Wednesday, May 17, 2017

All

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

The Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to daughter Zion, "See, your salvation comes." - Isaiah 62:11

It is Jesus Christ who is the "Yes" to all of God’s promises. - 2 Corinthians 1:20 (GNT)

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 66:1-7; Proverbs 9:7-10:32; 1 Corinthians 15:3-16

Isaiah 62:11 and Psalm 66 both seek to cover the whole earth with God's word and God's praise. Wherever God's people are, God is there. Whatever promise of life God has begun, in every place, for every person, Christ fulfills it.
If you live in this general vicinity,
God loves you.

Thinking of these scriptures, and looking at an image of our planet from space, it strikes me that our human walls and borders and divisions are artificial and temporary. We focus on nations or "peoples," separated by every imaginable little difference. But God sees all people everywhere as valued and beloved children, each created uniquely in God's image.

Rather than walls and borders and divisions, God cares about the well-being of all those people, and about their relationships with God and with each other. The Bible's main narrative is the story of how God has created us for this togetherness, and how, when we get lost and separated and the relationships are strained or broken, God is active throughout the world to find us, bring us back, redeem us, reconcile us, restore us to wholeness.

My prayer today is about all people seeing each other as God sees us, and learning to give up our divisive human ways to seek God's ways instead.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight."
- Proverbs 9:10

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Justice and Order

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

"Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up," says the Lord; "I will place them in the safety for which they long." - Psalm 12:5

And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? - Luke 18:7

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 65:9-13; Proverbs 8:1-9:6; 1 Corinthians 14:36-15:2

There's a tension in today's scriptures. The daily verses clearly focus on justice for anyone whose life is constrained or limited by others, and over and over, the Bible shows God rising up and taking action against oppressors for the sake of those who need safety and freedom. On the same day, we read Paul's instruction to the Corinthian church that "all things should be done decently and in order," apparently including verses from yesterday that "women should be silent in the churches." Paul's appeal here is to order, and there are also plenty of places in the Bible that show God desiring and approving of order that gives peace and stability.

I think there always has been, and always will be, tension between justice and order. Both have benefits for human life, and both are associated with God's own character. Order calls for limits and boundaries. Justice calls for life and freedom for all people. There are times when efforts for order go too far, setting limits that are unfairly administered or unduly burdensome to certain people. And there are times when calls for justice can go too far, unnecessarily creating chaos that might make life worse for everybody.

It's good to remember that both justice and order are abstract concepts, but what's really important is life and love and relationship among God and human beings and the world. God is less concerned with beliefs and labels and ideas and things, and more concerned with people and relationships. With this in mind, we can always prioritize the concepts of justice and order beneath loving God and loving neighbor. We can strive for both justice and order, for a system that builds up life and liberty for all people in a peaceful, stable way.

Others may disagree, but I also see in the New Testament's witness to Jesus a preference for justice over order. With few exceptions (for example, overturning the moneychangers' tables in the temple) Jesus didn't focus on disrupting order. But his harshest criticisms were for those whose calls for order put harsh burdens on the lives of others. And in showdowns between tradition and even law against human need (for example, healing someone on a sabbath day), Jesus overwhelmingly went to tend to the people who needed his help and power. I think we can also strive for a system where order has a strong place, but is always trumped by the stronger place of justice.

There's a phrase in the Mount Carmel Ministries prayer for today that I think is helpful. The full prayer goes like this:
Merciful God, I thank you for granting justice to those who cry to you day and night—including me. Forgive me when I think you will not answer. Rise up and place the needy in the safety for which they long. Show me how to wisely increase your justice and safety for someone in need today. Amen.
I like the call for God's wisdom to "increase justice and safety," and I like that it's God's justice and safety we pray for. There's no doubt that the church, and the world, are better off for the growing place of women at all levels of the church. Paul's call for order eventually led to a system that was oppressive and exclusive, stifling the voices and wisdom and gifts of far too many women. In a turn toward justice, the church has found orderly ways to make a start at treating women as equal partners in the life of the church. God is obviously working through the lives and ministries of women who are local leaders, pastors, deacons, and bishops.

I hope we can take notice, and take action, in all areas of life, when our attempts at order go too far, and when God's emphasis on love and relationship call us to focus on justice. May we work every day to increase the justice God desires with the safety order provides.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Faithful

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever. - Psalm 40:11

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. - 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 65:1-8; Proverbs 7; 1 Corinthians 14:20-35

Psalm 40 is a psalm of thanks to God for deliverance from trouble, and it uses the image of God "setting my feet upon a rock" to talk about God's faithfulness in need. We all know how different kinds of ground can feel under our feet. Soft sand, hard to get any traction in; miry muck, wet and sticky, gluing your boots to the ground; loose gravel or shale, treacherously making your feet slip or roll. A solid rock is firm and reliable. It gives a sense of ease and confidence. From there, we can much more easily take off and go other places, do other things. Or we can make the rock a strong foundation for a permanent structure.

These are all good images of God's faithfulness. Life is risky, and it does involve a journey of growth and change over time. We need that faithfulness as our place to call home, to lean on, to come back and get our bearings, to keep us centered and safe.

Today's scriptures also focus on God's action. The journey is ours, and we can decide what direction to strike out in, what paths to choose, where to step and where to stand. But more active and dynamic than just a rock, God is with us all along the way. God oversees, guides, provides safety, reminds us of who we are and whose we are, even when we feel lost or unsafe or far from home. Like the photo of a church built on a rock, God provides not only a home base to which we can return, but a faith that goes with us everywhere. Even when we are weak in our own faith, God's faithfulness is strength for us.

My prayer today is for the comfort and peace and confidence of God's faithfulness for all who need it. In easy or hard times, at every stage of the journey, God is our strength.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Wedding Joy

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

There shall once more be heard the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing: "Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!" - Jeremiah 33:10

John the Baptist said, "The friend who attends the bridegroom is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete." - John 3:29 (NIV)

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 64; Proverbs 6; 1 Corinthians 14:6-19

Today's verses brought me joy, as I immediately thought of my own kids' weddings. As it happens, Sheryl was in Indiana today for Elise's bridal shower. And her wedding is five weeks from today. So the wedding theme is strong!

As the Bible uses wedding images to talk about abundant life for God's people, there is always a sense of community. The couple who are getting married are there, of course. But it wouldn't be a proper wedding unless there are also friends and attendants, family celebrating, people who are expected to sing aloud of love and joy and gratitude.

There's also a dimension of plenty. A wedding would be a huge event for the whole town, with feasting and drinking and singing and dancing and celebrating for days. The wedding of two well-known people might be the biggest event of the year, and it would be remembered for ages, setting the tone for their whole life together. It would make sense to start off with an abundance of everything.

But one of the main pieces is the presence of joy, and I love how today's verses connect that joy with voices: the bridegroom approaching, the vows of the couple, the words of scripture, the prayers and songs and laughter of family and guests. Everybody is just enjoying the love the couple has for each other.

That joy overflows past the day of the wedding and on into the marriage relationship. Everybody knows that relationships take real work, and that in years or decades together, not every day will be a perfect, joyful day. But the realness of the wedding day is a source of continuing light, an unbreakable connection with the promises of God and each other, the prayers of loved ones, the celebration, the joy. Looking back at photos in a wedding album, whether the current day is dark or bright, can reconnect us with the love and hope and joy where it all began.

Today's verses remind me that this is how it is in our life with God, too. The New Testament verse is a quote from John the Baptist, who might be expected to be discouraged or jealous or angry when Jesus' ministry rises and starts overshadowing his. But John knows that he is the "friend attending," while Jesus is the bridegroom. The bride represents the entirety of God's people, and John has nothing but joy as he sees and hears these beloved ones coming together.

Life, even life with God, comes with its bad days and challenges. On those days, looking back at the deep joy of a wedding is not a mask to cover up and pretend that everything is fine, nor a promise that the bad things will just disappear. But the joy reminds us of our love, of those who support us, of community and abundance. Joy can keep us going with a light and clean and free heart, no matter what our current reality.

Today I pray for my kids and their spouses, and for all marriages. I pray that another good images comes to mind and heart, for everyone who is not married for whatever reason. And I pray that the image of laughter and singing and celebrating on a great wedding day, at a table large enough to include us all, will bring inspiration and joy.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Speaking God's Word

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

Hear, you peoples, all of you; listen, O earth, and all that is in it; and let the Lord God be a witness against you. - Micah 1:2


Jesus Christ says, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation." - Mark 16:15

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 63; Proverbs 5; 1 Corinthians 13:8-14:5

Today's texts reflect Law and Gospel, listening and speaking, reflecting and acting. In all of these pairs, both parts are important.

Law is God's NO, calling us out when we're on the wrong track. Gospel is God's YES, calling us back into relationship with God because Jesus has reconciled us all to God and God's ways.

Listening is how we receive God's life-giving word into our own lives. Speaking the same word is how we expand that life by communicating it to others.

Reflecting is time spent in stillness pondering, meditating, praying, and deciding about God's word. Acting is time spent in motion moving, creating, lifting, sharing the good news.

Psalm 63 expresses joy in God's help, and seeks to make that help known: "Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you." The book of Proverbs keeps going back and forth between the blessings of a life lived God's way and the hardships of a false life: "My child, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding, so that you may hold on to prudence, and your lips may guard knowledge." Paul encourages speech that passes on the grace of God's words to others: "Those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation."

There are many reminders today that a life lived with God is filled with truth, life, health, and contentment, as opposed to a life of lonely selfishness that breaks down instead of building up. Of course not every moment of a life lived with God is pleasant and comfortable. Existence always comes with friction and challenge. But to have God with us is a great help in navigating the struggles of life, and God's promises of life are for all people, in all places, for all time.

God's word communicates God's presence directly into our lives. May we receive it and reflect on it, and take action for ourselves and others. May we appreciate both Law and Gospel. May we listen and hear God's word. And may we speak the same word to the people we encounter throughout life.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Created for Good Works

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

Like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. - Jeremiah 18:6 (NASB)

We are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. - Ephesians 2:10

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 56:1-8; Job 36:1-26; 1 Corinthians 9:1-12a

Maybe the most common confusion in Christian theology is about "works." Most of life trains us that the good things we get, we get because we've worked for them. Do the job, then get your paycheck. Work the fields, then reap the harvest. It's easy to think that it's the same with God, too: Live a good life, then get admitted to heaven.

Then there's this image, scattered throughout the Bible, of God as a potter, who creates us according to a certain design and for a certain purpose. If we're planned and made in a fashion like this, then the "good works" we're able to do have already been thought of and anticipated as part of our DNA. The possibilities don't start with us, but with God. This connects with the important concept of God's "grace." As Paul writes in the verses leading up to Ephesians 2:10 about good works:
By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
Our place in God's reign is assured by grace, the pure unconditional love and acceptance of God, not by anything we do. First come the blessings, then come the good works we do. They are simply "our way of life," the paths in which we "walk worthily" of the love of God.

Our whole lives are lived within the atmosphere of God's grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, kindness. Breathing in that fresh, clean air, we can be grateful and at peace and productive for the reign of God. We don't need to compete or gasp for air, nor fret that the oxygen we need will disappear or be taken away without constant effort on our part.

Thank you, God, for creating us and infusing our world with grace. Thank you for your promise of loving kindness for all. Thank you for giving us form and purpose, and for calling us to be useful in your holy work. Thank you for helping us to believe and trust, and to work joyfully and diligently, each in our own way.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Poured Out

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

God, you who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again. - Psalm 71:20

Jesus says, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me." - John 14:1

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 55:1-8; Job 31; 1 Corinthians 7:1-16

The phrase and image that stand out for me today is "Poured Out." I'm especially struck by Job's crying out to God, complaining bitterly about his unjust treatment. Job has made multiple speeches, and in this one, he has gone on for six chapters, making a grand finale by proclaiming his innocence in all kinds of ways. Then the narrator says: "The words of Job are ended."

The book of Job goes on with six chapters of a rant from Elihu, then four chapters of God speaking to Job, before a resolution is found.

But for now, at the end of Job 31, the words of Job are ended. Job is poured out, having said as much as he can say about his situation. It reminds me of times in my life, times like I think we all have, when I've given it my all, and in a good or a bad way ended the day feeling completely poured out.

Combined with the Psalm 71 and John 14 verses for today, and Paul's careful instructions about sexual and relational discipleship in 1 Corinthians 7, the perspective is that these poured-out moments are real, and powerful - but they're not the whole story.

It is true that walking with God means obedience to power and vision far greater than our own. We are called to true surrender, walking in God's way, not ours. We can think of being poured out, being emptied, as another way of describing repentance. Or of giving life with God everything we've got. Or of "coming to the end of our rope," going as far as we can on our own, and discovering that there's a long way left to go.

In this moment, God can refill us, refresh and revive us, with the best that God has to offer. As Luther said, "God made man out of nothing, and as long as we are nothing, he can make something out of us." When we're poured out, we make a new beginning with the life and grace of God.

Every day is a new chance to reconnect with God, to drink from God's grace, to tap into God's strength and community and purpose and joy.

God is with us, and comes to help us, when we are poured out.