Friday, February 24, 2017

Daily Lesson for February 24, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Matthew chapter 5 verses 43 through 48:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

In 9th grade we were getting ready to play our cross-town rivals Hutchinson Junior High. They had upset us for the City title the year before and we were bloodthirsty for revenge.

After school we were practicing on the dirt field which ran east/West because the 7th graders had a flag football game on the main field. Jim McCulley went out for a pass running east and looked back to the west where Bobby Vaughan was tossing the ball. The sun was just beginning to hang off in the horizon a looking back Jim couldn't see a thing. Overwhelmed by the light, the pigskin hit Jim squarely, right in the center of his face mask.

Jim threw up his hands and shook his head. "The sun was in my eyes," he complained.

And with that Coach Phelps, who was the craziest coach we ever had -- which is saying a lot for Texas football -- went even crazier. Rumor was Coach Phelps had been in Vietnam and that he had lost something there. He would get so worked up in class -- history, because that's what we call history teachers in high school: "Coach" -- that he would step outside for a smoke break on the patio right during the middle of the day just to calm down. He needed a cigarette now. He was ballistic -- yelling and screaming and breaking into a the mock Japanese gibberish he was infamous for.  And then this question to Jim that none of us will ever forget. "Do you think the sun is not shining at Hutchinson Junior High?  Do you think they're practicing in the dark over there on 31st and Canton?"

And there it was -- our first theological lesson on God's general grace from the most unlikeliest of places and people: God sends his sun on the evil and on the good, on us and on the Rangers of Hutchinson Junior High School. A lesson we'll never forget.

Thanks Coach.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Daily Lesson for February 23, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Matthew chapter 5 verses 33 through 36:

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil."

"Do you so solemnly swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"

Well, do you?  Why?

Oaths are necessary in a court of law because a courtroom is a place where everybody knows somebody will either be lying or telling a half truth -- which, according to an old Yiddish proverb, is a whole lie.

There are other places where oaths are not supposed to be necessary because everybody is assumed to be telling the truth. Among these places include: our church, our place of business, and our home.  In fact, Jesus was trying to form a community where people were so committed to truth telling that an oath or a promise was simply unnecessary because it would be redundant.  In this community you wouldn't have to swear; because everybody would already know you're telling the truth.

Observe the day ahead. Listen to the talk on the streets, in your office, and on TV. Listen to your own talk. Who is swearing and why?  Why isn't our simple and straightforward word our bond?

"Let your yes be yes and your no be no," Jesus said.

And my grandfather added, "And let your handshake be firm."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Daily Lesson for February 22, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Ruth chapter 2 verses 8 through 13:

8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9 Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” 10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” 11 But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12 The Lordrepay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” 13 Then she said, “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.”

The Book of Ruth is a dissenting opinion.

In the days of Ezra and Nehemiah and all the Israelites who were returning once more to Israel from their exile in Babylon and seeking to rebuild yet again the walls of the Temple, the people were instructed to drive out all the foreigners from among the people and the land. Using overly-rigid and even xenophobic laws found in the Scriptures, the leaders issued their decree. All the foreigners were to be cast out. And families were to be split apart. Anyone who had mixed marriages or mixed children would be forced to make a decision. Family or nation?  On the day the issue was decreed it rained for hours. Some saw this rain as a holy cleansing of the land and its people; others saw it as God crying.

Whoever wrote the book of Ruth would have been in the latter camp. Scholars tell us the book was written at the same time as were the books of Ezra and Nehemiah -- those which told and apparently approved of the purging.  But whoever wrote Ruth was seeing all that was going on in the nation and did not approve. So he or she set out to tell a different story -- even a differing story.

The author of Ruth remembered from the history how there was a man named Boaz who had once married his cousin's Naomi's daughter-in-law after Naomi's son and the woman's husband had died. The woman's name was Ruth and she was a foreigner -- a Moabite woman. Yet in spite of that and in spite of what the harsh laws of the Scriptures said about it, Boaz married her anyways. And together Boaz and Ruth had a son named Obed who then had a son named Jesse who himself had a son named David who grew up to be King David, the greatest leader in all the history of the nation, and all because Boaz married a foreign woman and did not dismiss her.

So there it is, the book of Ruth -- a dissenting opinion.

May those with ears to hear let them hear.

Poussin, Nicolas, 1594?-1665. Summer, or, Ruth and Boaz, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved February 22, 2017]. Original source:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Daily Lesson for February 21, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from 2 Corinthians chapter 1 verses 15 and 16:

15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea.

Do you remember the first time you really heard the good news of God's free gift of grace?  Do you remember how overwhelmed you were by God's mercy and compassion and how willing you were to turn around and extend that same mercy and compassion to others?  The tide of God's love washed over you. You were bathed in his goodness and mercy. Grace abounded in you and grace abounded from you. 

God desires for the high tide of His love to wash over you yet again. God wants to bath you yet once more in the knowledge of all His mercies and blessings. God wants you to have "a second experience of grace".

Consider again God's love, God's provision, God's mercy and forgiveness.  Know again God's grace. Receive it once more.  Receive and give it. 

John Claypool, one of my childhood pastors, used to conclude every service with the same benediction: "By the goodness of God you were born into this world. By the grace of God you have been kept even unto this very hour. And by the love of God, fully revealed in the face of Christ Jesus, you are being redeemed."  It was good for us to be reminded Sunday by Sunday so that we could experience it all again and again. 

Come Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Daily Lesson for February 20, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson is 9.5 Theses in commemoration of Martin Luther's 95 Theses which were nailed to the Wittenberg Door 500 years ago this year. Like Liuther's 95 Theses, these 9.5 are intended for public consideration and discussion.

1. Baptism is our declaration of allegiance to a Kingdom whose borders, values, and ethics are not of this world. It is a world where all are welcome, where to be great is to be least and servant of all, and where love is the fulfillment of the law.

2. The Kingdom's ruler is a 1st-century Palestinian Jew named Jesus of Nazareth who was hung on the cross by a politically-motivated collusion between government and religion. He died by and for the sins of the nations, committed in the name of God and Caesar.  This should make us tremble for fear of what we ourselves might do for the sake of God and country.

3. God raised Jesus up on the third day. Resurrection vindicated Jesus' way, his truth, and his life.

4. It is our way, our truth, and our lives which now vindicate Jesus' Resurrection in the eyes of the world. As Clarence Jordan said, the proof of the Resurrection is, "Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church."

5. Jesus will come again to judge the world. His judgments will be both righteous and merciful, full of grace and truth; for he came not to condemn the world but to save it. Authentic proclamation convicts of sin, drives to penitence, and proclaims forgiveness in Christ.

6. The Holy Spirit is the gift of God's ongoing presence in the world. The Spirit blows where it will. Pharisaic religion cannot recognize where it is from or where it is going.

7. The Word of God is not the Bible but is the Logos which was with God in the beginning at creation. The Logos is still speaking, still revealing, still creating.

8. St Paul's declaration, "In Christ there is neither slave nor free, male nor female, Jew nor Gentile but all are one in Christ," means that in the church there is no distinction based on class, gender, or race. No distinction.

9. Those who are not against us are with us. This includes many Jews and Muslims and "nones". Those who are not with Jesus are against him. Sadly, this includes many Christians.

9.5 Blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is the eternal sin. Every generation calls good evil and evil good.  This is why Jesus said, "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all manner of things against you on my account. For they did the same to the prophets who came before you." This means we should not be surprised by rejection but must rather count the cost of discipleship.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Daily Lesson for February 17, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from 1 Timothy chapter 5 verses 24 and 25:

24 The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.

Jesus taught that there is nothing secret that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not one day be brought out out into the open (Luke 8:17).

What is done in the dark cannot remain in the dark forever. No night's lie can outlast truth's steady-rising sun. No defect of character can outlast eternity. 

Eventually we see a man for who he really is. 

And sometimes the man is greater than we knew. Two weeks ago we said goodbye a dearly beloved man in our church. As we prepared for the funeral, another man who none of us knew came out of nowhere with a story about what our beloved friend had done to save this other man from total ruin many years before. None of us knew a thing about it. Not one to let his left hand know what his right hand was doing, our friend never told anyone about what he had done.  But you can count on it: good works have a way of finding their way to light, whether in this life or the next. 

It is said that our deeds will find us out. And I suppose there's two ways of reading that -- as good news or as bad, as a threat or as promise. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Daily Lesson for February 16, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Mark chapter 12 verses 13 through 17:

13 And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” 15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”16 And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar's.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” And they marveled at him.

When Jesus said, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's," he was looking at the Roman denarius with the image of Caesar fixed upon it. But when Jesus said, "render . . . to God the things that are God's," he was looking at his interlocutors -- people themselves stamped with the very image of God. 

The point: to Caesar belongs the coin with Caesar's image stamped; but to God belongs the person with God's image stamped.

Caesar may take all our coins -- for the coins were his from at their minting. But to God alone belongs our personhood; for that was God's in the beginning. And we must not allow Caesar to rob it.