Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Daily Lesson for August 31, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from John chapter 8 verses 31 through 36:

31 So Jesus said . . .“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

We can think of ourselves as good, moral upstanding people and still be absolutely blind to our own patterns of sin.  Our own prejudice is mostly hidden from our eyes. So too is the shadow side of our personality. Most of us are not aware of the pride, anger, hostility, and envy we carry inside us. It may even be more difficult to see the patterns of sin we have in our church, family, political party or racial group.  We like to think of ourselves as the good guys!

Jesus challenged the purity of his people. He caused them to see their own ambiguities, ironies, and conflicts.  He said they, a free people, were still yet slaves to sin.

This was too much for many to bear; and so they killed Jesus. This is what happens to all the prophets who dare to say the emperor has no clothes. But even as Jesus was being killed, there was a large contingency of people who recognized in their hearts that he was right. This was the beginning of their liberation.

A quote is attributed to Harriet Tubman, "I freed a thousand slaves and could have freed a thousand more if they had know that they were slaves."

A Prayer: LORD, give me eyes to see the shackles of my own besetting sin, and humility to accept the hard truth which can finally set me free.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Daily Lesson for August 29, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Psalm 25 verses 6 and 7:

6 Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!

I know many, many people who are now spending their adult lives trying to live down their misspent youth. Their aim is noble and their hearts are in the right place, but my experience is that in all the ones I can think of there is still something missing.  They are moral -- deeply so -- but they are not at peace. There always remains yet one more crusade against human sin to join in order to prove devotion and faithfulness to God.  They never quite get there; and neither does anyone else.

We can never really live what we've done down. We can take up a sword to defend Jesus in Gethsemane or a cross to follow him to Golgotha, but in the end all our efforts will fall short. We cannot save ourselves nor our past. It is by grace that we are saved.

Amends have there place. They are important for building back bridges and for bringing about reconciliation. They are also important for showing what the LORD has done. But so long as we are still striving to make it up to God or other people then we're pretty much locked in the prison of the past -- a place we can never get out of ourselves.

Today's Lesson is a good word for those still stuck trying to live down what happened years ago. Our faith is not in ourselves -- that we can ever live anything down, but our faith is in God and the promise that we will be found in His great mercy. In the end this is our great hope and our one plea:

 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Daily Lesson for August 26, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Job chapter 9 verses 1 through 3 and 15:

Then Job answered and said:
2 “Truly I know that it is so:
But how can a man be in the right before God?
3 If one wished to contend with him,
one could not answer him once in a thousand times.
15 Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him;
I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.

There is a legal term called "nolo contendre", which is Latin for "I do not wish to contend".  In jurisprudence it is sometimes referred to as a plea of no contest. 

Though Job's suffering is terrible and the shame of it all even worse, he nevertheless wishes not to contend with God. Job knows it would simply be no contest. Though what has befallen him he sees as unfair, Job recognizes that fairness is a relative term. For who really wants fairness when it comes to God? In the end, it is better to plea for mercy.

So let me take this out of the book of Job and set it in real life. Yesterday I had lunch with a dear friend whose life was dramatically changed by a accident many years ago. We meet regularly to break bread and talk. What happened to my friend was tragic and life altering. It was also incredibly unfair. Yet yesterday, as we set down together I realized that though my friend was tired and carrying a heavy burden, he was not bitter. He is past the point of thinking God or life owed him something different or something more -- that was a part of the journey of grief but is now unhelpful and even counterproductive. Now, he sees it as a grace to have what he does and he treasures it greatly. In fact, I know of nobody else who treasures the simple things of life more than my friend.

To contend with God is not a sin. It is a part of the journey. But the wisdom which comes from suffering reveals the extraordinary value of small graces like breaking bread with a friend or getting an unsolicited "I love you," from a child. Who has earned such a thing?  And who could weigh its value -- this grace of unfair gifts?

There is a poem by Raymond Carver I sometimes recite at funerals when someone who has suffered inordinately passes. It is called "Late Fragment", and it speaks to me of the hidden fragment of grace and love and mercy even amidst the visible fracture of a broken body or a broken life:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Who can contend with God?  He who has given us so much even in so small and suffering of ways.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Daily Lesson for August 25, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from a Psalm 18 verse 28:

28 For it is you who light my lamp;
the Lord my God lightens my darkness.

Just as the moon is not itself a source of light, neither are we our own source of light, but rather mirrors of God's light shining in and through us.

The moon, in fact, is actually quite dark on its surface. The astronauts who have walked it report that the rocky surface of the moon is grey to even almost black in color. It is also very rocky. These things mean only somewhere between 3 and 12 percent of the Suns light is reflected back. This doesn't sound like much, but it speaks to the powers of the Suns beams -- incredible. So much so, that at full moon, when the Sun's beams shine on the moon directly, we here on earth can see the moon shining and visible even in the middle of the day.

Our light comes from God. The light in our eyes comes from God. We by ourselves are actually quite dark -- scary dark, even. But the light comes and shines into our darkness "and the darkness cannot overcome it" (John 1:5).

Read that again; no matter how dark we are, the light of God is so powerful that the darkness cannot absorb it all.

"And the very light of very light was coming into the world."

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Daily Lesson for August 24, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from John chapter 7 verses 1 through 9:

After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. 2 Now the Jews' Feast of Booths was at hand. 3 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. 4 For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For not even his brothers believed in him. 6 Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. 8 You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After saying this, he remained in Galilee.

Timing is everything.  But taking our time requires patience, self-discipline and obedience to the spirit.

Jesus was being goaded by his brothers (who did not like all that he was about) into doing something rash. The book of John does not have a temptation scene like other Gospels, with Jesus in the wilderness being tempted by Satan to jump off the pediment of a building or turn rocks into bread in order to prove himself. But this scene with Jesus' own brothers acts very much the same way. They try to induce him to do something foolish to prove the relevance of his message and ministry.  And though I am sure he was tempted in a very powerful way, he resisted.  He refused to act without God in order to prove himself to his brothers.

The resilience Jesus demonstrates here is really astounding. Anger and frustration with his brothers and the tension of remaining in a holding pattern were no doubt sources of real struggle for him. Yet, he was strong enough to trust his own spirit. And so, he passed the test.

Jesus' brothers essentially accused him of wanting to make a name for himself. And well he could have. But whatever name it was that they were tempting him towards would not have been the Jesus name we recognize, know, and honor.  That would come only by waiting, by obedience, and by the surrender of Jesus' life to the will of God -- even if that will had no intention of making Jesus' name any bigger than it already was.

And for that -- for, in Rudyard Kipling's words, "waiting and not being tired of waiting" Jesus was given, "the name that is above all names".

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Daily Lesson for August 23, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Acts chapter 9 verses 36 through 43:

36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.

We all know a Dorcas. She was one of the good and kind women of the little seaside village of Joppa whose care for the widows and other vulnerable women in the village earned her the reputation as a saint in the community. Most of things she did were small, but they were done with much care and decency and a deep concern for her neighbors and her neighborhood.  When I think of what Dorcas did for her community, I think of something Mother Teresa once said, "If you cannot do great things, do small things with great love."

When Dorcas died all of the widows from the village came to Dorcas's home, carrying the shawls she had made for them in the last years of her life when all all she could do was make shawls. Peter also came, having been summoned by those in the village to come and pray for the recovery of this woman who had done so much for the community. He entered the upper room and perhaps because of the power within Peter or perhaps because of the power of Dorcas's good works, she was raised from the dead. When she awoke she looked down out of the upper room window onto the little village street where all the widows stood beneath praising God, the shawls Dorcas had made them draped across their shoulders or raised in thanksgiving to God.

That night, Peter went to stay with a man in Joppa named Simeon.  Simeon was a tanner, a unclean profession; but Simeon was so thankful to Peter for raising Dorcas that he extended his hospitality. Peter graciously accepted. There at Simeon's house, Peter had a dream where God revealed to him that the Gospel would soon come to all the "unclean" people of the world. When he awoke from his dream there was a knock at Simeon's door; Gentiles had come to hear the good news.

We all know Dorcas. And I wonder if this is how it will be for her in heaven -- waking in the upper room to look down and see the difference her small acts of great love have made in the lives of those she knew she was helping, and also the difference her small acts of great love made in the lives of those she did not know she was helping.

I bet it is . . .

Monday, August 22, 2016

Daily Lesson for August 22, 2016

Today's Daily a lesson comes from Job chapter

17 “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves;
therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.
18 For he wounds, but he binds up;
he shatters, but his hands heal.

The most significant growth we experience in life is usually born out of some deep experience of brokenness and pain.  Something in us has to be cracked open. Or, in the John the Baptist's words, the wheat has to be freed from it's husk.  Something hard in us has to be made vulnerable.  We must be made to connect with our own pain; and there we connect with the pain of others.  This is what Isaiah meant when he said of our relationship to the Messiah, "we are healed by His wounds".  We find our deepest healing when we allow ourselves to connect in the place of deepest woundedness.

Those still trying to put up a strong front or and show no vulnerability can never reach or be reached in the place of their deepest pain. Most of what they do is closed and defensive. There is a wall around their emotions. The shell remains. There is never any real intimacy because there is never any real vulnerability.

In Sonnet 14 the great poet and Anglican Divine John Donne, wrote, "Batter my heart, three-personed God".  To be broken is a deeply painful, yet necessary part in the experience of becoming more human.  This is how we discover the tender place, the place of our own vulnerability and woundedness.  It it is in our woundedness that both we and others can be made whole.