Friday, September 19, 2014

Daily Lesson for September 19, 2014

Today's daily lesson is from Psalm 73 verses 21 thru 24:

"When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel."

I have friend who spent many years as a hospital chaplain ministering to the needs of the sick, dying, and grieving. Once we were talking about what his work was like and he said, "Chaplains soak up the world's hostility."

When we are hurt or bruised or in grief over the chaos and disappointment of life we often lash out toward those others - especially those who symbolize the holy. Having nowhere else to turn, we direct our hostility toward the priest or the chaplain or even the whole church. We become like wounded animals, hiding in the corner, hissing and snarling at anyone who would come near. As the psalmist says, we become like beasts, snapping in primordial response to our own wounded vulnerability.

When this happens relationships are usually lost. There is anger, there is finger pointing, people leave the church, Sunday school classes fall apart. Lifelong friendships end in bitter goodbyes. And everyone else - including the clergy - do their best to stay away, hiding, and seeking to avoid being collateral damage. That's understandable.

But a skilled clergyman or friend can do the opposite. He or she can come toward us in our pain, stand next to it, hold its hand, counsel it, and in so doing soak up its hostility.  In other words, he or she can do what God does which is to make atonement with us - "at-one-ment" with us - even in our enmity. 

If we can find that then blessed are we; if we can learn to be that then blessed is the world. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Daily Lesson for September 18, 2014

Today's daily lesson is from Psalm 74 verse 19:

"Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts."

There is something pure and innocent and God-like within us all.  It is our "imago dei" or divine image. It is beautiful, holy, peaceful, joyfully childlike, loving, and willing to receive love.  It is the "heart of my own heart" we sing about, and the beauty of who we are without our hardened out shells which we hide under to protect us from our fears and anxieties about failure and hurt. It's image is the dove - the symbol of grace and purity.

The world seeks to devour our inner dove. It seeks to destroy that imago dei and turn us into its image - an image of harshness, brutality and dog eat dog worldliness. This is why the psalmist uses the image of the wild beast - because "its desire is to consume" us.

The task of the spiritual life is to live in this dog eat dove world without losing our souls. When we have learned to do that, we will have learned to live as Christ.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Daily lesson for September 17, 2014

Today's daily lesson comes from Job chapter 42 verse 13:

"[Job] also had seven sons and three daughters."

At the tail end of the book of Job, after all his suffering and misery, something happens that needs be remembered. Job has more children. After so much grave loss, including the loss of his older children, Job decides to risk bringing children into this harsh world yet once more.

2014 is a scary time. There have been wars for the past 10 years and there are rumors of wars now. Every time we get onto a plane we are reminded that evil men are plotting heinous schemes against the innocent. We know, above all things, that we are vulnerable. 

And yet, children will be born into this world this week. I have friends who will have their baby before the week is out. I have other friends who had theirs just two weeks ago.

It's a remarkable thing to go on bearing children in such anxious times, to go on having children though we know they will be vulnerable just like we.

It makes me think - what a stunning act of resistance against the dark powers and principalities of this world. To go on bearing children. To go on choosing life. To live!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Daily Lesson for September 16, 2014

Today's lesson is from Psalm 62 verses 9 and 10:

9 Those of low estate are but a breath;
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.
10 Put no trust in extortion;
set no vain hopes on robbery;
if riches increase, set not your heart on them.

I've been thinking recently of a line in Rudyard Kipling's poem "If":

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same"

Maybe it's Tech football that has me thinking such things - triumph (albeit a feeble triumph) two weeks ago, disaster this past Saturday. And the fair weather fans (we're all fair weather fans) behave in our predictable ways - lauding our coach for the greatest ALS Icebucket Challenge/Recruiting video ever (did Beyonce say yes?) and a month later pummeling him for putting image over action. Everything we love about him when we win we hate about him when we lose.

What if, really, we were to meet Triumph and Disaster and to treat them each one as the impostors they are? Placing them each on the scales of eternity we would not be able to judge the difference - each as the psalm says,  "lighter than a breath." Which would be more Kliff Kingsbury, Darrel Royal, or the world's worst Pop Warner league coach who doesn't know a thing about football but who said yes because the kids needed a coach and he said yes - not because he likes football but because the kids needed a coach? Which would weigh more the Fortune 500 CEO who made the most of the breaks he got or the single mother working nights to raise three kids who never got a break at all? Whose life would mean more Victory or Survival?

What if, really, we were to stop ranking and ordering and judging and sizing and summing up others by all the weighted standards of the world? What if we were to meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat them both alike - neither as good nor as bad as they appear, and altogether just a breath.

If we were to begin seeing the world this differently then no doubt the stands would be a lot emptier; but I bet our hearts would be much much fuller. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Daily Lesson for September 15, 2014

Today's daily lesson comes from Acts chapter 15 verses 37 and 38:

37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.

There are some things in life you just can't live down in the eyes of others.

In the early days of the church Paul and Barnabas were doing missionary work and took with them Barnabas's younger cousin John Mark. At some point in the trip Mark left Paul and Barnabas for a reason which is now lost to history.

Whatever reason Mark had for leaving Paul obviously found it insufficient. At a later time Paul and Barnabas were setting out on another missionary journey and Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance but Paul was adamant that that was not to be. Paul and Barnabas disagreed so strongly that the two ended up parting ways.

All that to say, Mark had proven himself an untrustworthy companion to Paul the first time around, and Paul was not about to risk it a second time. Paul had already sized Mark up and found him lacking, which goes to show you don't get a second chance to make a first impression.

Oh, and by the way, later on Mark authored the first Gospel called the book of Mark. It is a brilliant account of Jesus' life and ministry and God has used it to change the lives of literally countless numbers of people.

Which goes to show you first impressions may be wrong - even when they're Saint Paul's.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Daily lesson for September 12, 2014

Today's daily lesson is from John chapter 11 verse 39:

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 

Many of us know someone we have thought at times we might as well give up on. They are on a collision course with spiritual and/physical death and there's no way in the world they are ever going to change.

The good news is we have a savior who has overcome the world -- and death also.

When Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus he ordered that the stone covering Lazarus's tomb be rolled away. Lazarus's sister Mary protested because Lazarus had already been dead four days -- past the time when the spirit was said to have left the body. To Mary all hope for her brother was gone.

Yet Jesus would not allow Mary's grim presumptions to be the last word about Lazarus. Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” and then they rolled back the stone.

Saint Irenaeus said, "The glory of God is a human being fully alive." It is a person as good as dead, who is now suddenly and gloriously alive. It is a person dead in sin and grief who is suddenly a living, breathing, walking, and joyous sign of resurrection. 

There are people reading this with a Lazarus in mind. I say to you, don't count them out just yet. Because Jesus still has the power to make Lazarus rise. 

I don't just believe it; I've seen it. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Daily Lesson for September 11, 2014

Today's daily lesson is a word from our nation's pastor, Billy Graham.

On the Thursday evening following the horrific events of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the Washington National Cathedral hosted a service of remembrance. Billy Graham spoke.

He talked about the mystery of evil and the age-old question as to why God allows it to exist. Then he spoke of God's sovereignty, and our conviction that one day, ultimately, evil will be swallowed up and justice will prevail in the world and the next. He said that day could be not only one of tragedy, but also hope insofar as it could be a moment of national unity, repentance, and turning toward God.

"God has told us in His Word, time after time, that we are to repent of our sins and we’re to turn to Him and He will bless us in a new way," he said.

As Graham came to the end of his sermon he spoke of the symbol of the Cross, of which there were many in the sanctuary of the Cathedral. "The Cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering," he said.

But then he went further, beyond the Cross and into the hope for resurrection.

"The story does not end with the Cross, for Easter points us beyond the tragedy of the Cross to the empty tomb that tells us that there is hope for eternal life, for Christ has conquered evil and death, and hell. Yes, there is hope. I’ve become an old man now and I’ve preached all over the world and the older I get the more I cling to that hope that I started with many years ago."

Then he finished by reciting lines from the hymn "How Firm a Foundation", which was a particularly poignant hymn selection in the aftermath Twin Towers' fall. These are the words he recited:

"Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand."

Thank you, pastor.