September 22

Psalm 19:7-14

“the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes…But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.” vss. 8, 12

The psalmist loved the law–he found comfort and direction from its precepts and commandments. As he lived with it and learned obedience he experienced daily joy and enlightenment. But he also knew that he could do better! He knew in his heart that he wasn’t perfect and that he had faults hidden to himself, that were likely well-known to others. Every one of us has the same issue. No matter how hard we try we regularly fall short of perfection, and what’s even worse, sometimes we don’t even realize that we have a problem. Others do–they can see our imperfections clearly–but we are blind to what is obvious to them. For some this is a debilitating issue–they focus on their sinfulness, and become obsessed with living perfectly. And as Martin Luther discovered, after countless sessions with his confessor, we just can’t pull it off–we can’t clear ourselves from our faults, hidden or otherwise. So what can we do? There’s only one reasonable answer: we learn to live in grace and humility, dependent on God for forgiveness and confident that the Spirit can use us for goodness’ sake. There is indeed great value in living according to universal truths, but there’s even greater reward in the contentment that comes in learning to live with our imperfections.

Thought for the Day: What are my imperfections?

September 21

Numbers 11:24-29

“But Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!’” vs. 29

Joshua was one of the 70 elders chosen by Moses to help with leadership responsibilities during the wilderness wanderings. Evidently Joshua was pleased with the resulting prestige and complained when unchosen men started speaking for the Lord. Moses nailed the problem with the question, “Are you jealous?” And Moses was right! That’s how it’s always been with humans–the green-eyed monster is alive and well and operates on every level, and is particularly active among the religious. We may talk about the priesthood of all believers, but in reality church leaders guard their positions and perks with amazing zeal. They just don’t like it when others infringe on their staked-out territories. No matter how talented, men and women are barred from priestly and prophetic activities unless they have all the credentials–and it’s not just to protect the integrity of the gospel. A good deal of the exclusion is petty and motivated mostly by jealousy. While the Spirit of God is real and active in our world much of what goes on in religion is little more than petty gamesmanship nurtured and fed by overactive egos. The good news is that the Spirit has not been quenched and has been at work in the most unlikely places through supremely unqualified people. God’s will will be done! And we’re not in control!

Thought for the Day: When am I most likely to be jealousy?

September 20

Numbers 11:4-6,10-16

“So Moses said to the Lord, ‘Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me?’ vs. 11

The people complained to Moses about conditions in their camp, and Moses complained to the Lord about the people. This incessant reciprocal whining was understandable and necessary. Humans have to be able to vent when the pressures pile up. It was true for the Israelites and it’s certainly been true in our congregations over the last couple of years. The COVID restrictions and mandates have produced countless protests from congregants. Some have felt they go too far and others have thought them inadequate. And in many places the complaints have been directed to pastors. People have had a multitude of suggestions and some have not been shy about venting. Many have just quit worshiping altogether! And many pastors have been feeling the pressure. Totally unprepared for anything like this they’ve struggled to cope–and they’ve heard the complaining! Some pastors have followed their people out the door. This isn’t what they signed up for and they feel totally frustrated in ministry. Others have hung in there, but it hasn’t been easy, and like Moses, they’ve filled the Lord’s ears with their own prayerful complaints. They feel the burden–and have shed more than their share of tears. Blessed are those who have found support among their peers and in their congregations. It’s so much easier when burdens can be shared.

Thought for the Day: How has the COVID crisis affected my pastor?

September 19

Mark 9:33-37

“But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.” vs. 34

The disciples didn’t quite get Jesus and were afraid to ask him questions, but they knew exactly how to play religious games, especially when it came to power and control. For them following Jesus wasn’t so much about helping people as it was a road to greatness and prestige–by elevating themselves through their deeds, they could show how important they were. It’s an age-old game, played not only by Christians but by every other religious group in town. Walking in the Way while immersed in the Divine Mystery enables us to experience life in its fullest, but it has nothing to do with lording it over others or imagining that we are better than anyone else. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” He could not have said it more plainly! And we still don’t get it! We bristle at the notion that the world’s standards of greatness don’t fly in the peaceable kingdom, and keep on trying to distinguish ourselves from others in every imaginable way. It would be laughable if it weren’t such a pathetic distortion of Christlike living. Thank God for all who have stopped playing games and who humbly dedicate their lives to modesty and service! As Jesus said of the poor in spirit, “Theirs is the kingdom of God.”

Thought for the Day: Who are the truly great among us?

September 18

Mark 9:30-32

“But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” vs. 32

Sometimes we imagine Jesus to have been like a kind and gentle pastor, a leader who could warm our hearts with a smile, and who we could have come to at any time with any questions or concerns. That’s a nice thought and we are indeed blessed when we meet such persons, Unfortunately that description doesn’t fit the Jesus we meet in the gospels. The gospel writers don’t say that he is inaccessible to people in need–in fact, we read that folks were regularly crowding around and even making demands. But Mark reports that the disciples, those presumably closest to him, often didn’t understand what he said, and were afraid to ask him questions. In other words he was an enigma to them. They sensed the divine presence in him but didn’t quite know what he was up to. His parables seemed clear, but there was more to them than met the ear. Jesus was and is more than an answerer of questions, more than a teacher. As the gospel writer John put it, “(he was) the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” And the disciples were baffled! And so are we! Think of it! We who aspire to be disciples of Jesus are ultimately called not to ask questions, but to be answers. And if we really are disciples, as people encounter us, they will in fact see and experience Christ. And that’s the scariest thought of all!

Thought for the Day: To what question am I the answer?

September 17

James 4:7-8a

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” vs. 8a

James had figured some things out about God that are worth reviewing in our own search for intimacy with the Divine Presence. So often we imagine that the empty feeling we occasionally feel comes because God has moved away. The truth is that God just doesn’t operate like that–God is always present to us. That’s the nature of God. So when we feel alone, guess who has done the moving? When we turn our backs on love and embrace the ways of the world, of course it seems as if we are alone. But the instant we turn around and open our arms wide God comes rushing in. It’s almost as though God is shadowing us through the ebb and flow of life. At times it seems as though we are alone and having to make our own way through whatever challenges are rearing their heads. But the instant we take a look around we can spot our shadow–unlike Elvis, God never leaves the building! And what is really amazing is that when we turn back to God, God’s presence is overwhelmingly present. We are enveloped by God and we will feel the love that is at the core of creation. God is like a dance partner who passionately draws us close and who leads us through the tricky and intricate moves that life requires. There are no wallflowers in the Peaceable Kingdom!

Thought for the Day: What’s it like to be a wallflower?

September 16

James 3:13-4:3

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” vs. 17

In recent years we’ve seen an avalanche of purported wisdom poured out on social media and every kind of journalistic platform. Almost all of it is carefully designed to fuel our passions and promote discord and dissension on every level. It’s infected neighborhoods, schools, and even our churches–and we’ve actually gotten used to it! We’ve become accustomed to anger on the faces of our leaders and vitriol in their tones. All around us people are full of rage and rancor–and it doesn’t have to be like this. Consider the vision James had for life in community! Oh, how wonderful it is when his words become the model for our life together! This is how life is meant to be experienced! This is how followers of Jesus are called to live! True wisdom doesn’t come from the dark web or obscure internet blogs–it comes from above and is marked by purity, peace, and gentleness. The truly wise person will always be willing to compromise, full of mercy and good works, and totally lacking in partiality or hypocrisy. Some might say this is a pipe dream, that humans will never behave in such a way. But others know better. They are blessed by encounters with such persons on a daily basis and bask in those loving connections. They even dare to dream that someday this is how all people will live together!

Thought for the Day: Where do we learn wisdom?

September 15

Psalm 54:5-7

“With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.” vs. 6

The psalmist here gives a glimpse of life under the temple’s sacrificial system. There were a variety of offerings that could be made–the suppliant chose the one that best fit the circumstances. In this case, because the psalmist had been delivered from enemies, he chose to make a free will offering, not because it was required but because he felt like it. That’s how it is sometimes when things go our way. While life can many times be a bummer, there are also times when it’s magnificent even beyond our expectations. Unexpected windfalls come our way, healings are complete and speedy, love blossoms, children are successful, the list goes on and on. In such instances it’s not unusual to feel a surge of generosity and make a spontaneous offering in a spirit of thanksgiving. What a difference from our usual mode of giving, the hardly noticed automatic withdrawal from a checking account or the obligated paying down of a tithing commitment! What motivates such giving? It’s hard to say, but it doesn’t happen with everyone. It seems to spring from the faithful hearts of people who know that what they have is a gift from God, and that blessings are meant to be shared. And once folks discover the joy of freewill giving, it gets really hard to stop–it really is more blessed to give than receive!

Thought for the Day: What event have I celebrated with generous giving?

September 14

Psalm 54:1-4

“For the insolent have risen against me, the ruthless seek my life; they do not set God before them. But surely, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.” vss. 3-4

Many are saying that these are the most divisive times they have experienced, and national polls bear that out. Some have become reluctant to share their ideas and opinions with those they do not know–they don’t want to offend, and it’s hard to know convictions of the heart by looking at the outside. Others believe that before long current divisions will escalate into violence–some groups are preparing for just that scenario by stockpiling arms and ammunition. It seems likely that the psalmist also lived with those kinds of tension–his world too was coming apart at the seams and he feared for his life. But even when things were at their worst he continued to hang on to his faith. He knew in his heart that God was his helper and the Lord would uphold his life. We might scoff at such a notion, but ultimately the psalmist is right. We have no other option! Trust in general has been eroded by the depth of the deceptions we encounter on a daily basis. Our leaders label every unflattering truth as being “fake news” and we’re hard-pressed to believe anything we hear or see. In such a world the Lord is our refuge and strength. Only by putting our trust in the Divine Presence can we find the hope and the peace that we crave.

 Thought for the Day: What hope do I receive by putting my trust in God?

September 13

Jeremiah 11:18-20

“But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously, who try the heart and the mind, let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.” vs. 20

Jeremiah’s life had been threatened by some people from his hometown and he didn’t like it! They evidently had taken offense at things he had said and were scheming to erase his name from the memory of his people. But Jeremiah believes that the Lord, the Righteous One to whom he had made a commitment, won’t let them get away with their plots. And more than that he wants to see the Lord’s retribution upon them–a desire that most of us can understand, because we’d like that sort of thing too. When someone has done us wrong, by breaking vows or being unfaithful, or by some other nasty words or actions, we would like nothing more than to see them brought low. Vengeance is as natural to us as breathing, and we love to see the bad guys beaten down. Unfortunately we have not been called to be followers of Jeremiah! Instead we have committed our cause to Jesus, and the whole world knows what he prayed would happen to his enemies. There’s nothing about revenge or retribution–all we get is his words from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing!” It’s perfectly fine for us to be honest about the vengeful feelings that churn around in our guts! They come on their own–but they don’t have to remain!

Thought for the Day: Against whom have I harbored vengeful feelings?