Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mark 10:1-12; Teacher

So many discussions about divorce have come from these verses; yet it is not the subject of divorce that catches my attention. What jumped out at me today was the phrase "as was his custom, he taught them." By nature, Jesus was a teacher. He came as the herald of a new kingdom. The text does not say, "as was his nature, he healed them or set up a hospital." That Jesus cared for the physical nature of humanity is undoubted; yet, his reputation was that of the teacher -- one who guided and instructed. When our world looks at the followers of Jesus today (more directly -- when people look at me), what do they see? How would the sentence end today? "As was his nature, Gary ________." If I am to walk in the steps of Jesus, it stands to reason that the word "taught" should fill the blank. What would our world look like if all Christians were known as those who were apt to teach about the spiritual kingdom of God?

With that mindset, I find the discussion with the Pharisees even more enlightening. As so many of us do, they came asking where is the line? Today's questions are similar. How far is too far on a date between singles? How much do I need to give in offerings? How frequently must I meet with other Christians? How many drinks can I take before its a sin? All are questions of legality and limit seeking. Jesus, the master teacher, did not engage in limit seeking. His response was to look at the heart of God; to call people back to the core principle of unity rather than delineate how far we can walk away from God and still be spiritually alive.

My prayer today is to stay focused upon the heart of God and teach it to others.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Mark 9:30-50; Last Place

Yesterday I read Scott Bessenecker's How To Inherit the Earth. Great book. Challenging book. As I read through these verses, they say the same thing as his book, i.e., somehow along the way we have allowed corporate America to invade the church. We don't think like Jesus but rather we think like the apostles on the road. We still do not recognize true servants and pursue last place.

When I was in college the book that drove us all to achieve was The Pursuit of Excellence. It was classic 80s literature for forming yuppies. We all came away desiring to be the best at everything . . . except at being last. Whatever happened to forming ourselves by the literature of the first century which calls for just that?

I have to admit that when I read this section on being salted, I really wish Peter had pulled one of his verbal blunders that would have spurred Jesus on to a longer explanation. Yet what I can walk away with is simply this -- causing innocent people to sin is bad. Ignoring innocent people while we pursue "excellence" is bad. The ultimate reward for both is really bad. Being touched (salted) by Jesus is good. So we should be content with being touched by Jesus and learn to be at peace with the position (or lack of position) in life that results from that touch.

So maybe we didn't need Peter to ask questions after all. The hard part is not understanding; what's hard is contentment as opposed to pursuit.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mark 9:14-29; Unbelief

"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief." Those words ring so true. They come straight from the heart and express the struggle within each of us. Oh, it is easy to believe when there is no cost or risk. When following Jesus is merely a check-mark on a census form, a means of social identity or a mental orientation, then believing is not so difficult. "Yes, I believe in Jesus" we proclaim when there is nothing to lose. But what about when all my hopes and expectations are on the line? When this man was confronted by Jesus about his belief, it was not about his mental assent but rather about his hope for his son's future. Do I believe in Jesus when the health of my child is on the line? When my baby may not survive without a miracle from God, can I say "I believe" with as much confidence as I did when I checked the blank on the census form? When I face the problem of pain and death, do I believe? When my answer to an interview question will determine my future and that of my family, do I believe? When I have committed the same mistake and hurt the same people for the thousandth time, do I believe? Do I believe that he can change me? Change others? Change anything?

Perhaps the greater question is do I want to take the risk of letting go of my unbelief? Unbelief, after all, is a security blanket into which one can wrap oneself for protection. By not counting totally on Jesus a backdoor is left open, a place where one can be less vulnerable and say "well, I knew he wouldn't respond." Belief when taken seriously leaves one vulnerable. The real question, therefore, is am I willing to utter the second half of the father's statement, i.e., "help me overcome my unbelief?"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mark 9:1-13; Peter

According to Irenaeus (2nd Century), Mark wrote from the teachings of Peter. With that in mind it is interested to read the narrative comments in this section. The description of the whiteness of Jesus' garments strikes me as coming from an eyewitness. Yet is is the comment of "he did not know what to say, they were so frightened" and the comment that they did not understand what rising from the dead meant that strike me the most.

Peter really didn't understand Jesus for most of Jesus' life. Yet, he had a deep enough conviction to stay near Jesus. He might not have been able to write a systematic theology, but he understood that this man was special. Peter would go on to mess up even after Jesus was raised from the dead (in Galatians Paul talks about confronting him in his error). Yet the heart of the man was never in doubt.

If ever there was a person that Jesus (and God the father in this story) had reason to give up on or cast out for failure, it was Peter. Jesus' patience with him and even inclusion of him into the "inner circle" inspire me. Whenever I feel like I don't understand God or have just acted ignorantly or totally failed in my faith, I think of Jesus' patience with Peter.

If I had three years to save the world, Peter would not have been my first choice of followers. How grateful I am that God looks at the heart and not just the actions.
1 Samuel 16: 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mark 8:27-38; Following

After Jesus feeds four thousand and heals a blind man, he asks the disciples "do you get it? Do you know who I am?" Peter gives the right answer but does not understand what it means. I wonder how common that is?

According to everything I read, our society hears us proclaim that we follow Jesus but then notes that our lives declare that we really don't know what that means. How do we say we follow Jesus and then move our buildings to the suburbs when the neighborhood becomes too _____ (the blank can be filled in with words like violent, racial, poor, etc.).

Yet it is always easier to point the finger at others than look at self. I proclaim that I follow the Messiah (not just recognize him) but when my children look at my life do they see me follow him? Do my conversations with students, actions on a golf course, attitudes while driving proclaim the same?

The most amazing thing to me is that Jesus knew we would all fall so short. Yet he came anyway. And he let's us use his name. Would I let a bunch of people that I knew were doomed to fail call themselves by my name? It makes the failures seem even more sad.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mark 8:14-26; One More Time

I am so glad that the apostles often did not understand Jesus; it keeps me from feeling alone.

It is so easy to shake our heads at the apostles for missing the point and forgetting who Jesus was. Yet, I don't doubt that they look down at me now and shake their heads more. Jesus asked them about their short-term memory regarding two occasions. In my case, he could rip off a list of dozens.

"Don't you remember what happened when you prayed for your friend in high school? Don't you remember what happened when you prayed about not having children? Don't you remember what happened when you prayed for guidance about where to move, or when to return to the states, or which job to take, or how to lead different groups and individuals, don't you remember . . ?"

To make the point just a little more bluntly, the next thing Jesus did was heal a blind man. Interestingly, he healed him with a second touch. I know that I have already had a second touch and don't deserve another. My prayer is that I will not fall back into blindness but have clearer memory and that Jesus will not tire of touching me a second or third or . . . time.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mark 8:1-13; See the Need

It is intriguing that Jesus does not actually ask the apostles to feed this crowd. He simply points out the need. Then they begin to figure out how to respond.

So often in life God seems to operate this way. He simply presents needs to us. There are times, I must confess, that I am frustrated with others around me who can stroll by those needs without seeing a thing. How can they be so blind? How can they be so content in their blindness?

Yet the real difficulty comes in responding to any presented need. Like this story I often feel that what I have to work with is laughingly insufficient. Yet in this story the insufficient was made sufficient through Jesus' touch. They key will be to make myself remember that the next time I see a student who needs personal mentoring, a body of believers with no direction, a group stuck in confusion, etc.

To be honest the most lacking resources seem to be time and energy. In other words, there is an insufficient amount of me. Therefore the issue becomes do I believe that Jesus can touch and multiply me to meet the needs. Obviously I mentally assent to the concept and believe it in my heart. But will I default to that belief the next time I see a need?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mark 7:24-37; Spiritual begging

This mother had every reason to give up. She was not the right race, she was powerless politically and Jesus flatly told her no. If ever there was a moment to give up, it was then. Yet she basically ignored Jesus' "no" and persisted in her begging.

The next story has a man brought to Jesus and the story says that his friends begged. No asking or just put him nearby like some people. These openly begged for Jesus to respond. That fact that they begged implies the need to beg, i.e., a slow response from Jesus.

In comparison my prayers don't seem very passionate. Often I have taken the first rejection as a "no" from God. And what does this mean to a generation that looks for "signs" from God more than it looks to Jesus? If either of these stories had occurred within the millennial generation, I think they would have ended differently. They would have definitely settled for a "no" answer. Yet perhaps the entire section is recorded to teach us about the person of Jesus and how we get his attention. If so, how does my prayer life compare? Perhaps another question that I have to answer would be "what is there in my life that I am so passionate about that I am ready to beg?"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mark 7:1-23; Modern Pharisees

So what would it be now? What would Jesus point to in our religious world and scoff at? What would Jesus not like about Christianity?

Would he be upset that the money that goes into enhancing the beauty of a church building or paying the electricity bill for a church building was money not spent on helping the poor? Would he be sad that expenditures on a youth group to have fun and build relationships was not an expenditure to feed and cloth someone? Would he be angry that the time spent in dedication to him is dwarfed by the time spent in sports? Would he shake his head that non-profit organizations often do more Christian service than churches? Would he be upset that the formality and unspoken rules associated with many churches prohibit the spiritually bankrupt from setting foot in the door?

It is so easy for us to look down on the Pharisees but I fear that I might be more inconsistent than they were. I fear that Jesus might look at my life and the lives of many around me and shake his head in disappointment.

I pray that he will open my eyes now rather than doing so on judgment day.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mark 6:45-56; Comments

"They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened." It is often the comments of the narrator of stories like these that bother me the most. I could read through the entire account and contemplate the scene, be impressed with how Jesus could walk on water and control the winds. I could be encouraged about how he sent the apostles away to get some rest and how he pulled away himself. Then I bump into a comment by Mark (as perhaps told him by Peter).

Basically the punch of the comment is "if you think that is amazing it's because you don't understand anything yet. You really don't understand that Jesus is God. You don't get it, do you?"

And the sad thing is that I have to admit that he is correct. If I saw Jesus walking on water or controlling a storm, I would still be impressed. My natural self is so entrenched in the rules of this physical world that I forget that he lives by another set of rules. I forget that God is not limited like me.

I wonder how many times God did something last week so outside of my realm of understanding that I totally missed seeing him at work. How many times did he answer prayers last month but I gave credit to some person changing their mind or some disease not being as bad as we thought. How many times, I wonder, has he calmed storms around me or walked by me and I was so amazed at the change in normal circumstances that I either totally missed him or revealed my total lack of faith in him by the way he answered. In those moments, Mark would say "the only reason that you are so amazed right now is that you really don't understand God."

I really don't like those comments . . . because they cut so deep.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mark 6:30-44; Overtime

It had been quite a day. Word of John the Baptist probably had reached Jesus, he had taught many people and his apostles were coming back full of excitement and news. Time to take a break; time to get away. I appreciate this part of the story. The one who created rest still advocates it. He and the apostles pulled away from the crowd from some downtime.

When they land on the other side, there is another crowd. Now a mere 5000 people (minimum) are expecting something from him. This is where everything inside of me would cry out "no!". He was supposed to be resting but he could not.

Some call it spiritual overtime. You have given all you have and the day is supposed to be over, but it is not. Like overtime in sports, the day keeps going and you have to as well.

Yet Jesus did it with love in his heart. There is no self-pity, fussing or irritability in the story. He truly had compassion for others and did not think of himself. For him it became a great moment to bless the crowds.

There are many times that I feel I am in spiritual overtime; that is not my challenge. My challenge is to be in overtime with the same attitude that Jesus had.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mark 6:7-28; Bad Ending

I read this morning of Jesus calling the twelve and sending them out. I was struck by the immediacy of the sending. We tend to call people into our community and then beg them not to leave. When a person does rise up who wants to be a missionary (the Latin term for apostle or "one sent out"), we immediately ask how much do you need? That is code for "how little can you survive on so that we can spend most of our money on ourselves while spending as little as possible to keep you alive?"

As I read the next story, seeking a broader perspective or completion for the first story, I was struck by the abrupt ending. John's followers and surely John himself were praying for deliverance. Then, for no apparent reason, John's life was taken. It was taken by the powerful on a whim. To satisfy a grudge held by a God-less woman, John was killed. Even the one giving the ultimate order knew it was wrong.

Yesterday I watched as a few good young men were passed over and disrespected in a sporting event by their own coaches. Most of the fans were oblivious; the young men were deeply hurt. As I read the story of John, all I could think was that life often has bad endings. As much as I want to explain it away or give it a nice theological package, the bottom line is that for John, his followers and a few young men yesterday, life was totally unfair while for a few ruthless powerful people life was fun.

I hate stories like these. I hate bad endings. When I read them or experience them, they make me hope that heaven and hell are not just metaphors. They make me hope that the story is really not over and there is another ending yet to come.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mark 6:1-6; Amazed

If you are God and create the entire world, what would it take to amaze you? After all, you know everything and have seen everything . . . literally. So when the text says that Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith, that's a pretty bold statement. God stood in awe of their depth of failure. What a sad statement regarding spiritual bankruptcy.

The story amazes me too but in different ways. In my imaginary reconstruction of the life of Jesus, I always see people fascinated with his miracles. That, after all, is what would amaze me. If someone walked into our university and began to heal people in wheelchairs, stop fever and mend broken bones simply by his touch, I would be pretty impressed to say the least. Yet the text lists that as the third thing that the people took notice of.

The first things that they were amazed by were his teachings and wisdom. It was the power of his word that drew them in. It was the difference between his words and the words of others that amazed them. Somehow his words were even more impressive than raising the dead and healing the sick.

So from this section on "amazement", I have to ask myself. First, is God amazed at me? Is he amazed at my lack of faith like he was this group of people? Does Jesus offend me in some way so that I pull back from him? Second, if his words were so amazing to them, why are they not so amazing to me? Have I become immune? Have I missed something? Have I forgotten how to listen? That would be sad . . . amazingly sad.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mark 5:21-42; New World

Jesus seemed to live in a different reality. He seemed to see things in spiritual ways that others could not. Those who entered that world with him were very blessed; but not many entered it. After all, new worlds usually don't feel very safe.

A crowd of people bumped into him and touched him. Yet only one person touched him in a way that connected. When it happened the All-Knowing made sure everyone was aware of it. I wonder how many of us go to church or join the masses living as "Christians" but really we are only bumping into him -- not really connecting.

Then there was the father who had a very special need and came to connect with Jesus. When the bad news arrives, the text says that Jesus overheard or ignored the news (depending on the translation). At any rate the implication is that it was not spoken to him. His response was to call the father to not lose his faith based upon only that which is seen. He called the dad to hope against hope based upon a worldview that was exclusive to God. How much faith did it take for that dad to walk home with Jesus? How did he feel when Jesus sent the mourners away? If Jesus failed him, he would have been disgraced.

For both the sick lady and the desperate father, Jesus offered a new world. In the crowd that day, only those two entered into a new reality -- God's reality. What will it take for me to do the same?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mark 5:1-20; Safe?

"Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

That's how Mr. Beaver spoke of Aslan in the Chonicles of Narnia (books). It is a great summary of what stands out to me in this story of Jesus. The demons knew he was not safe. The possessed man knew Jesus was powerful. The entire town recognized that he overpowered someone that they could never overpower. In fact, the demons submitted to him and begged his permission to act. This is not a safe person.

But oh how we tame Jesus. We only talk about the one who touches lepers, cradles children and talks about love. Whatever happened to recognizing him as the King? How did we lose sight of him controlling demons or the winds and waves?

A tame Jesus really doesn't do me much good at times. He doesn't really help a lot when I have serious issues. He is not the Jesus I appeal to when a friend is in ICU. He is not the Jesus I want when I've been treated unjustly. I want the Jesus who has power to change things. It's not just "our father" that I pray to but rather "our father in heaven."

That means a Jesus who is not on my level; who is much more powerful than me. It means a Jesus that is not safe. After all, supreme beings with infinite power tend to do things their way. Yet it forces me to give up my comfort zone of pat answers and predictability if I truly accept an unsafe Jesus. The more I think about it, the less Jesus seems to fit in this society.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mark 4:26-41; The Faith Question

The contrasting questions are interesting. The apostles ask Jesus (God), "Don't you care if we drown?" He asks them "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
"Do you care?" is answered with "Do you have faith?"

I think the same conversation is still going on today. I hear myself asking God is he cares about my friends who are suffering, my family struggles and my major decisions. I can only imagine that he is asking back "Do you still have no faith?"

The silence of God bothers us. We want answers before the problems come so that we avoid the problems. We want him to act as the problems first start to build, not wait until they are flowing in over the side and about to swamp us. We want him to act so that we don't have to have faith.

Yet if Schwietzer was right when he said that "relationship is the only thing", then instead of concern for X situation, my concern should be about God in X situation. What does he want from me in this moment? What do I need to do in this circumstance to honor him? How do I demonstrate faith in him now? How do I act so that he won't ask me again, "Do you still have no faith?"

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mark 4:21-25; Contemplate

Contemplate. It is a word that we don't use much anymore. It brings up images of people sitting in one spot with their eyes closed and maybe even humming softly to themselves. For others it sounds like hard work or even frustrating work. For all of us it means exiting the fast lane for a period of time. Perhaps that is why it is so infrequently practiced.

Jesus called his disciples to contemplate or consider carefully what he was saying. It was not "just do it" but rather "if you don't focus on this now, you may never understand". He called us to deeper knowing.

It is an intriguing and perhaps scary to know that by contemplation I can come to understand much more but that without it, I will actually lose what I have already understood. Therefore it is impossible to "arrive" at a spirituality that does not require ongoing effort. To be spiritual requires listening. To listen requires effort. To truly live requires effort. It requires the effort of focus and the effort of not "just doing" until we have truly heard.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mark 4:1-20; Unfruitful

It is so easy to think that others suffer from being choked out while I am the last soil; but I have to be honest. When I act stressed over the "to do list" of today, am I not choking out the fruit of the Spirit in my life? When I worry about a certain event (a deadline, an activity) am I not choking my spiritual life?

It is hard to live in the land of affluence and not become blind to the needs of others. While most of the world lives on a dollar a day, I waste multiple dollars daily on junk food, coffee or unnecessary items, all the while thinking that I am not deceived like others. All the while I think I can watch today's media and not let it control my desires either. Innocently or ignorantly I watch commercial after commercial and slowly become discontent with what I have so that I start to desire what I do not have . . . and do not need.

In my garden there is a weed that I hate. It is pretty at first and it grows at phenomenal rates. It even has some pretty morning-glory-like flowers. Yet if I leave it alone for a week, it will wrap around and weave through other plants so much that it chokes them. It is an amazing plant that perfectly represents the worries of life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for other things. Left unattended my spirit gets invaded. My heart and original intent can still be seen but only as remnants of what they could have been.

I don't want to be a skeleton of what could have been. I don't want to get to the end of life and see that I almost lived out my convictions. I don't want to be choked into living almost spiritually. . . almost but not enough to have significant fruit.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mark 3:20-35; Seated and Listenting

The section begins and ends with family. In the middle it deals with those who are supposed to be the most informed and studied religious leaders of their day. All of them missed who Jesus was. Only the people seated at Jesus' feet are complimented; everyone else ends up on the outside of a relationship with him.

So where am I? What does it look like today to be seated at the feet of Jesus? It is easy to claim a "once and for all" relationship with him but then not act like family. Indeed I think that is what repulses most people about Christians, i.e., we claim a right and relationship with him but then act as if we want to change him rather than be changed by him. The Pharisees had the same attitude; it was easier to explain away Jesus than follow him. His physical family and the scholars could not bring themselves to sit at his feet.

It seems to boil down to submission. Those who humble themselves to sit and learn are accepted over those who have some other claim to Jesus. It makes me question my heart and my Christianity. Am I a Christian due to a one time act of faith or due to ongoing discipleship? Do I base my claim upon having come to know him at some point in time or upon daily submission to his guidance? Do I accept or resist the leading of his Spirit in my life? And how do I evaluate others? Do I believe a person is in the Jesus family due to a one time action or due to ongoing submission to him as the head of the family?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mark 3:7-19; Be

Out of this massive crowd that was large enough it caused Jesus to plan an escape route (the boat), Jesus selected twelve to whom he would entrust his ministry. Surely he had watched these twelve for some time already. How did they act or react? What was their heart like? Some had already received a general call to follow him - Peter, Andrew, James, John, Levi - but this was more. This was a call to a very focused ministry. It makes me wonder how closely do I "watch the crowd" so that I can call a few to a higher standard or greater challenge?

What stands out to me is what he called them to. He listed three things, i.e., be with him, send them to preach and give them authority over demons. We focus our time almost exclusively on preaching; whatever happened to the first and last portions? We seem to have bought into the concept that authority is a bad thing - since it is so ofter abused - and so we tend to steer away from embracing it. That leaves us often with non-authoritative preaching.

Yet it is step one that really gets left out. As long as we suffer from hurry-sickness in this culture, we will never manage to just "be with him". Why is that so hard for us? Why do we so undervalue the idea of spending time in a spiritual relationship with our Creator? Before they were sent or given power, they were called to "be with". Of the three, it is the simplest action to understand; yet it is the hardest to do.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mark 3:1-6; Updated Version

These are my thoughts on what this story would look like if / when it happens today.

One Sunday morning at the local church, a homeless man who smelled absolutely horrible came in. He was dressed in dirty jeans, his hair was matted and he was sniffling from a head cold. Half of the church just stared at him and some who were sitting near him moved to another section. No one liked him being there; it goes without saying that no one initiated a conversation with him.

Then Jesus stood up to preach. He could see the looks being cast towards the stranger, the negative expressions on their faces and the ten foot circle of empty space around the man. So Jesus called the man into the pulpit with him. Everyone was shocked and waited to see how Jesus would treat him. Jesus placed his arm around the stranger and began to talk about his pure heart. He explained how the young man had fallen on hard times that were not all his fault and how he was just as loved by God as anyone else in the building. Then Jesus pulled out the church checkbook and wrote the man a check for $500.oo in the presence of everyone. He gave it to the young man with no strings attached.

This upset many of the long term members of the congregation. Many of the older members who were among the primary financial supporters of the church went out to lunch with a group of deacons to discuss what should be done about Jesus and his actions.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mark 2:23-28; Lordship

I think the Pharisees often get a bad rap. We put them down as the bad guys that Jesus stood up to; rarely are they painted in a good light. Yet they were people trying to do their best to serve God. They knew the word of God better than anyone I can think of now. Still, they missed the point so often that it is scary to think of how I, someone with less knowledge than they, must miss the point so frequently.

So what would be the law or issue that I would point out to Jesus regarding other followers? What little thing do I miss the point on? Maybe it would be that they are undisciplined? How can someone be serving God if they let themselves go physically and don't practice any discipline in their life? Maybe it would be that they don't dress in the right way to show respect or moral integrity? Maybe it would be that they are less focused upon knowing scripture than I think is healthy or that they focus on parts of scripture that I don't think are as relative? Maybe I would point out that their personality is too abrasive or not outgoing enough or in some way does not seem Christ-like?

Maybe in that same conversation Jesus would turn to me and proclaim that the Son of Man is Lord of whatever area I am complaining about. Maybe today my primary job is to back off of my critical nature and just be a faithful follower. Maybe my job is to let Jesus rather than me be Lord of everything and everyone.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mark 2:13-22; I Wonder

I wonder. I wonder if Jesus felt any different around the morally upstanding and the morally depraved. He could see the faults of everyone and he chose to spend his time with those whom we call sinners. I wonder how they felt in his presence? Did they feel uncomfortable or encouraged as he ate with them?

He recognized the crowd called the "sinners" as being in need and did not argue that they were "sick". He granted that fact to the Pharisees but he reacted to them so differently. I wonder if that made them feel more sinful or more accepted?

I wonder if they cleaned up their language, stopped drinking and acted more ethical around Jesus? I wonder if it mattered as much to him as it did the Pharisees? I wonder if Jesus told jokes with them? I wonder if he toasted with them? I wonder if they hated to see him leave?

I wonder how close I come to making others feel the way he did? I wonder.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mark 2:1-12; Popular

So why was Jesus so popular? In chapter one people flooded the house where he was, searched for him early in the morning and followed him in such numbers that he could not enter towns. Chapter two begins with the crowd overflowing from the house into the street. When they could not reach him, people dug through the roof to see him.

So why do so many church buildings sit vacant today? Why are so many people angry with Christians? Gandhi once said "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."

Ouch but amen at the same time. People flocked to Jesus or tried to kill him. He had a polarizing effect. That is not a description of most North American Christians. I wonder how he feels about the phenomenon?

Why are we not comfortable being polarizing agents in society? I have to ask myself if it Jesus that we really want to be like or something / someone else?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mark 1:40-45; Risk

Many things amaze me about this story. The faith of the leper was impressive. He basically stated his total confidence in the power of Jesus and said the prayer that Jesus said in the garden, i.e., "your will be done." Jesus reached out and touched the man before saying a word. It should have made him unclean as well; every person standing there probably held his / her breath. What would happen to the great teacher if he contracted leprosy? Five words later the man was redeemed. It was more than healing his skin, it was giving him life again. He could leave the caves, reconnect with family and resume his place in society. With his touch and his words, Jesus radically transformed the man and touched everyone he knew.

The leper took a chance in approaching Jesus. Every other Jew would have rejected him. He knew he was breaking the Levitical law in approaching Jesus. Yet he came.

Jesus took a chance in touching the man. He knew that contracting an infectious disease would end his ministry. Yet before saying a word, he touched the man.

Risk. Society, tradition and fear all tell us to avoid it. Yet both characters in this story took a chance. And a miracle resulted. Being vulnerable, taking a chance is to give room for God to work. Without taking a chance, we have no hope of a miracle story. I wonder how many lives will NOT be touched today because we will not take a chance.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mark 1:29-39; The Quiet

Jesus drew a crowd. They followed him from the synagogue to Peter's house and brought more people with them. Early the next morning, the crowd was back. Peter and the others surely thought that this meant success. They wanted Jesus to show up for the crowd; but Jesus left. He left to spend time alone in prayer. Then he left with the apostles to introduce the kingdom to other villages. The crowd meant nothing to him.

It seems to me that North Americans seek to be busy. We seek it like Jesus sought the quiet. We seek the crowd and events while he left them behind. We act like Peter attempting to get Jesus back on stage, though we should act like Jesus leaving the stage behind. As long as we measure success by popularity and numbers, we will never experience the peace that comes from time alone in quiet places with the Father.

I have often looked at Jesus' solitude moments and contemplated what went on. As God, did he need to express a list of petitions to the rest of God? Surely not. Yet isn't that what we commonly believe prayer to be? We use it like a Christmas list of needs, e.g., "I want, I need . . ." Yet it must be much more. Jesus sought it when life became busy. Instead of energizing off of the crowd, he energized from his time in communion with the Father. He experienced a relationship that filled his soul, gave him peace and clarified his purpose. I don't think that can happen in a crowd.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mark 1:14-27; The Kingdom

Jesus announced a new world; he called people to change their lives in order to live in the kingdom of God, which was imminent. Jesus said that the coming of the new world was good. Peter, Andrew, James and John all believed the message enough to walk away from their daily life. A demon possessed man even recognized it. But what was he doing in the synagogue? What kind of a world is it where the demon possessed sit together with the God seekers to study the Torah? How serious could he have been or the other followers around him have been? Indeed Jesus was calling for something different.

I wonder what it looks like to Jesus now? As he looks at the church, does he still see the demon possessed blending in with the God-seekers? Are we any more serious about following God than they were? Are we living in the kingdom of God?

Jesus was amazing. People were stunned by him. I don't want to live a life that makes me indistinguishable from the demon possessed. I don't want to live in a community where someone with such a core of evil blends in with the rest. I want to live in a kingdom ruled by God where amazing things happen.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mark 1:9-13; Spiritual Lows

Jesus went from the spiritual high of heaven being torn open, the Spirit descending on him and the Father speaking his approval to the spiritual depths of isolation, not eating for 40 days and Satanic temptation. From one extreme to the other overnight.

So what makes me think that my life should be any different? Somehow most of us have come to believe that we should have "normal" days or even "good" days. We expect God to take care of most of my problems and let me bump along without too much effort. Yet, if Jesus went from highs to lows so quickly, why should I expect to be more privileged than him?

Also it seems that the lows are when we question God's presence and concern. Yet his concern for the life of Jesus never wavered. So when I so often feel abandoned by God or question his concern, what does that say about me? Am I unable to recognize a desert experience? Do I think that I should be given an easier life than Jesus? Why do I think my life should be so easy when his was not?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mark 1:1-8; John

John sounds like an odd character. I doubt he would have been hired by most churches today. He dressed and ate in an odd manner; surely he stood out among his peers. His ministry is described as one calling out in the desert. It sounds lonely and very unproductive. He did not cry out in the marketplace or busy intersections but rather in the desert. Yet his ministry was used by God and people somehow heard him. His efforts were all directed at preparing people for Jesus. One message was all he had.

And so starts the good news about Jesus. It begins with an odd man, repeating the same message over and over in the desert. Yet somehow, God used him to prepare a society for what was to come.

It makes me ask myself about my life and ministry? Am I comfortable being counter-cultural? Am I content if I am not used in the busy places of life but am placed by God in more desert settings? Am I satisfied with spending my life pointing people to Jesus rather than to self? Am I able to accept John as normative for those who seek God? Could I have accepted the call that God gave to John? Or am I just another cultural Christian who wants what every UnChristian wants, i.e., human acceptance rather than God acceptance?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Philippians 4:10-23; Content

I wonder what impact it would have on the US economy if every Christian learned to be content? Our advertising industry is designed to make us discontent by believing we need more. It soon becomes the air we breath and we think that something new makes us feel better. We actually learn to be discontent in all circumstances. Therefore there is no difference in how Christians and unChristians spend money.

As soon as we buy a coke, we are asked if we are dissatisfied and would rather super size it. As soon as we buy a phone, we are told the upgrade will come out soon. We are taught dissatisfaction. This text calls us to satisfaction; it raises the question of do I really trust God or not?

My closet and my garage, therefore, are a testimony to trust. There is a bumper-sticker that reads, "The one with the most toys wins." Not true.

Proverbs 30:8, ". . . give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Philippians 4:8-9; Positive

Dr B could find something good in every student and every case, no matter how muddled it was. I had blown a diagnosis and I knew it that morning of my last year in Vet School. Dr B was my supervisor and I expected to be not only corrected but belittled; that was the norm. Yet he found a couple of positive aspects, i.e., the way I talked to the client, certain tests I recommended. The impact of that positive response during a moment of complete failure still is fresh on my mind. I want to be like Dr B.

I'm wired, however, for criticism. As a doctor I'm trained to look for what is hurt, broken or abnormal and fix it. It causes me to overlook the person and seek only pathology. Yet God calls us to rewire our outlook in order to find that which is good, honorable and noble. He also calls us to live the same way, not just think it but show it.

Instead of seeing the "glass as half empty" today, I pray that I can see the beauty of the glass and the positive attributes of the one who holds it. Maybe then I can have a little of the impact on others that Dr B or a Jewish carpenter have had on me.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Philippians 4:4-7; Living in the Presence

We are called to be joyful and thankful; we are told that gentleness and peacefulness will be the result. In a society that has a huge industry dedicated to making me feel anxious about not having the best (advertising), it is hard to be thankful. We are bombarded with "you need more" messages, when we really don't. In fact, we probably need much less in order to be truly healthy.

So how do you stay joyful and thankful when daily you are told that you are lacking? I think the answer is the little line "The Lord is near." If I really believe that, then what can a simple electronic device add to my life? If I believe that the Creator of the universe walks with me, is a new manmade anything going to add more joy to my heart? Is there room for anxiety in my heart when I experience the presence of God daily?

Tielhard de Chardin once said "Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God." Maybe put another way, it would seem that joy is the meter used to read how filled I am with God. I pray that today I can stay focused upon the simple act of rejoicing in the presence of God.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Philippians 4:1-3; More than Church

Nagging, backbiting and gossip. It is so disheartening to find it in church. How can we claim to be followers of Christ when his body is a bunch of cliques? How will society ever see Jesus if we can't get along? Surely it was never like this back in the day. . . but then again, Euodia and Syntyche apparently were just like that.

Perhaps what is striking is not that they had contention in the church but that Paul says that their names are written in the book of life. Sometimes we tend to think of people as members of a local congregation but maybe not with a claim to heaven. Yet these bickering women were among those that had entry through the pearly gates.

It calls into question my own beliefs. Do I really see the church as belonging to Christ and that he wants to forgive and redeem her? Do I really believe that the church is more than a local group of people but rather is an entity that will last for eternity? Will I let Jesus be the judge and quit evaluating people based upon my own standards? Can I look at those I don't like very much or don't feel try very hard in their faith and see them as "written in the book of life?" Can I see the local congregation with all her faults as the bride of Christ?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Philippians 3:12-21; Hard Work

It seems that we have a view of Christianity as sort of a spiritual club we join. We visit to see if we like it, go through a joining process and then become a member. After that we boil down its significance to avoiding the most atrocious errors, coupling the word spiritual with the word patriotic, and showing our face in a gathering of the other members. I have serious doubts that Paul would consider this behavior as living up to what we have already attained.

The call he gives here is to "press on" and "strive", words that carry a sense of hard work and struggle. Usually we use the word struggle to talk about sin; primarily it means "I keep committing the same mistake and I feel bad about it." Struggle rarely involves the effort to change relationships, schedule and habits. It is even more seldom about proactive growth.

So bluntly speaking, what will I make a pointed effort to change now? Before I quit reading, close the computer and walk away to begin a fast paced day, what will I resolve to "struggle" with today so that I treat someone differently or look more like Christ by day's end? How will I press on today?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Philippians 3:1-11; Sharing Everything

I am egotistical enough that I like to read a passage and check off my own attributes. I like to read and say "yep, I do that" (even when the passage, like this one, is specifically talking about not depending upon one's own abilities, I still find myself responding the same way). Then Paul throws in "share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death."

Since death is the end of us all, I can mentally defer, be it ever so passive, and say "yep, I'll do that." Yet this "share in his sufferings" is another thing.

I can handle living like Jesus, being a loving person, even changing life goals but to look forward to suffering is a stretch. Paul wanted to go through everything that Jesus did so that he could understand him in every way. So the real question here is not "do I want to share in the sufferings of Jesus" but "how much do I want to get to know him?" How close a relationship do I want to have with Jesus? How much do I value closeness with him?

I hate it when simple questions cut so deep.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Philippians 2:18-30; Honored Servants

The text talks about honoring those who serve well in the name of Jesus. In my life, there have been people that definitely have served well and deserve honor.

I think of Wilfredo in San Felix, Venezuela. I do not know anyone more gentle and humble than him. He has shown me how to turn away wrath with a gentle answer. He has lived out his faith even at gunpoint. When others failed to keep their promises, he has kept his even when it cost him greatly on a personal basis.

I think of Ronald in San Jose, Costa Rica. It would be hard for me to think of anyone who has dedicated themselves to the work of the Lord more than Ronald. He is a tireless servant whose intensity of compassion has touched the lives of everyone around him. Anyone that meets him soon respects him.

I also think of Wendell Broom. His gentleness and depth of joy impress me. I can honestly say that I know of no one who will finish life more robustly and joyfully than Wendell.

My hope and prayer is to live so that one day someone writes my name in a list of people they believe worthy of honor.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Philippians 2:5-17; Work out

Jesus went from being set apart as God to being a murdered human servant. So when the text calls me to "work out" my salvation, it calls me to a lot of work. To follow in those footsteps repeating that pattern is an intimidating call. Everything within me wants to leave the words as "good theory" and then play a nice church game. Daily self abasement without complaining is a high calling.

The prayer of "not my will but yours be done" is easily stated but not easily lived. It is a heartfelt decision that must proceed daily from time alone. Jesus uttered those words in private as he grappled with his own desires. Unless I put myself in the same position, my prayer will simply be words spoken out of a sense of duty but with no heart conviction. It was this prayer that permitted him to fulfill his purpose though no one understood it in the moment.

Can I utter this same prayer with the same conviction and carry it out with no complaints like he did? If not, do I have the right to call myself his follower?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Philippians 2:1-4; Self or Not

I work in a Christian university where it seems that we live and promote a paradox. We teach courses on persuasion and brag about successful graduates where success is defined by position and status. We never have a chapel speaker that is a construction worker or day laborer who is held up for his unselfish life. Our publications on the web look like those of other UnChristian universities. We often are more inclined towards the word "university" than the word "Christian."

Yet I have to ask if I am any different. I struggle to look beyond the superficial, i.e., the looks, the finances, the pretense. I have been programmed to admire achievement, to praise someone for "pulling herself up", to smile about success. So the real issue here is my belief. Do I believe that the way I should be programmed by God is better than the programming I receive from society? Do I believe that a life without selfishness will be worth living? Can I be successful without self-promotion? Can I substitute other-promotion for self-promotion? Can I bring myself to believe that I will be as fulfilled and happy by service as by being served? Do I believe Jesus knew what he was talking about when he called me to serve rather than be served? Or will I just keep mindlessly living the American dream while professing different norms?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Philippians 1:27-30; Live Worthy

Be united. Be fearless. Suffer well. As North American Christians, I think we fail in all three areas.

The Barna groups says that statistically there is no difference in Christian and UnCristian behavior in most areas. Forget what we teach with words; what are we teaching with actions? If we do not live counter culturally without fear, our actions scream a message of unbelief in the gospel. If I am not living united, fearless and suffering, would Paul recognize me as Christian? Do my friends and neighbors? Do I have a right to claim the name Christian if Jesus in me comes out as divisive, scared and status quo? Do I truly believe that the spiritual message conveyed in the gospel of Jesus is more reality than what I see with my eyes?

It is always easy to point the finger at establishments and lament their shortcomings. Yet that is also divisive and UnChristian. Today, rather than point fingers, may I focus on the gospel as communicated by my actions.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Philippians 1:20-26; Meaning

Singleness of purpose; that's what I hear in this passage. In life or in death, there is only one purpose, i.e., to live for the glory of God. That might mean to live directly in his presence or to enhance the image of the glory of God in others. Yet it is all focused on the glory of God.

"If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean . . ." For most of us it means to go on working and seeking entertainment through some form of self-gratification. It means acting just like everyone else who has no clue regarding what life is really about. It should mean that thousands of us make decisions that look really strange to those around us. It should mean that we distinguish ourselves from everyone else by service to them. It should mean more time to be more different than the rest of society.

One of the great driving motivators in this has to be that death is not death but rather a transition to the presence of God. On the Mt of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah talked with Jesus about his "departure". In John 13, Jesus knew he was about "to leave". Here Paul talks of departing and even qualifies living as "in the body" since a follower of Christ never really dies.

So why not be different? Why not live as one who is in on the big secret (the mystery as Paul calls it) while others don't know what the game of life is about. Life is never-ending and should forever have the same focus, i.e., to live for the glory of God.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Philippians 1:1-19; Shema today

Love and knowledge. They often seem to be two ends of a spectrum. We have churches, movements or leaders that are known for one or the other. We seem wired from birth to gravitate towards one end or the other. Yet when Paul talks about bearing fruit, he says it comes from love that overflows with knowledge and insight.

Then he tells his story of being in prison for the gospel and watching others with impure motives preach openly to make money. I wonder how I would feel in those circumstances. Would I so long to be with those I love that I would turn inward with self pity? Would I be so angry with those who make a profit from preaching truth with impure motives that I become bitter? What would happen to my heart and my head?

His response was to rejoice that God was using even lesser people for good. Only by combining knowledge and love does one get to that point. He could understand God at work and he could feel joy in his heart for it despite his circumstances. Paul's heart and head were united. It is the core concept of spiritual transformation. It is the Shema of Deuteronomy; the most important commandment to Jesus. "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts." Commandments in hearts, not heads. It seems ironic to say it that way. It seems to be a corrective to our natural tendencies to gravitate to one end of the spectrum of love and knowledge.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Romans 16:20-27; Obedience of faith

The book begins and ends with the same concept, i.e., obedience of faith. Chapter 1:5 and 16:26 both have the phrase. All the rest has been commentary. This is the goal of the message, that is, to move us to obedience of faith.

My mind instantly shifted that to say "faithful obedience" but maybe that is not the same. Faithful obedience seems to feel like "sticking it out and always being obedient no matter what happens". Yet obedience of faith seems to strike me more as obedience that flows from faith. Rather than gritting it out in obedience, it seems we have been given revelation that inspires a belief that is compelling enough to move us to action. Obedience flows from faith. Rather than focusing on obedience, the focus is on faith which is simply manifest in obedience.

Somehow we seem to do well at obedience because its "right" and faith which has no actions. I sometimes wonder if the early followers of Jesus would recognize us by our lives or not.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Romans 16:1-19; Greetings

I hung up the phone last night after talking to my friend in Venezuela and made sure I said goodbye in an appropriate Venezuelan way. Not only did I say "goodbye" in three different ways but I also sent "saludos" (greetings) to each of the other family members. To not have done so would have demonstrated my self interest and lack of concern for others. When reading the first of chapter 16, it sounds exactly the same.

Then Paul throws a "curve ball". He reminds them that not everyone is really after their friendship; they need to be wise about who they give their hearts to. What a difficult balance. Be loving and be wise. Build genuine authentic relationships but be wise in who you do it with. Keep your guard up a litle but once someone passes the test, love them deeply.

Maybe today I'll take a relationship inventory. Have I chosen wisely? Have I developed deep bonds? Who are my "garden friends" that I can count on during "garden of Gethsemane" type moments?

In Venezuela (and many other Latin American countries) we say "Dime con quien andas, y te diré quien eres" (Tell me who you walk with and I'll tell you who your are). I think Paul would have liked that saying.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Romans 15:17-33; No more work

What an amazing thought. Paul said there was no more place for him to work in that region where he was. He had visited all the town and cities to make sure the gospel had been spread.

I wonder how many of us today could even say "there is no more place for me to work" in my neighborhood. Or maybe on my job. Surely it would be a stretch to say the same about our city or region.

Why such a difference? When did Christianity become so private in our culture? When did we decided Jesus came for me but not for you? After all, that is what we communicate when we don't share him. Sometime in our history Jesus moved from being the Savior of the world to being my personal Savior. It makes life easier for us but I have to think it also guts life of purpose and passion. At the same time, surely it frustrates Jesus to watch us. . . at least that was his message to Jonah, i.e., he is concerned about a lot more people than me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Romans 15:14-16; Offering

Paul worked to present people as an offering acceptable to God. In Numbers 8, the entire Levite tribe was presented to God as a wave offering. They were then allowed to perform the duties of priests in the tabernacle, working for God in his presence.

Often our fellowship has proclaimed that we hold to the concept of a "priesthood of all believers". Yet practice and proclamation don't seem to meet. What would a church look like where each person saw himself / herself as commissioned to work for God in his presence on a daily basis.

All of life would be an act of service. Everything would become holy because every action would be performed for God. Life would have purpose.

So why do so many Christians act like so many UnChristians? Why do I meet so many Christians who are still seeking a purpose? I wonder how odd the church today would look to Paul if he were transported in time to see us now? A priesthood that has forgotten its purpose.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Romans 15:7-13; Acceptance

In few words, Jesus gave his entire life -- not just the passion week -- to bring praise to God by uniting people. He accepted those that most did not. He reached out to Jews and Gentiles alike, though his focus was service to the Jews. By his efforts, he gave hope to everyone.

So when my life is over, what will people say about me? How will they judge the use of my time? Will people unlike me be grateful that I lived? Will those who do not look, think or act like me be praise God for what I have done?

If Jesus spent his life tearing down walls and accepting people, why should my focus be any different?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Romans 15:1-6; Others

To bear the pain of another, to feel insulted whenever another is put down and to do everything possible to build the other up, these are what the text calls living like Christ. It is all about living in relationship with the image of God in others. What can I do to enhance the image in others? How do I take away some of the pain others feel that is covering up that image?

That really does not sound much like some of the superficial arguments presented from pulpits these days. Nor does it look like what society thinks of Christians. Petty arguments and judgmental attitudes are quite out of place here. Regardless of what is correct or not in an argument, the very fact that an argument exists demonstrates a lack of living out the goal set forth in the text. That is not to say that error should be tolerated and sin permitted. Rather it has everything to do with the attitude, manner and motivation for treating it.

Oh how simple and yet how hard to live out our calling.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Romans 14 Seeking HIgh Roads

Disputable matters. I guess they have always existed and will always exist. Often we think of how great it would have been to have lived in the first centuries when Christianity was unadulterated; however, I think that is a false assumption. Disputable matters were already present.

Their matters were more connected to their identity than ours. Often today these are issues of worship for which we do not have specific ancient instruction; their matters, on the other hand, came from direct commands of the Torah. Surely they had more emotion connected with their opinions than we do.

Paul's call to them was not a call to uniformity but rather to higher ground. It was a call to do everything in faith, have mature beliefs, seek mutual edification and live out the kingdom of God. No matter what that looks like today surely it will not be anymore uniform than what they experienced. Uniformity is not synonymous with unity.

All of life is about reflecting the image of God. Since we are all shaped differently by different backgrounds and origins, diversity that is united will better reflect the amplitude of the creator than will uniformity. No room here for judging and bickering; only room for uniting behind a common purpose.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Romans 13:8-14; Focus

Its all about focus. If you focus upon details, you lose the big picture. If you focus on details, you lose sight of what the end product is supposed to be. How often do we teach on the details but forget to teach on the big picture.

Love is the goal and the journey. All the commandments give love shape and direction. However, focusing on the detailed commandments has a subtle way of focusing us upon the negative. If I spend all day focused upon not lusting, still the only thing on my mind is lust. If I spend all day focused upon not reacting in anger, my first thought is going to be anger. So the little line at the end of this section that says "do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature" is quite profound. Instead of meditating on or questioning where the line is and how far can I go, the concept is to question how close to the heart of God can I live? If the focus is upon loving others who have the image of God rather than "thou shalt not", the result will have to be quite different, the result surely will be more positive and loving.

It is such a simple concept that it sounds almost ridiculous. Yet, living in a ridiculous way sounds a lot like Jesus.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Romans 13:1-7; Honor

It is an old theme from the Torah, i.e., "I treat people with honor because they bear the image of God within them." Creation is treated well because God made it. Authority is respected because God established it. People are honored because God placed his image in them.

Yet I sit here today struggling with respecting some authorities. In the past month, two friends have become unemployed because of ridiculous laws or rules. They were highly competent and yet lost their position. Somewhere along the way, the authorities lost focus on treating people as images of the Creator God. The result was that law was respected but the image of God was dishonored. The actions of the authorities did not reflect the hand of God.

The scary part is that I can so easily do the same thing. All it takes is focusing upon rules instead of people. Is he right or wrong? Is she a Christian or not? Do they measure up to my standards or not? All are rules based evaluations of people to whom I owe a debt of honor as bearers of the image of God.

May God be merciful to my efforts and may my efforts be to honor rather than judge others.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Romans 12:3-21; Faith Response

All of life is a faith act. Our self view is to be an act of faith. The way we respond in good times and in bad is to be an act of faith. Faith involves every aspect of life.

Evil, suffering, the needs of others, persecution, social structure and injustice are all mentioned in this passage. Rather than expound on any one of these, Paul was led to clump them together. In each case, his concern is responding in faith to the grace given us. Rather than react to pain and evil, I am to respond to grace. Rather than get angry or attack, I am to respond to grace. Every situation in life is to be a response to grace.

If all Christians lived every minute of every day as a response to grace rather than limiting Christianity to a Sunday assembly, I wonder what our society would think of Christians and how different our world would be?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Romans 12:1-2; Courageous Meditation

I continue to be amazed at how there is very little new in the New Testament. Throughout the Torah God called his people to meditate on the law and be different. When he commissioned Joshua he called him to be courageous and hold to the law. Now in Romans 12 Paul says to be different and renew our minds. Nothing new. Yet, nothing easy.

Both actions take effort. Expending effort in order to be different is not what we are continuously told be your society that we should do. We are called to think and act differently from the masses. Constant bombardment from media tells us to look like everyone else, to not be spiritual and to follow the icons of Hollywood.

God knew that only constant bombardment from his word can counter this type of attack on the mind and soul. Yet it will always take courage to step out of the crowd and march to a different drum.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Romans 11:25-36; Serve Somebody

I think Paul and Bob Dylan are in agreement. Dylan once wrote "You may be an ambassador . . . you may like to gamble . . . you may like to dance . . . but your gonna have to serve somebody". As I read Paul, I think of those words. Who am I to think that I, a mere human who can't take care of himself, can direct my own affairs and independently maneuver through spiritual, everlasting decisions.

God has a plan that I will not derail. His purposes move forward despite human errors and the evil around us. Why do we as North Americans believe we are independent actors who have control of our own lives? Surely we do have areas that we can affect but in the grand scheme, we end up serving good or evil. No independence is allowed in the final analysis.

So today, I will try to be aware of how the stories of the people around me flow into the big picture of God at work. And I will work to make sure my story benefits the efforts of good . . . since my story will eventually be part of the greater story of God at work, whether it be contributing to advancing the story of God or whether it be one of the stories that God overcame in order to demonstrate his purpose. "You're gonna have to serve somebody."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Romans 11:1-24; Kind and Stern

"Consider the kindness and sternness of God." I don't know if I've ever heard that from a pulpit. Perhaps its because we don't believe it.

Our society teaches tolerance and anti-sternness. To look at the stern acts of God and hold them up is to invite scorn and be called bigoted, backwards and uneducated. How can a society steeped in tolerating everything but standing for nothing comprehend the mercy that comes from boundaries? God's sternness is part of his boundary drawing around his kingdom.

As a dad, I want to be both kind and stern. I want my kids to remember me as loving, caring and patient. I also want them to be blessed by my stern drawing of limits that protect and guide them.

Kindness and sternness; they seem to be two sides of the same coin. If I don't have one, then do I really have the other? If I am not stern in demarcating boundaries, then am I truly kind? If I am not both stern and kind, then am I truly a follower of God?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Romans 10:16-21; Listen

Did they not hear? What a question. It is a sad commentary couched in question format. Although the textual response is "yes, they heard" it is followed by "no, they did not listen." They are called disobedient and obstinate.

What a sad picture this text paints. Holding out hands to an obstinate people who do not respond, who do not listen. Yet in the moment I seriously doubt that the people of Israel saw themselves as obstinate and not listening. They were, after all, the people of God and had his words with them.

So what comment would God make about me? Today I will make it my focus to listen -- not to the noise and activity around me but to the gentle voice in the background. I will work to listen to the one who is guiding the orchestra rather than to the individual pieces around me. I will work to control my pride so that I surrender to his lead rather than be labeled obstinate. I will strive to not only hear, but to listen.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Romans 10:5-15; Complicated

It always amazes me how simple the gospel is and yet how complicated we can make it. The text says that the gospel is simply believe in the resurrection and make Jesus the lord of your life. The rest of life tends to be living out those basic principles.

History reveals to us the amazing number of heresies, creeds and debates over major and minor issues. We work so hard on the details of the implementation that we forget to hold tightly to the basic principles and embrace others who hold them as well.

North of here I drive through a town that has Walmart and several major business on the left side of the primary highway. On the right side there are three churches in a row. Only green grass separates them. There are no other businesses or houses on that side of the street. What a statement about complication and division.

Yet on a personal note, my life is always full of the same, i.e., balancing the complication of working out the implications and embracing the simplicity of making Jesus lord. My prayer is that when I die people won't look at my life as complicated and divisive but rather as focused upon a few simple truths.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Romans 10:1-3; Zeal only

1Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.

I look around me at the hundreds of university students I deal with and want to tweak that verse by simply substituting "millennial generation" for "Israelites". 1Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Millennial Generation is that they may be saved. 2For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.

Yet in all honesty, the same could be said of any generation; fortunately, the Millennials have a much better starting point than my own generation.

How often do we get excited for serving God in ways that really are more manifestations of our culture than his spirit? How easy to cloak humanitarian aid with spirituality and deceive ourselves about what drives us in our hearts. How many blind spots are there in our Christianity because we are zealous but not zealous and knowledgeable of God's wishes?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Romans 9:19-33; Stumbling

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . ." "Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?"

Those are conflicting points of view. Perhaps when everyone in the room is from the same social order then "all men are created equal"; yet the world at large does not work that way. Even the slaves of Jefferson and Washington would have probably questioned the statement had they been allowed the same voice that their owners were rebelling to obtain.

Thus we come into life on "unequal footing". The text then teaches that we cannot work our way into a better place. No pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. We can obtain a right standing with our Creator only by his grace and our faith in the Incarnation.

How un-American is this passage. What a stumbling block it is to our way of thinking. Also how amazing that tomorrow is July 4. Maybe the stumbling block was laid in Zion but we can still trip over it in Texas.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Romans 9:1-18; Shaped by Mercy

Two thoughts seem to wrestle in my mind for preeminence when I read this section.

First, the question comes to me of "do I care this deeply for the people around me?" Paul was willing to be cursed so that others might know Christ. Do I feel the same? Do I have this depth of mercy and concern for others, especially others that I do not know personally? I stand convicted before the text.

Second, I'm back to the issue of working again. My right to stand justified before God and claim sonship is not based upon my effort or desire; my "being fit enough" to stand before God is totally a gift from him. What right do I have to pride? What right do I have to think that I have achieved anything?

So between those two thoughts, I start this day humbled. I am very blessed to be who I am and that should shape me into a man of mercy.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Romans 8:28-39; Perspective

This week I've talked to a student whose mother died of a stroke when he was in high school, another whose grandfather just died, another whose sister just finished drug rehab and a friend whose mother is in the hospital due to a stroke. So reading "In all things God works for the good of those who love him" just seems to sound odd today.

Then I keep reading and he compares us to Christ, an itinerant man of God who was abused and murdered, and he says we are like sheep to be slaughtered. Those are not very comforting but they are corrective to the misunderstanding that being a Christian makes everything end like a fairytale.

It seems that in the spiritual realm, it is impossible to be more secure in God's hands than we are at present. From his perspective, we are totally cared for. Yet from an physical view, it might still seem quite rough at times.

It is so hard to maintain God's point of view in a broken physical world. Death, sickness, injustice and frustrations scream at us. Yet in the long-term view, they are bumps in the road and not the end of the road. Even death is not the end of the road. For those called by God, he is the end of the road . . . and that confidence changes all perspective.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Romans 8:18-27; Waiting

After reading this section three times all I can hear is John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change" playing through my mind. He sings of being powerless and waiting for change to come. So much of this text speaks of the same thing. Creation is subjected and anxious for change. We are striving to patiently wait for redemption. Even our prayer life is incomplete and we must let the Spirit lead us in it.

All my life I've been active and worked hard. Waiting patiently for change is not a description of who I am. In fact, it has often been something that those who have shaped me despised. Perhaps that is because waiting patiently in hope is different from being lazy and distant, though on the outside they might look similar. Yet for me, waiting is work. Waiting patiently takes effort.

I can hear Moses say to the Israelites on the side of the Red Sea as they were being hemmed in by the Egyptians, ". . . you need only to be still." (Ex. 14:14) So today I will work at not working out my spiritual issues. I'll focus my activity on being still before God and waiting for the world to change.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Romans 8:1-17; Spirit Mind

Often I have read this and walked away understanding that we should not live according to the sinful nature. Yet, there is much more being said.

To live by the sinful nature is not a reference to those who gave up on God and turned their lives over to sin. Those were dealt with in chapter one. This is a discussion of each of us who tries to live for God and fails. We often fail because of the way we go about it. Trying to please him based upon doing a list of things to avoid is destined to fail; all it does is focus my thoughts upon what not to do. Then my mind is stuck with negative thoughts and images. It consumes and controls me. The end result is a mind that is "hostile to", "does not submit to" and "cannot please God." All of those are the exact opposite of what I seek by all my efforts in following the rules in the first place!

The text is pushing me to be spirit led. This sounds so ethereal and mystic. Yet Paul says that it involves the control of my mind, living out the righteous requirements of the law in my body and understanding my identity as a beloved child of God rather than a fearful servant trying to live up to a standard.

How counter-intuitive. All that is in me thinks that improvement should come through working harder at completing steps or a list. The text says that improvement comes through a mind and body controlled not be me but by the Spirit of God. My job is focusing upon the lead of the Spirit; the Spirit's job is to control my heart and mind.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Romans 7:14-25; Wretched

Yesterday was an irritating day. It was not a disaster day where major calamity strikes but it was one of those days when everything feels like it keeps going wrong. My father's example of how to handle those days was to get angry. All day I felt a struggle to not respond in anger to multiple situations. I was doing well until someone personally hurt me. Then my ability to handle the little irritations collapsed and my anger rose to the surface.

The text says "what a wretched man I am". Truly that is the feeling when life becomes an internal battle between what I know I want to do and what I seem programed to do. The great consolation that I hold on to is that this will not always be the case. Today I will choose whom I serve and I know that in my Divine Father's eyes he sees me as rescued from the poor example put in me years ago.

I can't get rid of the "wretched man" feeling by my efforts -- that just leads to more frustration. I will live today rejoicing in gratitude of the fact that God does not see me as wretched. I will live relieved.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Romans 7:7-13;

The text seems to agree with the old adage "rules were made to be broken." It is amazing to us that when we find a door locked, our curiosity explodes wanting to know what is behind it. When the road marker tells us the speed limit, we set our cruise control three miles per hour faster than the indicated number. When we are told "you can't", we automatically ask "why?"

The question I ask myself is which moral line is it that I am most drawn towards? Paul used the example of covetousness; perhaps it was something which he personally dealt with. What would my example be? Perhaps I would have written the same. In our materialistic society, covetousness speaks loudly. Obviously it is a limit many of us are drawn to or the US consumerist culture would collapse. Yet I have to wonder what would be the top of my list. Pride. Anger. Negativism. Lack of respecting the image of God in all people. Perhaps I would have written about one of those.

The main issue has to be staying aware of the power of the attraction to the limits.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Romans 7:1-6;

Who is your spouse? The text sees us as wed to either law or Christ. It is an intriguing perspective. Marriage produces changed behavior, traditions, and a lifestyle. Living married to legality and living married to grace both produce changed behavior. I think the hard part is that we are so accustomed to rules in life that we are comfortable with a spiritual life of rules. I don't know if we are comfortable with a spiritual life of relationship only.

The book UnChristian claims that statistically there is no difference in most Christian behavior and that of unchristians. Similarly this text says that "sinful passions" are "aroused by the law". It seems that by teaching the "thou shalt nots" too vehemently, the church has actually gone down the wrong path. The passions inflamed by restrictions work against the end goal of legal teaching. I know that if I focus on "don't, don't, don't" then all I think of is "do, do, do".

Yet my marriage is not based on a list of restrictions my wife gives me. It is based upon a deep concern to live out life to the fullest with her in ways that bless and encourage her. It is about living in a way that brings out the best in both of us. Neither tells the other to fulfill a list of restrictions each day; both of us want to live in ways that bring the other joy.

So the key is truly being in love with your spouse. Hence the key to spiritual life is being in love with Jesus. How sad that church arguments, questions about sin and issues of dogma rarely ask the question of what would bring joy to my spiritual spouse?

May I live under that question and no legal restrictions today.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Romans 6: 15-23; At the Alter

I had to read this section a few times; the slave imagery does not resonate with my experience. Probably that is to my detriment when it comes to fully understanding what God is saying here.

It seems that when we boil down any action in life, it either served good or evil. Every thought, every word serves to promote good or evil. I am not independent of the other forces in this universe. I am not autonomous and in control. Rather I am part of a great play whose movement I influence with my life. What autonomy I have comes only in choosing whom to serve. I get the privilege of offering myself to someone whether God or Satan.

To change my North American mindset and truly live out intentional choice in all I do will take effort. When I am angry at someone, the way I respond is an offering to good or evil. When I am depressed, the words that come out of my mouth are an offering to one or the other. When I am overjoyed, the way I show it is an offering to God or Satan.

My prayer is that when I finish this day and look back, I will find that I spent my day kneeling before the correct alter.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Romans 6:1-14; Offerings

The idea of new life continues to jump off the pages at me. For years I read this thinking of the next life. Somehow I think many of us hear the message of "we die to sin so that after we physically die we will have a new life." I don't think that is at all what he is talking about. Paul is concerned with how people are living in the here and now. He is concerned with their actions today and what living for God looks like 24/7. If that is the case, then "new life" is not about some ethereal experience yet to come. It is about a new experience now.

If the "body of sin is done away with" already, then this new life must be ongoing at this moment. Either that, or we are dragging around dead bodies with us. Honestly, I think that is the way many Christians are perceived, i.e., dragging around death and decay rather than overflowing with life.

The "master" language grabs me here. To whom do I "offer" myself as a sacrifice? The text says "do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but offer yourselves to God. . ." Every action today will be an offering. Every choice, every thought, every word, every behavior will be an offering to one of two gods. Tomorrow morning when I look back at the last 24 hours, my composite offering will tell me whom I truly serve and if I truly lived . . . or just dragged around death for another day.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Romans 5:12-21; Life

The concept is repeated three times, i.e., "reign in life", "brings life for all", and "bring eternal life." Paul was convinced that following Christ meant life. He proclaims it to be the way to be accepted by God and be truly alive.

So how did we as Christians get the reputation of being dull negative rule keepers? I haven't seen research that says we are viewed by society as the people that really enjoy life. I don't read books about how we are viewed as exuberant. Where are the movies that portray followers of Christ as truly alive as opposed to negative, legalistic and hypocritical, e.g., Golden Compass and Angels & Demons for example?

I am tired of hearing churches pursue the silver bullet of evangelism. It seems that congregation after congregation is looking for the one method of how to reach the world for Jesus. In my lifetime the trends include bus ministries for kids, various revival meetings, door knocking campaigns, youth centers, bigger-flashier buildings, TV evangelism, small group ministries, etc. All of those are good things but none will be "THE" thing that reaches society.

How about this for an "outreach method" -- what if every follower of Christ really was one. What would "church" look like if every follower was so plugged in to Jesus that they were overflowing with life. No fears, no pessimism, no rule pounding just life.

So today it starts with me. Here's to life, the true sign of connection to the giver of all life. (Teilhard de Chardin - "Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God."

Monday, May 31, 2010

Romans 5:1-11; What drives me?

It seems that we as humans are motivated by different things. Wealth drives industry and Wall Street. Power is a driving force in areas like government, personal relationships, sports, and others. In the west it seems that sexual gratification either drives people or linked to the wealth and power. Others are driven by anger, fear, altruism or who knows what. Yet it seems safe to say that each of us is responds to our world out of our driving force. For Paul, that force was hope.

Hope of reconciliation and hope of an ongoing relationship with God gives us reason to rejoice in the good times and reason to endure in the bad. When put on trial by Jews and Gentiles alike, Paul defended himself saying he was on trial because of the hope of Israel.

When others look at me, I wonder what they conclude about the driving force in my life? Is it obvious that hope in a relationship with God motivates me or am I so North American that I don't stand out from anyone driven by money, sex or power? Is there so much fear or so much of the American dream in me that hope is not even a consideration when others try to figure me out?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Romans 4:18-25; Faith

Over time it seems we make being a follower of Christ something that is about our ability to perform. It becomes all about how good I am. Like it or not, I am just wired to focus on how I behave and, therefore, on how others behave also. Yet, everything in this passage is not about behave but rather about believe.

It was Abraham's belief that caused him to behave in ways totally incongruent with the facts. He knew his behavior could never result in a child at his age. Yet, he believed anyway. It seems to be a child-like trust he had in God. It was a trust that decided to believe even though every reason and behavior said otherwise.

We all act on faith; no matter who we are. We act on our faith in the laws of nature, or in our experience or in trusted people. Truly life comes down to faith in the right entity. Rather than have faith in his eyes and understanding of life, Abraham chose faith in an unseen God.

May I choose wisely and faithfully today.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Romans 4:9-17; Who is really "in"?

Paul struggled to help the "in group" (Jewish community) realize that they would never be "in" because of their Jewishness. He was preaching against nearly two millennium of different understanding. Yet his words are so timely for the hear and now. Here is what it sounds like to substitute the words "church / unchurched" for "circumcised / uncircumcised".

Romans 4: 9Is this blessedness only for the churched, or also for the unchurched? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was churched, or before? It was not after, but before! 11And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still unchurched. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been churched, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12And he is also the father of the churched who not only are churched but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was churched.

How hard it is to not think that we are acceptable because we are churched. We have the rules down, we know how we are supposed to act and we have confirmation from God that he established this community. Those are the exact same things that the Jews once said about themselves.

It produces a "we've got it right" attitude that is a turn-off to every unChristian person seeking God by faith. Perhaps when it is all said and done, God will have to demonstrate more mercy to the "in crowd" than we, the "in crowd", believe he must show to those who are outside.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Romans 4:1-8; Different accounting

For all of us who constantly scream that life is not fair, this section echos back "amen". And its a good thing too. If life were fair, we would all be in trouble. In fact, we are in spiritual trouble. So God came up with a new game that does not depend upon "fair treatment based upon behavior" but rather faith.

Now the system is that God gives us credit ahead of time and does not count errors. What a system, i.e., nothing negative and additional points to start.

I am amazed at how I tend to draw back into a rule based religion even when I know it is not best for me. Somehow we are programed to think that we must act perfectly rather than act lovingly. My prayer today is to walk in a relationship with God based onhim choosing me rather than walk as if I were trying to be good enough to obtain a relationship with God.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Romans 3:21-31; Faith only

My wife and I had a long conversation yesterday about church attendance. It was the "does this count" conversation. Is it church when you go to a devo, small group, house church, etc? It seems that most of us Christians have exchanged a focus on living out faith in Christi Monday through Saturday with showing up at a location on Sunday. Somehow being in a building on Sunday has become synonymous with being a Christian. In order to embrace that belief we prioritize one hour on Sunday over all other behavior. Perhaps worse we substitute one action over the internal work of the Holy Spirit in a believer's life. I think Paul would argue that we have gone back to observing law over holding to faith. We have reverted to evaluating each other based upon an unwritten rule rather than looking at the heart and soul of a person to see how shaped in the image of God they are.

How hard it is to not only live by faith but to use only the rule of faith to evaluate all of life.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Romans 3:9-20; Not-good-enough

It sounds so harsh, this section which concludes that we are all under sin. We are all lumped together as losers, failures and not-good-enough. As I read through I asked myself, "Are we really that bad?"

Then it hit me. I am exactly the kind of person this was written for. When I start to view my self as "almost-good-enough" rather than "not-good-enough", I start to move away from God and focus upon myself. When I think that I have it all together spiritually, then I am not together with God.

I am exactly the person this was written to. A person who prefers to think that most of the time I can handle life and even excel. Yet, all it really takes is one crisis or sometimes just a bump in the road to reveal that this is not true.

Hence my need to look at a standard, i.e., the revealed will of God. And at the same time a clear explanation of why I, like so many others, often avoid looking at a standard at all.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Romans 3:1-8; Entrusted

"You have been entrusted with the very words of God." Paul starts out the chapter with a perspective that it is an honor to be Jewish. Of all the nations, they had received special privilege. They had received the revelation of God.

Throughout the centuries people have died to preserve it, been tortured for putting it into the vernacular, and mistreated for mishandling it. Though many of those actions were unjust and did not represent the God who gave the revelation, it does indicate the value of the revelation itself. What other entity on earth has been held in such esteem?

As a young missionary I was placed my Bible under my chair while in a meeting. A visitor who was not a Christian regaled me for the action. How could the teach put the word of God on the ground? How could a missionary show such little respect for the revelation? I did not commit the error twice.

Yet I have to question if my attitude towards the revealed will of God looks any different from an unbelievers? Do my actions demonstrate that I cherish and esteem the revelation that God gave to humankind? Do my actions line up with my beliefs which I base upon this revelation? Or am I simply content to keep a book out of the dirt but not hold it in my heart?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Romans 2:25-29; Heart

How did we get so out of sync with the Biblical concept of the heart? Somehow we made serving God all about following a list of ideas. We have classes where we condemn the Jews in general and the Pharisees in particular; then we go out the door and do the same thing. We believe we can put together a list of proper behaviors that will make God happy with us. We don't believe that God really wants our heart.

In marriage we know this is a stupid idea. Even in business we give seminars to help improve the work environment via improved attitudes. Yet somehow we have a default drive in us that reduces a relationship with deity to a list of actions that we check off.

God told Solomon a long time ago that he looks at the heart and not the externals. Today my goal will be the same, i.e., to practice Godly vision by looking at the heart and not just the external appearance. I will try to be accepting of all who let their hearts be circumcised by God's spirit and sync my heart with God's.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Romans 2:17-24; Hard teachings

I wonder what this section would sound like to North American Christians today? Maybe it would like this.

"Now you, if you call yourself a Christian and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you grew up in Sunday school; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, a teacher of infants because you have in the Bible the embodiment of knowledge and truth -- you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you cheat on your taxes? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you lust after other people's spouses? You who abhor false religion, do you keep your own free from nationalism? You who brag about the Bible, do you actually try to live every aspect of your life by it? As it is written, "God's reputation is smeared among unbelievers because of you."

Rather than taking this as a rallying cry for preaching, I pray that I take it as a personal cry for repentance. May I live today so that God's reputation is honored among unbelievers because of me.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Romans 2:12-16; With or Without

"So what happens to the guy living in the deepest jungle that never hears about Jesus? What happens to him at judgment?"

How many times have I heard that question? How many times have I even asked it myself?

Paul doesn't get too bent out of shape about it. As a Jew converted to Christianity, that question had been discussed thousands of times. The Jews had the law and the Creator would judge them by that revelation. Those who did not have the blessing of the revealed law would be judged by their consciences, hearts and thoughts.

For Paul it was daily reality. He was dealing with the people about whom the question was asked. Yet most of the times that I have heard the question it was not dealing with reality. The poser of the question had no interaction with anyone in a jungle nor any concern about them. It usually is a question posed in order to accomplish the childish goal of screaming "not fair". When caught in the act, my kids always seemed to point at each other and ask "what about him?" It is simply a smokescreen tactic for most of us. It keeps us from feeling as guilty about our own failure to obey.

Yet for me today the question needs not be "what about him" but rather "what about me?" I know plenty. I not only have the revelation to which Paul referred but also the ongoing revelation of God through New Testament men, history and the world around me. So rather than project smokescreens I should ask "what about me? Am I obedient to what I know already?"

Friday, April 16, 2010

Romans 2:1-11; Seeking

The concept of wrath flows over into this section. Yet again, Paul does not paint God as being an angry divinity waiting to jump on us all. Rather, wrath comes only upon those who have rejected God and decided to be self-seeking.

I seems from the passage that Bob Dylan was right in his old song. "You're gonna have to serve somebody. Well it may be the devil or it may be the Lord but your gonna have to serve somebody." The scripture does not come out and say we would actually serve the devil; however, it does parallel serving self with seeking evil.

So when it is all said and done, everybody is a seeker, either of self (which results in evil) or of God. There are only two options at the end of the day. No doubt everyone wants the end of glory, honor and immortality. Yet the question is am I willing to seek God rather than self in order to get there?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Romans 1:18-32; Giving up

The section starts out talking about the wrath of God. Not a popular concept. Somewhere along the way, God followers accepted the cultural mandate that wrath is always bad. If wrath is bad and God has it, then God is bad or so goes the logic. Yet I raise two questions.

First, is it always bad? Is it appropriate in the right circumstances? Is it appropriate for a father to be wrathful when he learns that his child has been molested? Is it appropriate for a mother to express wrath when she learns that her son was killed by a drunk driver? Is it proper for anyone to feel wrath when they are robbed of years of work and savings? I think we would all agree that it is appropriate; so why do we believe a God who has been wronged should never experience or express the same?

Second, I raise the question of what is God's wrath anyway? We envision the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah or tidal waves and lightning bolts. Yet, that is not what is said in these verses. Here, the wrath of God is pulling back his aid to let humanity do what it wanted anyway. It is "giving them over" or "giving up on" his creation. It is the father saying to his child, "OK, if that's what you want, I'll let you go do it but the consequences are all yours."

I think C. S. Lewis was write in the Great Divorce when he said, "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Romans 1:8-17; By Faith

Two sections stand out to me. First, Paul calls God himself as a witness to Paul's faithfulness in prayer for the people of Rome that he has not yet met. What a conviction to pray. How often to I tell someone "I'll pray for you" and then forget? How easy it is to not be diligent in praying for even those I love.

Then Paul makes the statement that "in the gospels a righteousness from God is revealed; a righteousness that is by faith from first to last. Just as it is written the righteous will live by faith."

I grew up reading the gospels and hearing the story over and over. Yet somehow I heard it not as the revelation of a life of faith but as how to perfectly live in order to fulfill requirements. I heard it as the new law. It was still a law but it was a better one than the previous Old Testement. Yet Paul refers to it as revelation. The revelation of a new way to live that is totally unrelated to law.

Reading Paul's comment makes me want to repent. It makes me want to start over. To read and re-read the story until it is clearer to me that this in not a "how to" manual for perfect life before a lawmaking God but rather this is the revelation of the righteousness from God to us.