May 9

Acts 11:1-10

“So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’” vss. 2-3

Oh how hard it is for the community of faith to actually practice inclusion! In Peter’s day the circumcised believers found it impossible to believe that the uncircumcised could be included among the faithful. When word came to them that Peter had been seen having table fellowship with Gentiles they were appalled and asked him for an explanation. While we now have no trouble with the uncircumcised, we have a multitude of other reasons for breaking fellowship with other believers. In recent years hundreds of congregations have been splintered by issues related to sexuality. While those differences have led to the breaking of denominational ties, it’s the political differences that have proven to be devastating for congregations. For one reason or another believers have found it increasingly difficult to be in communion with those having different political convictions. Many have felt excluded or discounted, and have found it easier simply to leave for communities where their views are accepted. Sadly, too many have just dropped out of church altogether. How blessed it is when we can simply celebrate the unity and the diversity that we have in Christ Jesus. Such a community of faith is truly a taste of heaven on earth, and an antidote to the horrible divisiveness that is tearing our society apart on every level.

Thought for the Day: How can congregations promote both unity and diversity?

May 8

John 10:27-30

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” vss. 27-28

We’ve entered into the primary season in our election cycle and politicians of every stripe are spending millions of dollars to craft messages that they believe will attract the most voters to their cause. Sometimes the process isn’t pretty. It doesn’t seem to be necessary for the politicians to actually believe what they promise–most switch their positions regularly–but they really do have to know their audience. Some are quite good at what they do. They know their sheep, and their sheep follow them! But none of those campaigners are the Good Shepherd! They offer what they think people want, but only Jesus can give eternal life. He’s not a liberal or a conservative, but he is authentic, and he always keeps his promises. The life he offers begins now and is founded on steadfast and selfless love. Those who hear his voice and follow are led into communities of faith where hope and joy abound. They find fulfillment in serving as the hands and feet of God and reaching out to the helpless and the poor. And the best news of all is that this life can never be taken away from them. As Jesus puts it, “No one will snatch them out of my hand.” It’s fine for us to be interested in politics and even vote in primaries, but no politician will ever know us like Jesus does!

Thought for the Day: How are voters like sheep?

May 7

John 10:22-26

“So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe.’” vss. 24-25a

Because the gospel of John was written at a time of intense conflict in synagogues between those who believed that Jesus was the Messiah and those who did not, the writer regularly refers to Jews as the enemies of Jesus. While he’s likely only referring to religious authorities, his references were often used through the centuries to vilify and persecute the Jewish people. Some would even say that his verses are a primary source of antiSemitism, a stain on Christian history that persists to the present. Though we can’t blame John for the ugly racial hatred that exists in the world we can easily see how those passions have been fanned by his words. It is true that not everyone who encounters Jesus accepts him as messiah–like the religious leaders of Jerusalem some would like more evidence. But unbelief is no reason for us to treat anyone with contempt and condemnation. After all, Jesus went to his death loving those who crucified him, and he is our model for dealing with all people, no matter what their religious beliefs, or lack thereof. He even humbled himself and washed the feet of Judas, his betrayer, on the night before he died. And John tells us that story too!

Thought for the Day: Why is antiSemitism so persistent?

May 6

Revelation 7:13-17

“for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” vs. 17

Even though death is a regular visitor on the journey of life, and every one of us will one day die, many people seem surprised when it comes near. Some seem to have never considered that it will happen to them. As a result such persons are totally unequipped to deal with it. They’ve made no plans, seem perplexed at its appearance, and have no idea what to do or say. That’s not the case with Easter people, those who live in the light of the resurrection. Rather than denying death, such persons acknowledge that it will come, with some making plans for a celebration of life when it arrives. It’s not that they’re happy when death comes near–they’re often as sad as anyone else, and tears flow freely. Losing a loved one is painful, and few people actually want to die. And they’re not celebrating death at their services, they’re celebrating the new life that is ours in Christ Jesus. We know that the Lord is our Shepherd beyond death, and one day we’ll be guided to springs of the water of life, and every tear will be wiped away. We gather together in our memorial services to remember a life well-lived and celebrate the peace that passes all understanding. In the midst of winter we dare to believe in spring!

Thought for the Day: How can I try to prepare for death?

May 5

Revelation 7:9-12

“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” vs. 9

While certainly not to be taken literally, John’s vision, as seen through heaven’s open door, provides an expansive glimpse at the never-ending resurrected life that is ours in Christ. Here there are no great divisions, no racial or sexual preferences, no nationalistic bickering–only a vast multitude of persons in white robes, all having been cleansed in the Blood of the Lamb, and all singing praises to the one God. And even if John’s images seem strange to us, we can only rejoice in the destiny he imagines. By contrast our news media are determined to amplify our fears by stoking discord and hatred–sadly, we are being encouraged in our racial and societal prejudices. Daily we’re told that enemies are on the prowl and looking for ways to destroy our way of life. And it’s true that people are on the move. Forced from their homes by poverty and violence, they search in vain for those who would offer freedom and security. How absurd it is that supposedly civilized people living on this beautiful planet are hell-bent on developing and using even more powerful weapons of death and destruction! People of faith will pray daily that John’s vision of unity and joy could become the reality we experience now. Thy Kingdom come, O Lord, and let it be soon!

Thought for the Day: What difference can I make?

May 4

Psalm 23

“He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” vss. 2-3

We live in a grimy and confused world and our souls are easily sapped by the continual pressures of daily living. Bit by bit anxieties and worries chip away at us and fear steps in to take center stage. Before long, joy is a distant memory and we wonder if we’ll ever be happy again. In those moments our Lord stands ready to bring restoration and peace–it happens almost without our knowing as we open our minds and hearts to the gentle presence of the Christ all around us. Resting in the green pastures, ambling beside the still waters, our souls are restored. Sometimes the transformation is so astounding it’s visible to family and friends. Dull eyes regain their flash! Smiles come quickly! Humor returns, laughter abounds, and we learn to love again. Such are the miracles that the Lord can work in hurting lives, but it also happens less dramatically on a daily basis as a part of our journey on the Lord’s right paths. There can be a rhythm to life, a cycle of mindfulness that takes us from stress to peace every single day. How blessed it is to discover that rhythm and then do those things that make for joy! Often the renewal comes through prayer and meditation or even a quiet walk. However it comes, the restoration is magical, and much to be desired.

Thought for the Day: How does the Shepherd restore my soul?

May 3

Acts 9:40-43

“Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up.” vs. 40

From our reading of the gospels we know that healing miracles were a regular part of the ministry of Jesus. In fact that’s why most of the people flocked to hear him preach–they knew he could work wonders for their ailing relatives and friends. A couple of times it was even reported that he gave life to those who had died. After his death and resurrection those same expectations were a part of everyday life among his followers. Before long stories of miraculous healings were attributed to the disciples–it was one of the factors that sparked interest in the developing Jesus Movement. So when Peter showed up in the towns and cities west of Jerusalem it was assumed that healing would be a part of his ministry–it’s what gave his leadership credibility. That healing connection has continued to be a part of the Jesus story through the centuries. Always the followers of Jesus have reached out to the sick and offered prayers for healing and restoration. It’s who we are! And even in these days of MRI’s, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments, there remains a sense that healing itself is an act of God–and it goes on every day. We might not get the same results from our prayers that Peter got, but there’s no doubt that they are effective.

Thought for the Day: Why do I pray for the sick?

May 2

Acts 9:36-39

“Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity.” vs. 36

Women have always played an integral part in the mission of Christ. Luke even names the ones who traveled with the little troop of disciples that surrounded Jesus during his Galilean ministry–some of them provided much needed financial support. They were present at the crucifixion and were the first to report his resurrection. It’s natural then that when the gospel began to be spread that women would emerge as foundational leaders. They didn’t get the press that the men received, but they were always there. Tabitha, or Dorcas, was one of them, and if there had been a church basement, she would have been there to organize others for the sewing of clothes and making quilts. She would have been amazed at the thousands of circles or small groups of church women bearing her name who have continued to do her amazing works in nearly all of our congregations. Even when shut out of some leadership roles by a paternalistic system, women regularly demonstrated sacrificial love as they single-handedly continued the mission of Christ. While fully capable of engaging in the theological debates from which they were excluded, they used their energy to reach out to the least and the lost, exactly as Jesus had instructed. Many now feel that they have always been and still are the life-giving heart of the Church.

Thought for the Day: Where would Dorcas find a place in my congregation?

May 1

John 21:15-19

“But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” vs. 18b

We’re not sure who it was that added this chapter to the gospel of John but we can be glad that they did. Not only does it give us insights into the nature of the resurrection, it’s a reminder of the cost of discipleship. We know from the other gospels that Peter had been elevated to a position of leadership by Jesus and that he was one of the inner core of disciples. We also know about his three-fold denial of Jesus in the high priest’s courtyard. It could have been that some in the early community held this against Peter. If that’s the case, his three-fold declaration of love for Jesus in this chapter would have gone a long way toward rehabilitating his reputation. Of course that’s all speculation, but what we do know is that Peter did become a respected leader in the early communities of believers, and that, like Jesus, he suffered death by crucifixion. Some traditions also hold that he was the first pope and that his death took place in Rome. Whatever missteps he might have made as he walked in the Way were certainly erased by his single-minded devotion to the resurrected Christ. He was so convinced of the new life in Christ that he took up his cross and spent the rest of his days tending the sheep of the Good Shepherd.

Thought for the Day: What do you imagine that Peter was like?

April 30

John 21:1-14

“Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. “ vs. 4

Sometimes even followers of Jesus have trouble with the resurrection because they have been taught by well-meaning preachers and teachers that when Jesus was resurrected he was reanimated, i.e. he got back the same body he had before he died. But that’s not the testimony of scripture. In every post-resurrection account of Jesus’ appearances, his closest followers at first fail to recognize him–and he’s no longer bound by his physicality. He is changed, transformed, transfigured–in a word he’s been resurrected! As Paul put it in his letter to the Corinthians, the resurrected Jesus had a spiritual body! Now some might react to that interpretation by saying that what the disciples experienced was only the spiritual presence of Jesus, that he wasn’t really there. The 21st chapter of John’s gospel was added to combat that notion. The story is clear in saying that for the disciples this spiritual appearance of Jesus was as real as real could be. And as they broke bread and ate fish around the fire they were convinced of his resurrection. Ever since then, whenever bread is broken in Holy Communion and believers are fed they are convinced anew that his presence is real, and the experience has given fuel to their mission together. Let no one ever say that the resurrection of Jesus was only spiritual when that reality is the most powerful hopeful force the universe has ever known!

Thought for the Day: What’s the difference between spiritual presence and real presence?