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Thursday, June 13, 2019

Proverbs 3:13-18 Woman Wisdom, the Treasure of God

Observation: In the book of Proverbs, God's wisdom is personified as a woman, inviting all people to a feast of knowledge. This section is like a love poem to her, saying she is worth more than any earthly treasure.

Application: I remember an old school camp song that was based on this passage,

"Lord, you are more precious than silver/ Lord, you are more costly than gold/ Lord, you are more beautiful than diamonds/ and nothing I desire compares with you."

It's a beautiful song, but I never knew that this original scripture passage described God's Wisdom, which is named as a woman.

When I think of God's wisdom this way, it helps me remember that God is beyond any one gender--God invented genders, after all--and it helps me remember all the wise women who have helped me grow. Teachers, camp counselors, church women, and most importantly my sisters, my Mom, my wife and my daughter, have all shown forth God's wisdom for me. When we only think of God as male, we tend not to notice so many of the ways God shows up to teach us in our lives. I'm grateful for God's wisdom, and the women who have helped me see it. It really is more precious than silver and gold.

Prayer: God, thank you for raising me, for teaching me, for loving and supporting me. Thanks for being a mother to me. Amen.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Joel 2:18-29 The Spirit of Life

Text: Joel 2:18-29

Observation: I notice in this text that God promises abundant rains, harvests, food, to the land and creatures, to make up for the desolation of locusts, which was punishment for human wrongdoing. I also notice that the promise to nourish the creation is directly followed up by the promise to "pour out my Spirit on all flesh," for all people regardless of social status. God promises to care for the whole people and the whole land, body and soul.  This reminds me of psalm 104 from yesterday, that God's Spirit "renews the face of the Earth".

Application: Sometimes I try to separate out physical, mental, and spiritual wellness. Maybe I'll go all out on diet & exercise (this rarely happens, but sometimes...) and then neglect prayer & devotions. Or I'll get into a routine talking with a counselor but let that old elliptical machine collect dust.

When this happens, some part of me knows something's off. God cares about the whole person, mind, body & spirit, and so should I. You can't just work on one at a time.

But the grace I see here, is that God's Spirit comes to help us as whole people. The Holy Spirit cares for me, mind, body and soul, and also cares for the land and creatures where I live. By my own work, I can't care for myself, much less my family, my congregation, my planet. But when the Spirit comes, I am able to do a little at a time, the next right thing, and that's enough.

Prayer: Lord, send forth your Spirit and renew the face of the Earth, and of my life too. Amen. 

Friday, May 31, 2019

Romans 12:9-16 The Rollercoaster of Compassion

Observation: It's typical as Paul is closing a letter to offer a series of moral imperatives. There are a lot of good ones in here. The one that stands out to me most today is "rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep."

Application: The hardest part about being a Christian is that compassion is not optional. This is not advanced, senior-thesis stuff. It's the most basic introductory, 100-level teaching of Jesus: "do unto others as you would have done to you."

It doesn't matter how near or far away someone is, how similar to or different from me. We need not share the same religious views, or political convictions or moral values. We don't have to have the same sexual orientation, or gender identity, or even concept of what gender is. We don't have to have the same legal status in this country, or have an equally clean criminal record. We don't have to like each other, or even believe the other is doing more good than harm in this world. A person doesn't have to be sober, or in recovery, or even trying to get help to warrant my compassion.

 If I am serious about actually following Jesus, then I need to imitate his way of life, and that means if you are rejoicing, I have to rejoice with you, and if you are weeping, I have to weep with you. That doesn't mean sharing your views about what is worthy of rejoicing or weeping. It means being aware of your joy or pain, and treating it with as much reverence and seriousness as my own. It's exhausting, and it means I have to listen to the news and listen to my neighbor when I don't always feel like it. But I do it because I trust Jesus, and Paul whom he sent out, that this is ultimately the best way to live.

Pray: God, fill me with joy for those who have joys today. Help me to grieve with those who are grieving today. Amen. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Luke 2:25-38 Leaving Room For the Holy Spirit

Observation: In Luke's Gospel, a lot of credit is given to the Holy Spirit. In just these few short verses, the Holy Spirit rests on the old man Simeon, reveals to him that he will see the Messiah before he dies, guides him into the temple at the exact right moment to see the infant Jesus, and inspires him to sing a song of praise to God. The Holy Spirit also inspires Anna, a prophet, to also praise God and speak about this special child. 

Application: The Holy Spirit has had a pretty big role in my life, but I'm not always aware of the Spirit's action until after the fact. I'm not always observant enough in real time, when I'm able to pray in a difficult situation, or when I step out in faith doing something that scares me a little, or when I hear God's word and say, "yes! Thank you God!", to know that the Holy Spirit has been working on me. But when I look back on my day--especially when I have the presence of mind to journal about it--the Holy Spirit has more than a cameo. On the good days, she's in a starring role. 

Prayer: Holy Spirit, thank you for your work in my life. Help me to know you, hear you, and give thanks for you when you show up. Help me get out of your way, and let you work through me what will best serve God's Reign. Amen. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Psalm 93 The Floods Have Lifted Up Their Voice

Observation: It's common for the psalms to poetically describe elements of nature praising the Lord using their distinctive voice. In this Psalm, the floods, with their roaring sound, give praise to God. 

Application: It's been raining for about 18 hours here in Northern Michigan. It's a blessed sound, to hear the raindrops on our roof as I'm drifting to sleep, and to turn over in the middle of the night and hear its constant whisper. I love to look out at dawn and see the intense green of the spring trees, beginning their season in earnest, nourished by God's providing. In its way, each sight and sound offers praise to God, the creator. 

My son, ever since he was very little, has been mesmerized by rain. He used to sit, miraculously calm and reflective, on the back porch of our Baltimore town house, and watch and listen as the rain fell. We watched silently for about five minutes this morning. It's strange: our guy, who can't help but gallop, bounce off the walls (literally), have a movie start and within five minutes want to turn on YouTube as well, is stopped in his tracks when the rain comes. It really is quite the praise song to hear. 

Prayer: God, may all nature and all creation praise you. May what we say and do this day be in harmony with that praise. And may we stop to listen. Deliver anyone today for whom floods or other adverse weather are a source of destruction or loss. Help us to live as good neighbors to the floods, the mountains, the trees, the animals, and all that you have crafted with your hand. Nourish it, and us, in Jesus' name. Amen. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

Acts 16:1-8 Forbidden by the Spirit

Observation: This text is right before the reading many will hear in church on Sunday, about Paul's missionary journeys through what is now Turkey and Greece. Paul meets Timothy (my namesake), a young Christian of mixed ethnicity, whose mother is Jewish and father is Greek. As Paul and Timothy start out their journey, we see a mysterious phrase that shows up a couple of times in Acts: there are certain towns where Paul and Timothy intend to go, but the Holy Spirit forbids them. Why? we don't know. What exactly did that look and feel like? We don't know. But God seems to clearly tell these missionaries not to go there. 

Application: I'm amazed at how in tune with the Holy Spirit Paul and Timothy seem. In my experience, Christians are not as willing or able to consult the Holy Spirit about whether ideas we have are the right thing, for the right time, empowered by the right gifts. We assume that anything and everything we can do to give glory to God is right, and should happen right now. Then we get frustrated when it doesn't work, or it works once and never works again, or even works for years and years then becomes less effective. Often when this happens, we take our frustration out on people: the volunteers who didn't volunteer, the community that didn't show up, or let's not forget the church's favorite punching bag, youth sports. It must be someone's fault that our idea didn't work. But rarely does it occur to us that that someone may be God. 

I believe that God speaks to us all the time, if we listen. Maybe not through resounding words from a mountaintop, but through the people and gifts God drops into our hands. Too often we plan and dream first, then wring our hands because God hasn't given us the right people or budget for the plans we have. Maybe that's putting the cart before the horse. Maybe we should ask God what to do with the resources, the talents, the people we already have. What are we already good at? How can that serve God's mission among us? 

Sometimes God puts the brakes on a project we would otherwise be excited to do. If God did that for Paul and Timothy, one of the most gifted apostle/pastor duos in history, you bet God will occasionally do that to us. But just because God is pumping the brakes doesn't mean your whole journey is over. Maybe it's just an intersection, and you're being asked to look forward, left, and right to see what road God really wants you to take. 

Prayer: God, forbid. Forbid me sometimes, and let me get used to it. Discipline my ears and my heart, to see your rejection of some of what I try to do, not as a rejection of me or my ministry, but as gentle guidance to do the right thing at the right time with the right gifts, and for the right reasons. Amen.    

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Proverbs 2:1-5 Crying Out for Insight

Observation: This is the voice of God's wisdom, personified as a woman calling out into busy streets. I don't often think of seeking wisdom and insight as a passionate endeavor, but Wisdom says we should "cry out" for it, and seek it like treasure.

Application: The phrase I've heard buzzing around for the last couple of years is we're a "post-truth society." With the dawn of social media, the quote often attributed to Mark Twain, that "a lie can make it halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes," is especially relevant. And the icing on the cake: Mark Twain never even said that.

Let me go on record: I don't think we're a post-truth society. Sure, there are always a few folks out there who intentionally deceive, either for the sake political gain, or to gain notoriety, or just to cause chaos. But I think the vast majority of people really do want to know the truth. The trouble is, we're swimming upstream, and we're exhausted. Never in our lives has there been more information available to us instantaneously, and just wading through it, determining what's actually true, what's true but biased, and what's a flat-out lie, takes up much more of our bandwidth than ever before. We're not a post-truth society. We're a tired society, treading water in the midst of a strong current of anger and division, and we're tempted to just go with the flow.

Our spirits need to be revived. We need a space where we can trust one another enough to speak and hear the truth. Nobody is completely without bias: not even Christians; not even Christian leaders. We all see things the way we have been prepared to see them. But as a Christian community, we do "cry out for insight". We "raise our voice for understanding." We dig deeper than the twenty-four hour news cycle, and we look back further than the past week, or year, or election cycle. We know we're part of a bigger, and more hopeful and life-giving story than the one the world is telling, and others need to hear that story. That's the story we encounter in scripture and in worship. And whatever truth we think we know, we need to dig into that truth together. That's our solid ground, wherever else the currents go.

Prayer: God, we cry out for insight. We raise our voices for understanding. We need a deeper word than what we can find in the news or on Facebook or Twitter. Speak a word to us. Tell us the truth about who we are, and who you are.