Devotional Thoughts

Kinda back to ecclesiology, and Pink Floyd

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I had one of those moments in the car yesterday… my six-year-old is rifling thru my CD’s and holds up Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason and asks, “Um, Dad. Can we listen to this one?” Somehow thru tears of pride I choked out,” Oh, yes son, we can.”

I love that album, because you see, I also love to hear the gospel, no matter who’s sharing it at the time. Listening to that album back in ’88 was my introduction to the song On the Turning Away… these days I also have a concert version of it on the album, Delicate Sounds of Thunder. That song captures the heart of Jesus so perfectly when he’s announcing his life’s dream (and God’s desire) of making the world a better place for the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. (Luke 4:14-21)

The CD was still in this morning as I drove to work so I skipped over to track 5 and dug on it again… have you ever really thought of all the power structures and systems that Jesus just ignored? He could have gone after the Roman political structure… the church did after only a few hundred years, but not Jesus. Jesus didn’t need political backing.

On the opposite of the political spectrum he ignored the cause of the zealots who fought Roman power… Jesus didn’t bother with being an anti-establishment activist.

Jesus also ignored a highly organized and earnest Jewish religious establishment… even though he seemed to have several Pharisees who believed and followed him. At different times you can almost get the feeling that if he had just toned down a little of the rhetoric, stopped talking about the poor and disenfranchised so much, and focused more on the average person’s sins and on being good Jews a little more, he could have gone far.

But then, he never really left the whole Jewish system behind either… always at the Temple, always at the feasts, always reminding people of the heart and intent of the Law.

What do we often do today? We strive in the opposite directions… we crave political power and political results, either left or right of the aisle. We might even proudly go guerilla activist in defiance of the powers that be. We seek opinion leaders in culture and woo them  or pay them big bucks for motivational speeches. We bow to religious systems and build empires based on the potency, or lack of, in these theocracies.

While Jesus preaches good news to the least likely to receive any.

I’m actually in a good mood today… for reals. I hope you don’t think I’m ranting in a morose fit of depression. I guess I’m just feeling a little out of touch with Jesus’ folks. I haven’t spent much time lately with the disenfranchised, defeated, disheartened and dispossessed.  My bad. 

Peace, y’all! Todd 

What the scriptures give us on Father’s Day…

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You know I didn’t do this kind of a post for Mother’s Day… I hope you can forgive me. But I thought I would collect here some of my thoughts I am sharing with a class tomorrow morning, the Sunday which we celebrate as Father’s Day.

What does our Bible most often give us, as pertaining to God? My thoughts are running something like this:

The scriptures give us (not exclusively) images of God in a quest to help us know God and love God. I’m daring in my sense of over-simplification, but I think the idea rings true enough.

Not being divine oursleves, not divine in essence or personality, we’re not able to perceive God in a full, undiluted manner… so the images of scripture quite naturally flow from our own context and existence to be understandable and cogent.

And here’s a point of distinction… these images must be allowed to function in ways that help us know and love, but not allowed to funtion in ways that circumscribe God. It’s healthy to remember that scripures aid us in knowing God, not “figuring God out.”

So, let’s cruise some (just a few) images: father, mother, bridegroom, shepherd, potter… and later in a fuller way, son and spirit. To help enliven our images we have some amazing verbs that come along with the God of our scriptures… God loves, hates, marries, becomes jealous, divorces, forgives, molds and fashions, protects, calls, sends, speaks, listens, and remembers.

I was in an unexpected and interesting snatch of conversation this past week when a friend bemoaned the fact that some of the push towards inclusive language in church culture and vocabulary was actually excluding the masculine. So, in a rush to make God not exclusively masculine, we might try to make God not masculine. But God is masculine. And God is feminine.

And God is so far past those adjectives and realities that after they help us understand and love God a little more than we have previously, we have to remind ourselves that our being drawn to God is the point of this exercise, not divine sexuality. When the images wear a little thin or start to get too bossy, leave them aside for a few weeks and come back to them… let them breathe a little.

Fellas, there’s not a doubt that the father image, the masculine image, is the hands-down winner of which image pops up most through the scriptures. But I don’t think that really gives us much reason for self-congratulaion or high-fiving. If anything, we might uniquely have a bar set pretty high for the love of a bridegroom, the patience of a father, the sacrifice of a parent. *sigh*

So, let us do what honor to the Divine image that we may! Let us give someone something to celebrate in the way we love, are fathers, and are husbands.

Good morning and Happy Easter! 2007

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The reality of a Risen Savior once again takes center stage in our lives and threatens to change everything that we take for granted and hold dear.

I’ve often wondered how the Risen One had changed and transformed the lives of the earliest Christians… what new realities and even some older realities suddenly opened up before them?

Were there any Jewish believers who suddenly understood the story of Jonah’s adventure in the belly of a great fish in a new light? Did anyone suddenly perceive the “temple” language of Jesus in full clarity as the risen temple of his body walked the same roads he had stumbled down toward his death?

Are there questions and doubts and fractured frustrations in our own lives that can be finally and fully put to rest in the arms of the Risen One? In the light of a new reality, can we find the wholeness of life and peace, even within the brokenness of the other realities that swirl around us?

The new thing that has been birthed today is the hope of all who are trapped, dying and even dead in the grave of despair and pain. The Risen One offers life on a new set of terms… participation in a whole new reality.

“O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Book of Common Prayer, Page 291

Be blessed in the Easter Season!

Holy Saturday… April 7th, 2007

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So, it’s Holy Saturday in Texas, in April, and it snows. Some days are just going to be special no matter how we mark their passage.

And some deaths will be germinal… as the tomb in which Jesus now lies is waiting to birth a new thing in the morning. And a patient Lord waits in the depths for the God of Israel, the God of Redemption, the God worth waiting for, more than the watchmen wait for morning.

Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, LORD, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.

He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.

Sleep well, the waiting is worth it!

Good Friday… April 6th, 2007

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Good evening, friends. It’s Friday night, the cross is empty and the grave is full. Good Friday is finished, and now we wait. What will Sunday bring? How long will Saturday last?

We’ve all stood at the edge of a grave and wondered what would come next. We’ve all wondered, “How long?”

We never stand at that edge, with those questions, alone.

Psalm 21:1-11, TNIV

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?

My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the praise of Israel.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
They cried to you and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

But I am a worm, not a human being;
I am scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the LORD,” they say,
“let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me feel secure on my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Do not be far from me, for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Peace to you as we wait for our answers.

Wednesday and Thursday of Holy Week…

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I hit a wall of technical difficulties yesterday that prevented me from my daily Holy Week email. I was so mad at myself last night! But, it is holy Week, so I forgave myself.

And today is Maundy Thursday. Yesterday with the youth we looked at the passage in John 13 when Jesus clues the other followers in on Judas’ impending betrayal. Jesus does this at the meal which we commemorate today.

You know what gets me? Jesus loved Judas so much… and I don’t think he ever stopped loving him. Jesus must have known that Judas would one day betray him long before this dinner. Yet Jesus never drove Judas away from him. In fact, Jesus also knew that Peter would soon deny him, but he kept Peter around, too! What about poor Thomas? We’ve castigated him through the centuries as “Doubting Thomas” as if he were the only one having problems figuring out that maelstrom of events. Jesus moved through a world of betrayal.

And Jesus didn’t let the betrayals slow him down one step. He didn’t stop loving or serving or keeping to his course. Can we live like that? I know I want to…

But I also know I sometimes don’t. In truth I’ve realized lately that I have been bound by the recent, past betrayals and perceived betrayals of my life and ministry. I have been bound and unable to fully engage new friendships and trust some very trustworthy folks. I can’t live like that… it’s neither healthy nor godly.

So as I sit and imagine Jesus around the table with broken, betraying, weak folks who are just like me in their faults and sins, I’m determined to leave behind some of the damage of this life I’ve seen. I’m determined to live more like my Christ. My list of folks who have betrayed my trust is no where near as long as Jesus’ list would be, and I have no idea how it compares to yours… but I know that life must be freed all such entanglements to continue to shine and sing.

Speaking of singing, today’s Psalm is chapter 69… let’s share verses 1-4, 13-16:

1 Save me, O God,
for the floodwaters are up to my neck.
2 Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire;
I can’t find a foothold.
I am in deep water,
and the floods overwhelm me.

3 I am exhausted from crying for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes are swollen with weeping,
waiting for my God to help me.

4 Those who hate me without cause
outnumber the hairs on my head.
Many enemies try to destroy me with lies,
demanding that I give back what I didn’t steal…

13 But I keep praying to you, Lord,
hoping this time you will show me favor.
In your unfailing love, O God,
answer my prayer with your sure salvation.

14 Rescue me from the mud;
don’t let me sink any deeper!
Save me from those who hate me,
and pull me from these deep waters.
15 Don’t let the floods overwhelm me,
or the deep waters swallow me,
or the pit of death devour me.

16 Answer my prayers, O Lord,
for your unfailing love is wonderful.

From beside you at the table of Christ,
I wish you peace.

Tuesday of Holy Week, 2007

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Hello and good evening, families!

I hope your Tuesday was good. Mine was a little busy, but good. I got some work done and sent off some much needed emails.

The passage from the Psalms for this day of Holy Week is chapter 71:1-12… it’s a life-spanning prayer of praise and petition. From youth the psalmist proclaims a trust and hope in God. In the New King James, verse 5, we hear, “You are my trust from my youth.” Then the psalmist makes a request of God, that in old age he not be discarded by God.

Oh, I’m sure this is rhetorical question. Can God really discard a person because their usefulness has run out? What a human prayer, born of an encounter with the Divine. If we believe what in faith we proclaim about the love and grace of God, then we cannot truly imagine God’s faithfulness to us being so short-lived. But, our hearts may fear it… we’ve known to much deceit and faithlessness in ourselves.

I’m glad the psalmist is able to say, “God, I’ve given you a life’s effort at being your person.” without being prideful or arrogant. I’m also glad that the psalmist can cry out a very human fear, “Oh God, don’t let that effort be in vain.” I’m glad that God can bear to hear both our strengths and weaknesses, our praises and pleadings, and love us through every one.

Psalm 71:1-12

1 In you, LORD, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame.

2 In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me;
turn your ear to me and save me.

3 Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go;
give the command to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.

4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.

5 For you have been my hope, Sovereign LORD,
my confidence since my youth.

6 From birth I have relied on you;
you brought me forth from my mother’s womb.
I will ever praise you.

7 I have become like a portent to many,
but you are my strong refuge.

8 My mouth is filled with your praise,
declaring your splendor all day long.

9 Do not cast me away when I am old;
do not forsake me when my strength is gone.

10 For my enemies speak against me;
those who wait to kill me conspire together.

11 They say, “God has forsaken him;
pursue him and seize him,
for no one will rescue him.”

12 Do not be far from me, my God;
come quickly, God, to help me.

Peace to you…

Monday of Holy Week

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Holy Week… Monday, April 02 2007

Hello, families!

I hope sincerely that you’ve had a blessed Lenten journey this year. We have arrived at a time of transition. Yesterday was Palm Sunday… a joyous, happy day to celebrate the arrival of life’s King.

And now, just as you and I hit the work-week again on another Monday morning, Jesus has hit the work-week’s journey to the cross. Surely, I mean, SURELY, Jesus wasn’t fooled by the Palm Sunday reception. He knew what was in store for the coming week. A grueling routine of angry religious leaders and hard teachings for the followers. But maybe with the echoing memory of the multitudes singing, “Hosanna! Blessings on the king who comes…” Jesus was better able to face the week and walk straight ahead. What echoes do you hear at the beginning of the week?

What echoes do you hear at the beginning of the week? Can you hear the echo of God’s love in the hardest of days? Have you listened for those divine words of truth, “God is love.” If you concentrate hard enough you might hear Jesus on the cross saying, “Forgive them…”

As we start a week’s worth of remembering the path to the cross amid life’s daily frustrations and pains, let’s hear those echoes. I don’t know what you have happening in your life this week, but let the divine song drown it out and weaken fatique’s hold on you.

Within and among your family, speak echo-worthy truths… tell one another of your love for each other. Speak the truth of what you see good happening in the lives of each.

Share the words of today’s psalm selection, Psalm 36:5-10 (NLT)… let these words echo in your hearts…

5 Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.

6 Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, LORD, preserve both people and animals.

7 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

8 They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.

9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

10 Continue your love to those who know you,
your righteousness to the upright in heart.

Have a blessed Monday of Holy Week!