October 10

Mark 10:23-31

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” vs. 25

People have had a hard time with this saying of Jesus. In our wealth-worshipping culture, in a country where so many aspire to becoming rich, we wonder how in the world he could have spoken such heresy. Many preachers, to assuage the consciences of congregants, have bent over backward to come up with sermons that take the sting out of his words. They tell stories about camels and needles and make it seem as though he was really encouraging humility, that this was just Jesus’ metaphorical way of telling his followers to seek moderation in all things. And their hearers go away relieved, thankful that they don’t need to be troubled by their excessive wealth. The problem is that Jesus meant what he said. Wealth is a huge issue in our capitalistic world and we should all be troubled by our obsessive infatuation with possessions. Now Jesus isn’t saying that the rich are going to go to hell when they die–but he is telling us that kingdom living requires the renunciation of riches. We can never know the joy and peace of simple living when our minds are preoccupied with investments and returns. Is it possible in our world to live simply? Of course, as he told the disciples, “for God all things are possible.” By grace, we who have so much, can learn to live as though we have nothing.

Thought for the Day: What would I do if I lost my wealth?

October 9

Mark 10:17-22

“Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’’ vs. 21

The man was at a crisis point, and probably surprised to find himself there. He’d lived a good life, exemplary even, and had reaped the blessings of hard work and enterprise. He was likely envied by most of his peers–yet something just wasn’t right, and he was plagued by a sense of uneasiness. So he asked Jesus a question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”, and got a religious answer, “Obey the commandments!” At that point he likely began to breathe a bit easier–he’d done that for his entire life. If that was the requirement he had nothing to worry about. And then Jesus crushed his spirit, “Sell what you have, and give the money to the poor!” Oops! As good as he was, he couldn’t part with his wealth. So he went sadly away–and we can’t blame him. That’s what most of us would have done too! Of all the things we’re called on to do as we follow Jesus, everything else is child’s play when compared to the challenge of giving our money away. We don’t even like to give in support of budgetary needs in our congregations and we groan when pastors talk about making financial commitments. But Jesus regularly talked about money! He knew that nothing reveals the state of our souls more vividly than reckless generosity.

Thought for the Day: Why is it so hard to be generous?

October 8

Hebrews 4:12-16

“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” vs. 12

There are times in our reading of scripture or in listening to a sermon, that some word or phrase absolutely nails the truth of who we are. We are pierced to the core and feel the righteous judgment of God in our hearts. It’s as though our secret thoughts and desires have been exposed and we can actually feel the shame wash over us. Of course we don’t reveal to others what we’re feeling–that would be embarrassing–it’s enough that God knows. For some that’s an awful feeling, one that leaves them filled with shame and remorse–they may even begin to doubt that  wretches such as they can have salvation. Purity has escaped them and they feel dirty. Now, if that’s where our thinking leaves us, we are to be pitied, because our story doesn’t end there. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that in Jesus we have a great high priest who understands us on the inside, and that he sits on a throne of grace. And even if that terminology doesn’t speak to us, we can easily get the point. It doesn’t matter what secret sin lurks in the depths of our soul, all that garbage is nothing when compared to the love of God that has been made known in Jesus. All of us have been cleansed, set free, and forgiven.

Thought for the Day: When have I been nailed by a sermon?

October 7

Psalm 90:15-17

“Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.” vs. 15

The psalmist believed that all the blessings and afflictions of his life came by the hand of God–nothing was accidental. There’s something to admire about that sense of connectedness to the Divine, and the psalmist is right about God being actively present in all areas of our lives. We only get into trouble when we begin thinking of God as the somewhat disconnected arbitrary agent of good and evil. But it is true that when we believe that we’ve had an especially long run of bad days, we’re likely to ask God to even things out a bit. We reason that we’d be able to handle the tough times better if we knew for sure that they’d be followed by a series of blessings. Of course that’s not how life works. Our days are actually a mixture of good and bad and God is never absent. And what is even more spectacular, it’s during the hardest times, the periods of suffering, that God comes closest and offers blessings of peace and comfort. After a time, when we have become more experienced with living, we will be able to wring gladness out of every day. When God is hanging around there will always be signs of beauty and grace–even in the toughest times.  It’s simply a matter of having eyes to see!

Thought for the Day: How well do I handle bad days?

October 6

Psalm 90:12-14

“So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” vs. 12

In the spring of our lives we don’t seem to realize that our days are numbered and that one day we’ll come to the end of them. Life seems wide open and unending and many seem to believe that they are immortal, that the old people they see around are an anomaly, and that such feebleness will never come to them. It’s not a bad thing to have such optimism about the future, and indeed, it’s probably something to be encouraged. Being young and pessimistic is not a good combination. But sooner or later it’s important to adopt a more realistic view, and pray with the psalmist, “So teach us to count our days, that we may gain a wise heart.” There truly is wisdom in learning to live one day at a time while vowing to wring as much joy and goodness from that day as we can. For our days really are numbered and we don’t have an infinite supply. Now, this doesn’t mean that our endings are fixed or that our last day has already been determined. Not at all! And we can stretch out our days with careful and prudential living–a lot of us are doing exactly that. And the truly wise will see every one of those days as a dear and precious gift from God and make sure that not a single one is wasted.

Thought for the Day: When did I first realize my days are numbered?

October 5

Amos 5:10-15

“Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.” vs. 11

Amos came with an outsider’s eye and he could see what the people of Israel could not. Because the abuse had gone so long they had gotten used to it. Of course the rich systematically took advantage of poor farmers, but they’d been doing it for years–in their eyes it was business as usual. It was how the powerful and the clever managed to accumulate wealth–and that’s how it always works, no matter what the economic system. The abuse of the poor is calibrated into the economy and people work together to insure that the rich can get richer and the poor know their place–and only prophets can see the injustice. Most everyone else keeps their mouths shut! It’s just too scary to rock the boat, because to one extent or another we’re all dependent on stability. Our own livelihood depends on the continuation of the system, and there’s always the dream, no matter how far-fetched, that we’ll someday join the ranks of the wealthy. Some day it’ll be our turn to have a house of hewn stone! Amos hoped that his warning would take root and that justice would prevail. Poor guy, no one ever listened in his time–but, thanks be to God, his words remain to challenge us.

Thought for the Day: Why do we like to keep things as they are?

October 4

Amos 5:6-7

“Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground!” vs. 7

Amos, a shepherd from Judea, had heard a call from the Lord to go to Israel (the Northern Kingdom) during their golden years. He came first to observe, and he was not impressed. The nation was experiencing unprecedented prosperity and the wealthy were rolling in cash–many were having to use their imaginations to figure out how to spend it all. Building programs were going on everywhere–some of the rich had both summer and winter homes! But Amos looked behind the facade and was appalled. Leaders had perverted justice and twisted it for their own benefit! Religious leaders were as corrupt as they come! They paid lip service to the Lord but their hearts were caught up in multiple idolatries, even paying homage to foreign gods. So Amos warned them in the most forceful ways that he could, saying that the Lord just wasn’t going to put up with their wanton disregard for justice and their exploitation of the poor. They were going to be overrun by foreign nations and their cities would be destroyed–their legacy was going to be wiped from the face of the earth. There’s no record that anyone paid the least bit of attention to what Amos said–the religious leaders told him to go back home and prophesy there. We know what that’s like. Nations who think they are great still don’t listen to critics–and may discover too late that God is not mocked!

Thought for the Day: What really makes a nation great?

October 3

Mark 10:13-16

“But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.’” vs. 14

There is some evidence in scripture that Jesus may have been involved in baptisms during his ministry, but there is no indication that he baptized little children or even advocated such a thing. He didn’t know about infant baptism, though he was presumably well acquainted with circumcision. Still, when Christians began baptizing infants and it became a regular practice, they believed that Jesus would have been supportive. After all, he had chewed out the disciples big time when they tried to stop parents from bringing children for blessings. He felt that the kingdom of God belongs to the little ones, and unless adults learned to be like them, they’d never have a clue about kingdom living. As a result, to this day, a significant number of congregations, maybe even the majority, regularly and gladly baptize children in their worship. They do this, not to save kids from going to hell, but to celebrate the amazing and incredible, all-encompassing grace of God. Salvation does not come via personal decision or a conversion experience, it comes totally because of God’s mercy and steadfast love! And while it’s just fine for some to practice believer’s baptism, it cannot be denied that baptizing little children remains the very best way for believers to celebrate grace.

Thought for the Day: Why isn’t the rite of baptism necessary for salvation?

October 2

Mark 10:2-12

“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” vss. 6-8

Through the millennia, as humans figured out how men and women should interact, polygamy was a logical option, one that became the standard for much of the world, including the patriarchs of the Hebrew people. But it was the practice of monogamy that was incorporated into the laws of Judaism. There it was taught that God intended that a man and a woman be joined together as one flesh, and furthermore, that their marriage vows should be unbreakable. Now that’s a wonderful ordinance, but it was quickly discovered that this was one that required  loopholes! So provisions were made for dissolving marriages–and rabbis debated for centuries just what those exceptions were. When Jesus was asked to weigh in on this, he gave a plain answer–there are no loopholes! When God joins two people together, there can be no separation. Of course his followers had a tough time with this–Matthew even adds a caveat and says unchastity is an exception. And we’ve continued to struggle. Divorce has been a huge issue for the church. The bottom line is that it is going to happen. So what then? Is it the unforgivable sin? Of course not! Divorce does bring its own hell of messiness and pain, but Jesus brings healing and grace. In him we find restoration and hope!

Thought for the Day: Why do divorces get messy?

October 1

Hebrews 2:5-12

“As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” vss. 8b-9

Psalm 8 had said that humans were created a little lower than angels and had been crowned with glory and honor. The writer to the Hebrews shifts the focus of the psalm from humans to Jesus and says that Jesus was the one crowned with glory and honor and that it had happened through the suffering of death. This wasn’t an unusual circumstance. Early Christians often found references to Jesus in the Hebrew scriptures–they wanted people to know that what happened in Jesus had been foretold–and they weren’t just making stuff up. While we might disagree with their manipulation of texts, their conclusions often contain profound affirmations of grace. Here the writer even gives us a little taste of universal salvation. In his interpretation, the suffering and death that Jesus endured on the cross was done on behalf of everyone. Jesus was crowned with glory and honor through his death so that all humanity might be crowned with glory and honor. We may have learned to express this hope in different theological terms but the essence of it is precious. Just think! We don’t have to worry about death–Jesus has already been there and is waiting for us all on the other side!

Thought for the Day: What gives me hope in the face of death?