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 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 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 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 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.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Who Loves You?...

The Life Journal readings for today are Jeremiah 5, Jeremiah 6, and John 12.

Scripture: John 12:42-43 (NIV)
"Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him.  But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for  they loved praise from men more than praise from God."

This is a mixed crowd in John 12.  Within just a few paragraphs John describes one who spent a year's wage on oil to anoint Jesus' head, a group who has named him king of Israel, disciples who were trying but still didn't understand, folks who could not believe, and then a few in leadership who were too afraid to admit they believed.

Personally, I think I would almost rather belong to the crowd who admitted they just didn't believe than to the crowd who believed and were too afraid to admit they believed.  This is another example of the fact that, for the most part, human love is conditional.

I've learned the importance of taking a stand in the last 13 years.  I've learned that sometimes being a follower of Christ and a leader in Christ's church is tough.  Following the crowd is still always a choice, but not always the best choice.

As a leader, each week I have to decide if I am going to do what makes my people happy or if I am going to do what pleases God.  The blessing is that sometimes they are the same.  But on the days when they aren't, I hope that I have the strength to always try to please the one who called me and loves me unconditionally.

O God, who loves me, grant me the ability to stand strong and to show my belief in you through word and deed.  Forgive those moments when I am tempted to trade you for an approving nod from those around me.  Amen.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I'm Not a Pessimist...

Today's Life Journal readings are Jeremiah 3, Jeremiah 4, and John 11.

Scripture: John 11:16 (The Message)
"That's when Thomas, the one called the Twin, said to his companions, 'Come along, we might as well die with him.'"

Lazarus, brother to Mary and Martha, and friend of Jesus, has died.  Christ has decided to use his death to glorify God and begins making plans to go back to Judea even though some of the people there were looking for an opportunity to kill him.  It is then that Thomas makes his statement.

This week a dear friend of mine caused me to stop and think about something that I've never really given much thought to.  I've been accused before of being a pessimist but I have always countered that by saying, "I'm not a pessimist.  I'm a realist."  I've thought that saying that would make a difference.  Now I'm not so sure.

Thomas was, indeed, just stating the obvious.  If they followed Christ back to Judea, and if he were to be killed, the reality was that more than likely the same fate awaited them.  However, the pessimist in Thomas left little room for the power of God to work in his life.  He could only see the bad that might happen instead of being open to the possibility that God might also do countless good through them.  So it is, many times, in the church as well. 

Sure, there are problems in the church, and situations that may be less than ideal, but if we allow those negative voices among us to overpower the positive, and if we allow the problems to become our focus, we just might miss out on the moment someone is called from death to life. 

God of possibilities, remind me that in you lies all that is, was, and may be.  Help me to not be a negative presence within your Church, and teach me that in all things, good and bad, you are with me.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"One Flock..."

Today's Life Journal readings are Jeremiah 1, Jeremiah 2, and John 10.

Scripture: John 10:16 (The Message)
"You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in the pen.  I need to gather and bring them, too.  They'll also recognize my voice.  Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd."

They just weren't understanding him.  Jesus was trying to explain who he was in terms they would understand.  He was the gatekeeper. They understood what a gatekeeper was.  He was the gate.  They also understood that.  He was the good shepherd.  They knew good shepherds...and they knew bad ones.  Some of the people he was trying to convince believed him, some wanted to kill him.

I'm not really sure why verse 16 is stuck in there.  I may need to research that.  Maybe he was hinting at the fact that those who were unable to believe yet were also part of his flock?  A grand idea...unless you subscribe to the belief that only professing believers are children of God.  I've actually heard a pillar of the church say that before.  In other words, what he was saying to those not yet in the pen is that you really don't count unless you are part of the family of faith.

Evidently Jesus doesn't see it that way.  At least John would have us believe that Jesus doesn't see it that way.  "Those in the pen" are those of us who are already on the inside, but if Jesus can be believed here, those still on the outside are just as important.  They, too, will recognize his voice.

How I long for the day when the one flock he speaks of becomes a reality...when the words "us" and "them" are no longer used in Christ's holy church.  Unfortunately, we're not there yet.

God of one flock, teach me to see as you see.  Open my eyes, open my heart, open my arms to welcome as you welcome.  Show me how to live into the reality of one flock under the one good Shepherd.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"The Blame Game..."

The Life Journal readings for today are Zephaniah 1, Zephaniah 2, Zephaniah 3, and John 9

Scripture: John 9:1 (New International Version)
"As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'"

The disciples weren't actually playing the blame game like we would.  It was a common belief at that time that if someone were born with a condition such as blindness, it was the result of some sin they or their parents had committed. 

We, on the other hand, play a different blame game.  If your life is a mess, it must be because you are just a bad person.  If something has gone wrong in my life, it must be because of something you have done.  This then leads to resentment of self or other, and the temptation to make ourselves greater by beating down the other. 

In the case of the man in this story, his blindness was probably the result of some genetic misfire or some environmental factor, and not the sin of anyone.  We are far too quick to begin placing blame either on others or the situation we may find ourselves in.  Sometimes, things just happen.  There may be no visible rhyme or reason for it.  Unfortunately, the very place where folks should find grace, and if need be, correction tempered with love, has in many places become the greatest source of condemnation. 

If the Church really wants to be the Church, we have two basic rules to follow.  Christ even said that the law and prophets hang on these two: love God with all that we are, and love others as we love ourselves.  I may be tempted to place blame and pass judgment, but ultimately, that role is Christ's and Christ's alone.

God of grace, teach me to live in such a way that I have no need to raise myself up by pushing others down.  Remind me that though my mistakes and my sins may be different from some, they are still just that, my mistakes and sins.  Remind me also, that I am not defined by those as a child of yours.  Then, God my Redeemer, allow me to lay those down and pick up a cup of your grace.  Amen.

Monday, August 6, 2012

"No Room..."

Today's Life Journal readings are from Habakkuk 1, Habakkuk 2, Habakkuk 3, and John 8.

Scripture: John 8:37 (New International Version)
"I know that you are Abraham's descendents.  Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word."

The Pharisees have challenged Jesus yet again.  John takes us from one judgment scene to another in this chapter.  Jesus refuses to judge the woman caught in adultery from the beginning of the chapter, only to be accused by others of being demon possessed a few lines later. 

It's almost as if Jesus is being attacked on all sides in this chapter.  John lists the Pharisees, the Jews, and the Jews who believed in him as all being involved in this conversation.  As he's speaking to the Jews who believed in him, he told them that they had no room for his word.  The Message paraphrase says that they could not get his message through their thick skulls, but if we stick with the NIV translation, it opens that accusation up to another possibility.

That hit me this morning after I found myself trying to find room in today's schedule to read and journal.  I could have justified skipping today because of everything I need to get done, and honestly, it would have been much easier to just go on about my day and save this for tomorrow. 

But...if I am sincere about going deeper in my own faith, and if I'm calling my flock to do the same, then I almost have to admit that sometimes it's hard to find room for his word, but it's important enough that I need to make every effort to do that very thing.

God of chaotic schedules, teach me to master my own busy-ness so that, as I converse with the Christ, I may not be accused of finding no room for his word.  Amen.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Jesus in Trouble...

The Life Journal readings for today are 2 Kings 23, 2 Chronicles 35, and John 7.

Scripture: John 7:1 (The Message)
"Later Jesus was going about his business in Galilee.  He didn't want to travel in Judea because the Jews there were looking for a chance to kill him."

At this point in his ministry, Jesus had become a target because of the things he was saying and doing.  Now, he feels as if he can't go into the city because the folks there are trying to kill him.

It's no surprise that folks who couldn't wrap their heads around the possibility that Jesus actually might be who he said he was were looking for an opportunity to be rid of him.  We still, today, destroy that which we don't understand.  Jesus acted like the Messiah.  He sounded like the Messiah.  He healed like the Messiah, and taught like the Messiah.  However, he was from Galilee and they all knew that they weren't supposed to know where the Messiah came from.

I wonder how many folks today walk around in isolation, misunderstood, or simply aren't allowed to be who they really are for fear that they will be treated in a similar manner.  Folks may not actually be trying to kill them, but still, they are not treated well.  If those of us who are already on the inside could open our minds to the possibility that a child of God can come from anywhere and look like anything, then would the kingdom begin to unfold. 

God of the unknown and misunderstood, open our eyes to see your presence in all those we meet.  Allow us to see them for who they really are, not as we would judge them to be.  Remind us that we  have all fallen in one way or another and allow us to see the face of Christ in all.  Amen.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

"Too Tough to Swallow..."

Today's Life Journal readings were from 2 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 34, and John 6.

Scripture: John 6:60 (The Message)
"Many among his disciples heard this and said, 'This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow.'"

Jesus is starting to get to the meat and potatoes of why he was sent.  At this point in John's gospel the explanation of the redemptive aspect of his mission was  more than some could handle.  All this talk of eating flesh and drinking blood was just too much.  His crowd had been growing steadily because of the "signs" John continually refers to, such as the healing stories, the feeding of the crowds, and other things of that nature.  Now the real teaching begins.

This teaching is tough to swallow.  Jesus has effectively begun to weed out those who were just there for the show, or to get what they could get, and may or may not have been serious about being kingdom bringers.  I don't know if it was intentional or not, but the end result was the same regardless.  Many who had been following turned back when they heard Christ describing himself as the Bread of Life.

It still happens today.  The number of those who follow may grow steadily larger until the real work begins.  Then one by one, or maybe even in large numbers, they begin to disappear.  What Jesus didn't do in this story, however, was to go chasing after them and begging them to come back.  We would be tempted to do that because we are judged more by numbers than depth of discipleship.  Instead, Jesus looked at his core group, "The Twelve," as John calls them, and asked them if they wanted to leave as well.  He was concerned with depth and dedication, and maybe that is the definition of discipleship we should be working toward. 

Do we have what it takes to stick with him through the tough stuff?

O God, who calls and sustains us, give us ears to hear and strength to follow, even though the path before us be rough and steep.  Grant us holy boldness when the temptation to turn back becomes stronger than we alone can fight, so that with you and through you, we can take even the tough teachings as a guide for our living.   

Friday, August 3, 2012

"Do you...?"

Life Journal reflections for today.  The readings were Nahum 1, Nahum 2, Nahum 3, and John 5.

Scripture: John 5:6 (The Message)
"When Jesus saw him stretched out by the pool and knew how long he had been there, he said, "Do you want to get well?"

This is yet another miracle story that was turned into a trap by those who couldn't see beyond their own agendas.  It was probably the Pharisees, although John doesn't specify, who could not see the miracle because it did not line up with what was important to them.  What was important to Jesus was not necessarily protecting their laws (which, by the way were also his laws), but instead being faithful to the One who had sent him, and the work he had been sent to do.

The decision was his.  Jesus only made the offer.  The man could take a risk, believe that Jesus was who he said he was, and be healed.  Or...he could continue living as he was.  It wasn't the life he was created to live, but it was risk involved.  Day in and day out, all he had to do was lay by the pool and hope that he was quicker than the others that day.  Or...he could answer the call of the One who stood before him offering him another way...the decision was his.

At first, he did exactly what we try to do in similar situations...give a list of reasons why he had not yet been healed, and why Jesus' offer might not work, but Jesus didn't ask for excuses.  He asked him one question: "Do you want to get well?"

Well, do you?

God of the hopeful and the hopeless, grant us the ability to hear when you call and the strength to accept your offer of healing.  Forgive the tendency within us to make excuses, and lead us into the courage to pick up our mats and walk.  Amen.

Shocked Disbelief...

These are the reflections from yesterday's Life Journal readings. 

Scripture: John 4:27 (The Message)
"Just then the disciples came back.  They were shocked.   They couldn't believe he was talking with that kind of a woman.  No one said what they were thinking but their faces showed it."

The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar is just another example of how radically different Jesus was from other teachers of the time.  He knew her inside and out, and yet took time to sit down and talk with her.

How different would the world look if we were that radical?  Jesus knew her, even to her very core, yet still offered her water that would quench her deepest thirst.  He called a spade a spade with her, no doubt, and made her a little mad.  Her anger disappeared when she heard, possibly even for the first time, that God loves all of her.  The things she wanted to argue about really didn't matter.  Jesus told her that what counted was who she was and how she lived.  It was the disciples, not Jesus, who couldn't see past the exterior to the child of God on the inside, just waiting to be born.  Unfortunately, in many places, and many times, it still is.

God of living water, hear my prayer for those who hurt, and those who have been the source of hurt for others.  Let me be your voice calling all of those who are thirsty to drink from the water of life.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

New Birth...

So the down time hasn't been all bad.  Over the past week, after I was able to spend a whole day with Tolkien, the dwarves, elves, hobbits, and a couple wizards, I was able to spend much time in reflection.  One of the things that kept coming back to me was how I had let my own personal devotional time get pushed out of my schedule, once again, by the busy-ness of the ministry.  It happens.  It happens a lot, not just to me, but to scores of folks who do what I do.

So, here is an attempt to remedy that.  Actually, this was how this blog got started over two years ago.  New birth came out of failure.  During Lent, 2010, I failed miserably at self-denial in preparation for the celebrations of Easter, so I decided to add something to my life instead of take something away.  Thus, a return to the LIFE Journal, and the birth of this blog.  Ok, so every entry wasn't from the life journal, I know.  Ok, so a lot of them were written as rant, I know.  Some of them really ticked a few folks off.  But hey, what did Hank Jr. say? "If it's in him, it's gotta come out." 

Today I'm returning to a spiritual discipline that has been a little lacking of late.  I confess that.  I need to get back to journalling, and the Life Journal is a pretty good tool for that.  The format for the Life Journal is illustrated by the acronym SOAP:  Scripture... Observation... Application... Prayer.  Each day of the year is assigned a set of readings, and today's was Isaiah 65 and 66, Psalm 62, and John 3.  Following this plan, you can read and reflect your way through all of scripture in a year.  I picked the readings back up a week or so back, but had not taken the time to journal yet, so today's the day.

Today John 3 spoke to me, so here we go.  The reflections are fairly short, and at the end of the reflections, a short prayer is written for each day.

Scripture:  John 3:5 (The Message)
"Jesus said, 'You're not listening.  Let me say it again.  Unless a person submits to this original creation - the 'wind hovering over the water' creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life - it's not possible to enter God's kingdom.'"

Nicodemus could not see the possibility that God can actually operate outside the realm of our understanding.  Birth, to him, was only, and could only be, physical. 

It happens so often.  Nicodemus wasn't the only one who had difficulty comprehending what is possible with God.  Sure, physical birth is one form of beginning, but there are others.  That moment when we, like Peter, realize the bottoms of our legs are getting wetter, that we can't do it on our own, and reach out a hand...a form of new birth.  Our independence sinks into the water, and our dependence on the God who created us draws us out of despair. 

The moment we cry out in frustration, disappointment, or hopelessness to the God who calls us into a new way of being, leave the old ways behind, and step onto a path that will allow the good work begun in us to be birth.  First, though, we must lay down our ideas of what is, and what is not, possible.  

So we, like Nicodemus, sit in the dark, scratching our heads and asking, "How can this be?"  It can only be when we lay down our ways and submit to the original creation.

God of new birth, hear my prayer for all those who are seeking but not yet finding, who can no longer live as they are but are unsure of how to be anything else.  Guide them into the peace and possibilities that new birth in you promises.