satan cannot deliver on the promise God will deliver every time, however it is on God's terms not humanities.

Acts 4:23-37
Fresh off what could be considered a victory with the religious leaders of the day, Peter and John do not spend time bragging about their conquest, they turn the community to prayer. The focus is not on their authority, or their own ability. The focus of the early believers gathered in that space and time was God and the power of God. They were so focused in God it caused them to view their possessions differently. Sure each of them had things which were a part of their household, yet if there was someone in need they would not consider it theirs, it was God's to be used by the community as there was need. What might happen if that was how we lives today?

Psalm 7
Here the psalmist is recognizing they have messed up. Their drive to follow God has been clouded by poor choices. However the work to right the wrong is underway. First stop getting right with God. The time of restitution will come, yet it cannot come until we reconcile with God and get our lives back in line with God. If we make things write with everyone else but fail to reconcile with God we will be in no better place when all is said and done.

Genesis 18-20
The journey and story of Abraham continue. I gain so much hope from reading about Abraham. He has high moments where he follows God so closely and other moments where that is not the case. One of the high points is when Abraham barters with God over the Sodom and Gomorrah. At least it appears God is allowing Abraham to barter. Perhaps God know already what will be found and the number of righteous in the cities is less than 5. Still God allows Abraham to know a God who is willing to enter into conversation. Not a God who is deterministic and we have better learn to deal with that, rather a God who draws near to us as we draw near to God. The bartering has less to do with the cities as it does with the revelation of a God who comes near.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Early Tests

When God initiates a great movement among the people it seems early on there are some tests of those who God has placed in leadership. The way these tests are responded to often sets the tone for the entire movement.

Matthew 3:13-17
As an elder in the United Methodist Church I have had several opportunities to baptize people. It is one the most favorite things I do in the life of the church. Still i could not imagine what was going through the mind of John the Baptizer when Jesus presented himself for baptism. The whole question of worthiness comes right smack in our face. Who is it that would be worthy to baptize Jesus? None of us. Yet Jesus humbly submits to the role John must plan in order that the plan of God would be fulfilled. What must we do in order that the plan of God might be fulfilled?

Acts 4:1-22
Peter and John, not the Baptizer, find themselves in trouble because they healed a man in Jesus name. The religious leaders realize they are in just as, if not more difficult position as Peter and John. If they condemn the healing that will bring trouble because the people can see the healed man. However, if they allow this to go on without some form of correction, the followership of Jesus would grow. They tell Peter and John to go, but not heal or teach in Jesus name. I love the response of Peter, who should we obey, human voices or the call of God. Quite a response to an early test.

Psalm 6
We serve a relentless God. There are times when the relentless nature of God becomes overwhelming. As God continues to shape and mold us into the persons we are called and created to be, it can be overwhelming to have God constantly pushing us. Further, it seems when we are feeling overwhelmed others pile on about the unfair nature of our God. We nearly reach our end. That is where we find the writer of this psalm. Yet there is a cry to God and mercy is found. We get tested on every side, do we cry out to God, or do we just cry?

Genesis 15-17
In these three chapters there is enough to write about for several days. Today I noticed something which I had not noticed in all the times I have read and taught this passage. When Ismael is born Abram is 86 years old. It is not until He is 100 that Issac is born. For 14 years there is the tension of when humans try to solve a challenge only God can solve and God's solution. For 14 years Abram had to come face to face with his hiccup in faith. There was a constant reminder of how Abram tried to solve the challenge his own way. Our poor choices are rarely fatal, however they have consequences which will stay with us for some time.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hard Words

There are seasons in life when we need words of comfort and healing. There are other times when we need words of joy and encouragement. We also have seasons when we need hard words that challenge our very foundation.

Matthew 3:1-13
John the baptizer was the one raised up to prepare the people for the mission and ministry of Jesus. The temple courts were not his grounds or teaching, not even the streets and houses, the message John was bringing was reserved for the desert, the wilderness. People would have to intentionally travel to places they are not use to going to see John. Their reward upon arrival was a message which was hard to swallow. John called people out and challenged the religious people of his day. The church people he called a brood of vipers. In case you are not sure that is not a compliment in any generation or context. The hard words of John were not for shock value or to upset people, it was to point them to Jesus. Is it time for some hard words?

Acts 3
Peter and John are making their regular trip to the Temple for prayer, imagine that a daily trip to to gather for prayer. On the way they come across a crippled man begging. After a healing in Jesus Name the crowd calls into account what happened. Rather than complimentary words, Peter brings a hard teaching. Pointing out the fact that many of them had missed the work of God in Jesus. The challenge is simple, turn from your wicked ways and recognize what God has been doing in their midst.

Psalm 5
The psalms are filled with words that are poetic and often hard to really understand. Psalm 5 is not one of them. It is real basic, when we follow God and the teachings of God, the protection of God is with us. we will experience God's favor. When we go our own way and reject God, our lives will come to ruin. Not complicated, but difficult to hear and wrestle with.

Genesis 12-14
Abram sets out following God. Before too long he is in Egypt lying about his relationship with Sari. Soon after that he is dividing the land with Lot and helping push back the ungodly people. I often expect my life to be a long consistent climb on the ladder of faith. Not jagged but a smooth walk where I am always gaining. It was not true for Abram, or really any of those mentioned in the scriptures, what make me think that would be true for me. Abram was a confused mess of trying to remain with God, and balance his personal concern. Sound familiar? In the end righteousness is found only in follow God's concern not our own.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Struggle For Something Greater

At some point in every persons life there is a struggle to reach greatness. For some the struggle is short lived and the idea of greatness is put on the shelf. For others it remains a constant and healthy goal. Still others are so preoccupied with greatness they are blinded by their quest.

Matthew 2:13-23
It seems in the journey toward greatness there is a time of exile. Times in life where the calling may seem hard to find due to the circumstances we find ourselves in. The child Jesus was taken from his birthplace off to Egypt for protection. It seems God uses Egypt as the place of preparation for the next great move of God on earth.During their self-imposed exile t o Egypt Herod's quest for greatness lead him to murder all the boys 2 and under in the land. a little for site this not only caused undue pain, it also created a possible problem for the nation in a few years when there were no new recruits for the military or other functions. The quest for greatness caused Herod to not only miss it in Jesus, but to be blinded in the quest and cause other challenges.

Acts 2:22-47
The quest for greatness is not only a personal pursuit. The new community of believers longed to live as God directed them. It was not their own greatness rather the greatness of God they were seeking. Greatness was found in how they lived together the life Jesus had taught them. A communities greatness is measured in how God is able to use them. In Acts God used the community to add to the number daily those who were being saved. The community, not perfect, functioned to God's greatness in such a way God could use them for great Kingdom work.

Psalm 4
From a demand to an affirmation. That is the journey of the Psalmist in this psalm. "Answer me when I call" words all of us have uttered at some point, perhaps even to God. The writer sees only greatness fading, the enemy keeps getting the upper hand and struggle comes the way of the writer. Yet by the conclusion of the short Psalm there is a recognition of the greatness of God. Our only hope at anything great is not about us, or our ability. Our greatness is found only in God and our obedience to God.

Genesis 9-11
God has pressed reset and all creation restarts with Noah and his family at the center. It is once again shown where there is family there is dysfunction. However, creation is once again being filled with humanity. Thus once again the striving for greatness shows up. People had a common language and common drive. The decision to build a tower to the heavens was made and begun. God could see where things were going and intervened. If allowed to continue humanity might believe it is in there own greatness they have life and breath. Ultimately leading to humanity thinking it did not need God in their lives. God confuses the languages and scatters the people not because he is worried about having to share power, rather because he sees that humanity will become self reliant.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Trouble With New

Whenever something new and different comes along, not everyone reacts the same. While some are excited and ready to move into a new reality, others are resistant and attempt to stop the new even to the point of ridicule.

Matthew 2:1-12
The story of the magi is one of those classics of the church year. Only Matthew records the events, yet they are a standard to most church cycles. Magi have classically been thought of as royalty when in actuality they were scientists. More specifically they were astrologers. They watched the movements of the heavenly bodies in order to understand the workings of life and creation. The downside of them being astrologers is they often ventured into areas the Lord has clearly fenced off, mainly the practices of predicting the future and things we might consider part of horoscopes or psychics today. Yet they read the stars and recognized the arrival of the Messiah. When Herod found out, the plan to end things before they really get started goes into full swing. Something new was happening and it was going to cause Herod problems so he worked to eliminate it.

Acts 2:1-21
The believers were gathered on a Jewish holy day, Pentecost, and in prayer when the Holy Spirit makes its grand entrance. Never before had the people of Jerusalem and the world experienced such and thing and they were left trying to understand it. Some chalked it up to too much wine. While others were simply amazed. God had been revealed in a new way and there was uncertainty about what to do next. Peter steps forward and tells the crowd how this is God at work. We shall see where it goes from there.

Psalm 3
All of us at some point have a time when we feel like it is the world against us. The list of those try to stop us is far greater than those who are helping. The psalmist was there and then remembered that God is bigger than all the others. When it comes to protection, no one dies it better than God. Not only is God the protector but God is the sustainer and deliverer. Basically, no matter what we face in life God ready and able to see us through, in whom do we trust?

Genesis 5-8
I am always fascinated by the story of Noah. There are some really fun little details in the story which I will not get into here but I encourage you to read through for those interesting details. Overall you have Noah who is claimed to be the only righteous man on the earth. No pressure there. God selects Noah to build an ark in the desert and load all the animals and his family on it because God is about to restart the who dog gone thing. Along the way Noah I am sure faces ridicule and people question his mental stability. I am sure there was not shortage of names he was called or insults flung his way. Still Noah was steadfast and built. The day came, the boat was loaded and the Lord hit reset. A new beginning.

Where are you trying to make something new? Where are you facing opposition? Are you turning to God or your own understanding?

Thursday, September 2, 2010


All of today's readings involve aspects of creation, or the difficulty in starting fresh. We are only a few days away from an new school year in our area. It seems fitting to look at new beginnings and restarts.

Matthew 1:18-25
The rebirth of Israel, the people of God, is shared in this passage in Matthew. When Jesus is born, a fresh start is available to the people. The way of redemption is announced and relationship with God is re-established. The method of it happening, well that is another story all together. Mary, a virgin pledged to marry Joseph, gives birth to a boy even though she has never been with a man. The arrival of the redeemer is clouded by inappropriate social actions, and the threat of divorce. Not exactly a glorious entrance. Yet the desire of God to be in relationship with creation is stronger than the social norms, and there is a reassurance of God at work. The faith of Joseph and Mary is spectacular. In the face of not fitting in with society, they follow God with all they have. I wonder what God is calling to us?

Acts 1:12-26
The disciples have traveled with Jesus, wept as he hung on the cross, and rejoiced in the resurrection. They have received their marching orders, ready to continue the work. They were together praying and waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit. During that time it is determined to return the number of Apostles to 12, a very important number, the twelve tribes of Israel. Here we have the formation of church leadership. Jesus commissions the group to go and be witnesses, proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth. Before the power of the Spirit can be unleashed, the people need to get their acts together. This is found in their prayer and preparation for what God is doing. The creation of the church is here, the power is given when the preparation is fully engaged.

Psalm 2
Whenever there are positions of leadership power dynamics are at work. This is true at all levels, especially in the leadership of a country, Here is Psalm 2 the reminder is to the kings of this world to remember there is someone who is greater than them. The admonishment is to remember we are all responsible to God in accordance with the places of power we occupy. We are to all lead in the fear of the Lord, and to take refuge in the Lord, not our power and our own wisdom.

Genesis 3 and 4
Here we find the fall of Adam and Eve and the inception of the first families. There is more in these two chapters than I can write in this limited space. I will focus on a small sentence in toward the end of chapter 3. God recognizes it is dangerous to leave Adam and Eve in Eden because the tree of life is there and their obedience is suspect at best. If Adam and Eve eat from the tree of life, they will live forever. The tree of life is one of those things which shows up periodically throughout the scriptures. One of the most notable times is in Revelation. The tree of life is the center of the Holy City, the new Jerusalem. When Christ returns and the relationship between God and people is as intended, the tree of life becomes the source of everlasting life. One creation is restored the tree of life may be partaken of. God does not want the tree of Life eaten from before then because forever would be filled with separation of creation and God. By the end of Revelation, the breech has been fully repaired and forever is with God. In this small sentence in the beginning the promise of of the end is established.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Get Up, Dust Off, Jump Back In

Often I am overwhelmed by the sense that other people are so much better at following Jesus than I am. All the disciplines I set out to keep in my life eventually go by the wayside. My most common response is to over correct and add more to the plate. As you might guess this causes the failure to only feel greater. Having said that, I am once again getting up, dusting off and jumping back into the year long scripture journey. This time around I am not coupling it with reading through the Bible in 90 days, I am engaged for the long haul and hopefully for some deeper reflection. So here goes.

Matthew 1:1-17
I have often wondered if the editors of the Bible had an understanding what makes a book interesting. In the Old Testament we start off with Genesis. the creation story is nice, but all to quickly the reading gets a little more difficult. The New Testament is no exception. Page 1, Matthew and a genealogy. Why would you start with that? The Book of Mark leaves all that out, why not use that as the lead? Perhaps it has to do with understanding Jesus did not simply break into our world in some obscure way. It is important to see the deep connection with Israel all the way back to Abraham. When I say Israel, I do not mean the nation state we see today. I mean the people of God, the chosen. Long before they had a land they were Israel. Jesus the Son of God, also the son of David and the son of Abraham. You know Abraham, the one who was promised more children than sand on the shores. The one who would be blessed to be a blessing. Yeah he is part of the family tree. The opening of Matthew, once you get past the names, is important in reminding us that Jesus is the continuing work of God among the people in effort to restore our relationship to God. The hope is we will once again be the Kingdom people.

Acts 1:1-11
The death and resurrection has happened and now we are getting the account of the movement of believers. In the midst of uncertainty, and a desire to flea from Jerusalem for their lives the believers are told to sit and wait for what God has promised. The gift of the Holy Spirit is coming and when they receive it, the work of God will go into full swing as the rest of the redemption story is written. Jesus is taken up into the clouds and the disciples are left standing looking up. Angels appear and wonder why they were looking at the sky and not doing what Jesus had said. I wonder how often we are gazing at the sky wondering what will happen when we simply need to follow the instructions of our leader, Jesus.

Psalm 1
The contrast of good and wicked is front and center here is this first Psalm. The good will be like a tree planted by the water, fruitful and pleasant. The wicked will not they will perish. The indirect teaching is follow the paths of righteousness and keep from wickedness. Goodness is found in our relationship with God and the actions that relationship produces. When we rest in God, or plant our lives in God, we will be like the fruitful tree. When we plant our lives in places other than God, we will perish. Where are you planting your life?

Genesis 1 and 2
I have always wondered why there were two stories of creation. As best we can tell until Adam, there was not one there to take notes, or take pictures, or place the happenings of Facebook or Twitter. So how is it there are two stories about the same unseen event? I could bore us to tears about the different groups of people who were contributing the writing of the Old Testament. It took nearly a semester to cram a two day lecture into my brain. Our first account is has more detail, the second is almost the readers digest version. No matter, two stories does not change the overall story. There was nothing, God acted and there was creation. To this day the debate rages about the details. There are the seven literal days folks, who say the earth, Adam and Eve were created in literal 24 hour periods. There are those who say the "day" was a time period which could have been millions of years. Still others think the whole thing is foolishness. I would like to leave room to say that day one described in Genesis might have been the Big Bang. We know that God created, it does not say how creation happened.

Anyway. The point is not how long and exactly what happened. What matters is God created and entered into relationship with that which was created. Man and woman, land, sea and sky all were created and entered into relationship with. Eden was created and Adam was assigned the task of working the garden. The parameters for life were given, eat anything except from this one tree. Creation, humanity and God lived in perfect relationship. There was no shame, and life was as the creator intended. Too bad the story continues.