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 speak for those who have no minister with those no one else proclaim release to the 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.