Monday, October 20, 2014

Daily Lesson for October 20, 2014

Today's lesson comes from Luke chapter 9 verse 54:

54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?"

One day Jesus and his disciples came with their message into a Samaritan village, but the Samaritans would not welcome them because of their different beliefs. James and John, two of Jesus' disciples whom he called "the sons of Thunder" asked Jesus for permission to call fire down from heaven and consume the village as Elijah did centuries before. But Jesus, who was already walking out of the village and onto the next, turned and rebuked them. "The Son of Man has come not to kill but to heal," he said, and then led them out and onto the next village.

In various holy texts, including certain parts of the Bible, you can find evidence for making the case that infidels ought to be killed; but you will never find that it by looking at Jesus. Jesus never killed or coerced anyone with sword or with fire or with anything else. As he said, "the Son of Man came not to kill but to heal."

Sadly, throughout the ages, when Christians have persecuted others for their faith or lack thereof, we've acted a lot more like the Sons of Thunder than we have the Son of Man.

The great champion of religious liberty Roger Williams, who was appalled at the way New Englanders went about trying to convert Native Americans to Christianity, once wrote, "Forced worship stinks in the nostrils of God."

I believe it does.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Daily Lesson for October 17, 2014

Today's Daily Lesson is from the book of Acts chapter 28 verses 3 through 5:

3 When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. 4 When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.

In Pulitzer-Prize cartoon editorialist Doug Marlette's famous Kudzu cartoon strips, it was said that the town was so backward that even the Episcopalians handled snakes.

I for one absolutely hate snakes and was glad when I learned all that stuff at the end of the book of Mark where Jesus says believers will handle serpents and drink poison was an add on, and not part of Mark's original manuscript. In other words, Jesus really didn't say that. Somebody only said he said it. Whew.

And yet, here we have in today's lesson Paul being bitten by a snake and then shaking it off and going on like nothing happened. What to do with that?

I have no doubts about Paul having miraculously survived the literal bite of a snake. I'm sure it lieterally and physically happened. But I am thinking more today about the spiritual meaning - how it might be true for all of us that we can be snakebitten yet not succumb.

A mature Christian can withstand all sorts of biting scorn and venomous contempt. That's not to say the bite doesn't sting and the poison doesn't sicken. But no matter how venomous others may be, and no matter how noxious a situation is, they're just not going to be able to kill the spirit.

I'm not there yet; I'm only getting there. And on the way, I think I'll still avoid the snakes when I can. And when I can't, I hope, like Paul, I'm able to shake them off and trust God for the strength to see me through.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Daily Lesson for October 16, 2014

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Jonah chapter 4 verses 1 and 2:

1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord . . . I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”

Jonah couldn't stand it that the Ninevites were such a wicked and perverse people. And when they repented of their evil ways -- so remorseful that they even put their livestock in sackcloth and ashes -- well, Jonah couldn't stand that either.

There are some people that just have to have somebody to scorn and to condemn. They're always up in arms about somebody doing something. And "sorry" is just never good enough. They want everybody to get what they have coming.

When that doesn't happen then they say, "a bad precedence is being set," or we're "sending a signal that this kind of behavior is okay," or we're "not acting responsibly." When all is said and done, they end up looking like Jonah -- small-minded, petty, and mean-spirited.

The Bible says we are to "love mercy". That means that when we hate mercy something just ain't right.

Love mercy. Delight in it's giving. And for heaven's sake, don't cut off your nose just to spite your face. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Daily Lesson for October 15, 2014

Today's Daily Lesson comes from the book of Acts chapter 27 verse 26:

 “But we must run aground . . .”

They just would not listen. Intent on getting home, the ship's steersman and owner convinced the centurion that it would be best to set out onto the Great Sea even though it was very late in the season to be setting sail. They still had time, they said; and they could handle it. 

It turns out they way overestimated themselves and way underestimated Mother Nature. They saw what they wanted to be true, and turned a blind eye to what was likely to be true.

In his best seller book on leadership "Good to Great", Jim Collins said the best leaders are able to confront the most brutal facts about their reality. These persons do not wear rose colored glasses, but see whatever situation they are in as it really is, and themselves as they really are. In other words, they are never in denial of their own reality.

Their was on aboard the Castor and Pollux who could see reality as it was, a landlubber turned experienced seafarer named Paul of Tarsus. He warned the crew of the dangers of setting sail that late in the season, and when they would not listen he spoke the plain truth about the consequences.  "We must run aground," he said.

That's a harsh reality. Nobody wants to run aground; and its a lot easier to pray for a miracle. But a captain and sailors who have accepted the reality will be prepared, if not to avoid shipwreck, at least to survive it.

And for that I say, thank God for reality checks.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Daily Lesson for October 14, 2014

Today's daily lesson comes from Luke chapter 8 verses 40 through 48:

40 Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. 41 And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus' feet, he implored him to come to his house, 42 for he had ran only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying. As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. 43 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. . .Someone from the ruler's house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” 50 But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” 51 And when he came to the house, he allowed no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. 52 And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” 53 And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” 

A while back a friend of mine told me the story of her sister's death. The girls' father was a physician in their small town and they grew up in a kind of idyllic small-town world. It was Mayberry on the Plains. If somewhat sheltered and privileged, the girls were also deeply loved and cared for and prepared to pass on the blessings of their own generation to the next.

But then, suddenly in the youthful prime of her life, my friend's sister was diagnosed with cancer. She fought valiantly against the disease; but it ultimately took her life. On the day of her sister's death my friend's father said, "Now we have joined the community of the suffering."

In today's scripture two women. One is from the margins of society, a woman afflicted with a blood issue which has made her ritually and socially unclean for 12 years. The other is has just become a woman, being the same age as the number of years the other has been afflicted. As the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue, she is no doubt the daughter of social standing and privilege. During the twelve years of the other woman's affliction, this younger woman has lived a very different and far more tranquil life. But now she too has entered into the community of the suffering, and her father with her.

At some point all of us will enter into this community.  No family, no matter how rich or how wretched, is immune. And at this point each is driven to the point of desperation, to the point of reaching out toward the healing which only God can bring. And as the people of the earth reach out, God sends His Son to reach back.

The community of the suffering is universal; so too is the healing presence of God's incarnate love and embrace. 

We all enter into the community of the suffering; and God does also.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Daily Lesson for October 13, 2014

Daily Lesson for October 13, 2014 comes from Psalm 1:

1 Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

A friend used to say that out here in West Texas we may not have many trees but all the ones we do have are exactly where we want them -- because we planted them.

That is true. But by far the largest and most beautiful trees out here are those which line the banks of the old Yellow House Canyon system, where in times past if water was to be found it was found there. Those trees, lining the draw which in more plentiful times took water all the way to the Eastern fork of the Brazos, are trees you would not expect to find out here in dry Lubbock.

Well rooted and surprisingly well watered, those trees stand tall and shady, and provide greenery in a land whose hues are mostly yellow and brown. And in times of drought they remain strong, drawing their sustenance from sources hidden beneath the surface of the ground. In country where trees are hard to come by and people sometimes wonder if anything can survive, they are a blessing of beauty and also a sign of strength.

That also happens to be the psalmist's description of a good and blessed man, who bears his fruit in season and whose leaves do not wilt in the lean times because his life has been planted in the sustaining waters of God's word.

And I suppose we can plant a tree like that just about anywhere we want. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Daily Lesson for October 10, 2014

Today's daily lesson comes from Acts chapter 24 verses 24 and 25:

24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.”

Convicts are a dime a dozen in this world; but surrenderers -- those who actually give themselves up -- are rare.

Paul was summoned before the Roman procurator of the province of Judea.  As he always did when on trial, Paul took the opportunity to speak about the salvation that comes in Jesus Christ. But unlike his usual presentations which were laced with Jewish Scripture and doctrine, on this occasion of speaking to speaking to the Gentile Felix Paul spoke instead about righteousness, self-control, and judgement to come. We are told these words convicted Felix, probably because he himself was a corrupt and lustful man, with a thirst for blood, plunder, and wives which were not his own. As Paul spoke of judgment, we are told Felix became alarmed so sent Paul away. "Go away for now," he told Paul, "when I have the chance I will summon you again." He was convicted, but not ready to surrender. 

It's one thing to hear the truth about the dangers of the road we are on -- where it will eventually take us. It's another thing to actually turn around and change roads. That's surrender; and there are very few people who do it. Instead they say, "When I have the chance, I'll think about it again."

Before he surrendered his life to God, the young and sexually profligate Augustine prayed, "Lord make me chaste, but not yet." That pretty much says it all.

Fortunately, Augustine still had time to surrender to his conviction; unfortunately, Felix did not.