August 13

Luke 12:49-53

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” vs. 51

Not everything that we read in the gospels brings joy to our hearts. Oh, there is much that is beautiful and inspiring, but Luke wasn’t in the business of censoring Jesus. Even when his words were disquieting and disturbing, Luke included them because they were a true reflection of what life in Christ is like. Jesus had indeed come to bring in the peaceable kingdom, but life in it wouldn’t always be peaceful. So when we see division in the Body, it should not surprise us. Politics isn’t the only thing that can cause families to splinter–we can have ugly differences about matters of faith as well. We can’t always predict those moments of dissension, but they often come in those times when religious people try to stifle the Spirit by codifying traditions and exercising exclusion. Those are the dark days of the Church, the times of witch hunts, crusades, racism and inquisition–and they keep on happening. And it gets even worse in those eras when religion becomes politicized! Some would say that we are living through such a time right now. The challenge for people of faith is enormous. To maintain the integrity of the gospel we have to put a check on our religious and political tendences and focus on loving unconditionally–every day in every way with every one we meet!

Thought for the Day: How are differences challenging my congregation?

August 12

Hebrews 12:1-2

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” vss. 1-2a

The record of faithfulness outlined in Hebrews 11 is impressive. Scribes had preserved nearly two millennia of stories and regarded those records as their holy scriptures. By faith, thousands of people had sacrificed their lives and were now regarded as a great cloud of witnesses who had made possible the mission of Jesus Christ. In him their faith had now been made perfect! The writer of Hebrews now exhorts his readers to exhibit that same wholehearted faith as they live out their own lives of sacrifice and service. And that’s exactly what has happened. For two thousand years people of faith have proclaimed the gospel in every circumstance through every kind of adversity and now billions of people look to Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of their faith. And now it’s our turn. Now the cloud of witnesses is even larger and their mission is in our hands. Inspired and directed by the Spirit we are called to run the race that is before us with passion and purity. We will not be reliving the past, but inspired by our traditions, we will be remaking the future, thereby ensuring that the good news of God’s love will be preserved forever.

Thought for the Day: Who are my faith ancestors?

August 11

Hebrews 11:29-40

Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.” vss. 39-40

As he continues his teachings, the writer to the Hebrews recounts the great people of faith from Israel’s history, from Rahab, the prostitute, to unnamed prophets tortured and maligned in every horrible way. All had faith in common, it was their strength and they were commended for it, yet they did not receive what had been promised. That would not happen until the end, when all people would be made perfect in Christ. While we can’t know precisely what this writer had in mind, what he says does have some truth to it. We all know people of faith who have suffered enormously from persecution and illness. Some have lived wonderful lives and have ended up with nothing to show for it. Goodness and faithfulness often do not receive their deserved rewards. Sometimes the very best folks are simply blotted out, and no one even takes note of their passing. The good news is that as individuals we are part of the community of faith, and when the community is received into Christ, we are all going to be included. It’s that communal aspect of salvation that we forget in our era of rugged individualism. In Christ no one is going to miss out!

Thought for the Day: What should take priority: the individual or the community?

August 10

Psalm 82

“Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” vss. 3-4

This psalmist imagines God sitting in the divine council and holding judgment. And from that throne God calls out, “Give justice to the weak…maintain the right of the lowly…rescue the needy.” The psalmist has no doubt about God’s priorities–indeed we hear this refrain throughout scripture, especially in the prophets and in the words of Jesus. It would seem that if believers are really interested about bringing in the Peaceable Kingdom they would do everything in their power to provide assistance to the poor and needy all around the world. When possible, laws and decrees would be passed and proclaimed that recognized the rights of the poor and increased their chances of sharing in God’s bounty. Instead we’re told that those who live in poverty are lazy and shiftless, that they lack moral standards, and that they need to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps. As the tents of the homeless sprout up in our cities and refugees flood our borders, we have learned to blame the victims and offer minimal assistance. There is little interest in figuring out how to solve what has become a systemic problem–and it’s likely to grow even worse. Surely we cannot believe that God is pleased!

Thought for the Day: What are the rights of the lowly and the destitute?

August 9

Jeremiah 23:26-29

“How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back—those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart?…Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” vss. 26, 29

The prophets in Jerusalem drove Jeremiah to distraction. Many had the ear of the king and were crafting their message to his desires. They recommended alliances and treaties that could only bring disaster and Jeremiah believed that they were nothing but liars, just making stuff up on the fly. That’s often how it is in the world of politics. Seldom is there an effort to find out the truth of a matter before tweets are sent out and lies are being spread. And no one even seems to care. When people like the falsehood they’ve heard they just pass it on and in less than a day millions of folks have offered their “likes”. Jeremiah had tried to proclaim the word of the Lord in such a setting, believing that the truth would shatter the deceits, and few paid attention. There are still truth-tellers like Jeremiah around. They believe in their hearts that there is power in exposing the popular lies that have fragmented our society. And ultimately we trust, their words will prevail. After all, it’s Jeremiah who is remembered, and not the liars. But it doesn’t happen quickly. People love lies and the people who tell them–it’s only in the long run that their deceits are exposed!

Thought for the Day: How can I distinguish lies from the truth?

August 8

Jeremiah 23:23-26

“Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord.” vs. 24

Twenty-five hundred years ago Jeremiah refused to believe that God could be manipulated or avoided. God was no idol of stone or wood hanging out in temples and having no connection to daily life.  Like many of us Jeremiah believed that the Lord filled the universe, that God was present in all that exists. For Jeremiah that was important knowledge, an understanding of God that should keep humans from ever imagining that they could get away with their lies and unscrupulous behaviors. Now it may be that some folks don’t give a rip about God and don’t even care that their language and actions are gross and despicable. But most people, almost all politicians in fact, say that they do believe in God. In the United States it’s a part of our national creed and even shows up on our money (though probably not on Bitcoin). So why then is it so hard for people to behave in God-pleasing ways? There’s probably not a good answer, but the question sure gave Jeremiah heartburn. And it should bother us too, and not just as some other reason to judge others. This is something for each of us to consider carefully in our hearts. Is God’s closeness a factor in my daily living choices? If not, why not?

Thought for the Day: Is my faith real or just lip service?

August 7

Luke 12:37-40

“You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” vs. 40

Believers are familiar with admonitions to be prepared. They occur regularly in the teachings of Jesus, particularly in those relating to the coming apocalypse. Disciples were warned that the Son of Man would be coming at an unexpected hour and that they should be ready. Early Christians taught that Jesus would be coming again, likely within their lifetimes, and even when his return was delayed, preachers continued to warn their hearers to be ready. Some believers, with an eye on impending global catastrophes, even now take those warnings seriously. Others are not so concerned about “end of the world” scenarios in the traditional sense. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t learned to live in a state of readiness. Anyone with half a brain knows that, as individuals, life can come to an end in a heartbeat. We all have heard the stories about seemingly healthy persons who have suddenly died–and we know that could happen for us too. And even when we can’t know the time of that ending, we can at least have our affairs in order. What that means will vary from person to person. Some will make wills and have estate plans. Others will enjoy life as fully as they can and not put things off. One thing we don’t need to worry about is whether we’ll have a room in the heavenly mansions. That’s God’s business, and that gift is ours by grace!

Thought for the Day: What am I doing to be ready?

August 6

Luke 12:32-40

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven…” vss. 32-33a

About 15-20% of the people who stop breathing and seem to be dying have reported what are known as Near Death Experiences as they recall their memories of what occurred. While reports vary as to what is remembered from those moments, almost all say that they no longer have any fear of death. For many the experience is transformative and changes perceptions about the purpose of life. The desire to accumulate virtually disappears, people become more loving, and many devote their remaining years to caring and service. In other words, they experience the truth of Jesus’ message as reported by Luke. Fear leaves them because they know beyond doubt that God’s kingdom, now and forever, is a gift. Giving becomes second nature, and they are convinced that the whole purpose of living is to love. What a blessing it is to know these precious teachings of Jesus without having to go through a Near Death Experience! People of faith who believe in a loving God have learned that giving is the essence of a joy-filled life and spend their entire lives making purses for themselves that will never wear out. They do this not to earn eternal life, but because they have eternal life! The kingdom is ours purely by God’s good pleasure!

Thought for the Day: What are Near Death Experiences?

August 5

Hebrews 11:8-16

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.” vs. 8

It’s not unusual for a person in our mobile times to have an experience like that of Abraham. A call comes, maybe a job opportunity, or perhaps a marriage, and off we go, trusting that the move will be good, even though sometimes we really don’t know what we’re doing. And it’s not just once that we do it. Again and again we move on, generally with the sense that life is going to be better. That spirit of optimism is common and it has prompted a great shifting of populations–we have become an unrooted people. But we don’t just have those feelings about geographical or physical moves, there is a general feeling or faith that the future is going to bring blessings. And then when we get older those hopes are translated into retirement plans–we’ve put in our years of labor and are looking for rest, preferably in a more agreeable climate. So we set out again to pursue our dreams, on the move once more. All those years of anticipation are ultimately preparing us for our final destination. One day, God is going to give us our inheritance, and even though we don’t know where or when that journey will be, by faith we can look forward to it. It’s going to be better than we ever dreamed!

Thought for the Day: What was the best move of my life?

August 4

Hebrews 11:1-3

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” vs. 1

Whenever a loved one dies and we proclaim with conviction that they rest in peace or are safe in the arms of Jesus, we’re making an important statement of faith. We have no way of proving what we say and rationalists would likely scoff at our words, but we keep on making the claim because it’s the core of our faith. It’s our heart’s deepest conviction and the assurance of all that we hope for. Believers make other faith statements too–some have been incorporated in the creeds that we sometimes use in worship. These are convictions about the nature of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Church. Obviously there are some differences in what we believe and we will have contrary opinions about any number of things. Some doctrines aren’t as important to some of us as others, and that’s okay. Our salvation certainly doesn’t depend on perfect agreement about theological matters. But for most people the affirmation of life in the face of death has special significance. Even folks who seem to have no faith at all, when death visits, will speak as though their loved one has a new life. Some are enormously curious about that life and will visit mediums in their search for assurance. For many believers the assurance that comes with faith is enough. Even without proof they are convinced that there is new life in Christ–and there is nothing that can take that faith away.

Thought for the Day: What is life after death like?