May 23

Psalm 104:24-30

“When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.” vs. 30

The psalmist likely had a different worldview than most of us, but he believed with all his heart that the fingerprints of the Lord were everywhere, and were quite obvious to  discerning eyes. All things from great sea monsters to tiny hummingbirds owed their existence to the breath of God. And year after year, as one season rolled into another, the hand of the Lord was there to renew, refresh, and restore the face of the earth. It’s that perspective that can easily be obscured in our fast-paced lives. We try to do so much and end up being overwhelmed by our deadlines and unforgiving calendars. Some days it feels as though there isn’t even enough time to breathe, and we can’t be blamed if we fail to notice the natural wonders on display all around. What blessings flow our way when life slows down and we have the time to observe and rejoice at God’s handiwork! A seamless continuity of being has been woven into the universe and all things have a place in the economy of the whole. And the more we know, the more wonderful it becomes! Of course there are some who say that it all an accident, but that’s really not very inspiring! How much better when we can rejoice in the creation and praise God for the delight of it all!

Thought for the Day: What moments in creation give me great joy?

May 22

Numbers 11:24-34

“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

According to the book of Numbers Moses was feeling the burden of leadership in the wilderness and complained to the Lord. He was instructed to gather 70 elders from among the people and the Lord put his spirit on them and they then began to prophesy. But then two who were not among the 70 also received the spirit and prophesied–and Joshua was angry. Now he may have been the first to worry about such things, but he wasn’t the last. Proper credentialing is still a big concern among God’s people. Of course there is a need for order in our communities of faith, and proper training is always important for those we appoint to be leaders in the church. But certainly we should have learned by now that the Spirit of God goes where it wills, and sometimes the Spirit rests on those who seem to have no credentials at all–they may not even have been to seminary or studied Greek! That’s why discerning the Spirit can get a little tricky in our congregations. While all are filled with the Spirit we don’t all have the same gifts, and it’s not always easy to match the person with their calling. And whatever process we use it’s helpful to remember that the Holy Spirit usually colors outside the lines.

Thought for the Day: Why should pastors be ordained?

May 21

John 17:6-11

“And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” vs. 11

We know that a sense of unity is integral to any successful marriage. Not only is it scriptural but references to the importance of “two becoming one” are also heard at secular or non-religious weddings. Of course saying it is one thing, but actually living that way can be enormously difficult to pull off. But Jesus didn’t just hold up such unity as an aspiration for couples, John reports that he wanted his disciples to think of themselves as one–they were to have the same unity with each other that he had with God. And they really didn’t have an option. Jesus had called them into one body through the gospel, just as the Holy Spirit has called us through the gospel and formed us into the Body of Christ. We are the Communion of Saints, a worldwide community of believers, and our unity is what gives us strength and security in this fractured world. And just as couples struggle to be one in their marriages, even small faith communities have a tough time with unity. We all know the ugly stories and have seen the breaking apart and splintering of congregations. And every time that happens, the Body suffers, and our communal mission is damaged. But miracles happen! Marriages can be saved–and praying faith communities can be restored!

Thought for the Day: How unified is my faith community?

May 20

John 17:1-5

“And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” vs. 3

It’s not unusual for believers to think of eternal life as the new life that awaits them after death. And sometimes they then wonder what they’ll be doing with all that time on their hands. After all, singing in a great heavenly chorus could be fun for a while, but imagine doing it for all eternity! John resolves that difficulty in today’s passage where eternal life is defined simply as knowing Jesus Christ, the One in whom the only true God has been revealed. We can have eternal life now and forever in Jesus, and it doesn’t involve doing anything or even going to a place called heaven. Knowing is the word scripture uses to describe the most intimate of relationships, that connection where two become one. It’s a merger of selves, a union in which the one is absorbed in another, and yet remains two. It’s what we strive for in marriage. Imagine having that kind of relationship with Jesus Christ! That’s eternal life and it can never ever be taken away from us. Can we really know God in such a fashion? It almost seems impossible, yet all of us have witnessed that kind of intimacy. Often we sense it in a married couple, we see it among the faithful as well. We see it in their gentle humility and loving eyes, their peaceful manner and freedom from anxiety. And now we know why. They have eternal life!

Thought for the Day: With whom do I have intimacy?

May 19

1 Peter 5:6-11

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” vss. 6-7

One of the frustrating things about the myriad of problems facing humanity is that there is little that any of us can do to fix anything. In general all the ugly things plaguing the world are systemic issues, and it’s demonically difficult to change systems. And yet if systems are not changed problems like war, poverty, hunger, terror and  famine will continue unabated. Again, the issue is not new. Peter was very aware of systemic evil and was hard-pressed to find a word of comfort for his friends. The thoughts that he came up with still make sense. He told his readers to humble themselves, and recognize that everything was not up to them. That’s good to know. We can do only what we can do–and that will be enough. Ultimately, because God is God, goodness will win the day. In the meantime humility will be our most important attribute. None of us have all the answers, and the answers we have will often be wrong. So instead of worrying about being right, it’s best to simply muddle along, pitching in when we can, and continuing to trust in God. Collectively, in our little faith communities, we can make a difference for good, and one day in due time, God will exalt us.

Thought for the Day: What is a system? How do they go bad?

May 18

1 Peter 4:12-14

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” vs. 12

From the beginning people have tended to believe that if they began to walk in the Way of Jesus, life would be immeasurably better for them. That’s not a surprising assumption because often that’s what they’ve been told. But Peter was not that kind of teacher. Instead of promising wealth and health he told his readers not to be surprised when life brought suffering and pain. That’s how it was in the first century and that’s still what we experience. Oh, we may not be arrested and beaten in the course of daily living, but there’s still plenty of ugly stuff that can catch us unawares. It’s happened to nearly all believers. We can cruise along merrily for a long time and then be ambushed by death, divorce, job loss, cancer, alzeimher’s, or some other fiery ordeal. Peter called those moments tests, times when we wonder if there is any benefit in believing at all. We should know that those tests do not come from God, even though there are some that say they do. Such a notion is completely antithetical to the picture of God’s unconditional love that is revealed in Jesus. Yes, bad times come, and we should not be surprised when they do! And they do test us, of course they do, but such suffering is a part of life in Christ, and it always makes us stronger.

Thought for the Day: What is the biggest test for my faith?

May 17

Psalm 68:32-35

“O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice. Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies.” vss. 33-34

Today is Constitution Day, or Syttende Mai, in Norway, day of parades, flag waving, and celebration, and a day remembered with affection by Norwegian emigres throughout the world. A few of those scattered ethnic communities may use the occasion to reflect on their heritage and the well-known pantheon of old Norse gods, particularly Odin and Thor. Thor, the god of thunder and lightning, known for his hammer, had his counterpart in the ancient gods of Canaan that were familiar to the psalmist. Of course the psalmist believed that there was but one God, but as he wrote he attached some of the attributes of the storm god to the Lord. When the thunderclouds massed in the sky and thunder shook the earth and lightning flashed it was the Lord riding through the heavens like Thor, a reminder of God’s awesome power and might. We still feel that way on warm summer days when storms are born and clouds begin to build. The massive energy released humbles us and, even though meteorologists can explain with their charts what is happening, the raw power of the explosive winds is for believers a glimpse of our Awesome God. When we get down to it, humans really are pretty puny!

Thought for the Day: How do I feel about thunder and lightning?

May 16

Psalm 68:1-10

“Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land.” vss. 5-6

When they were at their best Israel championed the cause of widows and orphans in their midst. And they didn’t forget that their ancestors had come as immigrants through the wilderness into a land filled with milk and honey. It’s easy to forget those origin stories, especially when we’re the ones who now live in prosperity and trying desperately to defend our riches against the hordes of refugees now flooding our borders. But many of the faithful among us do remember and are doing all that they can to be sure that these desolate folks are treated with dignity and as much hospitality as we can muster. It’s obviously not easy to know what to do and we might wish that those who crowd our borders could be more patient. But they’re coming now and the resources of our social agencies are being depleted quickly. If ever there was a time for the Jesus people among us to show compassion, this is it. Organizations like Lutheran Social Services are gathering food and clothing, assisting with paperwork, providing housing–and the needs are beginning to accelerate. We know the heart of God and as we pray “Your will be done,” there’s little doubt what we are called to do.

Thought for the Day: What can I do in this refugee crisis?

May 15

Acts 1:6-14

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” vs. 8

For a couple of decades following his death and resurrection, followers of Jesus eagerly anticipated his return in glory to complete what he had begun. They were still looking for the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. But when Luke wrote his gospel some years later he did his best to let his readers know that they hadn’t been called to stand around waiting. Instead, as did Matthew, Luke reports that at the end Jesus told his disciples to go as witnesses to the ends of the earth, and that he would go with them. And that’s what has happened! Through the Holy Spirit Jesus has returned to energize and empower countless disciples to bring the good news to hurting people all over the globe. We should never imagine that people have evolved to the point that they no longer need community or the assurance of unconditional love. If anything, people in this age of constant connection have become more lonely and alienated than ever. Hordes of refugees are on the move, fleeing oppression and yearning for better lives. Climate disaster looms! And the heart of Jesus is filled with compassion! He calls us to continue loving and serving in his name until the hungry are fed and the hurting find healing. Our mission goes on!

Thought for the Day: What energizes me for mission?

May 14

John 14:18-21

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” vs. 18

It’s not unusual for people to have mixed feelings about their mothers. Occasionally children will blame them for any number of their emotional or psychological hang-ups, but more often they are held in deep regard and honored as a prime source of warmth and love. As a result, Mother’s Day has become the primary “Hallmark Holiday,” and, outside of Christmas and Easter, is often the best attended  service of the year in many congregations. Even golfing fathers become reluctant worshippers as mothers are extolled and celebrated. Of course mothers can’t be with us forever. One day each of them will die, often before we’re ready to lose them, and from then on we live as orphans, bereft of the one who has loved us so dearly. It’s not unusual to be moved to tears at the memory of the one who has passed out of our daily experience. Jesus must have been aware of such feelings and used that imagery to bring comfort to his disciples as he prepared for his death. “You won’t be orphans,” he tells them. “I am coming to you.” Some people report that they’ve sensed the presence of their mothers long after their deaths, and they like it that they’ve not been left alone. It’s that experience that Jesus was talking about. He’s not with us in the flesh, yet the continuing presence of his Spirit sustains us. Like a loving mother, Jesus never leaves us!

Thought for the Day: What legacy have I received from my mother?