Monday, October 16, 2017

Daily Lesson for October 16, 2017

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from 1 Corinthians chapter 13 verses 1 through 3:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

We can do many tremendous things in the name of God and God’s kingdom, but if we do them without love we miss the mark entirely. 

Charity without love breeds contempt. Service without love yields resentment. To serve the poor while loathing the rich only pretends to bring in the beloved community. 

One of my favorite scenes in all of literature comes from Wendell Berry’s novel “Jayber Crow”.  Jayber is a small town barber struggling to come to terms with his Christian faith and the so-called Christian community around him in 1960s Kentucky. The scene is told from Jayber’s first-person perspective and describes a heated argument he has over the Vietnam War with his frenemy in town Troy.

“One Saturday evening, while Troy was waiting his turn in the chair, the subject was started and Troy said – it was about the third thing said – ‘They ought to round up every one of them sons of bitches and put them right in front of the damned communists, and then whoever killed who, it would be all to the good.’

“There was a little pause after that. Nobody wanted to try to top it . . .

“It was hard to do, but I quit cutting hair and looked at Troy. I said, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.’

“Troy jerked his head up and widened his eyes at me. ‘Where did you get that crap?’

“I said, ‘Jesus Christ.’

“And Troy said, ‘Oh.’

“It would have been a great moment in the history of Christianity, except that I did not love Troy.”

That scene comes across my mind at least once a week just about every week. I figure there is a reason for that. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Daily Lesson for October 13, 2017

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verses 9 and 10:

9For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain.

Two nights ago I was on the phone with one of my long-time and very best friends, Robert.  We have been friends since high school and though distance has kept us apart we’ve never lost touch and we still get together once or twice a year. 

Robert came into my life after our youth leader Scott got us to start leaving an open chair in our Bible studies and praying that God would bring to us “the worst kid in the school”.  Now that’s a prayer I do not encourage unless you’re truly ready for it to be answered. Anyways, in walked Robert. 

My cousin introduced us. He was Robert’s psychologist and he sort of took a chance and broke protocol by introducing us. He just thought Robert needed a group like the one I  was in. So my cousin took a chance. 

When they both came by the house, it was real formal. My cousin explained to me and my parents what he was thinking and gave some caution. “But, I think this kid needs a chance.”  My parents and I were both there and Robert and my cousin rang the doorbell.

When I opened the door and saw Robert’s face, my first thought was, “Oh no, not this guy.  He’s a bad dude.”  If he wasn’t the worst kid in school he was very, very close. I knew he was a troublemaker. Later I found out he had a wrap sheet. My grandmother told my cousin she was going to kill him if it all went badly. I couldn’t see how it could go well. 

But, twenty years later here we are talking on the phone night before last. Robert is a mechanical engineer in the oil industry, married, and the father of three boys (God’s way of getting even, we say).  And, he’s gotten really involved in prison ministry, going into prisons and sharing the same good news he found in our youth group two decades ago, when our youth group leader told us even the very worst can be changed and my cousin said we ought to give the kid a chance. No, when my cousin took a chance on the kid. 

Robert’s going back in to another prison next week. He’s been asked to share his story. Pray for him. 

Pray that God will send him the worst offender in the prison. 

Robert will be just fine with that.  

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Daily Lesson for October 12, 2017

Today’s Daily Lesson is from 1 Corinthians chapter 12 verses 4 through 11:

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

Faith is a gift given by the Holy Spirit.

Faith comes to us solely by and through God. This means will power cannot gain us greater faith. We cannot will ourselves to believe more or trust more.  

This is how we know the disciples were beginning to understand the secret of Jesus’ power when they asked him, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). They had come to the limits of their own natural abilities. They knew that if they were to stay the course and keep following Jesus they were going to need something supernatural to sustain them. 

Jesus’ answer: to trust the faith that has been given. “If you have faith even the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this tree, “Be uprooted and thrown into the sea.”

In a letter Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to others in the German confessing church which was resisting Hitler, Bonhoeffer wondered if he would have the faith to endure the trials ahead. He sponsored if he had the faith within him. His answer, surprisingly, was no. No, he did not yet have what he might one day need. And this too was a gift from God.  For what he would need in the days ahead he would have to depend upon God to provide, lest he trust in his own sufficiency.

To be of little faith is not a shame. The faith we have is sufficient unto the day. Should we need more in the days ahead we should pray so. For faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, that we might know our sufficiency comes only from the LORD. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Daily Lesson for October 11, 2017

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from 1 Corinthians chapter 11 verses 27 through 32:

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. 28Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves. 30For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. 32But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

Here is a great irony of our faith. Jesus said, “Judge not lest you be judged,” whereas Paul tells us we will not be judged so long as we do judge — ourselves. 

Paul says this is how we are to take communion — in judgment of ourselves. We might also call this a state of introspection and penitence. The Lord’s Supper is a reminder of our fallibility and and our need for grace. We come to the table always as beggars in search of bread. 

Paul is serious about this. He says some have fallen weak and ill and some have even died because they took the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. Yikes. 

The last time I preached on this, we were in our worship planning meeting reading Paul’s warning. I looked up, “Wow, have you ever eaten the Lord’s Supper unworthily?”  My very insightful pastor friend Stephanie chimes in, “Every time.”

Stephanie got it and helped me to see it. 

If we think we are worthy then we are unworthy and if we think we are unworthy then we will be made worthy. 

This is the meaning of the table — the miracle of the bread and the cup.

Let all who are unworthy come and take the water of life as gift. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Daily Lesson for October 10, 2017

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from 1 Corinthians chapter 11 verses 20 through 22:

20When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. 21For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk.22What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!

What happens at a Wednesday night fellowship meal or a potluck dinner can tell you a lot about a church. 

Yes; I know you have your same table with your same seven other friends. But sometimes eight isn’t enough. Sometimes a ninth needs to be let in. 

And what about space for the late and newcomer?  Is there room for someone with children?  How are those without money to pay or food to share treated?  Was anything left for the working mom trying her best to pick up kids and make it to church after a long day’s work?  She got stuck in traffic and almost didn’t come. But she’s here. What about the screaming child?  What about the child on the autism spectrum?  What about the woman with the gluten allergy?

Like I said, what happens at a church supper can tell you a lot — maybe everything. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Daily Lesson for October 9, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson is from Psalm 106 verses 14 and 15:

14 A craving seized them in the wilderness, 
and they put God to the test in the desert.

15 He gave them what they asked, 
but sent leanness into their soul.

There are two ways to be dissatisfied in this life -- to not get what you want, and to get what you want. 

The Israelites craved meat in the wilderness. They whined and begged for it. They wouldn't be satisfied until they got it. And then they did get it.  And they were full for about two seconds; and then they were hungry again.  Then they began to whine and to beg again. They could not be satisfied. 

This is the reason Jesus did not feed the crowd again the second day after he fed them the first. He knew they could not be satisfied, not with bread anyways. They would keep coming, keep begging, keep hungering and hungering and hungering, and keep being disappointed. 

The things of this world will never fill us completely. Not even the bread that Jesus gives can satiate our hungers forever. We keep being dissatisfied with work or with worship or with all manner of things churchly or worldly. The answer is probably not something different.  More likely, the answer is to learn to live with the hunger, the disappointment, the desire. 

For God "sent leanness into their soul."  

And leanness has something very important to teach us. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Daily Lesson for October 6, 2017

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from 1 Corinthians chapter 9 verses 24 through27:

24 Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.25Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. 26So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified. 

So last Spring I was all excited because Gabrielle had her first track meet. I gave it good odds that she was going to do really well because my parents were fast, I was fast, and Irie is still fast. Gabrielle was running the 800 meter run and I arrived there in time to get a really good seat for the start. My stomach was all butterflies.  I had not had that same feeling since I was last in cleats. 

The runners went to there marks.  They got set. The gun went off. And Gabrielle jogged around the track two whole times at about the speed of molasses in winter.  She wasn’t the last turtle to cross the finish line, but she was in the turtle section for sure. I kept shaking my head and thinking, “What’s wrong with this kid; she can’t be that slow.”  

After the race, I tried to be positive but did want to know, “Gabrielle, did you give it your best shot?  Is that is fast as you can run?”

“No. But they said it was hot out there and we shouldn’t push ourselves too hard. So I just wanted to make sure I could finish.”

I wonder if some of us run the race of life that exact same way.