Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Voice of Reason...

Today's Life Journal readings are Malachi 3, Malachi 4, Psalm 148, and Acts 5. 

Scripture: Acts 5:38-39 (NIV)
"Therefore, in the present case, I advise you: Leave these men alone!  Let them go!  For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."

Peter and John are at it again.  They got out of prison, went right back to doing what they were doing, were caught again, and brought back in front of the Sanhedrin.  This time, the Sanhedrin wanted to put them to death, but Gamaliel was the voice of reason in the room and talked them out of it.

If I had a dollar for every time something similar had happened in a church board meeting...well, I'd have several dollars.  One would think, that among disciples, there would be a lower propensity for folks to act solely out of emotion or some kind of knee-jerk reaction.   Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

I have been witness to church board meetings that I had to shut down before they came to blows, and can totally understand the danger Peter and John were in during this interrogation by the ruling council.  I would like to think they were just that passionate about maintaining the integrity of their faith, but more than likely there was something else going on.

Every church needs to have at least one Gamaliel, and it doesn't need to be the pastor.  There should be someone who can step back, and with a level head and cool emotions, look at the big picture.  Without that presence in church meetings, things can go bad in a hurry.  In fact, that is the first person I start looking for when I arrive at a new appointment.  It takes a few meetings to begin to see who it is, but once I find my Gamaliel in the church, I put them to work.     

If you want a better pastor and/or a better church, become the Gamaliel among your ranks.  If you can be the calming presence in a heated discussion, you will be a bigger help to your pastor, to your church, and to the kingdom than you can ever imagine.

O God of our worship and our business meetings, thank you for those folks who can step back and see you at work through a wider lens.  When our discussions become heated, remind us that passion is a good thing, but that we are also flying the same flag.  Keep our thoughts, our words, and our deeds holy as we work together to build your church.  Amen.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Take Authority...

The Life Journal Readings for today are Nehemiah 13, Malachi 1, Malachi 2, and Acts 4.

Scripture: Acts 4:19-20 (NIV)
"But Peter and John replied, 'Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.'"

Peter and John have been called in front of the Sanhedrin, basically the church board, and told to stop doing what they were doing because it was against their laws.  The Sanhedrin didn't know what to do with them, because, even though Peter and John were going against their laws, what they were doing was working.

As I stood up, after kneeling in front of them, and after they laid hands on me, I was given this charge: "Take authority as an elder in the Church to preach the Word of God, and to administer the Holy Sacraments."  It was a huge moment for me, and one that I had been working toward for nearly 12 years. 

As I think about Peter and John, and as I reflect on my own ministry, I think about the times that I have been told that I needed to be or do something different than I was because who or what I was didn't line up with the image folks had of who or what they thought I should be.

The image I have in my mind of the scene described in Acts 4 is of a group of long bearded old men in fancy robes, who have always had their way in the Church, scratching their heads and trying to figure out where they lost control of this new generation, because these two yahoos standing in front of them are actually getting things done. 

It makes me chuckle. 

It also makes me a little sad.

Right now, at 41 years old, 13 years into my ministry, I'm still one of those yahoos, and I give God thanks for that.  Some folks still look at me, and the way I do what I do, and scratch their heads thinking, "Where did we lose control?"

I know, however, that there is always the risk that I could, at some point, try to take ownership of God's Church because I have been trained, and I have been ordained, and I have the experience, and yada, yada, yada. 

God forgive me if I ever get to the place where I think my way is the only way.  I know that there will be countless other yahoos, just like me, who will have a bishop look them in the eyes someday, hand them a bible, and say, "Take authority as an Elder in the Church to preach the Word of God, and to administer the Holy Sacraments."  And that, whether I understand their ways or not, they will have the gifts and graces to do greater things for the kingdom.

O God, who calls and strengthens us, remind me of the gifts for ministry that you have given all of us, and when I see someone who is doing something different than I, teach me to celebrate with them the fact that they may be reaching people that I cannot.  Amen.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Let's Get Busy...

The Life Journal readings for today are Nehemiah 1, Nehemiah 2, Psalm 133, and Luke 22

Scripture: Nehemiah 2:18 (NIV)
"They replied, 'Let us start rebuilding.' So they began this good work."

Nehemiah has asked the king for permission to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city wall.  As he surveys the damage, and let's a few folks in on his plans, they take the lead and begin doing the work Nehemiah told them needed to be done.

This coming week I will celebrate my 13th anniversary in the ministry.  Over the past 13 years, I have realized that there are basically three types of people in the church: The first group is made up of the folk who show up pretty regular for worship and that's about it; They're usually quiet...they are there for any number of reasons...but Sunday morning is about all they need. 

The second group is made up of the complainers...They also are there most weeks...faithfully...and will do most anything that's asked of them... but nothing is ever quite right and it's always someone else's fault. 

Then there's the third group: This group shows up practically every Sunday as well...and sometimes Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday.  These are the folks who see that something needs to be done...and do it.

I'm thankful for all three types of folk...honestly...and each for different reasons.  As a modern day Nehemiah, I sometimes wonder how everything will get done.  Then out of the blue someone will come to me and say, "What do you need me to do?"    That's when I stop, take a breath, forget about the grumbling and complaining I hear on occasion, look around, and say to myself, "Ok, let's get busy."

God who calls all of us, show me this day the city wall that you would have me work on.  As I look around and begin to believe the lie that there is just too much to do, remind me once again that none of us go at our work under our own strength.  Amen. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

But It's Raining...

Today's Life Journal readings are Ezra 9, Ezra 10, Psalm 131, and Luke 21.

Scripture: Ezra 10:9 (NIV)
"Within the three days, all the men of Judah and Benjamin had gathered in Jerusalem. And on the twentieth day of the ninth month, all the people were sitting in the square before the house of God, greatly distressed by the occasion and because of the rain."

The people of Israel had evidently become sorry because some folks had gotten upset about the fact that the men of Israel had begun to intermarry with the peoples they had been sent to live among during the exile. 

It's really kind of funny when you think about it, at least it is to me.  There they were, standing accused of something so vile as marrying someone that wasn't good enough...but what really had them tore up was the rain. 

I mean, sure, I can see their point, I guess.  The people of Israel had been conquered and carried off into exile.  While they were there, they tried to be faithful to the God who created them.  The people they were living among worshipped idols and engaged in other activities that the Israelites thought were sinful.  Some of their men had taken wives from among those folks, and the Israelites were worried about it.  I get that...but...

...but it's just like some church folk to get tore up about the other.  So it's raining...ok.  So they get a little wet...in the big scheme of things it's really not a big deal.  So the music's a little different...so his shirt tail isn't tucked in...so the building doesn't look like a church...

At the end of the day, if disciples are being made, do those things really matter?

O God of the big picture, teach me to see as you see.  Remind me when I get tripped up in the details that being faithful in my call to make disciples is what's important and that, in most cases, the end really does justify the means.  Amen.   

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

We Had To...

Today's Life Journal readings are Zechariah 13, Zechariah 14, Psalm 147, and Luke 15

Scripture: Luke 15:32 (NIV)
"But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."

Observation: Jesus' closing statement in the parable of the lost son is where we find ourselves most often.  This is wrapping up a series of parables on losing and finding.

He didn't say, "It would be a good idea if we did."
He didn't say, "Maybe we should."
He didn't say, "What would you think if we did?"
He said, "We had to..."

It's almost as if he were saying, "But son, don't you get it?  There was nothing else that we could have done but celebrate."  That's the way it should be with those of us already in the church.  It's not so much about us finding ourselves in the mud covered shoes of the prodigal, wandering aimlessly until we finally come to our senses and decide we've had enough.  Those stories are amazing stories, and I love hearing them...but...

...but, as Jesus was talking about the older son, the one who just didn't quite get it...he was talking about us. 

We are the ones in this story, many times, who sit back and pout because the church is doing ministry on the outside, instead of catering to our whims...we are the ones who want to spend the church dollars on programming and ministries that make us feel good, instead of spending those dollars outside the walls.  We are the ones who get upset when the pastor schedules lunch with a recovering addict who has just joined the fellowship, instead of sitting in our house drinking coffee. 

"But son...we had to.   I love you, and all that I have is yours, but when your brother came home, we had no choice but to celebrate because he was dead and is alive, he was lost and is found.  We had to...."

O God of the already found and the still looking, speak to me once again this day.  In those moments when I question the joy that heaven feels when one of yours turns toward home, show me where the party is so that I can celebrate with them.  Amen,

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fire From Heaven...

The Life Journal readings for today are Ezra 4, Psalm 113, Psalm 114, and Luke 9.

Scripture: Luke 9:54-56 (NIV)
"When the disciples James and  John saw this, they asked, 'Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?'  But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village."

This is just one example of the many times in Christ's ministry when he encountered opposition. 
It is also an indication of how Christ would want his followers to handle opposition in our lives.

God love them.  I can absolutely relate to James and John in this one.  When someone hurts someone you love, as the Samaritans did Christ in this story, our first instinct is to act in retaliation.  I don't know if there is some innate mechanism hard wired into our brains that calls for that kind of response, but I do know that sometimes not acting in retaliation is the most difficult way. 

There they were, two of the twelve, the inner circle, his core group...his peeps...two men who had followed him, had listened to his teachings, had given up much to be with him, and evidently it just hadn't been enough to separate them from the world's way of thinking or being.  Their first response is not that much different from ours...hurt for hurt...

I mean, sure, calling down fire from heaven is a little drastic, but let's be honest for a second, if we had that kind of power, some folks would be toast. 

Paul actually put it on paper in the seque to 1 Corinthians 13, but Jesus lived it every day..."And now, I will show you the most excellent way..."  Let us try to do the same.

God of the weak and the strong, when those around us are hurting and we want to reach out in frustration and anger, show us once again the most excellent way.  Teach us to live as you lived, to love as you loved, and to remember that you have called us to be different.  Amen. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


The Life Journal Readings for today are Ezra 2, Ezra 3, and Luke 8

Scripture: Ezra 2:64-65 (NIV)
"The whole company numbered 42,360, besides their 7,337 menservants and maidservants; they also had 200 men and women singers."

Ezra is describing those of the Israelite nation who have been called out of exile and have begun to make their way back to Jerusalem. 



That's what I was thinking as I was reading the chapters from Ezra this morning.  I know...collective gasp...the preacher bored with reading scripture?  I'm just being honest.  Reading through lists like that bores me to tears.  Usually I find myself at the bottom of the list, having only scanned the page, and not really reading it at all. 

This morning, even though the gospel text was Luke 8, which is ripe with things to journal about, the epiphany I had when I found myself at the bottom of the list in Ezra caused me to catch my breath for a second. 

There they were, the descendents of Parosh, of Shephatiah, of Micmash, Jedediah, and a whole list of other folks...number after number of desdendents in list form, and I'm thinking to myself..."Is this really necessary?"   But then I realized that each of those numbers represented someone that God had done something huge for, and I had just totally blown that off.

So maybe I'll go back and read it again.  This time, instead of being bored by another list in scripture, I can spend some time giving thanks for the numbers of folks for whom their lives were completely changed by following God.

God of the details and of the big picture, help me to find the amazing in what I perceive as the mundane. Though my mind may look for the things you do on a grand scale, teach me to appreciate the way you move in every single life.  Amen.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Old is New...

Today's Life Journal readings are Ezra 1, Psalm 84, Psalm 85, and Luke 7

Scripture: Psalm 84:1(NIV)
"How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty.  My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord.  My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God."

Today's readings are some of the tamest we've had in weeks.  It's almost refreshing.  No smiting.  No blood sacrifices.  None of the stuff that has made me cringe as I read it over the last few weeks.  Even the prophet, Ezra, is speaking of building up and not tearing down, and this Psalm creates a sense of peace within me this morning.

It really is a beautiful prayer, and that's what the Psalms are, after all.  This particular one, with the ascription "of the sons of Korah," was probably meant to be sung...maybe that's why I like it so. 

I wish I could sing, but it's just not one of my gifts.  I have the joyful noise down, but when it comes to the singing part of lifting worship on Sunday morning, I turn my mic off.  It does everyone a favor. 

There is someone who sang this one, though, and did so beautifully.  Matt Redman wrote it, but Kutless recorded the version I'm most familiar with.  The opening line of the song is almost identical to the opening line of this Psalm.  "How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty.  My soul doth long and even faints for you...Better is one day in your courts, better is one day in your house, better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere."

This is just another reminder for the church to be careful not to toss the baby out with the bath water.  Even for a new traditional guy like me, there is something powerful about discovering the roots of that which we love. 

O God of the new and the new again, allow this day to show me that you still speak through what was, what is, and what will be.  Show me, once again, that place from whence we have all come and cast the vision of where we will be tomorrow before us.  Be in our remembering and in our dreaming, so that all we have been, all that we are, and all that we will ever be glorifies you.  Amen. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hidden Gems...

Today's Life Journal readings are Ezekiel 47, Ezekiel 48, and Luke 2.

Scripture: Ezekiel 48:35 (NIV)
"The distance all around will be 18,000 cubits.  And the name of the city from that time on will be: 'The Lord is There.'"

Ezekiel is given the directions for laying out and dividing up the land that is to be home for the people of Israel. 

Ok, confession time: I have said more than once during the last couple weeks that Ezekiel was a tough book for me to really get into.  It's hard reading unless you're into reading the prophets and hearing about God smiting this group, or hail and fire raining down on that group.  In fact, it's almost depressing, but this morning it caught my attention.

There I was, reading along, my first cup of Pike Place Roast in hand (a dang good cup o' joe, by the way), watching as Ezekiel laid out the dimensions: something about the sea,  yada yada...something about a river, yada yada...something about a wadi (a wadi is a valley, just in case you were wondering), yada yada...something about gates, yada yada...and the name of the city will be "The Lord is There."  Wait...what?

I needed to hear that this morning.  Yesterday was a struggle.  Today and tomorrow are going to be non-stop.  It is National Talk Like a Pirate Day, so that will help...but I needed to be reminded that even in those moments when I'm only half paying attention, if I'm even giving it half, that God can still speak and I can still hear.  The Lord is there.  You're dang skippy, the Lord is there...

In our busy-ness, the Lord is there.  In our chaotic schedules...the Lord is there.  In our mind numbing routines...the Lord is there.  A pretty powerful hidden gem for me this morning.

O God, who waits for an opportunity to be heard, speak once again words that remind us all that we are not alone, that you are there.  When our eyes glaze over, our spirits are stressed, and our ears become distracted, never give up on the possibility that your word will break through when we least expect it.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How Can I Be Sure?

Today's Life Journal readings are Ezekiel 45, Ezekiel 46, and Luke 1

Scripture: Luke 1:18 (NIV)
"Zechariah asked the angel, 'How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.'"

Luke is beginning to describe the events leading up to the birth of Christ, along with a detailed account of all that has been told him about the life of Christ.

Finally...we're out of Revelation...I can start writing again.  Between Ezekiel and Revelation I've really struggled with journalling over the last couple weeks.  Maybe it's just an excuse...maybe I just need to admit that I don't really like those two books within our scripture.  I don't know. 

This chapter in Luke is pregnant...  It's full of anticipation, and it gives the account of two pregnancies in the history of God's people.  In the midst of that, we see a father-to-be's uncertainty.  If we're honest, we are much more like Zechariah in this passage than we're comfortable admitting.  We want to be part of something...but we're just not sure.

I know it's true for me, and I'll bet it is for you.  I could get more involved...if I could be sure that it was going to work.  I could allow myself to say yes to a call...if I could be sure that it wouldn't fail miserably.  What I have learned this week and last is that my uncertainty in many things is born out of my need to be in control (which I am in recovery for through our Celebrate Recovery group on Thursday nights).  For me to give myself fully to a situation, I need to know how it's going to turn out...the only problem with that is...I can't. 

So, Zechariah, you have my respect for being able to ask that question.  I struggle with you.  However, I can gain strength by reading your story and stories like yours. 

Oh God, who made your promise to be with us complete through the Incarnation, be with me also in my moments of doubt.  Though they are many, I ask for your forgiveness and your presence in those times when I need to be sure.  Strengthen me in my weakness so that I can answer with boldness the call you have placed on my life.  Amen.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Dry Bones...

Today's Life Journal readings are Ezekiel 36, Ezekiel 37, Psalm 110, and Revelation 19.

Scripture: Ezekiel 37:2-3
"He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, 'Son of man, can these bones live?'"

Ezekiel is taking a break from proclaiming death and destruction for a few lines so that he can hear and tell about the hope that is coming through new life.

I confess, this is my favorite chapter in Ezekiel.  The visions and stuff from earlier in the book are kind of cool...different at least...but this I like.  I mean, really like. 

I've preached this one before in front of congregations that were looking for new life, or that I hoped were looking for new life, in an attempt to remind them that even in the midst of apparent death, new life can spring forth.

Today, that's not what it said to me.  Today, this one got a little personal and I didn't like it. 

As I read these verses this morning, the dry bones that Ezekiel was prophesying to were my own.  I'm tired.  The last couple weeks have been pure hell, and my bones are dry.  I, like many of my clergy colleagues, desperately need the breath of God to blow on me again. 

It's so easy to get caught up in my calendar, or my to-do list, running from one meeting to another, or one task to the next.  It's easy to do those things and feel good about it because in our culture busy = successful.  When I allow that to happen, though, I forget that without the breath of God on me, I'm nothing but dry bones. 

Breathe on me, breath of God.  Once again this morning, I offer you my schedule and my to-do list.  Remind me that those are things I do and not who I am.  Who I am, is a child of the king, created not to live life rushed, stressed, or burnt out, but to live the life of abundance you came to give.  Call me to renewal and rest so that the work you have given me is done out of joy and not simply out of duty.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tell Me a Story...

Today's Life Journal readings are Ezekiel 3, Ezekiel 4, Psalm 81, and Revelation 17

Scripture: Ezekiel 4:2
"It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the most high God has performed for me."

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, has had his own Aldersagate experience after he threw three into the furnace and looked in to see four walking around.

I love a good story.  Right now at Grace, we are in the middle of a series based on stories from the master story teller.  We have spent 3 weeks, so far, on the parables and have three more weeks to go.  There's just something about a really good story.  I love to hear them, and I love to tell them.  I especially love it when they are true stories, and personal.

It finally happened this week.  After 13 years of ministry, I have finally had someone come to me asking to give their testimony during worship.  I love it.  Now to get it plugged in soon. 

What I have found over the years is that it's like pulling teeth to get someone to stand up and tell other folks about the miraculous signs and wonders that the most high God has performed for them.  This should not be.   

I will never forget the night Bishop Bill Morris stood before us at Annual Conference and told us as clergy that once a year, every year, we are to stand in front of our people and tell them from whence we have come.  Since then, every year, usually in September, I do.  The story changes each time I tell it, and it should.  I would hate to think that God has not moved in my life since the first time I told my story.  This year, it will be told on September 30.  I always dread it, but at the same time, can't wait to tell it.

What's the story of the miraculous signs and wonders God has performed in your life?

O God, master storyteller, author of our own stories, help us to stand before others and read the words you have written in our lives.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

In Dreams...

Today's Life Journal Readings are from Daniel 1, Daniel 2, and Revelation 16

Scripture: Daniel 2:1 (NIV)
"In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep."

The opening chapters of the Book of Daniel begin to set the stage for the apocalyptic images that will come later in the book.  It starts with the first of Nebuchadnezzar's dreams.  The things that are going through his mind are troubling.

In 1963, Roy Orbinson released his song, "In Dreams."  I know, you might not think I would be, but I'm a fan.  I love listening to him sing.  According to Wiki, his song is an "operatic ballad of love lost."  I just think it's a cool song.  However, not all dreams are good dreams.

Nebuchadnezzar was terrified of the images that were coming to him in his sleep.  So much so, that he wouldn't even tell the men he had asked to interpret his dream what the dream was.  He expected them to not only interpret it, but tell him what it was that he saw in his sleep.  Impossible.

I've mentioned that I am a control freak.  There are a lot of things in my life that I can control.  I can control when I get up, what I eat, a lot of what I do, who I hang around with, etc, etc, etc.  What I can't control, are my dreams. 

I've never really thought about this before, but that is one area of our lives where we have practically zero control.  How many times have we been awakened by nightmares?  Nebuchadnezzar was.  I have been.  You have been.  We've probably all had a dream of falling and waking up right before we go splat...or showing up at school in our underwear...or having to walk across a crooked throw rug and not being able to straighten it up (shiver).

This entry may seem a little odd, but I think that I've just added one more item to my nightly prayer check list...peaceful dreams. 

O God of our waking and our sleeping, be with us each night as we close our eyes so that we may find rest as we rest.  Amen.    

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Under Fire...

The Life Journal readings for today are Ezekiel 29, Ezekiel 30, Ezekiel 31, Ezekiel 32, and Revelation 11.

Scripture: Revelation 11:7 (NIV)
"Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them."

John is describing his vision of the two witnesses who will stand and prophecy for "1260 days" and who will be killed but in 3 1/2 days, raised again.

I wasn't there when this part of our scriptures was penned.  I can't say what John did or did not see.  But I can say, again, that I don't take any of Revelation literally (collective gasp).  However, this verse speaks to me.   Without digging into some trusted commentaries, I'm afraid to even venture a guess as to the hidden meanings within the pages of this book.  I have my theories.  However, this I know: stand up for the other, work to bring an undoing of social systems that continue to oppress, and wait to see what beast from the abyss rises up to attack.

Was there an actual beast that crawled up from some crack in the ground, or some depth of the sea, and literally attacked two men for standing in the streets of Jerusalem?  I just can't see that.  What I do see is the gap between the "have's" and the "have not's" growing wider; I see less concern for our fellow human beings; I see churches who continue to worship their traditions instead of their God; and I see folks still being excluded because of who they are or aren't.

At the same time, if I look, I can see those who are still working to bring God's kingdom wherever they are, regardless of the cost to themselves.  Much of the time it's not those of us who stand up on Sunday morning or some other time during the week, it's the retired school teacher working at the food bank, the neighbor who heard the argument during the night and stepped in between an abused wife and her abuser husband, or the philanthropist who makes a donation so that kids he/she will never meet get to eat a decent meal. Sometimes they come under fire for helping those that others deem unworthy of help, but thanks be to God that they continue to take a stand.

God of the weak and the strong, hear our words of thanksgiving for those who work tirelessly to help your kingdom unfold before our eyes.  Give them strength when they come under fire for what you have called them to do or become.  Allow us to see you in the other.  Fill us with compassion for them.  Then, my King, give us the strength to stand.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Standing in the Gap...

Today's Life Journal readings are Ezekiel 22, Ezekiel 23, Ezekiel 24, and Revelation 9.

Scripture: Ezekiel 22:30 (The Message)
"I looked for someone to stand up for me against all this, to repair the defenses of the city, to take a stand for me and stand in the gap to protect this land so I wouldn't have to destroy it.  I couldn't find anyone.  Not one."

Things had gotten worse in Jerusalem, and the people of God had moved farther away from the God who created them.  Verses 26-29 are a laundry list of things that have gone bad within their social systems.  Now God has looked for someone to stand in the gap and not found anyone.

The most common complaint I hear about worship in any place is this: "I just didn't get anything out of it."  It usually comes from folks who have come to the church I serve after becoming disillusioned with their own and are seeking more than what that church was offering.  I get that, really.  We have a lot going on at Grace Church, and there are several different ways to get something out of what's going on here.  I'm proud of my folks for all they are doing and the ministries that are taking place through their hands.

However...when someone says to me, "Well, I just didn't get anything out of my last church." it makes me cringe just a bit.  "Why?" you may ask.  Because of this one line in Ezekiel this morning.  God is looking for folks who are willing to stand in the gap.  That's a tough place to be, honest.  It's hard to stand up for what is right...to speak for those who have no voice...to minister with those no one else wants...to proclaim release to the captives...to realize the church really isn't a cruise ship, there to serve me and make me happy.

Now having said that, it is important for us to be in a place that feeds us spiritually, where we can build community for mutual support and love, and where we can engage in worship that is genuine for who we are...through those things we are given the strength to then go out and stand in the gap for the other.

God who calls us and gives us strength, our souls are hungry.  Our spirits are thirsty.  We are looking for ways to connect with you on a deeper level.  Remind us that we are given bread so that we may be bread for others.  Then send us to the outcasts, the sick, the prisoners, and any, Oh God, who have not yet heard.  Amen.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Psalm...

The Life Journal readings for today are Ezekiel 20, Ezekiel 21, Psalm 111, and Revelation 8

Scripture: Psalm 111:1 (The Message)
"Hallelujah!  I give thanks to God with everything I've got."

Ezekiel is prophesying about the destruction of Jerusalem and the people of Israel because they had rebelled against God.  They had disobeyed God, and now God has broken his promise with them.  Revelation talks about hail, fire, and blood raining down on earth, and a third of this and a third of that being wiped out.

With all of that death and destruction, the only place I could go this morning was to the Psalms.  Last week was pure hell around here, so I decided that instead of just journalling this morning, I'd try to write my own Psalm and I think Psalm 111:1 looks like a good place to start, so I'll borrow that line.

Hallelujah!  I will give thanks to God with everything I've got.
These past days have been rough
Laughter has been tempered with tears
Still, I will give thanks to God with everything I've got.
When the walls began to close in, you sent your Spirit
In the form of friends, you came to us to help hold the walls up.
I will give thanks to God with everything I've got.
When fear took over, you sent words of comfort
When the shadows grew long, you reminded us that even then you were there.
I will give thanks to God with everything I've got.
Now, what is, and what will be is in your hands.
Today we are unsure of much, but this we know, we are not alone.
I will give thanks to God with everything I've got.

God of today, tomorrow, and forever, again this day I place myself and those I love in your hands.  Only you know what lies ahead, but this we can be sure of, whatever this week brings, wherever it leads us, you are already there. Amen.

Friday, August 31, 2012

King of the Jungle...

The Life Journal readings for today are Ezekiel 12, 13, 14, and Revelation 5

Scripture: Revelation 5:5 (NIV)
"Then one of the elders said to me, 'Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed."

John's vision of the throne room continued.

It's easy to forget, sometimes, that the Lion of the tribe of Judah has already won.  He is, and always will be, King of the Jungle.  What's that?  How can I compare the Lion of the tribe of Judah from Revelation to the king of the jungle?  Look around.  It really is a jungle out there. 

A few days ago, I wrote about how Revelation just isn't my favorite book, and it's still not, but a good friend of mine reminded me that this is the story of good winning in the end.  Even us preacher types need to be reminded of that every now and again.  It's a word I needed this morning. 

The application section of this daily journalling process is supposed to be about how we are going to live differently because of what this scripture says to us.  For me, I think it is calling to me to step back once again and look at the big picture.  Yesterday was a rough day, but it's just one day out of 365 this year.  That means that even with one bad day a year, I have that one chance and 364 more to let the Lion of the tribe of Judah be the king of my jungle. 

God who spoke choas into order, you have called us to make a difference in a crazy world.  I ask that you watch over all those who feel as if life is a jungle, and that you grant them guidance and peace.  Show us once again how good wins in the end, and never let us forget that you promised to be with us always.  Amen. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Right There...

Today's Life Journal readings are Ezekiel 8, 9, 10, 11, and Revelation 4

Scripture: Ezekiel 8:4 (The Message)
"Right before me was the glory of the God of Israel..."

Ezekiel is given a vision of the idolatry being committed by the people of Israel and about what will happen to them because of it.

This morning was tough.  I almost didn't write at all, simply because of the texts for today.  Stuff like this in our scriptures gives folks some crazy ideas.  All you have to do is turn on the TV to find that out...ancient aliens...biblical aliens...Ezekiel's aliens.  Ok, I get it.  We have been trying to make sense out of Ezekiel's visions and the imagery in Revelation for centuries.  I have too.  I mean, sure, it would be great if science could prove that everything we read about in scriptures is true, but then the question becomes, "Define true?"

So for me this morning, it's not about the imagery itself.  Well, not about the imagery that stands out in texts...floating wheels and four headed creatures.  It's about a different kind of image.  To me, this passage, or at least that one line, calls me to open my eyes to God's glory breaking out right in front of me.  I mean, have you ever really looked at a passion flower?  It's one of the most complex flowers in the world.  I look at one of those and think, "Wow!  You did good with that one, God." (Knuckle bump)

Then I remember the first time I heard our daughters' heartbeats on the monitors, yeah the glory of God right before me.  Or what about the sounds of a baby's first cry?  Or the birds landing on the feeder in our backyard?  Or being able to hear a good friend's voice.  Yeah, those things.

The glory of God right before me?  I don't need images of ancient aliens to see that.  So, funny hair guy on the TV, go ahead trying to prove that Ezekiel saw a UFO.  I'll defend to the death your right to do that.  I'd like to help, but I'm a little busy trying to figure out how God stuffs 30 pounds of tomatoes into 1 tiny little seed.

God, who is mystery, reveal to me what you would have me see.  Open my eyes to see your glory in the day to day.  Create in me a heart of wonder, and allow me to see you wherever I look.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dead or Alive...

Today's Life Journal readings are Ezekiel 4, Ezekiel 5, Ezekiel 6, Ezekiel 7, and Revelation 3.

Scripture: Revelation 3:1-2 "These are the words of him who hold the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. 'I know your deeds.  You have a reputation of being alive but you are dead.  Wake up!  Strengthen what remains and is about to die.'"

These are the author's words to the church at Sardis, who had evidently become comfortable.

How true those words are today.  If you were to ask most church folks to describe their church, they would say things like, "We are on fire!"..."We're growing"..."Things are going pretty well."... and in their eyes things may be going pretty well.  But in most places, nothing too exciting is happening.  The Sunday morning worship bulletin is the same today as it was last year, and as it will be next week.  Every now and then a guest will show up, and who knows, maybe even join the membership. 

It's safe...It's predictable...And we like it that way.

I want to serve a noisy church.  I love being in a church where I have to get loud on Sunday morning so folks can hear me over the crying babies.  I am blessed to serve a church where my phone gets busted up pretty regular with folks who are throwing ministry ideas at me.  I love the fact that the community KNOWS this church is alive, and where walking into the unknown is the norm.  "A reputation of being alive"... that's not good enough.

So no rant today, but instead I want my folks to know that they do not have this in common with the church at Sardis.  I'm blessed to serve Grace Church and I give God thanks for the people that call this their church home. 

It's chaos in here this morning.  We have stuff stacked around the walls.  There are sheetrock hangers working in the youth center above my office.  I can't hear myself think...and I absolutely love it. 
(Insert shameless plug here)  So if you are looking for a place that not only is reputed for being alive, but actually is, give me a holler.  We'll do lunch, and I'll tell you about this place I know of where lives are being changed.

O living God, and God of the living, hear my prayer for those faith communities where you are actively at work.  Strengthen them.  Give them endurance to stand strong under the call to change lives.  For those churches who are still sleeping, wake them up so that they can once again be kingdom churches.  Amen.

Monday, August 27, 2012


Today's Life Journal readings are Jeremiah 52, Revelation 1, Psalm 143, and Psalm 144. 

Scripture: Revelation 1:1 (The Message)
"A revealing of Jesus, the Messiah."

Observation: The opening line of the book of Revelation, showing the purpose for the book.  Whether you interpret it literally or don't, we can probably agree that it's purpose was to reveal Christ as the Messiah. 

I don't like Revelation.  (And it is the Book of Revelation, not the Book of Revelations.  Two of my pet peeves are the "s" being added to the end of Revelation, and "selah" being read when someone reads the Psalms.  Just saying.)  I even mentioned yesterday morning that this book was not one of my favorites.  Thanks to Hal Lindsey, John Hagee, and guys like that, Revelation no longer gets to speak as it did to the people of the first or second centuries who were trying to live as the church, and trying to do so under heavy persecution.  Because of the work they have done folks immediately start looking for some timeline to some upcoming apocalypse. 

Still, it has much to say.    

As we sift through its pages, we can find out much about ourselves.  Surely, there are aspects of at least one of the seven churches in most of our churches today.  Are we neither hot nor cold?  Have we forgotten our first love?  These are questions the early Christians had to wrestle with, and still questions we must ask ourselves as well. 

Since the Life Journal is evidently getting ready to lead us through this book, let's be lead with open eyes and hearts, so that it can speak to us about how Christ can be revealed as Messiah through who we are today.  Let's not immediately jump to images of some future battle between the forces of good and evil because, folks, that battle rages every day.  How we respond, how we treat each other, and how we live within the communites we are planted will reveal more about who our Lord is than anything written in this book. 

God of our beginnings and our endings, reveal your word to us again this morning.  Allow us to hear you whisper ways we can reveal Christ as our Messiah today, tomorrow, and for all of our days.  We ask that you truly become our A, our Z, and our everything in between.  Amen. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

As If That Weren't Bad Enough...

The Life Journal readings for today are Jeremiah 50, Jeremiah 51, and 3 John 1.

Scripture: 3 John 1:9-10 (The Message)
"Earlier I wrote something along this line to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves being in charge, denigrates my counsel.  If I come, you can be sure I'll hold him to account for spreading vicious rumors about us.  As if that weren't bad enough, he not only refuses hospitality to traveling Christians but tries to stop others from welcoming them.  Worse yet, instead of inviting them in, he throws them out."

3 John is a letter written to the leadership of one of the early churches about their hospitality to fellow Christians, and about one member's lack of hospitality.  As if that weren't bad enough, it is also an indication that, even then, there were power plays within the church.

So, no one is perfect.  I get that.  I know I'm certainly not. 

So, folks like to be in charge.  I get that, too.  Every time I stand in front of our Celebrate Recovery group, that is how I introduce myself.  "Hey, my name is Jamie, and I'm a recovering control freak." 

However, when a group of people come together with a shared vision and mission, and when there is someone within that body who is obviously not on board with that mission...what do you do?

My human nature says, "Throw the bum out.  If you don't like where this bus is going, get on a different bus."  But something in me won't let me do that. 

I would like to be able to say that this was an isolated incident, and that it's no longer an issue in the Church.  But the reality is the Church will always have to deal with folks like Diotrephes.  There will always be one or two, or even a group, who just can't grab the shared vision and will be a source of friction and tension within the body. 

While it can frustrating as a leader in the church, I really don't mind dealing with folks like Diotrephes.  To me, that is more incentive to do a better job casting the vision.  Those folks keep me on task, and keep me focused.  Ideally, everyone would be on the same page, but I'm not going to sweat the times when we're not. 

God of us all, teach us to love in those moments when we are not all of one mind.  Cast the vision you have for your church before us, show us our role in making that happen, then remind us that at the end of the day, we are all working toward the same ultimate goal.  Be in our thinking, our hearing, and our speaking, so that even in those moments of disagreement, your kingdom can break through.  Amen.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Don't Say That...

Today's Life Journal readings are Jeremiah 37, Jeremiah 38, Jeremiah 39, Psalm 79, and 2 John 1.

Scripture: Jeremiah 38:14 (The Message)
"Later, King Zedakiah sent for Jeremiah the prophet and had him brought to the third entrance of the temple of God.  The king said to Jeremiah, 'I'm going to ask you something.  Don't hold anything back from me.'  Jeremiah said, 'If I told you the whole truth, you'd kill me.  And no matter what I said, you wouldn't pay any attention anyhow.'"

Jerusalem is about to fall.  The people are about to be sent into exile into Babylon.  King Zedakiah is afraid, yet Jeremiah tells him what is going to happen anyhow.

I have learned over the years that the role of pastor is really three roles in one.  That was reinforced for me this week.  I am a pastor, which means that I have a responsibility to care for the souls in my charge.  I am a priest, which means that I have vowed to administer the sacraments to whosoever would come.  But, and this is the part that causes me the occasional sleepless night...I am also a prophet.  Not a prophet, like the prophets of old.  I can't see into the future or deliver words like Jeremiah did to Zedakiah with a knowledge that what I speak will come true.  Instead, a prophet in the sense that sometimes the words I am called to speak are tough to hear, but they need to be spoken anyhow. 

I have also learned that those words, even though they be spoken in love and for the good of the kingdom, not out of malice or ill will, may not be well received and the end result is that some may choose to walk away instead of accept them. 

I can respect the king in today's reading for giving Jeremiah his ear, even though the words that Jeremiah brought were not what he wanted to hear.  That happens more than we realize.  At the end of the day, I'd rather know that I had been true to my calling than to think I had allowed my need to be liked interfere with the task God has given me.

God of the tough days and sleepless nights, grant those whom you have called to shepherd your flocks the strength to follow where you lead, to hear when you speak, to correct in love, to sacrifice when sacrifice is required and to do all this not for the praise of man, but to build your kingdom.  Amen.   

Friday, August 24, 2012

Under Control...

The Life Journal readings for today are Jeremiah 33, Jeremiah 34, Psalm 74, and 1 John 5

Scripture: 1 John 5:19 (NIV)
"We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one."

These are the final instructions from the author of 1 John in this letter.  He is wrapping up a teaching on the love of God and what it would look like to live within the same.  Then he throws this little gem in and keeps going. 

"He's got the whole world in his hands..." 

How many of us sang that one in vacation bible school as a kid?  I remember vividly standing in the front of a small country church in my hometown of Lynnville, and singing that song with the other kids as VBS was wrapping up for the week. 

Now, as an adult and a seminary graduate, lines like this one stand out while I'm reading.  Part of me would like to just be able to read over them like I used to do, not paying any attention, and checking the "I read my bible today" box so that I can go on about my day. 

But I can't.  I have to wrestle with things like this.  Who is in control?  Is it the God who spoke the world into creation?  That's what we've always been taught.  But...if the author of 1 John is correct, it's the evil one who has everything under control.  All one has to do is look around to begin to see that. 

This is where the church has to be proactive.  For decades we have sat around, brainstorming, trying to come up with catchy little slogans and ideas that will convince folks to come to us; meanwhile the world around us cannot hear the voice of truth because of Clark Griswold screaming, "Look around you Ellen!  We're at the threshold of hell!"  And for them...it just may be true.

If we are going to call ourselves kingdom builders and disciples makers, then it's time to get off our duffs, get outside, and begin to turn the tide.  Ultimately, we know who has the last word...but they don't.  If your pastor won't lead you outside the walls, take the lead yourself...get up...get out...and show your community that God really does have everything under control.

O God of all that was, is, and is to come, remind us once again that good triumphs, and that evil does not get the last word.  Show us how we can be a source of hope for those who are standing at the gates of their own personal hell.  Teach us to go to where the hurt is just as you did all those centuries ago so that hope and peace begin to replace fear and doubt. Amen


Thursday, August 23, 2012


Today's Life Journal readings are from Jeremiah 31, Jeremiah 32, and 1 John 4

Scripture: 1 John 4:18 (The Message)
"There is no room in love for fear.  Well-formed love banishes fear.  Since fear is crippling, a fearful life - fear of death, fear of judgment - is one not yet fully formed in love."

The author of 1 John is talking about the importance of accepting the incarnation, and describing what a life lived within the love of God really looks like.

We hear it all the time..."unconditional love."  I speak about it at every wedding ceremony in which I am the officiant.  I will tell the bride and groom about the way love is described in the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, then go on to talk about the importance of loving unconditionally.

But there's a problem.  I have realized that unconditional love is tough, nay almost impossible, from human to human.  Maybe a better, more realistic expectation, is to just say that we can love truly, madly, and deeply like Savage Garden sang about in the '90's. 

I feel like I can do that...but is that really love?  If the writer of 1 John is correct, love can only be real when it removes from the relationship all that can cause fear.  If that's the case, then those whom I claim to love, or who claim to love me should know me, and I them, well enough to know what they are afraid of.  That requires intimacy...trust...and time.  

This is true in our relationships with each other, and in our relationship with the God who created us.  Only when we truly get to know the other...their fears, their hopes, their dreams, their failures, their strengths, and their weaknesses...can we even begin to love them.  Only when we allow the other to know our fears, hopes, dreams, failures, strengths, and weaknesses can we truly be loved.

O God of heart and soul, love us through our fears, and show us how to do the same for those around us.  Amen. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lay it Down...

Life Journal readings for today are Jeremiah 28, Jeremiah 29, Jeremiah 30, and 1 John 3

Scripture: 1 John 3:16 (The Message)
"This is how we've come to experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us.  This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves."

The author of 1 John is talking about the way followers of Christ should treat each other, and how the love of God within us is manifested through the things we do and say.

This is one of the times I actually prefer the wording in "The Message" over the NIV.  The NIV says that Christ laid down his life for us so we should lay down our lives for others.  That's a great way to look at the death of Christ, but you can only lay down your life for someone else once, unless...

...unless, like The Message says, you live sacrificially for others. 

The same passage...the same original text...but two totallly different ways of presenting it.  That's why I love doing what I do, and the way God has molded my ministry.  We get the chance to tell folks about ancient stories and teachings in a brand new way.  Jesus taught that way.  Wesley taught that way.  Christ used the parables, stories about everyday life, to teach his followers a new way of being in the world.  Wesley decided to "become more vile" so that the word could be taken to folks who were not welcome, or could not attend their local parish church, and because of that some of our greatest hymns were sung to bar tunes.

There are folks that I would absolutely lay down my life for, which is exactly what it sounds like the NIV may be calling us to do.  Honestly, though, that's a relatively small group.  The ultimate sacrifice can only be given once.

However, the list of folks that I feel I can live sacrificially for is a much longer list.  I can serve.  I can teach.  I can guide.  I can love.  So can you, and in doing so, you can show them a better way.

Oh God who speaks to us, allow our hearts to hear what our heads may not understand.  Speak to us your words of love and sacrifice, then guide us as we live them out in the world.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Blinded By the Dark...

The Life Journal readings for today are Jeremiah 21, Jeremiah 24, Jeremiah 27, Psalm 118, and 1 John 2.

Scripture: 1 John 2:11 (The Message)
"But whoever hates is still in the dark, stumbles around in the dark, doesn't know which end is up, blinded by the darkness."

The author of 1 John is writing so that the church would know who was and who wasn't walking as followers of Christ.

I've done pretty well with the Big 10...you know, the ones Moses packed down the mountain to the Israelites.  I've done alright, for the most part with Big Two that Jesus taught the disciples...you know, love God with heart, mind, body, and soul and love your neighbor as you love yourself.  He even said that the law and the prophets hung on those two.  I'm totally cool with that.

The social justice example of Jesus, I've got that one.  I'm comfortable with broken people, spend time ministering with the sick and the prisoner, and look out for those on the margins.  Those things make me feel pretty good about who I am as a Jesus freak, but...

...yeah, there's always a but...

...I saw him the other day...Doofensmirch to my Perry...My arch nemesis...the one person who made my life a living hell for years...and sitting there at the stop light, across the intersection from each other, I was blinded by the darkness.  Oh, I've forgiven him, if forgiving him means taking my hands off of his throat...I wish him no ill or harm...but I can't forget.  I've tried. 

Now, as a follower of Christ, I have to try harder.   

O God of the light, forgive me when I stumble into the dark.  Allow the voice calling from within me be the voice of the love of Christ and not the hateful voices from the dark one.  Remove from within me all that would keep me from following where you lead.  Give me a heart to love, even those who have hurt me.  Amen.

Monday, August 20, 2012

I Know I Am, But What Are You?

Today's Life Journal Readings are from Jeremiah 48, Jeremiah 49, Psalm 67, and 1 John 1.

Scripture: 1  John 1:8 (NIV)
"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."

The author of 1 John is talking about the redemptive work of Christ for those who admit their need for forgiveness.

(author's note: I am going to attempt this today without falling into a rant)

Christ nailed it in Matthew 7:5: "First get rid of the log in your own eye, then you can see well enough to remove the speck from your neighbor's."  I know that today, we're dealing with the 1 John 1 text, but as I read that one, this other kept coming to mind.  Why?  Because that's what the church is really good at doing, and it should not be so.

I know that I'm not perfect, and I honestly believe that there are very few among us who truly believe that they are, but just because my imperfection may not look like your impefection, that does not give you the right to continually point it out to me. 

I know that I am a sinner, redeemed by the blood of Christ.  I know that my life, even my ministry are not perfect.  However, if the kingdom is ever going to unfold around us, we have to stop being so judgmental.  I give God thanks for the work of grace in my life, that even as I admit I am a sinner, I am assured that I am a child of grace.

So, for those of you who can only feel righteous by continually pointing out the fault in others, read those words from 1 John 1:8 again, please...and then stop doing it.

God of the forgiven and those who feel they need no forgiveness, remind us all that our righteousness comes only through the gift you have given.  Teach us that you are glorified when we admit our dependence on your grace, and then, O God, give us eyes to see as you see.  Amen.

Friday, August 17, 2012

It Is Finished...

Today's Life Journal readings are from Jeremiah 23, Jeremiah 24, Jeremiah 25, and John 19.

Scripture: John 19:30 (NIV)
"When he had received the drink, Jesus said, 'It is finished.'  With that he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."

Christ's mission on earth is now complete.  His earthly life had been leading up to this one moment, when he would offer himself as a sacrifice for all.  On the surface, he was killed as an enemy of the state.  His death, for us, has much greater significance.

"Holy are you, and blessed is your Son Jesus Christ.  Your Spirit anointed him to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed and to announce that the time had come when you would save your people.  He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and ate with sinners.   By the baptism of his suffering, death, and resurrection, you gave birth to your Church, delivered us from slavery to sin and death, and made with us a new covenant by water and the Spirit."
     (Word and Table I, The Book of Worship of the United Methodist Church)

That was what was finished that morning.  Pilate thought he had killed the One who was causing such an uprising in his little town.  Instead, because of that morning and the events of the third morning, good news would be preached to more who were poor, release would be proclaimed to even more captives, more blind eyes would be opened, more sick healed, more hungry fed, and more sinners dined with.  Thanks be to God. 

Each time I proclaim those words, with arms extended over the elements, I get chills.  It is an awesome task to stand as a representative of Christ in this world, and as his ambassabor to the poor, the captive, the blind, the sick, the hungry, and (thank God) even the sinners.  Each time we come to the table we get to be part of a movement that Pilate and those in power could not destroy.

I give God thanks that I am part of a tradition where healing and grace through the body and blood are available to all who would come. 

God of all those who hunger or thirst, open our eyes to the needs of those around us.  Allow us to stand in your presence as a reminder that even though his earthly role was finished, the work Christ began continues through us, the Church.  May we ever be accused of welcoming and never accused of turning away those who come seeking your grace.  Amen. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

For This Reason...

The Life Journal readings for today are 2 Kings 24, Jeremiah 22, Psalm 112, and John 18.

Scripture: John 18:37 (NIV)
"Jesus answered, 'You are right in saying I am a king.  In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth."

It has happened. He has been arrested and is now being questioned by the Roman authority in Jerusalem.  Claiming to be a king, while standing in front of someone with that kind of power, was not the best way to ensure one's survival, yet Christ didn't back down. 

It would have been so easy for him to say, "No, Pilate, I was just kidding.  I'm really not a king."  He could have walked away, gone back to Galilee, or anywhere, and had a relatively good life.  He might have taken a beating, but he wouldn't have been crucified.  But he stood true to his calling and purpose, and that is something I can easily respect.

I have noticed similar patterns in the ministry.  The easy road, and the road I have been called to tread, are not always the same.  In fact, rarely are they the same.  It took me a long time to realize what my purpose really was, and to realize that if I remained true to who I was created to be and what I was called to become, some folks might not like it. 

The decision is ultimately mine, though.  Do I stand behind what I perceive to be my purpose, even though it may not be easy or popular, or do I choose the easy way? 

O God who created us, remind us that even when we may feel like it is us against the world, we are not standing alone.  Teach us the see that those moments are the moments you are glorified through the path you have laid before us.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


The Life Journal readings for today are Jeremiah 18, Jeremiah 19, Jeremiah 20, Psalm 93, and John 17.

Scripture: John 17:20 (NIV)
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.

Jesus is spending his last few minutes as a free man in prayer.  His earthly time is just about done and he is praying now that God be glorified through what is about to happen.  He is also praying for those who have walked with him through the last few years, and all those in the world.

This scene could have come straight out of a Normon Rockwell painting.  Its tenderness is beautiful, and you can feel the compassion in the words of Christ's prayer.  It's a good feeling to know that the Second Person of the Trinity is standing in the gap for us.

I would love to be able to sit in that moment and soak it all in, but the cynic within me just won't be so easily tamed.  Christ's prayer in his last hours was that all who believed in him through the message of those closest to him would be one.  He prayed that the relationships between those folks would be as tight as his relationship with Abba.  My question is, why aren't they?

I know that I mention this with a fair amount of regularity, but this is one topic that really bothers me.  Of all of those in the world, those who claim to follow The Way, should behave more like Christ.  At the very least, should behave so with each other.  Yet we don't.  One only has to attend most any church meeting to find that out. 

But there is a way to make Christ's prayer a reality: die to self, die to ego, die to pride, and live into the desire to truly see Christ's prayer answered.

O God who hears and calls, may my prayer this morning be that Christ's prayer to you that night be answered.  Draw those of us who claim your name closer together so that your mind may be ours, your heart may be ours, and your desires may be ours, so that together we may bring your kingdom where we are.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tormented Souls...

The Life Journal readings for today are Jeremiah 16, Jeremiah 17, Psalm 96, and  John 16.

Scripture: John 16:33 (The Message)
"I've told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace.  In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties.  But take heart!  I have conquered the world."

The time is getting closer.  The disciples have just had their "Aha!" moment and finally believed that Christ was who he said he was.  Just a few more final instructions.

It was about to get tough.  They were about to scatter, just like he said they would.  In John's gospel, only a prayer stands between them and the scene in the garden where he is arrested.  I can imagine the torment in their souls.

I can also imagine the torment in the souls of those I encounter on a daily basis.  It shows on their faces through tired eyes and frown lines.  It shows in the way they walk, with their head bowed and shoulders drooping.  You can see the worry.  You can almost feel the despair.  You can see the longing for peace.  Not the psychadelic, tie-dyed peace of the '60's and '70's, but true peace.  What they are longing for is peace at their very core, even on the tough days.

This peace comes from knowing that the Christ who is offering to make them deeply at peace is the same Christ who has conquered all that would torment their soul.  "You will continue to experience difficulties, but take heart!  I have conquered the world!"

O God of the shaken and unsure, hear my prayer for peace in their most chaotic places.  Grant an understanding deep within them, that though things may be tough now, in all and through all, you are with them and there is hope.  Amen.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Don't Hate...

The Life Journal readings for today are Jeremiah 13, Jeremiah 14, Jeremiah 15, and John 15.

Scripture:  John 15:18 (The Message)
"If you find the Godless world is hating you, remember it got its start hating me."

Remove the chapter and verse separations that we have added over the centuries, and this verse actually looks more at home read with the one before it.  Jesus has instructed the disciples again about the importance of loving one another, and now carries that same idea into a teaching on how they are to live in the world after he is gone.

"...but remember the root command: 'Love one another.  If you find the Godless world is hating you, remember it got its start hating me.'"

I wonder if they picked up on what he was really trying to tell them.  In just a little while, at this point, he was going to be gone and they would be by themselves.  He had called them to be something different than they were before, and after he was gone, their lives weren't going to be easy.

After watching how the crowds flocked to him, but how those in power despised him, they must have known it was going to be tough.  Jesus is reminding them, and possibly even saying without actually saying, "Get ready.  It's about to get ugly out there.  You may have to depend on each other more now."

How much more could the Church do for the kingdom if we quit fighting among ourselves?  That has bothered me from the very beginning of my ministry.  I have had church board meetings that I had to shut down before they came to blows...and that's INSIDE the church.  How on earth can churches like that expect to make a difference in a hate filled world when they can't even get along with each other? 

God of us all, remind us that we are on the same team.  Remind us that we don't always have to have our way.  Remind us that we are called to be different.  Love us when we have trouble loving each other, and send us out to show the world that there is another way.  Amen.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Trust Me...

Today's Life Journal readings are Jeremiah 10, Jeremiah 11, Jeremiah 12, and John 14.

Scripture: John 14:1 (NIV)
"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me."

Jesus is preparing his disciples for what is about to happen.  These are the beginnings of his final instructions to them.  Within just a few chapters he will be arrested and taken from them.

"Trust me."  How many times have we heard someone say those words?  How many times have we heard those words, and then watched as they were scattered like dust before a storm?

Reality would tell us that we're human, and humans will fail each other from time to time.  A promise may be made with sincere intentions, and reinforced with "trust me," but later broken.  It happens.  Unfortunately, it happens a lot, leaving the one who has been let down with even greater reasons for caution the next time they hear those words.  Often, they become shallow and meaningless.

I confess that I have trust issues.  That is one of the reasons I'm participating in Celebrate Recovery.  My inner circle is very small.  I can imagine that in their time, involved with who they were involved with, the disciples also had a very tight inner circle.  Even Jesus had only 12. 

I know that there may be times when human trust fails, but I don't fear that happening when I hear Christ speak those words to me.

God of us all, strengthen me as I hear Christ's call to trust in him.  Remind me of my human weaknesses and fill my growing edges with your presence.  Amen.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bread of Death...

Today's Life Journal readings are Jeremiah 7, Jeremiah 8, Jeremiah 9, and John 13.

Scripture:  John 13:27 (NIV)
"As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered him."

The author of John is giving us his version of the last supper in this chapter.  After Jesus loved them by washing their feet, he sat back down and told them that they would be blessed by serving others.  Then he said the words in verse 27.

Jesus may have dropped hints before that not every disciples' intentions were honorable.  In Matthew and in Mark, Jesus calls one of the Twelve Satan.  Jesus talks of being denied by one of his closest followers.  Then we have the dipped bread in this scene, which sets in motion a series of events that would eventually lead to death.

This one bothers me.  When asked by the Twelve who the betrayer would be, Jesus said that it would be the one to whom he would hand the dipped bread.  He then dips the bread and hands it to Judas.  Scripture says that it was then that Satan entered him.  I admit, that bothers me.

No doubt Judas was becoming disillusioned.  Jesus' teachings had shifted from the image of Messiah found in the book of Daniel, a warrior king who would come in and overthrow the enemies of the people of God and establish a new kingdom, to images of a sacrificial Messiah who's death would be the redemption of his people. 

Maybe Judas wanted to shake things up a bit, or even force Jesus' hand, and maybe Christ knew that and allowed it to happen just as the Psalm said.  What do we do with the idea that, at least on a surface reading, Jesus may have chosen his own betrayer?  What do we do with any of the scriptures that leave us scratching our heads?

O God of head and heart, teach me that you are even present in those times when I just don't understand.  Show me how to teach even as I continue to learn.  Amen.