Friday, October 30, 2009

Words with Power

Suggested Bible Reading: Mark 1:21-28

Jesus shut him up: “Quiet! Get out of him!”
Mark 1:25 (The Message)

Isn’t it interesting that the first healing, found in the gospel of Mark, is one where Jesus expels a demon that has found a home in the synagogue? Having arrived in Capernaum Jesus heads immediately to the synagogue and begins teaching. Right there smack in the middle of the synagogue, where they gathered for the Sabbath, the first recognition of Jesus’ identity comes from a demon. The encounter sets the stage for the drama that increasingly unfolds as Jesus begins his ministry. The demons consistently recognize the power of a Jesus spoken word.

If we’ve lived any length of time, we have experienced varying degrees of difficulties. Usually, just when I’m setting the table for a good pity party for one, along comes a “perspective” story. It’s always a story of someone else’s difficulties that simply ruins my well laid table of self pity! Of course, I shouldn’t be having pity parties to begin with; Jesus doesn’t want to be a guest at my pity party. He wants to heal, inside out.

When we find ourselves with issues that “drive us insane”, problems that “torment us”, or worries that “plague us” Jesus willingly speaks into our turmoil, “Quiet! Get out of her.” These are the words that will drive out the “demons”, heal us from the inside out, restoring our inner peace.

Thought of the day: Where in my life do I need the words of Jesus, “Quiet! Get out of her”?

Jesus, thank you that you have the authority
to speak the words, “Quiet! Get out of her!”,
bringing me healing from the inside out.
Amen.
Artwork--Man with the Unclean Spirit, Ian Pollack, EICH Gallery

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Prayer Wrestling

Suggested Bible Reading: Genesis 32:22-32

And Jacob was left alone.
And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.

Genesis 32:24

A personality type exists that is relentless. They will convince, coerce, cajole - with one goal - to get what they want. Parents of children with this personality type are worn down, employers become frustrated, spouses irritated. But, there is a flip side. The “positive” of this “negative” is one who possesses a determination to succeed, leadership skills and an unusual ability to stay focused on the goal.

Jacob perfectly demonstrates this personality. At an early age he tricked his father, cheated his brother and turned the tables on his father-in-law Laban. He made a number of people angry. Now Jacob even takes on God! He’s one gutsy guy! But, his “negative” does become a “positive.”

True, Jacob’s life is full of perfect illustrations of how NOT to live, but the scene that unfolds here is one of a man “prayer wrestling.” Much like the blessing he received from his father, Isaac, Jacob is determined to get what he wants—God’s blessing. His tenaciousness, leads him to an all night wrestling match with God, which results in permanent injury!

Prayer wrestling—it’s something to think about. God never tires of hearing from us. Jacob is our proof, and who knows what our results will be!

Thought of the Day: When I pray, how intentional and focused am I about specific issues?
God of blessings, thank you for your strength.
Help me to not be afraid to spend time wrestling with you.
Amen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's a Day Off

Check in tomorrow as I will begin posting again! Thanks for reading! Valerie

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Taking a Day Off

Just wanted to let you know that today (Tuesday) and tomorrow (Wednesday) I will not be posting anything. Please check back on Thursday! Thank you so much for you support by reading this blog. I appreciate you all very much. Valerie

Friday, October 23, 2009

God-Glory Moments

Suggested Bible Reading: Exodus 33:12-23

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
 Exodus 33:14

Moses had not easily accepted his responsibility. Picked by God from his birth, for a destiny he never imagined, Moses knew first hand the range of emotions and experiences that result from obeying God. Initially there had been heart stopping, God-glory moments when he and the other Israelites first escaped Egypt. But as the days and weeks passed, the unending desert vistas began to take their toll. Now, Moses chosen by God for a task which seemed to highlight his inadequacies, heard daily, thousands of whining and complaining voices.

Moses talks to God, doing his own bit of whining and complaining. In the middle, however, of Moses’ “further mores” God stops him, assuring him of his presence. It isn’t a promise of rescue from the difficulties or a commitment to making it all better, just a promise that God is in the desert.

Despite all that Moses had seen of God’s glory in the desert, when it got tough he needed assurance that God was still there. God doesn’t scold but gives Moses a God-glory encounter like he has never experienced.

It’s this God that goes with us every day, even when we feel he his distant. It is perhaps in those most desperate of times that we hear his voice most keenly, because in our questioning, and our heart’s desire to know, we listen more intently.

Thought of the day: What God-glory moment have I experienced?

Help me to know your presence every day.
When my day is dry, lead me to water.
When I am weary, help me hear, “I will give you rest.”
Amen.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Reading Blueprints

Suggested Bible Reading: I Corinthians 3:10-13

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.

Psalm 127:1

A builder stands in an open field and sees houses, a business park, playground, a hospital. Those passing by do not see the detailed blueprints, environmental reports or contracts made with building “specialties.” Eventually crawling, viciously toothed yellow monsters appear, digging, scraping, preparing the land. At the center of the entire project is the builder/architect. The project’s success depends on no one working independently from the blueprints and the builder/architect who knows how it will all come together.

God sees the great potential for another open field, our life. And yet, often we build our lives without “reading” his blueprints. We may “doing” everything a “good” Christian should and yet we are not content with the outcome. The curb appeal of what we’ve built with our lives looks great but on closer inspection our construction is not up to code.

Whether in our personal lives, the life of a community or family, when we build according to our own blueprints we will not be satisfied. Learning how to read God’s blueprints takes time, but the resulting beauty is breathtaking.

Thought for the day: What does it mean to learn how to “read” God’s blueprints for my life?

Jesus, too often I live by my own plans and desires of how I want people to see me.
Forgive me, Jesus.
Teach me to read your blueprints and become Your masterpiece.
Amen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Child's View

Dear Friends, I am "playing around" with the format a little of our devotionals, adding a suggested extended Scripture reading as well as a "thought for the day." Your comments would be welcome!

Suggested Bible reading: Mark 10:13-16

…whoever does not receive the kingdom of God, like a child, shall not enter it.

Mark 10:15

We were locked out of the house! Tears puddling, my small niece tentatively asked, “Aunt Val, how are we going to get back in?” Gathering her up, I asked, “Do you trust me to take good care of you and find a way back in the house?” Nodding her head and griping my outstretched hand we walked away from the locked door and towards a plan of action. She never again asked how my task would be accomplished. Instead, she went about her play, confident that I would do what I had promised.

A child’s trust is humbling. No wonder Jesus used it as a point of reference for spiritual maturity. Children have the ability to believe what they cannot understand. Somewhere adults lose this gift; turning believing into a challenge. With each downturn come the questions—why did it happen, how will we survive, what next?

Being ignorant or na├»ve isn’t a Jesus follower requirement. Instead, Jesus gives us a picture of believing, that in spite of not knowing how or why, when God promises that he will “deliver them out of all their troubles” (Psalm 34:17b) we can look into his face, grip his hand and keep living.

Thought for the day: What am I facing presently where I need faith like a child?

Jesus, help me to never outgrow the spiritual gift of a “childish” trust in You.
Amen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Vote for Change

“Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here.
Change your life and believe the Message.”

Mark 1:15 (The Message)

“Vote for change” are familiar words during an election year. In a world that changes faster than our ability to keep up, we keep looking for the “change” that will make everything better. Whether it’s a “change” that takes us back to some point where we felt comfortable or “change” that takes us out of our discomfort, we want “change” to keep us within our comfort zone.

“Change” shouldn’t happen just for the sake of changing. What Jesus wants isn’t “change” just for “change” sake. When Jesus preaches about the good news that God’s Kingdom is now, he’s talking about a “change” with one goal in mind—life itself.

When Peter and Andrew, James and John leave the only life they know to follow Jesus, they chose a new life. Their choice of “change” brought financial instability, not only to themselves, but to those who depended on them. What went through their minds as they changed their lives, we’ll never know. But through the gospels we see that their change choice radically altered their lives and ultimately has changed the course of millions of lives. It was a change for growth and life in God’s kingdom.

When we follow Jesus we must be ready for life-change. The disciples were on the forward move with Jesus, the message of the Kingdom was the constant, but the life lived was always growing.

To grow in Christ, literally “be in Christ” requires a “vote for change” to live life in God’s Kingdom. It won’t always be “comfortable”, but, guaranteed it will be a life richer and much more fulfilling.

Jesus, change is not very comfortable.
By choosing your Kingdom life I know that my life cannot stay the same.
A vote for change means allowing you to do with me what you will.
As uncertain as it is, I choose life in your Kingdom
.

Amen.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Living Unbound

“Unbind him, and let him go.”
John 11:44c

Jesus didn’t just give life to dead Lazarus. Before Lazarus could live, he had to first be unbound. True freedom came when, unbound by the restraints, Lazarus could move every joint, every muscle, every limb, freely. Until then, he couldn’t get out and live his new life.

I once heard a preacher talk on living the resurrected life. Using this chapter from John, he encouraged his listeners to live out the Lazarus story, believing that Jesus could do the same in their lives. They may have been beaten down, trampled on, discouraged, feeling like death itself, but Jesus could speak into their “dead” lives “Lazarus, come out.”

I needed to hear this good word. But Jesus’ final words are what hit home. Absolutely! Living the resurrected life is available if we believe, but there’s a key essential that has to happen to fully enjoy it. Jesus must first unbind all the straps that keep us bound up.

These straps could be a variety of different things and they change, depending on the context. In a church it may be certain events, structures or traditions that bind up the resurrected life. Individually it may be attitudes, desires or fears that keep one tied up unable to live the new life.

Whatever the straps, Jesus says, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Yes, He wants all his followers to live a resurrected life, unbound by anything that keeps things status quo. Because you see, living a resurrected life is to live a new life.

Jesus, thank you for the gift of a resurrected life.
Help me to live in that new life by speaking the words,
“Unbind him, and let him go.”
Amen.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Be a Lucy

He handed out gifts of…evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s
followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re
all moving rhythmically and easily with each other.

Ephesians 4:11-12 (The Message)

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis explores the biblical truth of individuals being given various gifts that in turn allow them to move rhythmically and easily with each other. Aslan has the power to do anything and everything and yet he gives to Edmund, Peter, Susan and Lucy gifts that ultimately are used to help restore Narnia.

Aslan’s gift to Lucy is a small crystal vial. At the time, Lucy has no idea how to use what she’s been given, but soon discovers that a single drop heals wounds, mends the broken and brings to life the beaten down. All that is required of her is to put to use what Aslan has given. Having the “right” words, the “right” answers are not necessary, only being a presence beside the wounded, giving them the vial’s healing drops.

How does this relate to Jesus followers and working within Christ’s body, the church? At some level we’re all called to be a “Lucy.” When we responded to the words, Follow Me a “spiritual vial” was placed in our hands. With every sermon, every Bible study, every prayer, every verse memorized our “spiritual vials” are being filled. Like Lucy, what is required of every one of us is to generously spread the healing ointment we have been given.

It is not a Biblical absolute for just “some of us” to be Lucys, but an absolute for all of us who hold in our hands a “spiritual vial” because we answered Jesus’ call, Follow Me.

Jesus, forgive me when I put on “others” the responsibility to
care for the hurting.
Through your life you have given me the gift to heal
by bringing those that mourn into your presence.
Amen.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Making Camp

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

One college summer I decided to memorize Psalm 139. I can’t remember why this particular psalm except that I liked the idea of being known before I was born. Along with memorizing, I would journal my thoughts and pray over the sections. I never anticipated my life being radically changed.

Writer Diana Clancy talks about knowing something so well it “makes camp in you.” The same holds true with memorized verses. When a verse “makes camp in you” it settles in for the duration of one’s life. Turning ten, my parents challenged me to memorize 32 verses in the book of Proverbs. As each verse “made camp” I would say them to my mother telling her what I thought it meant. To this day, those verses are still camping.

Be careful, however, what verses you want to make camp! Anticipate that if you take on a verse about life change, life changing events will happen. If its verses about God’s forgiveness know that confession is around the corner. Expect when you set out to make camp with some verses for God to show up!

My college summer and the end of Psalm 139 coincided. As these verses made camp I kept being reminded of thoughtless words spoken to specific individuals, one whom I hadn’t talk to in over a year. I had been searched and found grievous!

Looking up the individual that kept joining my camp site, I apologized. Fortunately I was forgiven because as it turned out, God did show up and we were married a year later.

God, my heart is open to you.
Search me.
My thoughts are muddled.
Know me.
Show me what has hurt you.
Forgive me.
Lead me, God, to your glory.
Amen.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pray, Study, Do

Pray for us, for we are sure that we
have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.


Hebrews 13:18

When making a decision there’s nothing like a conscience free of doubt or misgivings. But it seems that these days it is more and more difficult to maintain a clear conscience as we are faced with decisions and choices that are troubling. From encounters with neighbors to co-workers to work ethics to church politics we come up against issues that cause us to take a double think about our reactions. Are our intentions truly honorable or do they reside in the muck of self preservation?

Perhaps we’ve been blamed for a broken relationship, a misunderstanding at work, an unrealized expectation or we have been unjustly accused and we wrestle with our conscience as to how we should respond. At times like these wouldn’t it be nice if God would just speak, audibly, letting us know if the decisions we’re making are good ones?

As Jesus followers it’s a frequent necessity to call in-check our “instinctive” reactions. Unfortunately, we live under the cloud of “human nature” whose instincts or more along the line of the category of “sin.” And, it’s for this reason, that we must check ourselves, listening to the voice of God through the truths of Scripture. It’s always amazing how little “human nature” has altered.

Life is full of checks and balances. But for the Jesus follower, we have the perfect scale. To gain a clear conscience and live a life that is honorable means taking the time to pray, study and learn the biblical truths, fighting against what may come “naturally.” But, sometimes we’re also called to do the hard thing and speak against sin proclaiming what we know to be God’s truth.


Jesus, forgive me when I respond to my “nature”
instincts instead of my “redeemed” ones. You
speak through the ministry of your life setting the guidelines in place.
These are what I want to keep me in check.

Amen.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Living in God's Arrangement

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.

Romans 12:1-2a (The Message)

One evening I was invited to dinner at the home of a retired architect and his wife. I looked forward to it because I had heard about his unique home. When I walked in it was evident he had a particular style.

As he walked us around the rooms, showing how he had put everything together, including an enormous billiards table in the middle of the living room, I was aware that his initial design had not changed one iota from the time he initially put it all together. He had even designed his environment without consideration of his wife—there was no dishwasher to be found in the kitchen because, “it didn’t work with my design.” I asked him, “Do you ever change anything around?” “Never. When I put something down, it stays there” He replied.

My host was so well adjusted to his culture that there were no allowances for anything new, whether it be a new arrangement of his furniture, a gift received from a friend or giving his wife her wish of a dishwasher.

As Jesus followers we can’t take anything for granted or become too settled in our “created” environments. Nothing in our lives is too mundane or unimportant for God to take an interest in and want control. Trying to achieve a sense of security, we, like my host, set up our inner houses in a way that we find comfortable. We like it just the way it is. But God wants all our brick a brac, our collections of whatever is important to us, people, events, the traditions of our lives that we cling to as sacred. He makes no promises about keeping the arrangement of things the same.

There is a risk to not being “well-adjusted!” When we “fix our attention” on God or, in other words, open the front door and take him on a tour, it may be that he wants to move around the furniture so that you get a better view--of Him. He may want to get rid of some of the objects that keep you distracted and prevent you from accepting the gifts he wants to give. He may even find, that what you thought kept you connected to him, is broken and out of order!

One night, my husband and I weren't able to attend the weekly Bible study we had for college students in our home. In total trust, we told the leaders to go ahead and meet in our home. When we walked in the door, later that evening, our equilibrium went haywire! Every piece of furniture, pictures, wall hangings, figurines, plants, everything had been moved slightly. It was unnerving.

So it can be when we totally embrace God’s life instead of our “created” one. We’ll be changed from the inside out, but the result, while initially uncomfortable, will ultimately be more pleasing. The next day I moved everything around and found the new arrangement very refreshing!

Jesus, help me to not become so settled in my life
that I miss the refreshment of living life in You.
Help me not to opt for security and sameness but
to trust that even though You move things around,
You know what is best for me.
Amen.

Monday, October 12, 2009

God's Breakfast

The angel of God…shook him awake…and said, “Get up and eat some more—you’ve got a long journey ahead of you.”
I Kings 19:7

Growing up, eating breakfast was mandatory before I took off to school but I ditched it in college and haven’t been a “breakfast eater” since! Later exercise took precedence over eating until one morning I set off on what ended up being a longer and more strenuous race walk than planned. Eight miles later, having had nothing to eat since the previous night’s dinner, I collapsed on a nearby patch of grass conscious that I had yet another mile to get home. I hadn’t prepared myself. The result was a body depleted and shaking.

Elijah had embarrassed the Baal prophets and Jezebel was threatening death and so running for dear life he collapses, falling asleep in the shade of a bush. But his running isn’t over and so the angel of God wakes him up in order to eat, even providing the food whose nourishment will, according to this account, last him forty more miles!

When we take a road trip our preparations usually include going to the store to purchase food staples. A road trip with God requires the same. The difference is that he will provide the food if we are willing to take the time to eat.

Daily “breakfasting” with God will get us down the road in better shape than if we skip the meal. But, it takes discipline. In Elijah’s exhaustion eating may have been last on his mind. I still don’t like eating breakfast, but eating it makes a huge difference in how I feel when the work out is particularly difficult.

Get up! Have breakfast with God! It’ll make a huge difference in your day.

Jesus, forgive me when I take on the day
without “breakfasting” with you.
No wonder I grow emotionally and spiritually tired!
Help me to not miss any of the meals you provide.
Amen.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Staying Power

This is is the final meditation on James and here are Eugene Peterson's final thoughts--According to church traditions, James carried the nickname "Old Camel Knees" because of thick calluses built upon his knees from many years of determined prayer. The prayer is foundational to the wisdom. Prayer is ALWAYS foundational to wisdom.


What a gift life is to those who stay the course!
You’ve heard, of course, of Job’s staying power,
and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end. That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail.

James 5:11 (The Message)
Frequently I flip to Job for reassurance; usually to chapter thirty-eight when God begins speaking to Job. While all the previous chapters lend their comfort in times of difficulty, God speaking out of a violent storm (The Message) shakes me because God claims his reality. The God who decided the earth’s size, hung the stars, and “orders the Morning, Get up!” has a thought for me as well.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson I am in the process of learning, is to thank God for life, period. It began a few years ago when in the midst of a debilitating time I literally would choke on the prayer, “thank you for today, thank you for my life.” There were days when the struggle was so fierce that I could barely say them in a whisper. I couldn’t say the day, but, there came the morning when, with ease, freedom and genuine thankfulness, I prayed these words boldly.

Job’s kind of staying power is impressive and there are definitely lessons to learn. It’s always good to hear, at the very end, how whatever Job had lost, was returned beyond his imagination. But, God’s storm talk holds the real promise during difficult times. And if, like Job, we listen closely, our only response will be like Job’s as well—“I’m convinced. You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plan.” Job 41:1 (The Message)

God is in the big picture. God is in the details.


Thank you, Father, for this day. Thank you for my life.
I am yours and you are mine.
Thank You for knowing the big and microscopic
of my life and bringing it together in a way
that brings glory to You.

Amen.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

It's Hard Work

Deep and living wisdom is on display here, wisdom both rare and essential. Wisdom is not primarily knowing the truth, although it certainly includes that; it is skill in living. For, what good is a truth if we don't know how to live it? Eugene Peterson (The Message: Commentary introduction for the book of James)

You can develop a healthy, robust community
that lives right with God and enjoy its results only
if you do the hard work of getting along with each other,
treating each other with dignity and honor.

James 3:18 (The Message)

Having “matured” into adulthood in the late 70’s my husband and I were fascinated with the idea of living in community. Influenced by Francis and Edith Schaeffer we dreamed of a home where a number of people would live, eat and worship together. And, for about five years we lived out that dream as we opened our home to a number of different full time and part time community “residents.” Everyone contributed to the life of our small community through cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning, and gardening, at least most of the time.

There were times when someone didn’t get in and do the hard work. Agreements that had been made when moving in were broken. Household jobs were left undone and places set at the table were empty. It was amazing how, when this took place, what had been a smooth and easy operation suddenly jerked and jolted along.

When we have the option to pick our friends, getting along isn’t all that difficult. But, put us into a church, a dorm, the workplace and we come face to face with individuals who are our polar opposites. And more often than not, we walk away because the effort to be in their space takes too much work.

James addresses his letter to a church and given the dynamics of relationships in many churches today, things haven’t changed that much. The strife and discord that exist in churches, government, school boards and such are because people just don’t want to do the hard work of getting along. The result is that very little gets done and there are lots of empty places at the table.

Jesus, which one of your disciples
did you “connect” with? They seemed as varied
as could be imagined and yet you brought them
together, teaching them the hard work of living in community.
Be my Teacher!
Amen.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

World's Tipping

The meditations on James will continue on Thursday. Blessings on your day.

Say to those who have an anxious heart,
be strong; fear not!

Isaiah 35:4a

Anxiety makes a visit almost everyday. Investment empires that were thought indestructible collapse and with them the “fortunes” of others. Lenders who invented unbelievable mortgages achieved their goals and now people close the doors of their “dream” home passing the foreclosure sign on the curb. Families who only drove by the local food bank now get their groceries there. Like rabbits, anxious hearts are multiplying.

Systems have a way of righting themselves when they have gotten out of whack. In the balancing everyone is affected in some way. What were deemed as rightful “creature comforts” suddenly are revealed as luxuries. Nothing escapes the jostle suddenly the “ignored” and “taken for granted” become priceless. When our “created” world rights itself, in order to achieve better balance, anxiety comes knocking.

God is a master at putting things in balance. From the beginning he’s had his work cut out for him as his Adam and Eve creation have raced to achieve and acquire for themselves. Unfortunately our ravenous appetites never seem to be replete and so throughout the centuries God has demonstrated his ability to balance what we have unbalanced.

All he has ever desired is for us to be content with the life he’s given. What is required of us is discovery of that life and to stop chasing a life he never intended. But, fear not! God loves you. If you’ve messed up and flown off the scales or been affected by someone else’s mess he will set the scales right. You can find contentment in the “new” life that he gives, if you keep your face in his.

Jesus, sometimes I feel as though my world
is disappearing. But, then I remember that what I
envisioned for myself may not be what you want for me.
Help me to be content with the life you intended.
Amen.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ghetto Action

Continuing on with our devotions in James, The Message has this to say, "The letter of James shows one of the church's early pastors skillfully going about his work of confronting, diagnosing, and dealing with areas of misbelief and misbehavior that had turned up in congregations committed to his care. Deep and living wisdom is on display here, wisdom both rare and essential." Eugene Peterson (The Message: commentary introduction to the book of James)

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this
if you learn all the right words but never do anything?

James 2:14 (The Message)

Our first impressions of people usually leave deep imprints. It’s why it makes it so difficult, later on, when we discover that the deeper recesses sometimes don’t remotely look like what we see on the outside. I remember meeting a woman who by her appearances, looked like a perfect Christian woman. She spoke the right words. Her church was central to her life. She was caring to individuals who needed her. But, as time went on, I noticed that everything she did was inwardly focused. There was never a time that I saw her reach out beyond the walls of her church. She talked a good Christian line but eventually it was evident that her actions didn’t match up.

Especially for those of us who have grown up in the church, Biblical truths can easily become just words. “Well we can’t really live that way,” becomes our excuse because the truth is, the “truths” we’ve learned are just too uncomfortable to live by. New converts are more likely to take literally the Sermon on the Mount, where religious Christians reason that Jesus’ teachings are simply metaphors or even “suggestions” on how to live.

We can go to our Bible studies, read our daily devotions, go to inspiring Christian seminars but all it becomes is a Christian hideout unless we get “out there”, taking our talk to the streets and see the difference it can make in the world’s ghetto.

Jesus, help me to live on the street, outside the protective church walls,
and be Christ to my community.
Amen.

Monday, October 5, 2009

This Glorious Life

Insiders see it (the church) differently. Just as a hospital collects the sick under one roof and labels them as such, the church collects sinners. Many of the people outside the hospital are every bit as sick as the ones inside, but their illnesses are either undiagnosed or disguised. It's similar with sinners inside the church. Eugene Peterson (The Message: Commentary introduction to the book of James)

My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence
how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith.

James 2:1

Once, while employed at a humanitarian non-profit, it became quickly apparent that I was one of a tiny handful of Christians. One evening, after orchestrating a huge fundraising event, several co-workers and I kicked off our shoes to wind down. With cigar smoke curling to the ceiling and beer cans popping around me, I was startled when I became the center of a religious interrogation. Between the jabs and pokes came serious questions and yet there was a general opinion that what I believed, was unbelievable. That evening set the stage for the remainder of my time at that organization.

The barrage of questions never stopped during the duration of my employment and they came most frequently when, alone, I was surrounded by a group of people who could render their opinions. I was watched, constantly. And, of course, there came that time when I lost my cool in a meeting and I witnessed the smirks of “you’re no better than us.”

I don’t really know what marks I left on my last day of employment 2 ½ years later. My prayer is, that in spite of my stumblings, I lived out my faith in Jesus Christ, gloriously.

There were times when I simply wanted to be just another ordinary employee, after all we were about “doing good.” But, then I would hear Jesus’ voice, calling me out of my wilderness, and I realized again that choosing the Jesus Way makes me anything but ordinary.

Jesus, you lived in a swirl of public opinion.
Thank you for showing me how I can live
my life in a glorious manner!
Help me each day to live out my uniqueness in You.
Amen.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Reflecting on James

From the Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible for the book of James--

We might think of James as one of the world's first spiritual directors. He grew up with Jesus and went on to help Christians of the world also to grow up with Christ. What you do matters, he says. Your attitudes toward yourself matter, and so does the way you treat the stranger in your midst, the solicitor at your door, the co-worker at your job. Jesus is within you and his power is only a prayer away. Open the small parts, the ordinary goings-on of your life, to him and count these the measure of your faith.

Personal Reflection
  • Whom have you known who has been to you a living picture of Christ?
  • How has the person changed the way you live?
  • William Law, an 18th century Anglican priest and spiritual director, wrote: If we are to be new people in Christ, then we must show our newness to the world. If we are to follow Christ, it must be in the way we spend each day. How will you spend today? Ask Jesus to make you new today and to make his presence with you like that of a brother, walking alongside you and showing you how to live newly in each ordinary moment.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Listening Presence

So Christian churches are not, as a rule, model communities of good behavior. They are, rather, places where human misbehavior is brought out in the open, faced, and dealt with. Eugene Peterson (The Message: Commentary introduction for the book of James)
Post this at all the intersections, dear friends:
lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue,
and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness
doesn’t grow from human anger.

James 1:19 (The Message)

When next you sit down and watch the news, particularly those that have a talking head with a panel of experts, watch how well they listen. Granted they are governed by the clock and so their experts must disseminate their vast knowledge in seconds, but the level of anger that often explodes seems to be a direct result of the lack of listening and the excess of talking.

Across the United States Christians and churches are suffering because of deaf ears and tongues in overdrive. With each news story we read about a church in crisis or our knowledge of a congregation struggling, the thread connecting them all is anger. Where and why the anger grew is varied, but, more often than not, it is a result of people’s unwillingness to listen more intently than they speak.

Our culture is angry. How then are we, as followers of Jesus Christ, supposed to live in this world and not let the world corrupt us? What the world sees, unfortunately, is “us” looking and acting exactly like “them.” James gives us at least one way we can be markedly different and it isn’t really anything new but a truth that isn’t practiced consistently and it is this: Listen before you speak. Listening allows God to speak and so bring about his righteousness in and through us.

Jesus, forgive me for the number of times
that I jump in with speech and so
water the seeds of anger.
Help me to be quick to listen and so bring
about God’s righteous glory.
Amen.