September 28

Psalm 37:1-9

“Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil.” vss. 7-8

There is a plague of fretting going on in our world and it has infected millions of people, and unless we’ve quarantined ourselves from every kind of media, it’s likely crept into our homes as well. Sometimes we lie in bed at night thinking about what we’ve seen and heard in the course of the day and we can’t even sleep. The worst thing is that we can’t do anything about the things that we’re upset about. The people we think of as scoundrels are going to keep on doing as they wish and their supporters, often people we know and love, will continue to offer their backing.  And it makes us mad! The psalmist advises us to back off–our fretting will do absolutely no good. In fact, he says, it leads only to evil, and we know this to be true. Losing our temper, getting angry can only result in the loss of deep and abiding friendships. What should we do? “Be still before the Lord,” the psalmist says, “and wait patiently for him.” If the people we’re upset about are indeed scoundrels, they will fade away like the grass, and our losing sleep isn’t going to hasten that day one single bit. And if we’re the scoundrels? Well, praise God, we’re not going to be around much longer either!

Thought for the Day: What do I fret over?

September 27

Habakkuk 2:1-4

“Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.” vs. 4

For a variety of reasons there are millions of people in our country who no longer trust in the election process and some are wondering if this will ultimately lead to widespread chaos. Obviously, many are concerned about this trend because once trust is gone, whether we’re talking about elections or relationships, it cannot easily be restored. And conversely, when trust is present, everything seems to go well in every part of life. And that’s certainly true in our connection to God! The biblical word most closely connected to trust is faith, and it’s used frequently to describe the believer’s response to God’s promises. In this passage from Habakkuk the prophet indicates there will be a lot of waiting in that relationship–God will seem to tarry. But in the meantime the righteous will live by their faith–they will continue to trust. And that pretty much hits the nail on the head for us too. Paul says that faith is the key to salvation, that it’s our response to the grace of God freely offered in Christ Jesus. It’s not a work, it’s nothing for us to be proud of, and we may not even know why we have it. But when we have faith, we really don’t need anything more–and we should pray fervently that we will never lose it. As is obviously in these times, life without trust really does breed chaos!

Thought for the Day: What would life without faith be like?

September 26

Habakkuk 1:1-4

“Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.” vs. 3

Twenty-four hour news channels have made it possible for people to know everything that goes on in the world at any given moment, and many are overwhelmed by the stories of destruction and violence that they hear and see. Some have reacted by turning off the news and starting to watch the Hallmark Channel. The strife and contention is too much for them, and, because they feel powerless to make a difference, it’s just easier to retreat. Habakkuk, one of the prophets of Judah, felt much the same way. He didn’t want to deal with wrong-doing and trouble, and complained to God when called to speak truth to power. Even those who want to be involved and engaged are finding it easy to be discouraged. Of course this isn’t anything new–every generation has had its share of ugliness, prejudice, and hate. There seems to be no limit on our capacity to dehumanize and inflict cruelty on the other. And now that the purveyors of lies have the internet at their disposal, we’re being overwhelmed by falsehoods and deceit, and justice itself is being perverted. So what do followers of Jesus do? Well, sticking our heads in the sand may be tempting, but he said “Love your enemies, and pray for them,” and even if that doesn’t seem like much, it will be enough. Love conquers all!

Thought for the Day: How do I feel when I watch the news?

September 25

Luke 16:26-31

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” vs. 31

There were plenty of warnings about the danger of riches in the laws of Israel, and especially in the writings of the prophets. But there was little inclination among the rich to take any of that seriously. They likely considered the different strata in society to be God’s intention. Of course there were rich and poor–that’s just the way life is, and they felt blessed to be included among the elite. They would give alms–it would be part of their responsibility, but the idea of giving away their wealth was incomprehensible. Jesus says that they wouldn’t even listen if someone brought a warning from the land of the dead. But what’s really interesting is that after the resurrection many followers of Jesus seem to have taken his word to heart. Those who were baptized actually pooled their resources and had all things in common–it was an amazing experiment, but it didn’t last. Humans seem to be hard-wired to live within caste systems and wealth continues to be a primary way to track where we belong. Those class distinctions can even be seen among followers of Jesus and many believe that economic differences, rather than skin color, have become the greatest barrier to true unity in our congregations. 

Thought for the Day: Why can wealth be a barrier to unity in churches?

September 24

Luke 16:19-25

“But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.’” vs. 25

If we are at all alert to the world around us it’s hard not to notice that there is an intrinsic unfairness built into the systems we have constructed for ourselves. Some people get their share and more of good things while others reap nothing but misery. We see those differences on a lot of levels but Jesus in his parable focuses on the rich and the poor and we observe what he saw everywhere we look. We know that it’s not fair but we’re baffled as to what should be done. On the surface Jesus doesn’t give us a clear answer, but he does imply that after death there will be a great reversal and the tables will be turned, the rich will be tormented and the poor will be comforted. The problem is that most people don’t believe that, at least the rich folks don’t. If they did, we’d see people avoiding riches in this world at all costs, and that’s just not happening. More than anything Jesus wants people to think about the prevailing injustice. And it’s not that the rich people should stop enjoying good things–what they should do is welcome the poor to their table. There’s plenty of stuff in this world for us all–richness abounds. And some day, maybe, we’ll figure out how to share!

Thought for the Day: If there’s not a “great reversal,” what will there be?

September 23

1 Timothy 6:13-19

“As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” vs. 17

We should not imagine that all of the followers of Jesus were poor people. Just as in our time people from all walks of life were attracted to him and to his message, and he loved them all. It is true that as the years passed, the church’s egalitarian message did have a special attraction for the poor. The faith community welcomed them and their poverty was not a barrier to inclusion. But there were still many rich people who found a home in those communities too. And they were expected to be rich in good works and generous in sharing–but they were also enjoined to be humble, and that was perhaps the biggest challenge of all. There’s a certain arrogance that can accompany those who are wealthy, and sometimes, even when they don’t realize it, they can carry an attitude of entitlement and privilege. That’s not always true of course, and what a blessing it is when the wealthiest people in a congregation are also the most down-to-earth and least pretentious. Because they know that God is the source of all wealth, they are able to look to the needs of others first, and can use their gifts to help and to serve. Their humility is their richest gift of all!

Thought for the Day: Why do humility and wealth sometimes not mix well?

September 22

1 Timothy 6:6-12

“Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” vss. 6-8

The wisdom in these few short verses is overwhelming. Obviously accumulation was an issue even for first century followers of Jesus and some seem to have been infected by the notion that more is better. Two thousand years later we know exactly what’s being talked about. Our whole economy rests on consumer spending, and when it lags behind, economists are quick to tell us that disaster is on the way. From childhood we’re programmed to want the latest and the greatest and that desire never seems to fade. Of course there’s much good that can come from technological advancements and we probably all appreciate the good things that have come into our possession. The problem is that all of those neat and fancy things we accumulate along the way can’t give us the contentment that comes with simplicity. We probably do need a bit more than food and clothing, and we certainly appreciate safe and secure housing, but when we have a solid God-connection, life can be pretty good when all we have is the basics. It’s at that point we can work on polishing our relationships and can begin to relish the joy that comes from our brothers and sisters in Christ. What’s really sad is that it takes so long to figure this out!

Thought for the Day: What do I need for contentment?

September 21

Psalm 146:5-10

“The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord!” vs. 10

Those who believe that the whole idea of God is an artificial construct, an invention designed to explain the unanswered questions of primitive humans, are likely looking forward to the day when people will be able to see all the dead and dying religions in the rear-view cameras of their fusion powered starships! While they know this will likely take a few centuries, they’re confident that one day artificial intelligence and the metaverse will be able to satisfy all of our needs. The psalmist would have been shocked at their blasphemy–and he would likely have labeled their ideas as blasphemous and unthinkable. The Lord is so much greater than we can even imagine, and while it is true that ideas about God have changed through the years, God will simply not disappear. It’s impossible! All things have their being in God and if there were no God, neither would there be anything else! The psalmist is right. The Lord will reign forever, for all generations, and that good news should make all of us sing praises every day, especially as we expand our vision of God and begin to see divine glimpses in the ordinary stuff of life. There’s a lot to be uncertain about in this universe, and many unanswered questions, but God’s existence isn’t one of them. 

Thought for the Day: How convinced am I of God’s existence?

September 20

Psalm 146:1-4

“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.” vss. 3-4

We don’t know exactly when this psalm was written but the writer had obviously been around the track a few times. He’d lived long enough to know that princes were not to be trusted–and in our day we could probably add politicians to that list. It’s not that they’re all bad people or that they don’t occasionally have good ideas, but even the best of them get old and die. And when that happens, they’re rapidly forgotten. It really is amazing then, that in these election years we get so fired up about the candidates running for office. They manufacture hysteria about inconsequential matters and regularly engage in passing on distortions and intentional lies. Of course the election does matter–there are important decisions to be made on a state and national level about the future. But in twenty years we’ll be hard pressed to even name the winners–not all will die, but they certainly pass out of mind. In some ways this is disappointing. It would be nice if some galvanizing leaders would come along and transform the world forever. But messiahs are a rare breed, and the best of them aren’t politicians. And the best one of all has already come! And there’s probably no need for another one!

Thought for the Day: Why do people keep trusting politicians?

September 19

Amos 6:1a, 4-7

“Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria…who lounge on their couches…who drink wine from bowls…but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” vss  4a, 5a, 6a, 7b

Amos broadens his scathing critique of Israel to include the leaders of Judah, and sees nothing but disaster for their respective nations. The leading families are living in the lap of luxury and sparing no expense in the pursuit of pleasure. What he observed has been repeated again and again all over the world and can certainly be seen in our own time as well. There seems to be no upper limit to luxurious living and humans are marvelously inventive in thinking of new ways to pamper our flesh and indulge our material fantasies. Now finding pleasure in living is no sin, but as Amos saw, the pursuit of luxury almost always involves the abasement and the neglect of the poor. It’s not likely that any of us are going to be able to shift the momentum of history single-handedly, but we can, in our own lives, be aware of the not-so-subtle allure of luxury and what has been called “first-class living.” As followers of Jesus we are called to share resources and gladly do what we can to lift up the needy. Many are doing exactly that, and we’ve discovered that generous individuals, working together, can make a big dent in poverty, and even Amos might have been pleased!

Thought for the Day: What luxuries give me most pleasure?