Through the Bible in 2021

Through The Bible In A Year With A Friend

Many folks have felt the call over the years to take up reading the Bible as the New Year rolls in with the goal of completing the project by December 31 of that year. Many well-intentioned folks. Many of those well-intentioned folks don't reach their goal. I am one of them. More than once. But there have been years where I have made it and perhaps this is the one where you will find your way all the way through. One help I can offer is suggested readings for each day along with a thought inspired by that days reading.

I suggest reading the scripture appointed for the day and follow that with a consideration of your keys for the day from what you have read. Write them down if you are so inclined. Then, read through where those scriptures led my thoughts for the day. It will be, I hope, as though you are reading through the Bible with a friend.

Through The Bible In A Year With A Friend

I hope that you will consider keeping a journal as you read, making your notes there as your own record of your journey. I will each day include the prompt "Keys For Today..." as part of my reflection to remind you to share and perhaps record your own ideas as you read. Again, I'd suggest you write your own thoughts and reflections down as you read or immediately following your reading and then read mine.

While the goal is reading through the Bible in a year, don't be too hard on yourself. If you fall behind don't give up and don't feel as though you must catch up. Though the Bible in fifteen months or however long it takes you is great. Blessings for your 2021!

January

| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 |

| 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 |

 

 

January 1

Genesis 1 & 2 and Matthew 1

The opening verse of the Bible starts with the words, "When God began..." and continues with God speaking things into existence, It happens as God speaks it and it is drawn together with the summation, "God saw everything he had made and it was supremely good." (Gen. 1:31)

The second chapter of Genesis continues with a second creation story, this one with contextual detail. Rivers are named and several places/nations are mentioned. This is a story that takes place, not in some nameless fanciful other world, but in Cush and Assyria - God's activity can be located on a map.

Matthew 1 continues that contextual theme and expands on it, giving us the lineage of Jesus, name by name by name. Then in a quick report that is anything but breathless we get Matthew's account of the arrival on our planet of "Emmanuel - God with us."

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Creator God, thank you for coming to us and for your activity in the real places and times of the Bible and in our own real place and time in this present moment. Amen.

 

 

January 2

Genesis 3 and 4, Matthew 2

"Where are you?" - Genesis 3:9

"What have you done?!" - Genesis 3:13

"What did you do?" - Genesis 4:10

My attention today is caught by these questions. God has questions for Adam, for Eve, and for Cain. They are questions that probe directly to places where the people have acted in opposition to God's intention. There is a beautiful depth to the creation stories, and to the stories of the early origins of humanity in scripture. These questions are questions that God has surely asked of me more than once over the years. As a new year unfolds I am challenged to have my ears and my heart opened to God's probing questions - questions that ask me to be honest with God and with myself.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

As you do a new thing in this new year O God, make us curious to explore your scripture. As we dive into your word to us, help us to ask questions that lead us to a deeper relationship with you. Amen.

 

 

January 3

Genesis 5 and 6, Matthew 3

Genesis 6 is the story of God's unhappiness. It says God's heart was broken (6:4) with humanity, and singles out Noah and his family as the sole survivors of God's judgment. Matthew 3 is the story of God's heart being broken once again by the people making up God's creation, and of God's judgment, this time announced by John the Baptist. Both stories have an element of hope. In the earlier story it rests on Noah, his family and animals who will be saved in the ark. Humanity will survive this judgement.
In Matthew the hope is found in the message of John the Baptist. It is a blunt message, a stirring call to change hearts and lives and produce fruit that demonstrates this change. The passage concludes with the introduction of the adult Jesus, come down from Galilee to be baptized by John. The revolution has begun!

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Forgive us when our actions break your heart, compassionate God. Thank you for loving us and continually pointing us towards a hopeful future. Amen.

 

 

January 4

Genesis 7 and 8, Psalm 1 and 2

The flood. A story with which to struggle. "God wiped away every living thing that was on the fertile land...."(7:23) What to draw from this? A reminder of the depth to which humanity can fall and the reality of God's righteous anger? A worrisome portrayal of God as willing to wipe us out in one fell swoop? It's easy to read it as the story of Noah and some fortunate animals who survive the flood. It's more troublesome to read it as the story of the rest of creation covered over in flood waters. No quick escape or simple explanation, but it's in the really problematic dilemmas like this that Bible gets real with us by not offering an easy out. The struggle, it turns out, really is real. Scripture makes a habit of letting us know that if we believe God probably should not be easily explained, understood, readily fathomable, we may well be right.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

God of every time and place, walk with us as we engage scripture to learn of who you are and who you would have us be. Amen.

 

 

January 5

Genesis 9-11, Matthew 4

I read this Matthew 4 passage once as part of a morning devotional while staying in a hotel in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. I will never forget that particular morning. It was around 6:00 a.m. and I was out on a balcony probably five or six floors up, and the hotel was already on a hill making the view of the Sea of Galilee magnificent. I could look out and picture the scenes from verses 12-25 unfolding before me. The Galilee that morning was beautiful, the sunrise gorgeous. The geography before me matched the mood of promise in this passage as Jesus calls his first disciples and begins his public ministry in earnest. "From that time Jesus began to announce, 'Change your hearts and lives! Here come the kingdom of heaven.'"(4:17)

Keys For Today...

Prayer

We give thanks today for the sunrise and for every evidence we encounter that points to your glory. Amen.

 

 

January 6

Genesis 12 and 13, Matthew 5

It has always felt to me like Genesis 1-11 is the prologue to the Bible. It sets the table. Puts pieces in place. And then, in Genesis 12, things truly begin. We transition from pre-history to history. By pre-history I mean the events of Genesis 1-11 have no hook to attach them to historical events - with the introduction of Abram and Sarai that changes. Here are Egypt and the Pharaoh and the beginning of the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel which, by the end of Genesis, position us for the story of the shaping event of the Old Testament - the Exodus.
Matthew 5, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, is stunning in ways I have to almost remind myself how stunning it is. I have grown accustomed to Jesus teachings and to the things that Jesus has said. One strategy for listening to this text is to imagine you know nothing of Jesus life, death, ministry, resurrection - nothing. Only what has been told to this point in Matthew's gospel. Now read what Jesus says and imagine you are hearing him speak for the first time. It's breathtaking stuff.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

As we embark on our journey through your Word, open our ears and our hearts to engage it as though for the first time. Surprise us with the depth and power of your love. Amen.

 

 

January 7

Genesis 14 and 15, Psalm 3 and 4

First a bit of trivia. If, as some think, Salem - where Melchizedek is King - is Jerusalem, then Genesis 14:18 is the first mention of Jerusalem in the Bible. Beyond that as we read through the beginning of Genesis 14 there is a lengthy list of kings - nine of them - who are involved in a battle in the Siddim Valley. These kings are likely more like mayors in terms of the geographic area over which they reign. Each walled city has its own king and they are king over precisely as much land as they can successfully defend. If you look at a map of Israel you can see that we are talking about a very compact area. Consequently it is easy to understand the importance of the kinds of alliances described in this passage in maintaining security.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Holy God, you are my shield and my glory. You restore me. Bless your people this day and help us to respond with faithful joy. Amen.

 

 

January 8

Genesis 16 and 17, Matthew 6

"Therefore I say to you, don't worry about your life..."

"Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth...."(6:19)
"You cannot serve God and wealth."(6:26)
"...Don't worry about your life..."(6:25)
"Therefore stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has it enough trouble of its own."(6:34)
Matthew 6 is full of teachings of Jesus that I love, and at the same time, with which I struggle. I love the idea of letting the day's own worry be enough for the day. I totally get that I can't serve two masters. I've lived long enough to recognize that the things that matter are not things. And yet, I worry that I sometimes fail to make Jesus the priority. I value things that aren't of long term worth. I know and believe what Jesus says is true. I pray that I live more, rather than less, a life that is consistent with what I profess to know and believe.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Help me this day to find agreement between my beliefs and my actions, my love for you and my choices. Amen.

 

 

January 9

Genesis 18 and 19, Matthew 7

Lot seems to have been a real piece of work. At the end of everything, after the messengers finally get him to leave Sodom and are urging him to head for a safe spot up in the mountains, he doesn't want to go to the mountains and asks to go to a small city nearby instead. Whenever I get up this much feeling of dislike for a biblical character, I try to take the step of pausing and asking how I am like this character. Rather than pile on long gone Lot, it may be constructive for me to examine how often I find myself receiving grace upon grace from God, and in response asking for something more or different. When I'm not liking Lot, God is showing me stuff about me.

Keys For Today..

Prayer

Thank you for scripture that shapes us and offers us the possibility of transformation and growth. Amen.

 

 

January 10

Genesis 20 and 21, Matthew 8

I was reading Matthew 8 this morning and found a notation that I'd made when I had read a part of this chapter a couple of years ago during a visit to Lake Tahoe. It took me back to the place and the moment - it was a crisp morning, crystal clear water, simply beautiful. I recalled taking in that beauty and thinking, as I looked at Lake Tahoe, of Jesus climbing into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee.

I've always been an underliner and notes-in-the-margin person; but it has only been within the past ten years or so I've adopted a practice suggested in a presentation I attended by E. Stanley Ott. Stan's practice is to note in his Bible the passage he read, the date and where he read it. I've come to love leaving these tracks behind in my Bible. Many of them are noted as "home," but others are at vacation locations, Starbucks, waiting in the car rider line when the kids were much younger...so many memories. While this may not be everyone's cup of tea, I offer it as something that I've found meaningful and useful. I'd be curious to know if you have any regular way of noting your reading. Do you journal, make notes in your Bible, underline? Do you avoid writing in your Bible? No wrong answers; just curious about your practices.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Each day is a gift, each one a building block, a part of the person we are becoming. Help us to not only seek after what your scripture says, but to listen closely for what it says to us here and now in this very moment. Amen.

 

 

January 11

Genesis 22 and 23, Psalm 5 and 6

A lot of the time reading the Psalms is like walking through an art museum for me. I can be in and out of a room quickly or it can take me awhile, depending on if a painting catches my eye. And I don't really have a predictable or good critical eye when it comes to art. Some of it I like and some of it not so much. With a Psalm - Psalm 5 for instance - I don't look for much in the way of narrative, I look for the phrases, the paintings in the art museum example, that catch my eye, my imagination. In Psalm 5 this morning that place was v. 3...

"Lord, in the morning you hear my voice,
in the morning I lay it all out before you.
Then I wait expectantly."

And there was my thought/goal for the day...to wait expectantly.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

I trust that you are at work in the world all around me. I ask that my eyes, my mind, and my soul would be open to your voice. Help me to wait expectantly for you. Amen.

 

 

January 12

Genesis 24 and 25, Matthew 9

Jesus forgives and heals a man. This is interpreted as an insult to God. Jesus eats with Matthew and his friends who are fellow tax collectors. This is interpreted as Jesus fraternizing with the wrong folks. Jesus casts a demon out of a man. This is interpreted as Jesus being in league with the ruler of demons. Jesus makes a habit out of helping and enjoying people and this is viewed as problematic. There is a cautionary tale for those of us who live out our faith in community. Beware of rules that cause us to miss the point of the life of the person we claim to be following.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Strengthen me and stoke my desire to faithfully follow you. Amen.

 

 

January 13

Genesis 26 and 27, Matthew 10

The first time Abram tries to pass Sarai off as his sister in Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20) it's a curiosity. When their names are changed - they are Abraham and Sarah now - and he does it again (the entirety of Genesis 20) when they settle as immigrants in Gerar it's not a curiosity, it's weird. When it turns out that Isaac attempts the same strategy, also in Gerar (Genesis 26:6-11), it's just plain creepy. King Abimelech of Gerar sums up my feelings on the whole "she's my sister" gambit in Genesis 20:10 - "What were you thinking about when you did this thing?" he asks the great patriarch. Yes Abraham, please explain. And then explain the conversation that apparently took place when you told Isaac about this great idea.

These stories are odd. Maybe everyone back in the days of the patriarchs and matriarchs went around saying their wives were their sisters in tight moments, but I think it's more likely these stories are just odd. Did it really happen three times? Is it three different renditions of the same tradition? Is it a part of a larger narrative and the whole thing didn't make it into the text. All of these things occur to me, but I don't know.

Why make a point of lifting out these odd stories when there is so much that is important and moves the story along, and tells us of great people living lives of great faith? Mostly because the stories are there. Sure, one can read past them - filter out the odd moments and move on to where the main story resumes, but I love that it's all there. A wonderful feature of scripture is that it is not all cleaned up and seamlessly presented. It's strange and repetitive and jumps around and includes bits and pieces that make you scratch your head and wonder.

I love this because it feels real. It is not a faux account of the lives of unrealistic people where everything makes sense and all ends up well with a strong moral and a completely logical outcome. It's messy. It's unusual. It's anything but predictable. It's human. And because it's human we can find ourselves in it. Our lives are not seamless or perfect and aren't going to get that way. We can be great and we can be lacking in greatness. We act in ways that are selfless, courageous and meaningful and we act in ways for which even we have no explanation. We read the Bible in its totality and we find much that inspires us, sustains us and challenges us. And we find the occasional bit that puzzles or confuses us - or maybe just weirds us out. It's not a flawless fantasy. It's God's real story.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Gracious God, you communicate with us through the stories of scripture. These stories tell us about the imperfect lives of imperfect people. In those very lives we see you at work. In our own imperfection, we raise our voices in thanks and praise. Amen.

 

 

January 14

Genesis 28 and 29, Psalm 7 and 8

Biblical scholars are largely in agreement that the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) are the work of multiple authors and an editor assembled the various traditions into the present text. Suffice to say that the previous statement is a gross oversimplification of a number of theories but gets to the core idea of how the Torah came together. One can feel these varying stories pulling the narrative this way and that. As an example we have a core story that moves from Isaac (who really doesn't emerge as a fully developed figure in the way that Abraham, Jacob or Joseph do, in my opinion) to Jacob. Alongside the main stream of the story of Jacob traveling to the east to find a wife, one finds passages such as Genesis 24:35-36, 27:46 and 28:6-9 which are concerned with Esau's Canaanite wives and Rebekah's dislike of them. They add background to the story, but the story never becomes about Esau or his wives or their relationship with Rebekah except in a peripheral way. It's not hard to imagine that in their original tellings, as folks passed this on as oral tradition, that there were some great stories of Beeri the Hittite, Basemouth and their unhappy relationship with Rebekah. If so, they joined many other stories that did not make the transition from oral tradition to written text.

Finally for today, there may be some that equal it, but it is hard to imagine a more perfectly lovely statement than Genesis 29:28 and its description of Jacob's love for Rachel. "Jacob worked for Rachel for seven years, but it seemed like a few days because he loved her."

Keys For Today...

Prayer

As recipients of ancient stories that tell God's forever story we are grateful for the people who brought together the stories of God's holy word. Bring us back regularly to this treasure. Amen.

 

 

January 15

Genesis 30 and 31, Matthew 11

Jacob is my favorite of the patriarchs and one of my favorites in the Old Testament. He begins life grasping after his slightly older brother's heel and lives a very human life filled with ups and downs. There is always something brewing with Jacob. He steals his brother's birthright and his inheritance. He has the tables turned on him by Laban when he winds up marrying Leah before he marries Rachel. These two chapters continue the theme of Jacob's occasionally questionable dealings (both in his favor and against him) as we are told of Laban's attempt to get the better of the flock and Jacob's response which wins the day. There is Jacob's packing up and taking off without giving Laban notice, which may have been the wise thing to do, but still is hard to defend when his father-in-law catches up to him. Toss in the story of Rachel and the household gods and the deception and intrigue is everywhere.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

We give thanks today for Jesus, who helped the lame to walk, the blind to see, who invites us when life is heavy and exhausting to come to him and find rest. Amen.

 

 

January 16

Genesis 32 and 33, Matthew 12

I'm reading about Jacob and Esau, but I'm hearing themes that show up in Jesus' parable of the prodigal son. Jacob rehearses for himself what he will say when he encounters Esau, anticipating that he will have to placate his brother who will still be angry with him over the stolen birthright and inheritance. In Jesus' story, the prodigal will rehearse what he plans to say to his father, who he imagines will have every reason to be angry with him. Both Jacob and the prodigal will be met with unexpected grace. Esau has set aside Jacob's past actions and embraces his brother, running to greet him. The father also will run to greet the prodigal. Both stories point towards the amazing gift of unexpected and unwarranted grace.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

When I fall short of who you created me to be and when I act in ways that I know to be wrong, help me to be honest with you and to seek forgiveness. In you is the opportunity to receive grace and to begin anew. Amen.

 

 

January 17

Genesis 34-36, Matthew 13

Matthew 13 is, from beginning to end, about communication. Those who have ears to hear should pay attention. They should listen. They should hear. Parables are shared by Jesus. Parables are explained by Jesus. This is one of those places where there is, I believe, danger for the present day reader. We may too easily place ourselves alongside the disciples, assuming that we are among those who "get it" and find ourselves wondering how so many could have missed Jesus' point so often? How so many could have simply missed out on Jesus?

Whether it's the Pharisees or the people in Jesus' hometown, there are regularly some folks who miss what Jesus is saying. Over the years I've heard in Bible studies, Sunday School, informal conversations after worship, a number of variations on the question, "How did the people of Jesus' time not recognize who he was and what he was saying?"

Time to step back again. It is useful to ask what caused some to understand and some not to understand Jesus' words, actions and life in his own time walking the earth. However, its utility lies not in allowing us to congratulate or judge the people of Jesus' time. The benefit of asking such a question is to ask how, two thousand years later, I can at times be so blind to what Jesus is saying or doing. It is to caution me to never make complacency a characteristic of my faith. It is to understand that my attempt to follow Jesus is not about arrival, but is forever in the sincere effort to follow, to understand, to listen, and to hear.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

I truly want to see Jesus and to know what Jesus would have me do. Help me to keep heart, mind, and soul open to where Christ is leading me today. Amen.

 

 

January 18

Genesis 37 and 38, Psalm 9

"But the Lord rules forever!
He assumes his throne
for the sake of justice.
He will establish justice in the world rightly;
he will judge all people fairly."
-Psalm 9:7-8

These verses pointing to God's justice and fairness seem to be a good companion for both Genesis 37 and 38. As Joseph's story begins we see his brothers finding little that appears to be fair in their younger brother's dreams. This leads to obvious injustice and bad acts on their part. Then the interlude of Genesis 38 wherein Tamar seeks justice from Judah hits hard both on what is fair and what is just in that very personal story, and in the society in which that very personal story is a matter of accepted conventions and practices. There is a long trek ahead for Joseph. For the resilient Tamar there is, at least, some vindication and justice.

How often are fairness and justice individual struggles about decisions and actions in our interpersonal relationships? Where are fairness and justice concerns that reach beyond our network of relationships, extending into the society and culture in which we live? How is God guiding us to be aware of the ways in which we can work for fairness and justice?

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Loving God, you desire fairness and justice for your creation. Guide my decisions and choices towards the goals of fairness and justice, understanding that the actions of each person shape our society, our culture and our world. Amen.

 

 

January 19

Genesis 39 and 40, Matthew 14

I'm drawn to competing responses to outside circumstances in today's gospel reading from Matthew. Herod's first thought is of himself. How people will think of him. What John is saying about him. Everything is motivated by his assessment of people's thoughts about him up to and including Herordias' daughter's request for the head of John the Baptist. Even then, while he doesn't want to grant her request, he feels compelled to grant it to save face.

Jesus offers a different path. Jesus, having heard of John's death, withdraws to an isolated place to consider what has happened. The crowds follow him. We are not told that Jesus sees the crowd and becomes upset with them because they are not what he had planned when he withdrew to a quiet place. Instead, "When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd, he had compassion for them and healed those who were sick."

Jesus actions point us towards considering that the path to fulfillment in life is not in being consumed by our image, or by what we think we most want, but by placing a priority on empathy and considering the needs of others.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Where I see others hurting and in need help me to do what I can to bring comfort and relief. Help me to find who you call me to be by keeping my eyes looking at the world around me. Amen.

 

 

January 20

Genesis 41 and 42, Matthew 15

As Joseph explains Pharaoh's dream to him he demonstrates some wonderful insight into the way the human mind works. There will be seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. Joseph advises, "No one will remember the abundance in the land because the famine that follows will be so severe."(41:31) Setting aside the rest of the narrative and simply focusing on this thought for a moment, I'm struck by how accurate this is a description of the way our minds so often work. In the days of abundance and obvious blessing it is easy to enjoy life as though it is simply supposed to be this way. However, in the days of difficulty and hardship it can be hard to even recall that there ever were days that were good, and it can seem improbable that they could ever return.

Joseph's plan is to take a long view and use the time of abundance to prepare for the time of scarcity. He is calling for a balanced view of life. It is helpful to be reminded that people of faith are not exempt from the vagaries of life. Embrace and value the highs and understand that there will, without doubt, be lows.

Keys For Today

Prayer

God of all times and places, when I celebrate, you are with me. When I am downcast, you are with me. When I laugh, cry, cause conflict and work for reconciliation - through it all, you are with me. Thank you for staying with me through it all. Amen.

 

 

January 21

Genesis 43 and 44, Psalm 10

It always seemed a little suspect to me that for years we were left with the explanation that what kept everyone from recognizing that Clark Kent was Superman had something to do with the glasses he was wearing. Clearly some special glasses.

One of the interesting pieces of the Joseph cycle of stories is the moment when Joseph recognizes his brothers and they do not recognize him. And they keep on not recognizing him. Maybe it's just appearances. They look enough the same and there are the right number of them at the right ages, while Joseph probably has had a marked change in appearance along with some cultural adaptations. At the same time, I wonder if he was looking for his brothers, hoping one day they would come through the line looking for food. And I wonder if the brothers hoped that Joseph was long gone, a bad memory - one they actively hoped they would never have to revisit.

Perhaps we do see what we want to see and, if at all possible, don't see that to which we would prefer to be blind.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Open my eyes to the beauty I long for and to the hard things that I would rather overlook, but which would lead to growth. Amen.

 

 

January 22

Genesis 45 and 46, Matthew 16

It is good to keep a map handy when reading through the Bible. It is helpful to see where a story takes place and sometimes helpful to see where a story takes place in relationship to the story before or after it. This is one of those instances. Much of the material in the chapters leading up to Matthew 16 takes place around the Sea of Galilee. Then we come to this: "Now when Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say the Human one is?'" (16:13)

What you want to notice here is the location of Caesarea Philippi. It's a good bit north of the Sea of Galilee. It's as far north as we ever hear of Jesus going. You don't just wander around and suddenly notice that you've wandered to Caesarea Philippi. You go there on purpose. You create that amount of distance between the one place and another on purpose. It would seem it was important to Jesus to take his followers on a bit of a retreat - to move away from the regular goings-on of the ministry that was their work around the Sea of Galilee. It would make sense in that context, time away from the normal everyday activities, that Jesus chooses this moment to ask this all important question, "Who do people say the Human One is?" It is here in this time away that Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah. It is here that Jesus "began to show his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things." The story changes and makes a big step forward in this moment. For this and a variety of other reasons, this particular location is important.

A bias I have after traveling to the Holy Land is that place can matter greatly in a story. One does not have to travel to the Holy Land to read and understand scripture. However to dig into the depths of much of the narrative it is, at the minimum, useful to have a map and to bring a sense of curiosity about the stage upon which the story is played out to your reading of the text.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

In Christ you came to us and walked among us. Living in a particular place at a particular moment in history you showed us that all places and all of history are places where we can meet you. Help us to look for you where we live today. Amen.

 

 

January 23

Genesis 47 and 48, Matthew 17

In the middle of Matthew 17 Jesus and the disciples have a back and forth about faith. The disciples want to know why they couldn't cast out a demon. Jesus responds, "Because you have little faith...I assure you that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain 'Go from here to there,' and it will go. There will be nothing you can't do." Too many times I've heard this interpreted, discussed and presented as a formulation for personal wish fulfillment. Just a little faith and you can do and have anything you want. I don't see or hear it that way. I don't think faith like a mustard seed necessarily equates to a new Ford F-150. I think faith like a mustard seed offers more than a capacity to acquire or do things, it offers a way of life where the things we want to do or be are less our priorities and more God's priorities. I may think it would be super to have a complete run of Justice League of America including their first two appearances in Brave and the Bold 28 and 29, and it may not be a bad thing to actually one day have that complete run, but I'm doubting it's God's priority for my life in any way, and most likely not a desire born out of my aim of following Jesus. Faith like a mustard seed can indeed help us to do things far beyond what we believe we may be able to do, but I believe this passage is calling me to think about this in terms of what I can do or be by way of participating in God's plan and purposes.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Lead me to long for your will and to live towards your purpose. Amen.

 

 

January 24

Genesis 49 and 50, Matthew 18

Congratulations to you! You've completed the book of Genesis! Hope you are feeling good about your start to this project of reading through the Bible in a year. And if you are falling behind, remember to allow for grace. Keep track of what you've missed and stay with the current day or stay with where you are and read from there. Don't get caught in the trap of giving yourself the ultimatum of catching up or dropping out - it's a false choice and you don't have to make it.

A little trivia note for some context when we are considering the journey that will consume more than forty years and most of Exodus through Deuteronomy. It's the same journey, basically, that Joseph and his brothers take in Genesis 50 to bury Jacob. The one where they go, bury their father and come back in a relatively short time. The Exodus doesn't take forty years because it's a long trip.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

You speak to us in many ways. This day we especially thank you for speaking to us through scripture. Keep our ears and our hearts listening for your voice. Amen.

 

 

January 25

Exodus 1 and 2, Psalms 11 and 12

A nice feature of reading texts from different parts of scripture is watching themes emerge from one that speak to what's going on in the other. As Exodus opens we have a quick trip through the enslavement of the Hebrew people in Egypt, the birth and miraculous early life of Moses, followed by his flight to Midian and settling into life there. Chapter 2 ends with the Israelites "groaning because of their hard work." They cry out to God and God hears their cry. God remembers the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Psalmist sounds a similar note...

"But the Lord says,
Because the poor are oppressed,
because of the groans of the needy,
I'm now standing up.
I will provide the help they are gasping for.
The Lord's promises are pure..." (v.5-6a)

In both we are reminded that God hears us when we call out in our moments of great need, and God's promises are promises in which we can trust.

In other news...it seems that if you are searching for a spouse the place to go is the village well. Abraham's emissary finds Rebekah at a well, Jacob meets Rachel at a well, and here, in Exodus 2, Moses meets Zipporah (and her sisters) at a well. Lots of matchmaking taking place at the well.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Holy God, I give thanks this day for your scripture and for the way you illuminate one portion of scripture with another. Thank you for the way you reveal yourself through all of the pages of the Bible. Amen.

 

 

January 26

Exodus 3 and 4, Matthew 19

Matthew 19 begins with a thorny discussion about marriage, divorce and relationships and concludes with a complicated consideration of wealth, treasures and the kingdom of God. Between the two are children. People bringing their children to Jesus to be blessed. These are the people the disciples try to step in and send away. I guess their thinking was that Jesus had important work to do and didn't have time for less weighty endeavors like blessing children. I'm picturing Jesus with a disbelieving look on his face. "Don't forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children." (v.14) Perhaps Jesus sees the children as the best opportunity to actually do something about the issues of relationships and wealth that bookend this chapter. Certainly we can engage our attitudes about one another and about our material possessions, but attitudes ingrained over years are that much harder to impact for change. Witness the young man, "who went away saddened, because he had many possessions."(v.22) Jesus' inclination to override his disciples attempt to keep the children from him may be the most valuable lesson in this passage for them and for us.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Whatever our age, O God, give us something of the spirit of childhood that fills us with wonder and helps us to imagine possibilities. Amen.

 

 

January 27

Exodus 5 and 6, Matthew 20

The fundamentally unfair story of the folks hired to work in the vineyard at different times throughout the day is one of my favorite illustrations of the wonder of God's grace. At the same time it's a great illustration of why grace can be such a struggle for us. First, the vineyard owner is giving the same wage to all is a really helpful way for me to understand God's love and its complete lack of favoritism. God doesn't love any of us better based on our time served or number of Sunday mornings attending worship. God's grace is there for all who would receive it. The struggle voiced by the early laborers is not so much that the owner is unfair. It is more that the owner is unfair in someone else's favor. The parable lays bare our temptation to rank our practice of faith and our goodness on a continuum. I might not be perfect, but I can think of a number of people who are even more less-perfect than I am. God's grace levels the field. As Paul writes to the church in Rome, "All have sinned and fall short of God's glory." (Romans 3:23) Thanks be to God who chooses to be something better than fair.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Gracious God, I am glad you love each one of us so much that you choose to bless us with far more than we would ever deserve. Amen.

 

 

January 28

Exodus 7 and 8, Psalms 13 and 14

"Fools say in their hearts, There is no God..."

So begins Psalm 14. We could paraphrase a bit to adapt to the Exodus story of the back and forth between Moses and Pharaoh and posit that the fool says there are no consequences to not paying attention to or defying God. The plagues begin with blood in the river, followed by frogs, lice, and insects everywhere. Pharaoh is, each time the crisis is at its peak, ready to let the people walk. The crisis is lifted and the permission is rescinded. Each time a new horror follows. Notice the sensory descriptions of the plagues, the stink of the dead fish and frogs, the sight of the blood red Nile, the feeling of the Egyptians digging into the banks of the Nile seeking water, and of frogs crawling on their bodies. It is not hard to imagine the panic and revulsion of each new plague and the relief when the plagues are lifted. And yet with each new opportunity to choose otherwise, the fool says in his heart this time there will be no consequences for defying the will of God.

It is an unhappy proposition to continually set one's course in intentional opposition to God.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Forgiving God, when I dig in and harden my heart, remind me of your love and help me to get out of my own way to experience you. Amen.

 

 

January 29

Exodus 9 and 10, Matthew 21

As the saga of the plagues continues alongside of the reading from Matthew that begins with Palm Sunday and is followed by one story after another of people missing the point of what was unfolding before them, I keep coming back to the plague of darkness. I may be fundamentally wrong, but I don't think people in their heart of hearts truly want to choose darkness, the absence of God, over light, the presence of God, when deciding where they want to live their lives. But we make that choice. Often. Matthew points us again towards the wisdom of the children, this time as they shout their hosannas in the temple. Further on Jesus commends the faithfulness of tax collectors and prostitutes ahead of the religious leaders. The children haven't yet been encumbered with the trappings of adulthood and the tax collectors and prostitutes have moved past any false sense of self-aggrandizement that comes with those trappings. There is a joy in the innocent faith of a child. There is an awareness of a need for God's grace in the tax collectors and the prostitutes. In the ongoing struggle to choose well in moving towards light and darkness our best strategy seems not to be trusting that we will recognize it for ourselves, but in following Jesus, the light of the world.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Loving God, there is a hymn that reminds us we need you every hour. It's true. Thank you for always being there. Amen.

 

 

January 30

Exodus 11 and 12, Matthew 22

A couple of things about reading the Bible.

One, I love to read the Bible. I love the way this ancient text speaks across time and how I hear God's guidance, direction, word to me in its pages.

Two, there are days when I just don't know what I'm supposed to find. This is one of those days. I'm not saying there is nothing that jumps out in these passages. The details of the Passover feast are fascinating. Jesus' teaching of two great commandments is so succinct and yet so full. Generally though, I read the Exodus passage and my mind is stuck on the death of the first born Egyptians and the incredible sadness in those anguished cries in the night. The beginning and the end of Matthew 22 (the parable of the wedding party and the question about David's son) are both a struggle -"I need a moment Jesus," I might have found myself saying along with the disciples around the campfire that night - "what was that all about again?"

The good news is that there is richness even in what we may not understand in the moment. These texts will linger with me. I will come back to them. I will read, hear, see something that calls a passage to mind. Perhaps what was unclear will take on a surprising clarity. Or maybe it will be filed away for a future moment/circumstance.

Scripture is beautiful, but it is often neither linear nor crystal clear. We keep reading, engaging and trusting for God's word to us in this and every day.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

God of all time and places, when I don't understand right now, work with me and help me to be patient and wait on you. Amen.

 

 

January 31

Exodus 13 and 14, Matthew 23

A week ago we finished out the book of Genesis. For those who enjoy passing markers along the way, today we arrive at the completion of our first month of readings. We are 1/12th of the way there!

Tucked into the middle of Exodus 13 is this short and easily overlooked statement: "When Pharaoh let the people go, God didn't lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though that was the shortest route." (13:17) God not only has a destination or destinations in mind for us, but the route that God chooses may be dramatically different than the one we might choose for the same journey. This is worth remembering when the way forward seems long or when it simply makes no sense to us. We pray for the peace of mind to trust that it makes sense to God.

The conclusion of the Matthew 23 passage always brings my mind back to a chapel on the Mount of Olives overlooking the temple mount. It is called the Dominus Flevit (which means "the Lord wept") and it is worth taking a moment to Google and have a look at it on your computer. It is small and if one is standing inside and looking out, the window may at first seem to be focused on the spot where the Temple may have stood, but the intent of the architect was actually to focus slightly to the right of the place where the Dome of the Rock now stands and bring our attention to the gray domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher - the spot where tradition locates the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Creator God, you know the best road for me to travel. There are times when I believe I know what is best. Remind me always to talk with you and to listen for your guidance for the journey. Amen.

 

 

February

| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 |

| 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 |

 

 

February 1

Exodus 15 and 16, Psalms 15 and 16

The Exodus journey as an illumination of our life journeys is all over the reading today. The people are worried there will be no provision. Why did they ever start out and leave the comforts of slavery behind? The answer comes back - God will provide. God rains bread from heaven. No more and no less than what is needed for one day. The instruction is clear - take enough for the day and no more. Taking more proves a waste of time as it goes bad by day two. Except, when it doesn't. The people are reminded to keep the Sabbath. In order to do this they may gather enough for two days on the day prior to the Sabbath. The application for our lives is not hard to find. Faith is a daily practice. It is renewed each day. And Sabbath is important. It is baked into the rhythm of God's creation and it is God's expectation that the people will observe the Sabbath.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

God, help me to trust in your provision. Save me from unnecessary anxiety and help me to be content where I am. Amen.

 

 

February 2

Exodus 17 and 18, Matthew 24

From Exodus a couple of examples of learning to share responsibility and the benefits of having friends on the journey. Moses is called upon to hold his arms aloft so that the people will succeed in battle. Hold your arms up and see how long you are doing that before it begins to become uncomfortable. Now imagine that the outcome of a battle is riding on you being able to keep them in the air. Finally, think of how glorious it would be to have friends to step in and remind you that you don't have to keep them there all by yourself. Now transfer this idea to whatever difficult thing you are trying to do on your own.

From Matthew we have a teaching of Christ which is not unique to this passage, but which should be lifted up every single time it occurs. "But nobody knows when the day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows." Nobody knows. That eliminates everyone who wants to predict the end, create a flowchart to lay out the end, or in anyway wants to use the end to manipulate the present. Nobody knows.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

God of yesterday and today and tomorrow, guide me in paths that will help me to make the most of the day you set before me. Thank you for those who hold up my arms when I am weak. Help me to be that sort of friend to others. Amen.

 

 

February 3

Exodus 19 and 20, Matthew 25

There is a lot to react to in both the Old Testament and Gospel reading today. The meeting between Moses and God results in God's gift of the Ten Commandments. In Matthew 25 we find two parables along with teaching on division into the sheep and the goats, and the call to see Christ in every person we have the opportunity to serve. With all of that I'm drawn today to two verses in Exodus 19.

"So Moses came down, called together the people's elders, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. The people all responded with one voice: 'Everything that the Lord has said we will do.' Moses reported to the Lord what the people said." (vs. 7,8)

I can see myself standing there with the people. Cheering. Praising. Listening intently to God's expectations and asking where I can sign up. I want to be a part of this. I'm all in. Everything that the Lord has said I will do. Really, I can see it.

And then I can see myself with the folks who are mad that there is no food. There I am with the ones who are cranky because there is no water. Hey, isn't that me with the "things were sure great back in Egypt" crowd.

God is looking for my commitment and my conviction beyond the moments when it is exciting, new and seems like it will quite possibly be easy. When it gets real and the situation becomes challenging and difficult I want to grow towards keeping my faith and my enthusiasm for God's will in place as much as possible. I imagine that a big step towards doing that is being perfectly honest about my inclination to give up, turn back, criticize and surrender. Along with the hymn writer of "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," I long to embrace the "strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow."

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Merciful God, I want to commit to the words "everything the Lord says I will do." Help me be able to do it. Amen.

 

 

February 4

Exodus 21 and 22, Psalm 17

Lots of information about how to care for and discipline slaves, when punishment by death is on the table and when it is not, and a section about what happens when your ox starts goring folks. In other words, lots of rules/laws about things at a very specific moment in history, much of which seems not to speak directly to the world of today. In part, I think that's right. I suspect that some of the things that sound horrible to us may in fact have been kind of enlightened at that particular moment in time as there are some protections offered to groups of people who might simply have been left to the whims of others in the absence of these rules.

One strategy when encountering long passages of rules like this is to listen for larger concerns being addressed by very specific rules. What are they trying to accomplish? How does a rule, even one that sounds barbaric, perhaps have an application that was intended to bring more rather than less peace, justice and fairness to the community? Please hear me when I say that there are going to be some instances where we may just shake our head and not understand how a particular law could ever have made sense or been put into practice.

On the other hand you have the occasional moment when you see a law that points beyond a particular moment and contributes to the shaping of the identity of the people for the long haul.

"Don't mistreat or oppress an immigrant because you were once an immigrant in the land of Egypt." (22:21) This is a wonderful example of an admonition born out of the people's lived history and the compassionate God who saved them, and who requires that they remember their past circumstance when they are considering present action. I hear echoes of Jesus' story of the man who owed a great debt which was forgiven, but then turned around and exacted payment from a person who owed him much less. When God has shown us mercy, we are called to go beyond thanks and become merciful ourselves.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Loving God, for your mercy I am thankful. Help me to live my thanks by extending mercy in my relationships. Amen.

 

 

February 5

Exodus 23 and 24, Matthew 26

"Don't spread false rumors. Don't plot with evil people to act as a lying witness. Don't take sides with important people to do wrong." (23:1-2a)

The words from Exodus wash all over the Matthew 26 passage as a Greek chorus backdrop for the betrayal of Jesus by Judas (and by Peter, in his denial, as well). Was thirty pieces of silver a lot? Would ten have been enough? Should Judas have held out for fifty? One hundred? And then there is Peter - no money changes hands, and moments after he defiantly promises that he will be faithful to the end he is feigning not knowing Jesus.

We don't generally set out to bear false witness. Our intent isn't to lie. We don't really want to distort the truth. But then circumstances happen. Judas may have had simple motivations - he wanted thirty pieces of silver. He may have had what he imagined to be noble motivations - he wanted to force Jesus into action. Whatever his motivations, he decided that betrayal would be an okay way to get there. Peter might have said that he could never have envisioned the circumstance that led to his denial, but that's the point. It is sometimes a hard thing to keep these promises we make to God in a quiet, non-threatening moment. Then along comes life with a test that we had not - could not have imagined.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Faithful God, I long to follow you at all times regardless of circumstances. Strengthen my faith for today and for all the days of my life. Amen.

 

 

February 6

Exodus 25 and 26, Matthew 27

Back to a favorite theme of mine...location matters. In the previous chapter we had Jesus in Bethany (east of Jerusalem), celebrating the Last Supper, praying at Gethsemane, then before the council and we heard Peter's denial. Once he'd arrived in Jerusalem from Bethany he's at various locations around the Temple complex for the duration of this story. If you were to look up the traditional sites of these different stories you would see they range from south of the Temple (Last Supper, Caiphas' house), and east of the Temple (Garden of Gethsemane on the Mt. of Olives). Today before Pilate would likely have been in or near the Antonia Fortress which was just north of the Temple complex and then the walk to the Cross, a short walk beyond the city wall.

I walk through all of that to make the point that the Temple is a character in every scene of this story. It's a place that was important to Jesus. He'd been there as a young child, as a boy, and had returned from the Galilee, perhaps on an annual basis throughout his life. I think he had a great love for the Temple and in many ways it looms over this story as a symbol of what might have been had Jesus been widely recognized and well received. I can't help but feel that living these events in it's shadows made the event more agonizing and tragic for Jesus.

Stay with the story though, because in the next chapter, not much more than a stones throw from the site of the crucifixion comes the second part of this hinge of history - also well within the shadow of the Temple.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

God who came to us as Immanuel, as we read your story we can imagine the agony of these days for Jesus and his great love for us. I treasure your love and desire to share it this day. Amen.

 

 

February 7

Exodus 27 and 28, Matthew 28

The curtain comes down on Matthew's gospel as he tells the story of the resurrection and what we have come to know as the Great Commission. As you read Matthew's account of the resurrection think about the choices he makes in terms of what he tells you. What follow-up questions might you have for him based on the information he shares?

Just before Jesus shares the Great Commission with the disciples we are told they come to him to worship, but also with some doubt. Jesus sends them anyway. This is good news. When doubt weaves its way into our faith journey and complicates our relationship with God, when crisis moments cause us to waver, God still is at work with us and through us. Doubt is part of the journey, God's call is constant and true. Thanks be to God.

Keys For Today...

Prayers

God of all times and places, we cannot see history from your vista. Be with us in our moments of great faith and in our moments of doubt. Amen.

 

 

February 8

Exodus 29 and 30, Psalm 18

Easy to get lost in all the language about sacrifice and slaughter, but don't lose the underlying purpose - purity and holiness. The practices instituted here are the beginning of the practices which Jesus will encounter in his ministry that on occasion cause him to have friction with the religious leaders of his time. I mention this to provide some insight into and perhaps some sympathy for the Pharisees when they seem inflexible in their demands for purity, particularly in regard to Sabbath observance. Not as a way of making an excuse for any individual moment, but as a way of saying that the Pharisees don't come to their position simply because they are argumentative, or opposed to Jesus because they woke up in a bad mood. Much of what they believe they are defending is a practice of faith with roots extending back to passages like the one we read today. Once something is understood one way, it can be a tall order to allow for a new interpretation or fresh understanding.

Also, watch the language in Exodus 29 about God's presence in relation to the tent of meeting (the Tabernacle). "I will meet the Israelites there, and it will be made holy by my glorious presence. I will make the meeting tent and the altar holy." (vs.43-44) What is clear here is that while the materials and construction of the tent are clearly important it is abundantly clear that these things do not contain God. They have no holiness in themselves. They are holy because God is holy and God is not bound to any single place or location - the tent is mobile. This becomes important as the people are a people on the go and the Tabernacle is a place for a God who can be anywhere. This thinking will change somewhat when the Temple comes into being and there will be discussion around these themes. The potential danger of the Temple (a building in a set location) is that the God who can be anywhere would then have a house in Jerusalem and that would be where one would go to visit God. Clearly God could still be anywhere, but the mobility of the Tabernacle vs. the stationary nature of the Temple would play a role in the shaping of the way the people thought about God and their relationship with God.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Holy and righteous God, we rejoice that you are with us at all times. To be honest, it also concerns us a bit, because we know the kinds of things we do. Thank you for loving us through it all. Amen.

 

 

February 9

Exodus 31 and 32, Acts 1

Two stories of what can happen while folks are waiting. The people waiting for Moses to come back down from the mountain become impatient and ask Aaron to create gods for them to worship. Aaron collects their jewelry, threw it in the fire and in his words, "Out came this bull calf." (32:24) Major problems follow.

As the book of Acts begins, the disciples are left to wait for the gift that Christ has promised will come. Wait they do, patiently, making good use of their time as they pray and do the work of shoring up the gap left by the loss of Judas. The practical reliance upon prayer for guidance in their work puts the disciples on firm footing as the stage is set for the Day of Pentecost coming in Acts 2.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

God of all times and places, we often become bound up in time. We become impatient waiting for things to happen. We become anxious waiting for outcomes to be known. We want to rush ahead. Help us to know when we need to wait and to rest in those moments trusting that even as we wait, your are present. Amen.

 

 

February 10

Exodus 33 and 34, Acts 2

These two passages interact with each other nicely. Both give us a glimpse of God supernaturally being present in an observable way among God's people. Moses goes to the mountain to meet with God and returns with a case of being shiny due to his proximity to God in their time together. Moses takes up wearing a veil so as to shield the people from the glow now radiating from him. Do you imagine the disciples with Jesus at the Transfiguration may have had this story running through the minds when they witnessed that event?

Acts 2 features the day of Pentecost and the unpredictable manifestation of the Holy Spirit among the gathered followers of Christ. Amidst all of the miraculous goings on - tongues of fire, people speaking in different languages yet understanding one another, the violent wind blowing through the room - there is the moment when Peter has to take the step of assuring the bewildered onlookers that what they are seeing is not the product of folks having had too much too drink. When the Holy Spirit is on the move people seem to notice.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

We ask to experience your Holy Spirit at work in our lives. This can mean subtle shifts and dramatic changes. Keep us faithful as you work in us. Open our eyes to the work of your Spirit in our lives and in the world around us. Amen.

 

 

February 11

Exodus 35 and 36, Psalm 19

"Heaven is declaring God's glory;
the sky is proclaiming his handiwork."
-Psalm 19:1

The Hebrew people were enthusiastic in their support of declaring God's glory and proclaiming his handiwork by way of the worship space being constructed under the direction of Bezalel and Oholiab. They were coming off the incident with the golden calf and their disobedience and rebellion, and perhaps their guilt played a part in their outpouring of gifts, but I am going to believe there was more to it than that. How often do you imagine someone working on a building project like this has ever gone to the source of their funding and said, "Please stop. These donations are just too much - we have way more than enough already!" Following a report from the skilled workers that went very much along those lines, Moses goes to the people and makes the general announcement, "Every man and woman should stop making gift offerings for the sanctuary project."(36:6b) There is often a lot of focus on the grumbling and complaining of the people in their wilderness sojourn. Let's take notice and be challenged here by this moment when they brought forth their best for God in abundance.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

God of abundance, you have richly blessed us. Help us to be generous with our resources and with ourselves in service to you. Amen.

 

 

February 12

Exodus 37 and 38, Acts 3

"Change your hearts and lives." -Acts 3:19

With these five words we have as straightforward a summary as is possible of a Jesus following life. I recognize in myself the need to be making this my aim every single day. As long as I am a passenger on planet Earth there will always be something of myself that can be made more what God wants by changing my heart and my life - by growing towards God.

The promise that Peter makes here is one that will always be welcome, and at times will be like manna in the wilderness. "Then the Lord will provide a season of relief from the distress of this age...." (3:20) I truly don't know of anyone who hasn't hit a patch in life where this promise of a season of relief from distress would not be among the greatest of gifts. This could be a great time to pray for places in your life and in our world where you sense a season of distress, a place where God's relief is needed. A reminder as we pray such a prayer that the change we are requesting should begin with a prayer to change our own hearts and lives, not with a request to fix other people that we perceive to be broken without addressing our own situation first.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Holy God, change my heart and life so that I am ever moving towards the life you intend. Amen.

 

 

February 13

Exodus 39 and 40, Acts 4

First, the early church was experiencing dramatic growth in these opening chapters of the book of Acts and will continue throughout the book Acts. Second, no one is asking the question, "How do we strategize to grow this thing?" What they are doing is sharing their experience of Jesus. Even when they are threatened, Peter and John respond, "We can't stop speaking about what we've seen and heard." (4:20) The best evangelism is experiencing Christ and then sharing that experience. It's not a program, it's not manipulative, and it's not a chore. Also, while it clearly resonated with some folks - the church was growing - it also was risky as we see here with the arrest of Peter and John, and as we'll see throughout Acts. For the disciples, sharing their faith is a natural extension of following Jesus. We followers of Jesus today have this gift to share whose purpose is not growing the roles of any particular church. That may happen, it may not. Our call, rather, is to share this gift, live with the joy of following Christ, and point, as we are able and have opportunity, to the source of that joy.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Thank you for the gift of Jesus Christ. Fill me with such joy in Christ that it overflows and touches the lives of others. Amen.

 

 

February 14

Leviticus 1, 2 and 3, Acts 5

The short passage at the end of Acts 5 with Gamaliel is such an insightful and thoughtful moment...it's worth dwelling on. Gamaliel's basic premise is if this movement is not of God it will fizzle on its own. On the other hand, if it is of God, whatever we do to oppose it is wasted time. I suppose there are instances where this would not be the best counsel. I suspect that there were folks there that day who thought it wasn't the best counsel. They could see the followers of Jesus gathering and growing before the eyes around the temple precincts. I feel like there is an unspoken other consideration involved in Gamaliel's suggestion. Is this movement consistent with what we believe about God and what we know of from our scriptures. Answering this question is not a reflexive thing - it is not something one just knows. It is something that must be examined. Go back earlier in Acts 5 - "Ever larger numbers of person from towns around Jerusalem would gather, bringing the sick and those harassed by unclean spirits. Everyone was healed." (5:16) I suspect Gamaliel was observing more than large crowds which seemed to threaten the status quo and had to be unceremoniously cut off at the pass. He was seeing the reality of people in need being healed and it gave him pause. How often am I certain of what an outcome should be, based not on the facts in front of me, but on what I already have decided is truth? Perhaps Gamaliel has a word for us this day as well.

Keys for today…

Prayer

As the world unfolds around me I pray, O God, for the wisdom to have patience, trusting that my vision must always be measured against yours. Amen.

 

 

February 15

Leviticus 4 and 5, Psalms 20 and 21

The words I said in the afternoon, I reflect back on in evening. I thought nothing of them in the moment, and yet, as the day draws to a close, I've begun to feel more and more like they were hurtful words that may have perhaps done damage.

The decision I made this morning, an action I could have taken, but I chose not to because I had so much to accomplish today, and there just wasn't time for one more thing. How much of that "so much" did I actually accomplish? What good might I have done when I passed on that opportunity?

That time today when I was so positive I was doing the right thing, I'm not so sure of as I prepare for bed and give it one more consideration. What were my real motivations? Why was I so sure?

The words of the Leviticus passage related to unintentional sin are overwhelmed by all the graphic depiction of animal sacrifice, but don't lose this important concept. The idea of unintentional sin puts me in mind of the spiritual practice of the examen - taking structured time at the end of the day to review the events of the day. Time to look for God in your days activities; time to celebrate what went well, and when you were blessed, when you were a blessing. And take time to reflect on times of falling short - times of unintentional sin. This kind of honesty can be difficult, but this way lies a healthier spiritual life and a deepening relationship with God.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Lord, help me to want to be accountable to you. Help me to grow in my honesty about my sins, that I might more fully know the joy of your forgiveness and grace. Amen.

 

 

February 16

Leviticus 6 and 7, Acts 6

Acts 6 is a window into the growing pains of the early church. Already along the way in the beginning chapters of Acts there are allusions here and there to the growing number of believers. As the community grows, it celebrates those who hear and believe the good news; but then it must figure out what it means for them to actually live this faith out in community with one another. Here we have a recognition that just as Moses couldn't do everything for the people in the wilderness, so the twelve apostles cannot do everything for the early church. Leadership responsibilities are being discerned. In order for the twelve to attend to the work of proclamation, others are identified who will lead in practical matters like food distribution. The church continues to this day to be a place filled with people with a variety of passions and gifts. Further, the ministry of the church needs a variety of different leaders to do the work that is ever before it. What are your gifts for ministry, and how is God asking you to put those gifts to work?

Keys for today

We pray this day for all of the gifts you grant to us and to communities of faith called into being to carry out your will. Lead us to creative resolutions to difficulties we encounter and keep us focused on you call on our lives. Amen.

 

 

February 17

Leviticus 8 and 9, Acts 7

Acts 7 is a review conducted by Stephen which takes us back through much of what we've just read in Genesis and Exodus. At the conclusion of his sermon he speaks a word of judgment against the Jerusalem Council. Enraged, they turn on him and stone him to death. At the end of this passage we are introduced to a young man named Saul who holds the coats of those who are taking Stephen's life. To avoid any possible confusion we are told in Acts 8:1 that "Saul was in full agreement with Stephen's murder." It is important that we know fully who Saul has been so that we will understand the magnitude of the transformation when we learn who Saul becomes.

In the meantime, we are left with the death of one who "stood out among the believers" (6:8) and who follows the example of Christ on the cross when with his last breaths he cries out, "Lord, don't hold this sin against them!" (7:59b)

Keys for today…

Prayer

Open our eyes to the reality that who people are is in one moment does not define them for all of their lives. Remind us that who we ourselves have been is not who we must always be. With great thanks for your transforming grace we give thanks O God. Amen.

 

 

February 18

Leviticus 10, 11 and 12, Psalm 22

Psalm 22 begins with the words that Jesus repeats on the cross. "My God! My God, why have you left me alone?" This is often portrayed as Jesus giving verbal expression to the alienation he is feeling from the Father. Taking a look at the totality of Psalm 22 may give a bit of insight to a more hopeful way of hearing Jesus' words. When I was a student at Eden Seminary I had a class with Dr. Deborah Krause that looked closely at the way Paul used scripture in his messages. To oversimplify what is an interesting subject, the basic thrust was that when Paul weaves in a phrase or short passage from scripture, his listeners would have heard not just the phrase, but the entire passage of scripture. Pulling in a particular phrase is a shorthand way of bringing an entire passage into play. If we apply this way of hearing scripture to Jesus on the cross (which was the point, not that this was unique to Paul, but that this was how scripture was heard in this culture), we bring not just verse 1 of Psalm 22 but the whole thing. When we do this we find not only the grief and angst and despondence of that first verse, but we get the eventual hope that begins to show up around verse 19 and culminates with unbridled optimism in verses 31 and 32.

A quick note from the Leviticus readings: Leviticus 12:8 makes a note (similar explanations show up elsewhere) that "if the mother cannot afford a sheep, she can bring two turtledoves or two pigeons" to present for sacrifice. I draw attention to this because you will occasionally see this referenced as support for the idea that Mary and Joseph were more likely to have been modest to lower income at the time of the birth of Christ rather than well off. This is based on the basic principle that an offering of birds is open to those who cannot afford more. When we read a characterization of Mary and Joseph as lower income this is one of the bits of evidence that is built on. Sometimes when we read an assertion like that from a present day writer it can lead to questions about what source those writers have to know such things. Often it is the building of a profile based on small details like this around the primary text of scripture.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Holy God, we give thanks today for the details and insights embedded in the text of scripture which help us to understand the past and very often speak to us in this present moment. Amen.

 

 

February 19

Leviticus 13 and 14, Acts 8

Tony Roberts is a friend of mine going back to our seminary days in Louisville. Tony did me the great service of introducing me to the music of John Prine, a debt I can never hope to repay. Our first calls out of seminary were within a short drive of each other. We have remained friends over the years. In the days since seminary Tony has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Throughout he has held tightly to his faith and to living out his call to ministry.

These days, Tony's practice of ministry is centered around two aspects of mental health. First, he shares his experiences as a way of extending the hope of God's love and grace to others who face struggles with mental illness. Beyond this he teaches and instructs all of us about the way in which all areas of our lives impact our health. Our spiritual health is not separate from our physical and mental health. Each one touches and acts on the other.

Today's readings from Leviticus make a similar point. If we stand too close to the passage it can seem an unscientific trip into diagnosing skin disease. Step back though and what comes into view is that the Hebrew people recognized that spiritual health and physical well being were not unrelated matters. To our modern ears it may sound counterproductive to go to a priest when a doctor would seem a better choice. To Moses and the people he led however there is an intuitive connection between physical health and spiritual practice.

When I am stressed and anxious I find it challenging to be at my best in my spiritual disciplines. Similarly my physical well being and my relationship with God are connected. I encourage you to check out my friend Tony's website delightindisorder.com, where you can read a brief biography, check out his blog and podcast as well as learn about his book Delight In Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Great Physician, remind us that our mental, physical and spiritual well being are all connected. Your heart reaches out to those who are hurting and suffering. Touch each one with your healing and provide the resources we need for the day. Amen.

 

 

February 20

Leviticus 15 and 16, Acts 9

Paul's conversion is obviously a highly personal encounter between the one time persecutor of the faith and the risen Christ. At the same time the wake of the Damascus road experience impacts on many. "Those traveling with him stood there speechless...." (9:7) I would guess they did. Uncertain how to move forward now that their firebrand leader is blind, they take him by the hand - can you imagine how powerless Paul must have felt - and lead him to the city. Then there is Ananias. He is understandably reluctant to go to Paul, but go he does, compelled by God's directive. Paul is off and running once his sight is restored. Instead of persecuting Christians, he's standing shoulder to shoulder with them and preaching the good news. The people who would have been his allies on his original mission are perplexed to the point of wanting to kill him, which - people wanting to hurt, maim, imprison, silence, and kill him - becomes a regular part of Paul's existence going forward. Back in Jerusalem the people of the Way are grudgingly won over to acceptance of Paul when Barnabas, stepping forward and encouraging the folks to embrace Paul, lives up to his name.The path our lives cut may not reach the outsized level of Paul, but it is well to consider who we are impacting with our choices, decisions and actions. We are making a difference. What sort of difference do we want to make? What sort of difference does Christ desire for us to make?

Keys for today…

Prayer

God who changes lives, as you are at work in me, remind me that it is never just about me. Help me to be a positive influence and to impact the world in ways that points towards you and your kingdom. Amen.

 

 

February 21

Leviticus 17 and 18, Acts 10

Peter has his vision of the clean and the unclean food. He's puzzled by his vision and uncertain about what to make of it. Then this: "While Peter was brooding over his vision the Spirit interrupted him., 'Look! Three people are looking for you. Go downstairs. Don't ask questions; just go with them because I have sent you.'" (Acts 10:19-20)

The first great thing about this is that the Spirit doesn't wait around and let Peter stew in his confusion, instead the Spirit interrupts him. The second great thing about this is the Spirit's direction, which is to do something. The guidance is not to reward or demand more brooding over the vision. The guidance is to go downstairs and get busy. The third great thing about this is that Peter does what the Spirit is leading him to do. He doesn't equivocate, he goes downstairs.

Pausing for reflection can too easily become paralysis by way of analysis. Seeking the will of God is most assuredly a preferred way of approaching the future. We are reminded here that there will be times when the Spirit will lead us forward without explanation about how everything makes sense and fits together. There will be times when we will act and then, perhaps in the future, we will begin to see what it is that God is doing with us and through us. Thanks be to God.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Gracious God, help me to heed your call even in the times when I can only begin to piece together the larger picture of your will and your way. Amen.

 

 

February 22

Leviticus 19 and 20, Psalms 23 and 24

"Who can ascend to the Lord's mountain?
Who can stand in his holy sanctuary?
Only the one with clean hands and a pure heart...."
-Psalm 24:3-4a

I take this to be aspirational rather than as a fencing off of heaven for the perfect. The call is to make holiness our aim. The call is not to be without sin. The call is not to, in our brokenness, surrender any attempt to be holy. The call is to aim to be holy because holiness is the direction in which God would have our faith travel.

"The Lord said to Moses, "Say to the whole community of the Israelites: You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy." (Lev. 19:1)

I will continue to hold to the belief that our faith as we live it in our attempt to follow Jesus does not live or die based on our ability in any moment to be sinless and to never make mistakes. Our faith expressed in our attempt to follow Jesus is about receiving the freely given grace of God in such a way that we want to be more Christ-like in our thoughts, words, and deeds; all the while keeping our eyes on Christ and our focus on ascending the Lord's mountain.

Keys for today…

Prayer

God of the high and holy places, I thank you for your forgiveness and your grace. Keep me focused on thoughts, words and deeds that flow from my desire to live for Jesus. Amen.

 

 

February 23

Leviticus 21 and 22, Acts 11

The Old Testament and New Testament readings play well off one another. The Old Testament a continuation of readings in Leviticus focused on holiness, here specifically much that relates to holiness and purity as regards the priesthood. The Acts passage is the dropping of the other shoe in the story of Peter, his vision with the unclean food and subsequent trip to bring the good news to Cornelius' household in Caesarea. Peter is called to account for his decision to go into the home of a Gentile and eat with them. Peter goes through the story we have just heard in the previous chapter and then appeals to the work of the Holy Spirit. "Could I stand in God's way?" (11:17)

The caution here is to be careful not to ignore the role God's Holy Spirit can play in our discernment of what God would have us do, and how God would have us act. Rules may be long standing and may have been instituted for good reason at some point in the past. Peter has had to come to grips with the reality that God's Spirit is calling him to do a new thing and understand God's will in a new way.

Christians - followers of Jesus - do well to pay close attention to what is happening here. The traditions, doctrines and long held practices of our faith are of great value, but they are not sacrosanct. The Spirit will move where the Spirit will move. Sometimes we are just slow to catch on to that movement. Sometimes we willfully resist. Either way the early churches struggled with the inclusion of Gentiles. In a larger sense following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is important to take note of in our own faith journey.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, help me to listen for your Spirit. Help me to examine my motivations for my actions. Am I standing firm in faith or am I digging in out of fear? Guide me in your way. Amen.

 

 

February 24

Leviticus 23 and 24, Acts 12

Occasionally a television show will reach the exalted status of "appointment television." This refers to a show–this happens less often in our present era of many channels and non-traditional means of accessing programming–that becomes so popular that you can count on a great number of people setting their lives up in such a way that they are in front of the television when it is on.

I am appreciative of the language in Leviticus 23 about appointed time for God. The text is pointing to the Sabbath and to the designated times for various festivals, but the general point is honoring God by giving God dedicated space on our calendar. I do not mean to diminish the reality that God can surprise us and that God is constantly at our side at work in our lives. What I would lift up is the reality that there is benefit–and clearly biblical mandate–to intentionally set aside time to be in God's presence. This is not about hitting our marks and doing what our part of the bargain demands. This is about being certain that we are regularly making sure our purpose–loving God and glorifying God forever–is not something that happens if we can fit it in. Let us with enthusiasm and great joy seek out our Creator and Redeemer.

Keys for today…

Prayer

God of all creation, there can be no greater use of my time then seeking out your presence, offering you thanks and praise, and listening for your guidance. Thank you for the relationship you offer to each of your children. Amen.

 

 

February 25

Leviticus 25 and 26, Psalm 25

"All the Lord's paths are loving and faithful
for those who keep his covenant and his laws.
....My eyes are always looking to the Lord
because he will free my feet from the net."
-Psalm 25:10 and 15

These two verses from the Psalms are a fair summation of the two chapters from Leviticus. While Leviticus uses some language of punishment it is largely shaped around language of covenant. As I read it, covenant has to do with alignment. If we live as God directs, we will experience the joy of living towards God's will and purposes. If we live in opposition to God's direction, we will experience the pain of going our own way.

This is not prosperity gospel, blessing and favor mumbo jumbo. This is the lifelong task of, in the words of the psalmist, "always looking to the Lord."

Jubilee is a practice designed for the best stewardship of the land and fairness for the people. What could go wrong? Greed. Picking and choosing what parts to follow. Ignoring God's direction for short-term gain. Take your pick.

With the psalmist I would affirm that "the Lord's paths are loving and faithful" - it is when we fail to keep covenant that we are most at risk and most feel the impact of a strained relationships with our Creator.

Keys for today…

Prayer

God of Jubilee, keep my eyes looking always to you. Amen.

 

 

February 26

Leviticus 27, Numbers 1, Acts 13

Acts 13 is a dynamic window into why the entirety of the book of Acts is such a compelling portrait of the early church. The collegiality and willingness to discern and follow the Spirit is in the opening verses. In the odd detail of the sorcerer Bar-Jesus who is confronted by Saul and then blinded, it is interesting that Paul, who himself was blinded, is now there to witness the moment when Bar-Jesus' eyes are darkened. Paul then gives a sermon walking through all of God's salvation history from the Exodus to the resurrection of Jesus. The message is met with passion, many believe and some are turned against the apostles, who are thrown out of town.

The passage concludes with a wonderful summation of the state of mind of Paul and Silas. "Because of the abundant presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, the disciples were overflowing with happiness."(13:52) The happiness of the apostles is clearly not contingent on everything being easy, everything going their way, or in everyone being in agreement with them. Their happiness is found in their work and the resultant abundant presence of the Holy Spirit.

Keys for today...

Prayer

Holy God, thank you for your call to follow you and to do your work. Help us to find overflowing happiness in the abundant presence of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

February 27

Numbers 2 and 3, Acts 14

Have you ever been in the valley and then shot to the mountaintop? Have you ever felt invincible only to become painfully aware of how vulnerable you are? Imagine Paul and Barnabas and the emotional ride they are on in Acts 14. They are finding the message they are sharing well received. They heal a man. The crowd sees the wonder of the healing and wants to worship them as gods. Almost as quickly some detractors are on the scene and the crowd wants to stone Paul. It appears the crowd will be successful until, surrounded by fellow believers, Paul is back up and his way again.

Our own experiences may not reach those extremes, but many of our lives swings back and forth between health, happiness, good times and times when the pains and difficulties of the world seem to be lining up to have a go at us. In a life and a world like ours I give thanks for the example of Paul and Barnabas, not so much for their highs or their lows, but for the strength of their faith in the face of both.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Creator God, if today is a day of joy let me rejoice in you. If today is a day of challenge or pain, let me find strength in you. Whatever the day may bring, remind me that I do not face it on my own. Amen.

 

 

February 28

Numbers 4 and 5, Acts 15

As I write this, I've just returned home from a meeting of an international Christian faith group. It was a difficult meeting. A painful meeting. I was not there as a participant, only as an observer; but even as an observer the pain was palpable. Acts 15 tells me that disagreements between people of faith have been going on for as long as there has been a faith to have disagreements about. Paul and Barnabas, a team that had done so much great work and both giants of the early church, have a falling out over a personnel decision and decide to continue their work separately. We know that Paul and Silas go on to do more good work. There is no reason to believe that Barnabas and John Mark didn't also go on to effective ministry. Whether it is interpersonal relationships, local church or national/international religious bodies, it is clear that disagreements will arise between people of faith. Let us pray that we will seek to move past our differences and keep our eyes on goals of healthy relationships and ministry as we live out our faith.

Keys for today…

Prayer

We confess there are times when our relationships are stressed and strained and even become broken. Forgive us and help us to find our way past these trying moments to renewed health in our relationships with one another and with you. Amen.

 

 

March

| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 |

| 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 |

 

 

March 1

Numbers 6 and 7, Psalms 26 and 27

When I was young our church choir was fairly good sized and always would do a variety of responses in addition to an anthem. At the end of the service one of the most familiar of the responses to the benediction was the words of Numbers 6:25-27. "The Lord bless you and keep you..." I was reading along in Numbers, with its more details and more rules, and then I hit those words and I was pulled back in time. Not to the days of the Nazarites, but to my days on a pew too close to the front of the sanctuary with my mom and my dad and my sister amongst people who cared and nurtured my faith. This is what scripture can do. It can surprise you. It winds its way into the fabric of your being, showing up in places where you don't even know it's there and then one day you are reading a dry passage of ancient practices from Numbers and the joy of God's providential care through so many caring folks comes pouring over you in the memory of voices blended in praise.

Keys for today…

Prayer

For the great gift of scripture, I am thankful. For the amazing gift of people who offer love, encouragement and foster spiritual growth, I am thankful. For your providential care in all of life, I am thankful. Amen.

 

 

March 2

Numbers 8 and 9, Acts 16

One of the flannel board images that I recall most clearly from my childhood Sunday School was the way the Israelites were led throughout the Exodus: the cloud over the Tabernacle by day and the fire by night. My imagination was captured by the assurance the people must have felt looking up and seeing the cloud and fire indicating the presence of God with the people. What sort of confidence that visible presence must have inspired! It is interesting that the movement of the cloud and the fire was not predictable. The people didn't walk by day and camp by night. They moved when the cloud/fire moved and they stayed put when it didn't. There are times in life when it feels like we are stuck. Times when we'd like some idea where we are headed, and when we can begin to move towards whatever the future holds. At times like that it may be well to remember the people in the wilderness. "They camped at the Lord's command and they marched at the Lord's command." (9:23) In our stuck moments perhaps we are being guided to set up camp, trusting that the time will come when God will be on the move and we will be called to march.

Keys for today…

Prayer

God, I pray that you would help me to follow your guidance. Help me to be patient when it is time to camp, and to be ready to go when it is time to march. Amen.

 

 

March 3

Numbers 10 and 11, Acts 17

Of Paul's many characteristics one of the most prominent is his drive to share his faith anywhere in any circumstance to anyone. When he arrives in a place he begins by going to the Synagogue to share the good news with his fellow Jews. Next, he'll find a spot where non-Jews gather and share with the folks he finds there. And then he demonstrates repeatedly that anywhere else he happens to be, up to and including prison, are fields of opportunity for him. Acts 17 sees him urged to leave both Thessalonica and Beroea by friends who are worried for his safety leading to his famous sermon in Athens where he points to their altar to an unknown God and tells them he knows exactly who that God is.

A verse towards the end of this passage gives a glimpse of the fire that drives Paul. "God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him. In fact, God isn't far away from any of us. In God we live, move and exist." Paul missed no opportunity because it felt to him like everyone was so close to knowing the joy that he felt. God is right there in our every breath, not far from us, present in our every movement. Paul's missionary zeal was bound up in his unshakeable belief that what each person was ultimately looking for was right there before them.

Our best opportunities to share our faith come not through telling people that they are deficient or lacking or in making them feel as though God is angry at them. Our best opportunity comes in knowing God is with us each step of the way, finding joy in that truth and feeling it so deeply that we want to share the source of that joy with those searching for meaning and joy themselves.

Keys for the day…

Prayer

I am comforted, O God, that you are there as I live and move and go about my life. Fill me with gratitude and let the love and joy that I know in you flow forth into my interactions with all who I meet this day. Amen.

 

 

March 4

Numbers 12, 13 and 14, Psalms 28 and 29

You may have seen that we would be reading three chapters from Numbers rather than two and had another cup of coffee before you started in to what you might have guessed would be more rules and regulations. Instead, we find that here Numbers slips backs into narrative and it turns out to be really interesting narrative. Miriam and Aaron are giving Moses down the road up until the moment God has had enough of it and sends the three of them to the meeting tent and rises to Moses' defense.

This is followed by the story of the first foray of the people, by way of the reconnaissance party sent by Moses, into the promised land. The majority report when the group returns is summarized in 13:31, "We can't go up against the people because they are stronger than we." They are responding to the minority report of Caleb and Joshua who see the situation differently. "We must go up and take possession of it, because we are more than able to do it."

They both can't be right. They highlight a basic aspect of our faith. There are times when our sense of what we are capable of and what God is asking us to do are in complete disagreement. We are not able. We are not enough. It would be nice, but we cannot. Caleb and Joshua do not place their courage in the strength of their own arguments but in the promises of God.

The stakes for them and for us are high. The people are on the doorstep of the promised land, but call for a new leader who will take them back to Egypt. The promised land, flowing with milk and honey, is right there. How often am I standing on the precipice of the very thing God is asking me to do or the place where God is asking me to go and wind up returning to a more familiar, less imposing way of being?

Keys for today…

Prayer

Help me to follow your lead rather than bowing to my fears. Let my desire to go where you lead guide me this and every day. Amen.

 

 

March 5

Numbers 15 and 16, Acts 18

Each in their own way, Moses and Paul experience God's support for their work in these passages. After experiencing rejection in the synagogue in Corinth Paul turns to the Gentile community. This pattern of beginning in the synagogue and then moving to the Gentiles is well established by now with Paul, but the toll the setbacks take on Paul is elevated here by the report of God's reassurance, which comes to him in a late night vision. "Don't be afraid. Continue speaking. Don't be silent. I'm with you and no one who attacks you will harm you, for I have many people in this city." (18:9)

In Numbers an entire group of priests led by Korah rise up and challenge the leadership of Moses and Aaron. This comes on the heels of Moses being questioned by Aaron and Miriam. In each instance God demonstratively takes action to support the leadership of Moses.

Every one of us is a leader in some capacity. There are times when exercising leadership can require much energy and encounter much opposition. It is good to experience God's reassurance and encouragement in those times. Also, it is worth recalling, in those times when we are the followers, that the work of our leaders can be difficult work. It is easy at times to be a critic. It is less easy, but often far more productive to, as our parents told us, be part of the solution.

Key for today…

Prayer

Holy God, when we are tired or feel exposed and vulnerable in our attempt to follow you, support, encourage and grant us the strength to follow you. Amen.

 

 

March 6

Numbers 17, 18 and 19, Acts 19

Artemis was not just a goddess in Ephesus. Artemis was an industry. People would come from near and far to worship in the temple of Artemis. They would want something to take home with them to commemorate the experience. The local crafts people had built up an economy based on the traffic of Artemis' worshippers. They saw Paul and any success he was having as he shared the good news as a potential threat to the industry of Artemis. "Her splendor will soon be extinguished." (19:27)

There is a cautionary tale here about becoming so reliant on one perception of reality that anything that challenges that reality is dismissed without being considered. The question here for the trades folk is not about the truth of what Paul is saying, but rather about the potential damage to the status quo.

It is a daily temptation to become comfortable with the world as it is to the extent that we resist any new thing that challenges that world. One thing that God does repeatedly throughout the Bible is surprise people. If we develop such allegiance to the status quo that we dig in against whatever new or different thing might challenge it, scripture is suggesting we risk resisting and missing the action of God.

Keys for the day…

Prayer

Holy God, keep my heart open to the fresh winds of your Spirit. Help me not to limit my ability to hear or perceive you at work in the world because of my commitment to my own ease or comfort. Amen.

 

 

March 7

Numbers 20, and 21, Acts 20

My church meant everything to me growing up. This was not something I realized later - I knew it at the time. However, I came to appreciate it more and more over time. After I moved away for college I never lived in my home town again, and I have not been a regular participant in the life of that particular congregation since then. But my affection for and gratitude to the folks who were a constant part of my life from my earliest memories through high school does not fade.

There are a number of people from that congregation who did extraordinary things for me. And not just for me, but for each other as a group. They gave their time to staff children's and youth activities. They cared and they showed it in the way they invested themselves with their time and their energy.

Paul is experiencing memories similar to this as he meets with folks from the church in Ephesus. As he shares with them that he believes he will not see them again, he is touched and they are touched. Their final goodbye as they pray together and weep tears of gratitude for each other speaks volumes about the vitality of the bonds of the early church, and points us towards what sort of community the church at its best can be today.

Key for today…

Prayer

We give thanks today for those who share the journey with us. We give thanks for communities of faith made up of individuals who love us, guide us and nurture us. Help me to offer love, support and encouragement to someone this very day. Amen.

 

 

March 8

Numbers 22 and 23, Psalm 30

"You who are faithful to the Lord,
sing praises to him;
give thanks to his holy name!
His anger lasts only for a second,
but his favor lasts a lifetime.
Weeping may stay all night,
but by morning, joy!"
-Psalm 30:4-5

I believe that faith can be found in folks of all ages. Every age has the capacity for great devotion and to inspire faith in others. With that qualifier I will say there is a unique quality to the faith of some older adults that I believe owes at least in part to their longevity. They have seen much, experienced much, been hurt, disappointed, and shocked along the journey of life. They've also seen the other side of all those things, and after all of it continue to tell the story. From folks who fit this description I have heard reference to these particular verses on multiple occasions. "Weeping may stay all night, but by morning, joy!" could sound like empty happy talk, but takes on enhanced credibility when stated with conviction by a person who has lived a long time, has done their share of weeping, and yet lives a life of joy.

The Balaam story in Numbers is an example of the role of the prophet in speaking the truth to power. King Balak is willing to pay for a prophetic word – Balaam is unwilling to be bought however. "I'm only able to speak whatever word God gives me to say. That is what I will speak." (22:38) We will see examples of what might be described as "house prophets" who will assure the king that God is onboard with whatever the king is wanting to do. The true prophets are clearly not for sale.

Key for today…

Prayer

God of all of our years, thank you for those who have lived faithfully and who bear witness to the truth that the night may be filled with sorrow, but joy will come in the morning. Amen.

 

 

March 9

Numbers 24 and 25, Acts 21

Acts 21 cannot help but raise echoes of Luke's traveling gospel: the portion of Luke beginning in 9:51 with Jesus setting his face towards Jerusalem. In Acts 21 it is clear that Paul has just as intently set his face towards Jerusalem, and at each stop on his way there are people who care for him, and who advise him in the strongest terms not to go to the Holy City. Paul will not be deterred. "Since we couldn't talk him out of it, the only thing we could say was , 'The Lord's will be done.'" (21:19) Failing to persuade Paul to abandon his plan, his friends who believe this is a dangerous plan accompany him. "After this, we got ready and made our way up to Jerusalem." This isn't just the decision of Paul's regular entourage who have been traveling with him. Some of the folks from Caesarea, Paul's last stop before Jerusalem, decide to accompany him as well.

Throughout this chapter we see the tight knit nature of the caring communities of the early church. Everywhere they stop on their journey there seem to be people who are ready to receive Paul, give him a place to stay and care for him. They know enough of the circumstances to know that going to Jerusalem is another level of danger for Paul. They also know enough of God's will that when Paul embraces it, they recognize its authenticity, and they are prepared to go with him toward whatever awaits.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Loving God, help me to be wise enough to have my eyes open to the realities of what is before me, and to listen intently for your guidance. Give me wisdom to hear and courage to follow your will. Amen.

 

 

March 10

Numbers 26 and 27, Acts 22

Numbers 27 includes the story of Zelophehad's daughters – Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirza. I include each of their names because I can and that's kind of the point – I can. In a patriarchal society it is typically the men's names that are recorded – see the previous chapters and it's mostly male cast for an example. Here though we have an instance where the daughters of Zelophehad appeal to Moses for justice. Their father has died and they argue they should not lose their clan's name simply because he had no sons. Moses goes to God and God agrees. It doesn't change that they lived in a largely patriarchal society, but it does show that the tendency of the God of the Hebrew people towards justice in some instances leads to what could societally be understood as a surprising result.

Also in this chapter Moses lays his hands on Joshua who is being commissioned to lead the people when Moses dies. I am always impressed by the physicality of the laying on of hands. Moses could certainly speak a blessing from across the room, just as past elders could easily remain in their pews and bless new elders being ordained in a service of worship today. Instead though, Moses lays his hands on Joshua. The past elders come forward and lay hands on the new elders. It is one thing to speak my support. It is another to give my entire self, my all, in support. And it is one thing to hear someone support you, while an entirely different thing to experience the supportive touch of a friend and companion on the journey.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Loving God, help me to be as loving and supportive as I am able to be. Help me to not simply speak my support but to offer all I have, including a willingness to walk across the room and take the hand of one who is hurting. Amen.

 

 

March 11

Numbers 28 and 29, Psalm 31

I'll be honest. As I was reading through the Number's passages for today I was picturing the priests making sacrificial recipe cards for the various occasions on which sacrifices were to be offered.

The many and various sacrificial offerings were clearly important to the community of faith at that moment in time, and over the course of three thousand years its become not so important at all. Did we lose something? I'm going to say no.

The point of the sacrificial system is to honor God. The sacrifices are the means to that end. The point of worship continues to be to honor God. We've just come to where we do it differently. One hundred years from now, or a thousand – some point in the future – someone may look back to the early 2000's and ask why it was that they were so wrapped up in praise bands. Not religious music generally, but the expression we have of praise bands which loosely can be described as a spiritual rock band that leads worship. Are they a timeless addition to the the practice of worship that will last forever? Or are they reflective of a practice that is helpful and useful to many in honoring God right now. I'm going to go with the latter. And I'm going to hope we emerge from the detailed descriptions of sacrificial offerings soon.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Thank you for worship. Thank you that throughout history you have received the praise of people in ways that made sense to them in their time. Thank you for meeting us where we are this very day. Amen.

 

 

March 12

Numbers 30 and 31, Acts 23

Pick your headline...
Paul Insults High Priest!
Murder Plot Unravels!
Prisoner Evacuated Overnight!
Roman Governor To Meet Religious Firebrand!

It's all here in Acts 23, everything promised in these headlines and more. We learn that Paul has a sister. We learn that Paul's sister has a son who makes a visit to the Roman authorities that might well have saved Paul's life. Paul begins Acts 23 in a risky position and he finishes out Acts 23 in a risky position, the difference being that as the chapter finishes out Paul is about to have an opportunity to speak on an all new stage. If we have come to know anything about Paul we can imagine that as he mentally prepares to speak before Felix he is not strategizing how to get himself out of trouble - he's working out how to use this circumstance to share God's good news.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Whatever the next moment holds, help me to be looking for how I may faithfully share your good news in it. Amen.

 

 

March 13

Numbers 32 and 33, Acts 24

Somewhere along the way, maybe in the back of your Bible, maybe in a magazine you perhaps have seen a map of the route of the Exodus. You may have looked at Egypt and looked at Canaan and thought to yourself that there was clearly a more direct route. I have been asked multiple times how anyone even knows what the route of the Exodus was like. It isn't as though they left us a map of their journey. Except that they did - a written map. Numbers 33 is that map.

I live in Kentucky. I know very few place names in Idaho. You could list the names of towns and villages around the state of Idaho and my eyes would slowly glaze over, not from lack of interest, but from lack of reference points. I just wouldn't have any context for what you were talking about except that they are in Idaho. The place names in Numbers 33 can have that effect. It's one place we've never been and never heard of after another.

We, as average readers of scripture may not know, but the biblical archaeologists may know or at least may have a guess. From the work of such folks the ancient place names are connected with actual locations on the map and we begin to have an idea what the journey of the Hebrew people in the wilderness looked like.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Thank you for ancient stories telling timeless truths. Thank you for tools that help us to unlock the depth of these stories and for people who use those tools to illuminate your word for us. Amen.

 

 

March 14

Numbers 34 and 35, Acts 25

We see Paul taking advantage of his Roman citizenship in this interaction with Festus, the Roman replacement for Felix. Festus wants to curry the favor of the Jewish religious leadership in Jerusalem so he attempts to lead Paul to face his accusers in the Holy City. Paul refuses. He argues that as a Roman citizen he is in Caeser's court and he appeals to Caeser. And so he will be sent to Rome.

Paul and the early he church that he serves benefit from the presence of Rome and to the Roman peace – the Pax Romana. Without the peace afforded by Rome's incredible military might, the ease with which Paul is able to travel from place to place would be severely impaired. As much danger as Paul regularly faced, it would have been infinitely more dangerous were it not for the Romans.

Rome has its own reasons for all that it does and its reasons are often not humanitarian and certainly not drawn up with the benefit of the early believers in mind. Still, I believe Paul felt called to take his ministry to Rome and I suspect he saw the handiwork of God all over this opportunity to request an audience with Caesar.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

God of history, help me to trust that you are active in the world around me. Open my eyes to look for the ways that you are at work in events, both those that seem welcome and those that appear to be difficult and challenging. Amen.

 

 

March 15

Numbers 36, Deuteronomy 1, Psalm 32

Numbers ends on something of an appropriate note in terms of keeping character with the rest of the book. Numbers 36 is a loose-end, tying up footnote on the matter of the implication of the decision that was made regarding Zelophehad's daughters. That matter taken care of, the book of Numbers draws to a close and we head into the final book of the Torah – Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy unfolds with Moses delivering a speech in the fortieth year of the wilderness sojourn. Once more through the history the people have just lived along with its theological underpinnings, specifically a reminder of why they weren't having this moment about 39 years earlier.

The question with an event like the report of the spies and the fallout that followed is what you will make of it going forward. How did it shape the people? Not being in the camp over the years with them we can only guess of course. Perhaps it was a source of remorse and regret for some. Maybe it strengthened the resolve of the people to listen more closely to God's guidance and direction. Moses also reminds the people of the way in which some compounded their error by not listening a second time and trying to go and take the land after they had been told that they would have to return to the wilderness.

I see myself in the Israelites in this passage regularly. I miss God's direction at one point and then I push ahead when God is guiding me to be still and wait. The important message then and now is that life is better when I try to align my will with God's, rather than struggling to make God bend to my terms.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Living in accord with your will is the pathway to the best life I can live. Help me to learn to listen and to be obedient. When I fail, teach me to seek forgiveness and to listen anew for your will. Amen.

 

 

March 16

Deuteronomy 2 and 3, Acts 26

A couple of things stand out to me in Acts 26. First is Paul's complete honesty about who he was as a persecutor of the people of the Way. "I really thought that I ought to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth in every way possible." (26:9) No sugar coating on who he was and on what he had done in the past.

Second is the reported conversation between Paul, Festus and King Agrippa is humorous and familiar. Festus with his assertion that, "You've lost your mind Paul! Too much learning is driving you mad!" (26:24) and Agrippa's question about Paul's aggressive evangelism - "Are you trying to convince me that in such a short time you've made me a Christian?" (26:28) Both seem like banter between folks in a comfortable conversation. This idea is furthered when, echoing Pilate stating that he found no fault in Jesus, we have the report that Festus and Agrippa are in agreement that Paul has done nothing wrong.

Deuteronomy 3 features a more ancient conversation – Moses' poignant request to be allowed to continue with the people into the promised land. Moses reports that "the Lord was angry with me," and Moses would probably know; but it also seems likely that in order for Joshua to truly lead the people once they cross the Jordan that Moses was most helpful on the outside looking in. Undoubtedly a difficult moment, but perhaps Moses' last great act as leader is accepting the decision not to cross the Jordan with the people.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Lord help me to be honest about the times I have sinned and fallen short of your will. Help me to look for every opportunity to share your good news and your love. Help me to accept your will even when it is hard to accept. Amen.

 

 

March 17

Deuteronomy 4 and 5, Acts 27

Paul's leadership and his ability to influence people is on full display in Acts 27. Paul is NOT in charge of the ship going to Rome. He is a prisoner being delivered to Rome. We meet Julius, a Roman centurion, who has taken to Paul, treating him well and allowing Paul to seek care from friends. As the ship they are traveling on meets danger again and again, Paul's voice emerges as one of reason, calm, and inspiration. Paul tells those with whom he travels that they will make it, and he tells them why. He firmly believes that he was not sent to die in the waters of the Mediterranean. He is meant to go to Rome and he is meant to stand before Caesar.

Paul seems firmly in control when he urges everyone to eat. In the midst of the storm and all they are facing, Paul offers food and as he does so the text echoes the words of the sacrament. "After he said these things, he took bread, gave thanks to God in front of them all, then broke it and began to eat. Everyone was encouraged and took some food."

The most profound sort of encouragement is the hallmark of what we find at the Lord's Table. We gather round and say familiar words and remember what Christ has done for us and for our world and we are lifted up, nourished, sustained and encouraged. The meal in Acts 27 spoke life to those sailing with Paul and the Lord's supper continues to speak that same word of life to us this very day.

Keys for today…

Prayer

I am grateful for all of the ways you care and provide for us Holy God. Today I give thanks for the Lord's Table which reminds us of your love and prepares us to go forward as we respond to your call each day. Amen.

 

 

March 18

Deuteronomy 6 and 7, Psalm 33

For my in-flight movie as I was winging my way towards Johannesburg, South Africa I chose Wonder Woman. The movie is set during World War II, but becomes a larger exploration of the endless nature of war. The particulars fighting the wars change with the nations and with the points in history, but war, the movie makes clear, seems to be a constant of the human condition. In the film's final battle Wonder Woman, and the forces of good, battle Ares, and the forces of evil. The movie winds down on the happy streets of London, where a victory is being celebrated.

Two things occurred to me. One, war does indeed transcend time and place. Two, even as that is true, it must always find expression in particular historical moments.

Which gets me to Deuteronomy 6. Rising out of all the particulars of rules, regulations, commandments, out of the specific people and places of the entirety of the Exodus experience, comes this majestic articulation of something larger and more timeless - the Shema.

"Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord!", followed immediately with, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength."(6:4-5)

These are words that are true in every time and place. But they are words that are tied inextricably to the experience of these particular people in this historical moment and location. The words continue to be true today – God is still one and the best we can do with our lives is to love God with all of our being. As with the Hebrew people in their moment, we are called to live out this timeless truth in our own particular moment on God's grand stage. What an awesome thing to be a part of what God has been doing, is doing and will do in the future.

Keys for today…

Prayer

You, O Lord, are God. You are one. Help me to love you with all my heart, being and strength. Amen.

 

 

March 19

Deuteronomy 8 and 9, Acts 28

The end of Acts is a bit anticlimactic. Paul reaches Rome and we are told that he spends two full years receiving all who come and continuing to share the good news. Tradition tells us that Paul ends up a martyr. Some say he went on one additional missionary journey. Others say the martyrdom occurred at the end of this time of house imprisonment in Rome.

In another sense it really isn't anticlimactic at all. The story doesn't end with Paul – it begins with Paul. The church sees exponential growth, largely due to Paul's leadership. I suspect that Paul would rather the last image in this story be that of him doing what he loved to do, sharing the good news with the next person in his path.

We may at times take a moment to wonder what we will do that will have lasting impact. Will we be remembered? If so, what will people remember us for? If someone was writing a biography for us, could we ask for a better closing sentence than the one we find in the book of Acts as it raps up Paul's story...

"Unhindered and with complete confidence, he continued to preach God's kingdom and to teach about the Lord Jesus Christ." (28:31)

Keys for today…

Prayer

I pray that you would shape me into a faithful witness to your good news, sharing your love with each person you place in my path. Amen.

 

 

March 20

Deuteronomy 10 and 11, Romans 1

Today we stop hearing about Paul and start hearing from Paul. Paul writes early on about his desire to visit Rome and his reason for wanting to do so. Mutual encouragement. In the absence of an in-person visit, Paul hopes to accomplish the same thing with this letter, at least as far as the goal of Paul offering encouragement here to Roman Christians.

The transition from Acts to Romans will be a bit jarring. Acts is a wonderful adventure story featuring colorful characters who do exciting and memorable things. Romans is a transition into theology. It's does not read as easily or perhaps as smoothly, but it represents important work, as do all of Paul's letters. Paul was encouraging churches over a broad geographical area. It would have been easy for Christianity to have fractured into a number of smaller and more widely differentiated iterations of the faith. That a geographically spread-out church with a largely coherent message emerged from the days of the early church, and from the work of Paul, says much about the efficacy of Paul's mission and ministry.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Thank you for all those who were faithful to sharing your good news from one generation to the next. Thank you that your good news continues to reach new lives today. Help me to share your good news, keeping the faith with so many saints of the church who have gone before me. Amen.

 

 

March 21

Deuteronomy 12-14, Romans 2

As a white male, I'm accustomed to being in the majority in groups. This means if I'm going to begin to understand what it's like to be in the minority I'm going to have to do some work to get outside of the skin in which I live and the perks that in my setting come with it. Or go somewhere far from home. That might do it.

During our trip to Africa, we were on a bus touring Robben Island, a prison island just off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa. It has been a prison island for centuries, but from the 1960's until around 1990 it was a prison largely for political opponents of Apartheid. Most likely its most famous prisoner was Nelson Mandela. As we drove around the island on the bus our guide asked us where everyone was from. Country after country was called out. I waited, sure that someone was going to call out the United States, but at last, I raised my voice and chimed in. There wasn't anything uncomfortable about the experience, but it was unique to be one of only a very few U.S. citizens on the bus. I wondered what others thought of when they heard my countries name. I tried to remember the various countries that had already been mentioned and what our relationship with those countries was like.

I thought of all of this as I considered Paul's words in Romans 2 on judgment of others and of God's lack of any favorites. Anytime we fall into the trap of judging others we put ourselves at risk. Our first obligation is to change our own hearts and lives, not to identify where the lives of others need changing. It is especially tempting at times when we imagine ourselves to be the norm, because we are in the majority, to assume that the experience of others is like our own, and to believe we are being fair with others when what we are doing is viewing there lives from our position and perspective.

God's love is for all of us. God's desire is for all of us to move to a closer relationship with our Creator. "God does not have favorites." (2:11)

Keys for today…

Prayer

Help me to daily be about the work of aligning my will with yours, changing my heart and my life as necessary. Remind me that I am to share love, not judgment with others. Amen.

 

 

March 22

Deuteronomy 15 and 16, Psalm 34

Spend enough time around the Bible and you will begin to have the most interesting of conversations with it. There is the immediate level of what one finds in the text at the present moment – what it does say and how it does speak to this day in your life. Over time though there is the remembrance of previous conversations and what those meant to you then, and what they continue to mean to you now, and how such recollections shape your conversation in the present.

I was making my way thought Psalm 34, which already had a lot of underscored lines, a sure sign I'd been here before. That doesn't always mean I will remember what caused me to pick out those passages to underline, but it's a clue that there might be some history I will remember. In this instance the one verse that jumped off the page and immediately took me back to another point in time was Psalm 34:14.

"Turn away from evil! Do good!
Seek peace and go after it."

Those words were repeated again and again as a part of our Vacation Bible School one summer. I have a sign from that VBS with those words still taped to the door of my office. In my Bible before Psalm 34 there is a preface that attributes this Psalm to David when he was pretending to be crazy in the presence of Abimelech who banished him. Maybe so, but these words don't lead me first to David, but to a group of exuberant children excited about crafts, songs, snacks and Bible stories, who were learning each day about doing good, seeking peace and going after it!

Keep your soul open to how God's word speaks to you in very specific and personal ways connected to your life, your experiences and the people with whom you share the journey of faith.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Help me to listen for your voice speaking to me from Scripture. Remind me of the times you have spoken to me in the past and keep me expectant of new encounters each time I turn to the pages of your Word. Amen.

 

 

March 23

Deuteronomy 17 and 18, Romans 3

Couple of interesting pieces from the Deuteronomy readings today. First, we are no where near the point in Israel's history where kings become a thing, but you can begin to see the jockeying for position on whether or not kings are a good idea here in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. As we get closer to the time of the monarchy it will be evident that the text preserves both pro-monarchy and anti-monarchy traditions within it. This passage seems to allow for the possibility of a king, but also points out all the ways a king can go astray and be a problem for the nation.

Second, and not unrelated, there is the bit towards the end of Deuteronomy 18 that deals with the role of prophets in leading the people. While kings will eventually become the recognized head of the nation of Israel (and then Israel and Judah), the spiritual heads of state often seem to be prophets rather than kings. The kings rarely put God's will ahead of their own will; the best of the prophets are recognized as speaking God's word to the people.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Mighty God, I ask that you would help me to keep you in the role of leader in my life. Help me to listen for your word always ahead of my own will. Amen.

 

 

March 24

Deuteronomy 19 and 20, Romans 4

"He was fully convinced that God was able to do what he promised." -Romans 4:21

Deuteronomy 19 helps us to understand how the people were to live in their new homeland. A superficial reading might focus on judgment and retribution. A more careful reading may look beyond the specific crimes and punishments to the goal of the directions being given. The overarching concern is to create a place where people are able to live side by side in mutual respect rather than in fear of power run rampant in a lawless society. A simple directive – "you must not tamper with your neighbor's property line" – is less about land boundaries and more about creating a sustainable community built on trust rather than on power, more on respect than desire.

Romans 4 lifts up the faith of Abraham as an example for the early Christian community. Abraham's faith was a gift from God – credited to him by God rather than earned by actions of Abraham. Abraham's life is the story of a man who made choices based on his conviction that God was able to do what God promised. Christians look to the cross of Christ, as well as the empty tomb that lies beyond that cross, and trust that what God accomplished on our behalf is indeed a great gift that we cannot earn, but which we can fully trust.

Keys for today...

Prayer

I am grateful today for the example of the faith of Abraham and always for the gift of Christ. Help me to trust that you are able to do what you promise. My desire is to live each day from that place of confident trust. Amen.

 

 

March 25

Deuteronomy 21 and 22, Psalm 35

"I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will celebrate his salvation."
-Psalm 35:9

As I write this, today is the last day of a visit of several days with our daughter in Cape Town. Eliza is here studying at the University of Cape Town for a semester. My wife and I came to see her, but the catalyst to the visit was a trip for work that my wife was already planning with some of her colleagues to Africa University in Zimbabwe.

The confluence of her work trip and Eliza studying somewhat close by in Cape Town resulted in my joining in on the journey, both to see Eliza and to visit the ministry of Africa University. My grandparents served for many years as missionaries in the Cameroon, which was also a pull when making the decision to visit Africa. It seemed if I was ever going to visit Africa the time was now.

So the opening portion of our trip is winding down. We have visited with our daughter. We've enjoyed some wonderful food. We visited the top of Table Mountain and enjoyed the stunning view which stretched on for miles. We visited the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens to take in more of the stunning natural beauty of the region. (There are six floristic kingdoms on earth. One of them is entirely contained within South Africa.)

Everyday we've walked the block from our hotel to the walkway that runs along the Atlantic Ocean. I try to get in 15,000 steps a day, this week a lot of those steps came along that ocean front walkway. Families. Couples. Joggers. Dog walkers. Jehovah's Witnesses. Guys on bicycles selling ice cream. That's just a start. It's an amazingly vibrant and diverse place.

This morning I walked down in something a little more than mist and a little less than rain and sat on a bench and read these passages as the waves crashed a few short yards away. Midway through the Psalm as I hit Psalm 35:9 - a verse I'd underscored on some previous reading - I paused and looked up. The gray clouds parted, the sun shown through and illuminated the mist/rain and in that moment I knew what that verse was about – it was about that very moment. God was offering a gift. I was invited to rejoice in the beauty of the place, rejoice in the unlikely reality of me being on that bench in that place at that time, rejoice in a daughter, a wife and a son that I love beyond measure, rejoice in those sharing this journey through scripture with me…invited to rejoice in the Lord.

Even I could not miss this invitation. I did rejoice in the Lord and do celebrate God's salvation. I hope for such a moment to come upon you as well.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Loving God, thank you for the invitation to experience the reality of your presence. I want to rejoice in you always and to be ever thankful for your salvation. Amen.

 

 

March 26

Deuteronomy 23 and 24, Romans 5

One way to avoid disappointing anyone is to never make anyone a promise. If you don't make any promises you will never be in danger of not keeping your word. You will never have to worry about having a friend come to you and ask when you are going to get around to the favor you were going to do for them. You will never have to come up with any explanations or excuses. Moses puts it like this – "Now, if you simply don't make any promises, you won't be guilty of anything." (23:22)

The larger context of that statement though is the instruction to follow through on the promises we do make, particularly the promises we make to God.

Two thoughts. First, life is fuller when we make promises to God. When we commit ourselves to live in ways that are in accord with God's will, and when we promise to do specific things that we believe that God is calling us to do and that will further God's work in the world. Second, do not underestimate grace. We don't want to make empty promises that we have no intention of keeping. On the other hand we grow when we make promises that stretch us out of our comfort zone; promises that we cannot complete on our own, but which will require us being open to God's Spirit working within us.

Sometimes we may be slow to complete our promises. Sometimes we may just fail. It has happened to me and is for certain waiting to happen again. But we strive to love, we promise to live for God, and we lean into God's grace. When we fail, we seek God's forgiveness and look to promise our selves and our service anew to the One who created us and loves us.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Help me to aspire to live into your will and to promise to live faithfully, intentionally and fully for you. Forgive me when I fail and help me to pick up and begin again. Amen.

 

 

March 27

Deuteronomy 25 and 26, Romans 6

"...but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." (5:3-5, NRSV)

I have not arrived at the place where I am full-on ready to embrace suffering. I'm not sure we can ever know if we have reached that point until we arrive at whatever the current source of our suffering is and we meet it and find out. I am sure I can't offer this bit of advice to someone in pain. It's not my role to explain to someone who is in a place of deep suffering that it's all to the good because it will work out.

What I am certain about is that this is true. Faith is ultimately about hope and hope isn't worth much if my belief in it is tied to everything going my way, or if I'm going to abandon hope whenever suffering shows up. Paul is clear the process is not an easy one. It's not suffering that produces hope. Endurance and character are part of the equation as well and that takes time.

Keys for today…

Prayer

I know that suffering is part of life. I have been there before and I will be there again. In that suffering remind me of endurance, character and the hope that will prevail. Amen.

 

 

March 28

Deuteronomy 27 and 28, Romans 7

There are standing stones all over the early history of the people of Israel. Markers that are left behind to indicate places where important events occurred. Moses tells the people in Deuteronomy 27 that once they cross the Jordan they should "set up these stones that I'm telling you about right now."

After arriving in Zimbabwe we rode on a bus from Harare to Old Mutare where we were staying. Along the way we were told there would be spots along the way where we would be able to look out the window and see balancing rocks. These balancing rocks are naturally occurring, but I soon discovered - when we stopped for a break - that the balancing rocks are mimicked by ones created by folks at many places in Zimbabwe as well. We did see the some of the naturally occurring ones on our ride as well. Some seemed to defy gravity and you are left wondering how they could have happened to settle just that way.

The standing stones of scripture are placed to mark the memorable encounters with God that have occurred in the lives of individuals and of the people. Where are the standing stones in your life? Where have you marked the places where you have encountered God and left behind a marker to celebrate and commemorate that holy place and moment in time?

Keys for today…

Prayer

I give thanks for the moments where I have said to myself surely the Lord is in this place. May I remember those moments and continue to give thanks for them even as I look to the future and what it holds. Amen.

 

 

March 29

Deuteronomy 29 and 30, Psalm 36

There is great depth and complexity to Christian faith. There is a rich world to explore when following Jesus, and it can engage our whole being in that rigorous pursuit - body, spirit and mind. And yet...faith is also not so very hard at all. The language of Deuteronomy 30 is a wonderful reassurance of the accessibility of God.

"This commandment that I'm giving to you right now is definitely not too difficult for you. It isn't unreachable." (30:11) Moses lays out a choice between life and what's good and death and what's wrong. Jesus will extend an invitation to follow him. It is not hard to choose life and good. It is not hard to choose to follow Jesus. It is absolutely hard to do these things once the decision has been made, but as we read both stories you will find that God will not give up on the people and Jesus will not give up on the disciples or on us.

Choose life and blessings and lean into God's grace.

Keys for today...

Prayer

Thank you Lord for not giving up on me when I falter in my promises to do your will. Give me strength each day to admit my mistakes, and seek again to do your will.

 

 

March 30

Deuteronomy 31 and 32, Romans 8

In the space of three verses (Deuteronomy 31:6-8) Moses calls the people to be strong or fearless and not to be afraid or scared six times. What can we infer from this? Sounds to me like he was worried they would be afraid and less than fearless. His encouragement comes with a reminder - their strength doesn't come from any earthly source, their strength comes to them from God. When they are marching, God is marching with them.

This is where the Exodus through Deuteronomy stretch of books is most helpful to me. I don't get a lot from the instructions on who to stone and when to do it. I struggle to find application or utility for that, outside of giving us a window into how the people structured their lives together at that moment in time. I find great application and help in the places that address the timidity and uncertainty of the people in the face of the constant faithfulness and blessings of God.

I know if Moses were talking to me before an important decision or action he would feel the need to encourage me to be strong and the exhortation to not be afraid. I can find myself locked up by fear and that fear erodes my strength. And yet, God marches beside me wherever my journey takes me.

A quick word on Romans 8 - because I could spend an eternity in Romans 8, and this format isn't set up to handle eternity; it's my favorite chapter in the Bible. If, for some reason, I could only save one chapter from scripture, this is it. It's all there - every essential thing. Also, it's Paul at his best in terms of the beauty of his soaring rhetoric. I'd best stop there, or it won't be a quick word at all.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Build up my strength and help me when I am fearful. Thank you for walking with me at all times. Amen.

 

 

March 31

Deuteronomy 33 and 34, Romans 9

Each time I've read through the Torah, I've found myself touched by Deuteronomy 34. Yes, because of Moses' death, but more than that the drawing to a conclusion of an epic that Moses' death represents.

We've journeyed a long way since Genesis 12 and Abram setting off for he knows not where. We've met characters, major and minor, who have made indelible impressions. Everyone from Abraham to Balaam (and Balaam's donkey), from Moses to the daughters of Zelophehad, from Miriam to Ishmael, the people of the Pentateuch emerged with strong personalities that spoke truth to us from ancient days.

"Leave your land, your family, and your father's household for that land that I will show you." (Genesis 12:1) That's what God said to Abram to set it all in motion. "This is the land that I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I promised I will give to your descendants. I have shown it to you with your own eyes, however, you will not cross over into it." (Duet. 34:4). That's what God said to Moses as the task of delivering the people to the doorstep of the promised land was completed.

The curtain is drawn on this phase in Israel's history. The baton is passed to Joshua and the next generation. Just as the baton has been passed to us. Now is our time to work towards the place where God is leading us. Waiting for the day when Christ will come and in the meantime, working to make a difference and to be prepared to pass the baton to the next generation as others have passed it to us.

(This passage reminds me of a favorite painting that you may wish to search out on the computer. It is by an American artist named Frederick Church and is of Moses looking over the promised land. I love it for the content, but there is more. Church is an American artist who paints in the style of the Hudson River school. This group painted huge landscapes of America as a new promised land full of possibility and optimism and hope. They are grand and romantic. Thomas Cole is probably the best known of the Hudson River school. I love what Church does here, taking the trope of America as the new promised land and painting in that style a picture of Moses overlooking the original promised land.)

View that image here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Moses_Viewing_the_Promised_Land_Frederic_Edwin_Church.jpg

Keys For Today

Prayer

I am grateful for Moses and for all of the people I meet in the journey through the Torah and throughout all of scriptures. I am also grateful for the people I meet each day as I journey through life. I give thanks for those who have been a blessing to me on the journey and pray that I may have a positive influence on others along the way. Amen.

 

 

April

| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 |

| 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 |

 

 

April 1

Joshua 1, 2, and 3, Psalm 37

The book of Joshua comes flying out of the gates with Joshua being called to service by God and Joshua issuing orders to the people for the conquest of Canaan while also reminding them that God has promised to be with them just as God has been with them throughout their wilderness sojourn.

It's a great start with a lot of momentum moving in the direction of faithful following, but one has to wonder how Joshua heard this promise of the people: "'We will obey everything you have commanded us and go anywhere you send us. We will obey you in the same way that we obeyed Moses.'"

If Joshua has been following along, this would have been worrisome for him. Obeying in the same way they obeyed Moses means to pick and choose when to obey and to sometimes not obey at all. It sounds great in the moment, but time will tell how obedient they will be.

This challenge is our challenge as well. There is our intention to be obedient to our Creator and then there is our actual practice of falling short of being the person God wants us to be. Praying for less of my disobedience and more trust in God's plan for the future.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Help me desire to be obedient and to follow through on that desire, trusting that, when I fall short, your grace will sustain me. Amen.

 

 

April 2

Joshua 4 and 5, Romans 10

God will be with us and will care for us. I believe and trust that to be true at all times. I don't believe, however, that because God cared for me and took care of me in one manner today that God will always act in that way.

Today's reading offers an account of the day the manna died (sorry Don Mclean). The people camped in Gilgal, having crossed through the Jordan to the promised land. They proceeded to celebrate the Passover and then, "the manna stopped the next day, when they ate the food the land produced." (Joshua 5:12) God had taken care of them in the wilderness by providing manna. Now, in their new circumstances, the manna was no longer necessary. They probably were ready for something other than manna and perhaps not sad to see it go. And yet, there were probably some who went out looking for the manna and not finding it wondered what that might mean for God's provision.

We come to new situations in our lives and in those new situations God comes to us in new ways to provide what we need and walk along with us, come what may. Let us be thankful for the experience of the manna that has been a part of our life to this point and look forward with expectation to the new ways we will experience God in the future.

Keys for today…

Prayer

You have provided for us just as you provided for the people of Israel in the wilderness. Receive our gratitude for your faithfulness and help us to trust that you will be with us as we grow and as our needs and circumstances change. Amen.

 

 

April 3

Joshua 6 and 7, Romans 11

It's clearly an unconventional way to fight a battle. marching around a city, blowing horns and shouting. But it worked. The people did what they were directed and the walls of Jericho fell. Any who participated or witnessed the events could have had no illusions about the source of the victory. This wasn't decided by a superior fighting force, or by great strategy by Joshua. This was the work of Israel's God.

Paul writes in Romans 11 about branches and roots. The people of God are the branches. God is the root. The source. Paul counsels, "It's not you that sustains the root, it's the root that sustains you." (11:18) The people with Joshua at Jericho could have had little confusion about who the root source of their victory was.

Beyond the call to be humble, there is something reassuring here about the reminder that I am a branch, nothing more nothing less. A branch relies on the root and I am dependent on God. I do not have to do the work of the root - I in fact cannot. What I can do is be ever thankful for the root, the love and grace, mercy and power of God and gratefully embrace life as a branch connected to that life-giving root.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Thank you for being the source of my life and of all creation. Keep me humble and help me to be a branch that flourishes for you. Amen.

 

 

April 4

Joshua 8 and 9, Romans 12

"Hate evil and hold on to what is good." (Romans 12:9b)

"Don't be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good." (12:21)

Paul speaks here of evil as a true menacing force which must be resisted. Holding on to what is good has some clear characteristics. Love each other, be on fire in the Spirit, be devoted to prayer, and support those in need - both those in the community and strangers.

Paul's description of a life in opposition to evil is of a life robustly lived in a community of faith. It is defined by the quality of its relationships, and fidelity to the directives of God in those relationships.

Evil can be understood then as that which opposes healthy relationships. Looking around at our world, it is a rare person who isn't touched by the carnage of a broken relationship in one way or another. To know the pain of that brokenness is to recognize the devastation that evil can visit on our lives. Faith is not a remedy to a problem. Faith is active opposition to that which would break us down and do harm to our humanity. Faith helps us to recognize our unique and intrinsic value as children of God by recognizing the unique and intrinsic value of each person, both in our immediate family and community and beyond.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Help me to resist evil and to love what is good. Amen.

 

 

April 5

Joshua 10 and 11, Psalm 38

Psalm 38 is perfect for when you feel like everyone is against you including yourself. The psalmist pulls no punches here. Before mentioning any outside issues, it is clear there is plenty of trouble within.

"My wrongdoings are stacked higher than my head...My wounds reek; they are all infected by my stupidity."(38:4-5)

Sometimes it is just good to get it all out there. The goal is not to beat up on ourselves, it is honesty with God. In those moments when we feel lower than low there is not gain to be found in putting on a brave face for God. Rather, in those moments when we are struggling with our own value and conflicted natures, honesty is a path to finding our way to what we need in God.

"Don't leave me all alone, Lord! Please, my God, don't be far from me! Come quickly and help me, my Lord, and my salvation!" (38:21-22)

Keys for today…

Prayer

Holy God, thank you for listening when I have great things to share and when I need to be painfully honest about where I am struggling. Amen.

 

 

April 6

Joshua 12, 13, 14 and 15, Romans 13

Is blind obedience to any government a good thing? Can the government ask things of us which because of our faith we should find ourselves resisting or working to change. These are the kinds of questions that come to mind when we read Paul's words, "Every person should place themselves under the authority of the government. There isn't any authority unless it comes from God, and the authorities that are there have been put in place by God." (13:1)

Here is what I hear: political leaders are in place to provide for a society which functions for the good of its citizens. It is God's will that we function within our place of residence in a way that is consistent with the values of our faith and which provides for justice, safety and security of the citizens.

Here is what I don't hear: A call to blind obedience no matter how the dictates of the government connect or fail to connect to our faith. Further along in Romans 13 we read, "Love doesn't do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is what fulfills the Law." (13:10) This directive feels more foundational to me than the earlier instruction on the authority of government. I'd argue that a government to which authority should be granted is one which enables and furthers the goals of creating an environment that allows me fulfill the greater commandment to love my neighbor as myself.

What do you think of Paul's words on the authority of government?

Keys for today…

Prayer

Holy God, I pray today for the place where I live. For those who provide leadership and for the peace, security and welfare of all of my neighbors. Amen.

 

 

April 7

Joshua 16, 17, 18 and 19, Romans 14

"So let's strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up." Romans 14:19

Anytime my focus becomes what other people ought to be doing or not doing rather than on what I myself am doing I have begun to lose my way. I do not mean that I should not have a concern for my neighbors or that what others do is unimportant. My concern is specifically with the word ought.

Ought is about judgement. It is much easier to focus my opinions on oughts on people beyond myself. Too many people, outside of a community of faith, believe that this is what the folks within communities of faith are doing - judging them. Unfortunately, too often they have been right. It is the obligation of people of faith and communities of faith to be clear about our desire to love as we have been loved and to share our truly good news with the world.

We were never called to go into the world and judge people. We are called to go into the world and love people.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Gracious God, keep me clear about the places I need to make changes and seek greater alignment with your will. Help me to seek to love those I meet this day and every day. Amen.

 

 

April 8

Joshua 20, 21 and 22, Psalm 39

Joshua 22 and the story of the altar built by Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh is one of those places where it feels like there is more to the story than what is immediately apparent. From the time the people prepared to take the promised land these tribes had asked for land to the east of the Jordan river. It was agreed that this land would be theirs with the understanding that they would send a fighting force with the rest of the tribes across the Jordan to aid in the conquest.

Having been released after fulfilling their obligation to the other tribes they return to the other side of the Jordan and build an "immense" altar and misunderstandings follow. Word gets out that they've done this and representatives of the rest of the Israelites take off to confront the altar builders about their altar building.

This seems like an odd thing to get this upset about. Apparently it is an affront to the one altar where the Holy of Holies is located. The action is characterized as "disrespectful" and "an act of rebellion against the Lord." I wonder if this is all simply about the act of building an altar away from the primary altar, or if there is a reflection of a deeper tension around the earlier request for the land away from the rest of the tribes. Perhaps there was tension not reported in the text about the level of commitment of these tribes to the larger fight. This, of course, is pure speculation, but it's the kind of engagement of imagination with the facts presented that can help us to probe at possible interpretations of the story before us.

Keys for today…

Prayer

I give thanks for scripture and the stories of God's people that I find there. I ask for imagination to look back deeply into the history of the Hebrew people to hear God's message for me this day. Amen.

 

 

April 9

Joshua 23 and 24, Romans 15

It's fun to read the conclusion of Joshua and nearly the conclusion of Paul's letter to the Roman's on the same day. Joshua walks the people through another recitation of the salvation history of their journey from God's call to Abraham, their slavery in Egypt, and their liberation and time in the wilderness. In Joshua's lifetime they have experienced the realization of arriving in a land flowing with milk and honey. Joshua makes the strong point that this has all been God's doing and then leads a covenant renewal service at Shechem inviting the people to choose who they will follow.

Paul, at the conclusion of Romans, sounds both tired and reinvigorated at the same time. He is reflective about what God has accomplished through his work, and he is clearly proud (in the best sense of the word) of the work he has led sharing Christ with the Gentile world. One can still clearly see the burning fire at the heart of who Paul is as he expresses his desire to visit the church in Rome. Paul's heart for sharing the gospel is inspiring.

Keys for today…

Prayer

It is a blessing to read of the passion of Joshua and Paul for the work that God called them to do. Help me to be passionate in my commitment to the work to which you have called me. Amen.

 

 

April 10

Judges 1 and 2, Romans 16

Judges 2 tells us of the death of Joshua and of the peril of the transition from one generation to the next. "When the whole generation had passed away, another generation came after them who didn't know the Lord...." (2:10) This isn't one hundred percent true - the story was indeed passed along and preserved and we are reading it, so someone remembered. The point however is simply that as time passed the events of Moses and Joshua and their time in leadership moved farther and farther into the past and away from the experience of the people carrying the name of Israel forward. Just as there came a time in Egypt when the Egyptians forgot Joseph, causing them to turn on and enslave the Hebrew people, so there has come a time when the people are forgetting all the events of the Exodus which they have repeatedly been told to remember.

The book of Judges is the story of the result of such faulty memory. It is a book of faithlessness, followed by failure, followed by distress on the part of the people. The Lord hears their distress, a leader - a judge - is raised up, the crisis is averted...and the people return to faithlessness. Wash, rinse, repeat. So we go, into a book of adventure, great figures of the faith, and a cycle of faith and failure of faith that will become the refrain of much of the history of the people from this point through the time of the monarchy. As we make our way through, it it is a good practice to remind ourselves that this history is not best understood as behavior which we should shake our heads at and judge, but as behavior which should seem cautionary and familiar as it is our own story as well.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Loving God, through times of great faith and times of great failure let me read about the people of the Hebrew scripture and let me learn about myself. Amen.

 

 

April 11

Judges 3 and 4, Mark 1

Read virtually any commentary on Mark's gospel and there will be a discussion of the pace of Mark's telling of the story of Jesus. There is an urgency to get it all out with Mark. The majority opinion of scholars is that Mark's gospel was the first of the four gospels to be completed. The urgency is consistent with that idea. It is not intended to be an elaborate retelling of all that Jesus did and said - it is an intense, ever forward moving attempt to share God's good news.

Mark 1 is exhibit A. There are enough stories within the first chapter of Mark to make a good ten chapters at the minimum. Mark's telling of Jesus baptism could hardly be more bare bones. Mark tells just enough to convey what is happening, but so often will leave us wishing we could ask follow up questions. Tell us more about the baptism. What was Jesus like when he returned from the wilderness? Did he talk about what happened there? What drew Jesus to the fishermen he called to follow him? Was it exciting when people started responding to what Jesus was doing? That's just to get started.

Two things that are core to my understanding of who Jesus is and to my understanding of what discipleship is all about are a part of this passage as well.

One is Jesus' commitment to taking time away from everything to be in prayer. "Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer." (1:35) If Jesus needs to do this and finds it important, how much more do I need to seek out God in a daily, disciplined way?

The second occurs when the disciples find Jesus and tell him that everyone who from the previous night who didn't get a chance to be healed or hear him preach has gathered along with new folks and they are seeking him out. Jesus doesn't apologize for slipping away and make a beeline back to get started with the waiting crowd. Instead he says, "Let's head in the other direction." (1:38) The lesson to me here is Jesus' focus on his core mission. It would be easy to stop in one place and do what the circumstances seem to dictate, but Jesus is not looking to please anyone in a particular moment - he is looking to be faithful to his mission of sharing the good news.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Grant me an awareness of the great need of your good news in the world. Fill me with a sense of urgency to know you and to share your love with others. Amen.

 

 

April 12

Judges 5 and 6, Psalm 40 and 41

Midway through Deborah's song she calls out several of the tribes who did not show up for a battle. That's a helpful thing to notice to get a sense of what the circumstances were during the period of the judges. As a need arises a judge is lifted up who helps the people get through the problem. Typically the problem is that they are in a conflict with another power. The nature of these battles and of these leaders is usually regional. If the battle is in the southern part of the land it is unlikely the northern tribes will come participate. You fight if you are impacted and you stay home if it is far away. The judges themselves are more regional leaders than national leaders. Eventually this will be part of the reason many will want a king. The desire for a king is not just a desire for a strong leader, but also for a strengthened confederation - a nation.

At this point in the history of the people we are looking at a people who are as much twelve peoples as one This will be important to keep in mind when it comes to the time of one nation - Israel and then two kingdoms - Judah and Israel. The work of the king in this case will not be as a leader added on to an already existing unified nation. Rather one of the central challenges of the kings will be to bring unity to twelve individually functioning tribes.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, with the psalmist, remind me that when I put my hope in you, you will lean down to me and hear my cry. You will lift me up and help me to stand on my feet again. Amen.

 

 

April 13

Judges 7 and 8, Mark 2

Mark got off to a fast start in the first chapter, setting the tone and pace of the gospel. Chapter two keeps up the pace and adds in a healthy dose of conflict.

Jesus heals a man and forgives him along the way. The forgiveness is a problem for some legal experts who witness the healing. He calls a tax collector to follow him. The tax collector agrees and Jesus goes to Levi's house where he eats with "many tax collectors and sinners" (1:15) There are Pharisees who have questions. Jesus disciples don't fast and they also are spotted picking heads of wheat on the Sabbath. Questions arise once again.

Question is probably not a strong enough word. There are judgments made which result in accusations couched as questions. It would be possible to look at one of these stories and give the questioners the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they really want to know what Jesus is up to. The cumulative effect though is to see that Jesus is stirring things up with the establishment, making it clear from the outset that, while many are responding to Jesus and his message, there are also those who do not approve of what he is doing. At those points where Jesus threatens the status quo he is creating an opposition among those that often benefit from that status quo.

Jesus' core message is the call to change hearts and lives. This is all well and good until that project of change disturbs the way things are - and what else is change going to do if not disturb the way things are. This is true in Mark's gospel - and it is true in each of us as we aim to make the changes that move us towards the lives of discipleship that Jesus has in mind for us.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Holy God, as you call us to follow you and make changes in our hearts and lives there will be times when we will resist. Forgive us when we stubbornly cling to old ways and help us to embrace the lives you would have us live and the work you would have us do. Amen.

 

 

April 14

Judges 9 and 10, Mark 3

Mark continues to add layers. After playing up the conflict that is a part of the relationship between Jesus, his followers, and the authorities in Mark 3 we see those authorities take the next step - they begin to plot against him.

Jesus is not surprised by their attention. Jesus enters the synagogue knowing he has an audience that is not happy with him. "Wanting to bring charges against Jesus, they were watching Jesus closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. He said to the man with the withered hand, 'Step up where people can see you.'" (3:2-3) Jesus asks if it is okay to do good on the Sabbath, gets crickets for an answer from the Pharisees, heals the man and the conspiring against Jesus begins to organize.

The silence in answer to Jesus' question about doing good is telling. They aren't interested in the question and give no thought to the answer. They know the answer they need in order to legitimize the opinion they already have. Jesus heals the man on the Sabbath and that is what they needed to see; everything else is just white noise to them.

This sounds quite a bit like much of our current public discourse. Which isn't discourse or dialogue at all much of the time. Rather there is an opinion or belief which becomes the measure of what the other is saying. The content of what the other person is saying is unimportant. What is important is how what the other person says fits into the opinion or belief we already have.

It wasn't great practice for the Pharisees and other critics of Jesus as it clouded their understanding of what Jesus is about. It is not working out to be great practice for us either.

Keys for today…

Prayer

God, I ask that you help me to listen to you. Help me listen for your voice speaking to me from scripture, from the world around me, and from the voices of others. Amen.

 

 

April 15

Judges 11 and 12, Psalms 42 and 43

The origin of Jephthah as a judge of Israel engages the imagination. His father is named as Gilead. This is the same name as the home city, leading some to suggest that his father's name is unknown. His mother is identified as a prostitute. This uncertain parentage leads him to be told he will have no inheritance in Gilead and so he leaves home. In the short description of his time away it is said that "worthless men gathered around Jephthah and became his posse." (11:3)

While they might have been worthless, they must have been recognized as a fighting force - when Gilead needs to be defended they go and implore Jephthah to return and lead them.

The story of Jephthah's daughter is beyond sad and tragic. It's a story that has been preserved and makes its way into the text and perhaps gives a window into the period of the judges and the stories that surround them. This post-Exodus, pre-monarchy period of Israel's history is populated with legendary figures acting in larger than life ways. It is a "wild West" era in the history of the people's presence in the promised land and this awful story is an example of the kind of story that makes an impression and becomes part of the record of this era.

Keys for today…

Prayer

As we engage your Word there are times when we are perplexed by what we find and uncertain what to do with it. Help us to continue to listen for the great themes of your salvation history even as we encounter stories which appear to run counter to those very themes. Amen.

 

 

April 16

Judges 13 and 14, Mark 4

The Sea of Galilee is probably the most mystical place I've ever visited. I'm sure the prime ingredient in that recipe for me is the knowledge that it was around this lake that much of the ministry of Jesus took place. One doesn't need to literally stand where Jesus stood to gaze from any of the many amazing vantage points and imagine Jesus and his followers having a similar view. It is also distinguished by a bit of unique geography. The body of water is around 700 feet below sea level, while the mountains surrounding it rise to 1600 feet above sea level and higher. This creates the climate for some of the quick changing and extreme weather events we hear about in scripture.

The Sea of Galilee can be one color one moment and if you look away and look back it may shift from blue to green just like that. It's one kind of beautiful in the morning at sunrise, another in the afternoon and another in the evening. It would be a marvelous place to spend a few days on retreat just watching the natural beauty and communing with God.

Mark 4 closes out with a great storm on the Sea of Galilee story. A storm has blown up quickly. The disciples are dealing with high winds and waves crashing against and into their boat. Meanwhile, Jesus is asleep at the rear of the boat. On a pillow - wonderful detail that pillow. It's almost a comical scene to contemplate, the storm, the frantic disciples…and napping Jesus.

At some point in this adventure someone decides to wake Jesus up. He speaks a word and calms the storm and they are amazed. There is much to love about this story. One of my favorite parts of it is the recognition that from the time when weather was perfect to the time when the boat is being swamped, Jesus was with the them the whole time. It wasn't as if they got into turbulence and had to wish Jesus was with them and he magically appeared in their midst to save them. He was there all along.

I find this to be such a dead-on description of the spiritual journey as I have experienced it. Jesus is my constant companion, always nearby, always available. And yet, I sometimes wait until I am in the midst of a storm and sinking quickly to decide that I may want to invite Jesus to help me navigate and weather the storm. And, like his friends in the boat with him in this story, I wind up amazed and in awe of the difference Jesus can make in even the most difficult situations when I turn to him and stop trying to plod through on my own.

Key for today…

Prayer

The storms of life will come. They will surely come. They will come unexpectedly and quickly. We thank you that Jesus is in the boat with us. Amen.

 

 

April 17

Judges 15 and 16, Mark 5

It is undeniably true that sometimes life is easier and sometimes life is harder. These are the facts of what is going on in our life; how our health is, along with the health of those we care about; the state of our relationships; so many things that are forces at work, and much of it beyond our control. That is all preamble to what I also believe to be true…often how we process all of these things will go a long way towards how we experience them as they happen to and around us.

As we encounter Jesus in Mark 5 we see how he looks at the same sets of circumstances as everyone else and yet sees different sets of possibilities and asks different questions to match his different priorities.

Jesus is surrounded by a sea of humanity when one woman reaches out and touches him, and he begins to look to see who it was that touched him. His disciples are exasperated with him. Everybody is touching you! You are in a crowd! But Jesus keeps looking for the one person who truly touched him.

Jesus is on his way to heal Jairus' daughter. While he is on his way she dies, prompting Jairus' servants to not bother Jesus any farther as it is now too late. Jesus sees something different than everyone else. When he suggests she is only sleeping, they laugh harshly at his lack of comprehension. Until, next thing they know, they are preparing the young woman food to eat.

Both the woman, who reached out and touched Jesus, and Jairus, who sought him out for help, have the seeds of the kind of vision that faith in Jesus can bring to our lives. We can be made whole. We can experience healing and new life. No matter where we are today and no matter the magnitude of the challenge, Jesus has a better vision for us and for our world.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Loving God, help me to see past this present moment and its challenges to what is possible through faith in you. Amen.

 

 

April 18

Judges 17 and 18, Mark 6

Jesus spends the day teaching a large crowd in an out of the way location. His disciples want him to send them on their way to get dinner. Jesus says the disciples should get them something to eat. They basically say that this would be a very difficult task. Jesus asks them, "How much bread to you have? Take a look." The disciples dutifully check around and come back with the report of "Five loaves of bread and two fish." (6:37-38)

I get why they looked and made their report, but in light of what happened in Mark 4:35-41 I don't think that's what Jesus was really asking them to do when he made the request that they "Take a look." I think he meant they should take a look right in front of them. At him. Just as he had been right there in the boat with them and had calmed the storm when they had called upon him, he was with them now and this was really not an impossible situation at all. The key wasn't how much food they rounded up in their search. The key was that Jesus was present with them and that made all the difference.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Remind me each day that you are with me. When my resources are low or exhausted help me to take a look and know that you are with me. Amen.

 

 

April 19

Judges 19 and 20, Psalm 44

The appalling stories keep on coming, but before the story gets up and running, a long term key to the larger story of the people in the promised land is right there at the beginning of Judges 19. "In those days when there was no King in Israel..." - what follows is a wretched story of rape and murder that escalates into civil war between tribes of Israel. It is yet another story portraying the years of the Judges as a lawless, anything goes period. That first verse gives you a clue as to where the editor of these stories places the blame.

Shortly in our reading it will become apparent that there are two positions taken by Biblical editors. Some are pro-monarchy (in favor of a King) and some are anti-monarchy (against having a King). The pro-monarchy editors will emphasize material that shows the need for a king, and the way the people will benefit by the installation of a king for all of Israel. The anti-monarchy folks will point out how corrupt a king will be and will argue that the people already have a king - God - and do not need another.

That phrase - "In those days when there was no King..." - is a way of saying this is the kind of thing that happens in the absence of strong leadership. Watch for more of this as we move on.

Keys for today...

Prayer

Holy God, you alone are holy and Lord of all life. Help me to keep you my first love and priority. Amen.

 

 

April 20

Judges 21, Mark 7

First, from a previous trip through the Old Testament I found a note I'd written at the end of the book of Judges. "Judges can't end soon enough." After once more reading this passage on wives for the Benjaminites I agree with my past self. Ready to turn the page on the Judges.

Mark 7 features an intriguing back and forth between Jesus and the Pharisees on the source of what contaminates a life. The Pharisees are examining the times when they can observe Jesus' followers breaking "rules handed down by the elders" (7:5). Jesus answers back that it's not what comes from the outside - dietary choices for instance - that is the problem. Jesus points to the inside, to the human heart, the choices and the values that are located there and work their way from there to our actions. Jesus confronts us with a basic truth that applied not only to the Pharisees' critique, but also to what trips us up in life. The work to be done begins within our hearts.

Keys for today...

Prayer

Help me to find the time to examine my heart and search my motives with honesty and a desire to live a life of love and service. Amen.

 

 

April 21

Ruth 1 and 2, Mark 8

There is a lot of Jesus and the disciples getting in a boat and traveling across the Sea of Galilee in the gospels. It happens a couple of times in this chapter. It's worth asking why this is happening. There are a variety of possibilities. It could be as simple as Jesus deciding it was time to go to a place on the opposite side of the lake. But there can be more to it.

The western side where Capernaum is located could be described as the Jewish side. There were more practicing Jews on this side of the lake and the Jewish purity laws were followed more closely on this side.

The eastern side is not only the other side of the lake but is also a different region with a different ruler. This is important because it gets at another very important reason why Jesus would go back and forth. Jesus was sometimes at odds with religious leaders and with the law. If things were too hot on one side of the lake it could necessitate a move to the other side to another jurisdiction with different leaders who may not be looking for him right then.

It is also important in many of the stories. As an example. The feeding of the five thousand occurs on the Jewish side of the lake. The symbolism of the story with its twelve baskets of leftover food would be meaningful to a Jewish audience. The feeding of the four thousand, which is read by some as a retelling of the same story with different details, is most likely a different story intentionally set on the other side of the sea with symbolism appropriate to a gentile setting.

Again the geography of scripture is an important actor in these stories. It is worth it, if you have time, to find a good Bible atlas and explore the maps of biblical history.

Keys for today...

Prayer

It is amazing that Jesus came to us and walked around on earth in a particular place at a particular time. Help us to recognize the value of your creation. You made it, you walked around in it and you give it to us to live in and enjoy. Amen.

 

 

April 22

Ruth 3 and 4, Psalm 45

It's hard to imagine packing much more into four chapters than happens in the book of Ruth. It's a deceptively simple story. Ruth pledges her loyalty and love to her mother-in-law Naomi in some of the most poetic language in scripture. Chapters 2, 3 and 4 tell the story of her arrival in Bethlehem and what turns out to be marriage to Boaz resulting in a child, Obed.

If that was the extent of the story it would be a grand story of fidelity and commitment along with a storybook ending.

But, of course, there is more. Obed will be the father of Jesse and Jesse will be the father of David and David will be the king by whom all other kings of Israel and Judah will be measured. And Ruth will be mentioned by name in the first chapter of Matthew in the genealogy of Jesus.

None of which would have transpired had Ruth simply done what everyone would have expected of her and returned to Moab rather than accompanying Naomi to Bethlehem. Our decisions and choices may matter more than we imagine.

Keys for today...

Prayer

Loving God, your presence in history is felt in ways that are as intimate as Ruth's decision to stay with Naomi and in ways that are as sweeping as the epic of the kings of Israel and even the coming of the Messiah. Grant us the wisdom to understand that you continue to be at work through us today. Amen.

 

 

April 23

1 Samuel 1,2, and 3, Mark 9

Get ready, because the books of history are about to take off. Samuel, Saul, David, everything to do with the monarchy is all out there ahead of us. We are leaving the wild west of the Judges period and heading for the days of palace intrigue and eventually the rise of the prophets.

If you know this story from Sunday School as a child you most likely know the story of Samuel as a boy hearing God's call and mistakenly believing it to be Eli. You might also know the story of Hannah and her pledge that if she was able to have a son she would dedicate him to the Lord's service. It is unlikely that the corrupt practices of Eli's sons was a featured piece of most children's curriculum.

Keys for today...

Prayer

Holy God you continue to call and speak to us today. Help us to listen and respond. Amen.

 

 

April 24

1 Samuel 4, 5 and 6, Mark 10

The same question occurs a couple of times in Mark 10. Jesus asks it of the disciples who are arguing about where they will be seated with him in glory and he asks it of Bartimaeus, the blind man he encounters near Jericho. The question? "What do you want me to do for you?" (10:36 and 51) It's a clarifying question that asks the person or people before him to consider what it is they are truly asking of Jesus.

James and John seem to be asking for positions of importance in the kingdom Jesus has been talking about, while Bartimaeus would seem to obviously want his eyesight. Asking what they want Jesus to do forces the petitioners to consider first what they are asking and second what the impact of such a request will be.

It is easy, perhaps, to imagine God as a dispenser of just the thing we can imagine will put everything right in our lives. The right job. A new skill. A new relationship. It can be seductive to imagine that if things are going well, the setting in place of one new factor or fixing of one broken place would make everything better.

In some instances perhaps we are asking for exactly the right thing. In others maybe we are asking for what seems to us to be the obvious need when it may not be what we truly need at all. Jesus wants us to give it some thought.

Keys for today…

Prayer

As I come to you in prayer with my praise and with my requests, help me to consider closely what it is I am asking you to do. And help me to listen for what it is you would have me do. Amen.

 

 

April 25

1 Samuel 7, 8 and 9, Mark 11

The readings from 1 Samuel feature both strong anti-monarchy and clear pro-monarchy voices today. Chapter 7 includes a laundry list of the poor outcomes that can be expected if a king is chosen. Virtually all that Samuel describes comes to pass. Chapter 9, by comparison, shows us God leading Samuel to find Saul who will shortly be anointed the first king of Israel. This is another instance where I find it to be a strength of the text that we have two diametrically opposed view points preserved in the text. The Bible is not edited to the point where it is a bully pulpit for any one perspective. It is a rich collection of perspectives that tell the story of God's action in the life of the people.

Mark gives us the Palm Sunday entrance with Jesus fulfilling prophecy, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. A much different version of a king than anyone was looking for in the days of the judges/monarchy or in Jerusalem at the time of Christ for that matter.

Keys for today...

Prayer

Give me a heart that trusts that you O God are every day the best leader for my life. Amen.

 

 

April 26

1 Samuel 10 and 11, Psalm 46 and 47

One of the things I make note of when I'm reading through Scripture is when I hear echoes of other stories in whatever I'm reading. The connection I hear may turn out to be an intentional one (a New Testament writer echoing an Old Testament story for instance), or I may be imagining it entirely; but even then I think having one's imagination engaged while reading scripture is a good thing. Holding scripture in conversation with itself is a good thing.

Today's reading from 1 Samuel is a case in point. When reading Samuel's instruction to Saul about finding the donkeys I couldn't help overhearing the Palm Sunday story. Clearly if anyone was referencing anyone here it was the gospel writers echoing the 1 Samuel passage; but for purposes of notation, at some time reading through this I wrote "Palm Sunday echo" in the margin should I ever want to go looking for this again. As though to reaffirm that decision, I hit Samuel and the donkeys this time and immediately my mind went to Palm Sunday - quick glance to the margin and there were those previous readings footprints.

Keys for today...

Prayer

Thank you for the breadth and depth of scripture. Thank you for the conversations that can happen between one story and another, one book and another, one testament and another. It's marvelous. Amen.

 

 

April 27

1 Samuel 12 and 13, Mark 12

There's a short bit towards the end of 1 Samuel 13 about the lack of metal workers in Israel and the necessity of going to the Philistines to find such folks. Here and there we've seen mention of opponents of Israel with "iron chariots." This is a giant detail when thinking about how one warring faction will do against another. It's the difference between one level of weapon and an entirely different level of weapon.

Why is this important? In some settings people would look at two countries and determine who should win in battle based pretty much entirely on who had the iron chariots. If one did and another didn't, the iron chariot folks would be the pick to win.

The biblical writers don't see it that way at all and this passage from 1 Samuel is a great example. It's all about faithfulness to the biblical writer - not weaponry. Israel has made a regrettable decision and demanded a king. God has acquiesced to that decision. Samuel tells the people God isn't happy about their choice, but there is still hope held out for them. "Just fear the Lord, and serve him faithfully with all your heart. Look at what great things he has done for you! But if you continue to do evil then both you and your king will be destroyed." (12:24-25) Nothing there about raising your weaponry tech game - just be faithful.

Keys for today...

Prayer

Holy God, you are creator and Lord of all things. My desire is to live faithfully in response to your love. Amen.

 

 

April 28

1 Samuel 14 and 15, Mark 13

"But nobody knows when the day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son. Only the Father knows. Watch out! Stay alert! You don't know when the time is coming." (Mark 13:33)

Jesus is never unclear on this topic. It's about how we live. It's about our response to God's grace and love. It's about changing our hearts and lives now. It's about experiencing a life more abundant by way of learning to live lives of faithfulness and obedience.

It is not about figuring out when the end of the world will occur. It is not about living in fear of the end. It's not about using any biblical texts as clues, bread crumbs or a road map to lead to figuring out the precise time of the end of the world.

Staying alert is living as fully committed to following Jesus as we are able right now.

Keys for today...

Prayer

Help us to live for you today and everyday thankful for your invitation to participate in your plans and grateful that you are in charge. Amen.

 

 

April 29

1 Samuel 16 and 17, Psalm 48

David!

David shows up in a big way in today's readings. First, we have the story of Samuel going to the home of Jesse and passing over each of his sons as he searches for the one the Lord has chosen. Eventually Samuel asks, "Is that all of your boys?" (16:11) Turns out there is one more out watching the sheep, and that's the one Samuel has been sent to find. We then are told of Saul meeting David who comes before him as a musician primarily in this version of their first meeting.

Chapter 17 is another iconic, foundational David story where the future king takes on the Philistine giant Goliath. Each of these stories has the feel of a great yarn to share around a campfire. David will loom over the remainder of the Old Testament and over the history of the Hebrew people. It all begins here.

Keys for today...

Prayer

As Samuel searches for the one who God has chosen to lead the people it is only when there is no one else left that he turns to the person God has in mind. Grant us the strength and the fortitude to keep persevering when we are searching for your will for our lives. Amen.

 

 

April 30

1 Samuel 18 and 19, Mark 14

Peter has just made his bold proclamation that he would rather die than deny Jesus. Even as Jesus has assured him that Peter will deny not once, but three times, Peter maintains that he will be faithful.

This promise falls apart even before it falls apart. Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him as the very next thing he does. Jesus is deeply troubled and is praying about what is preparing to unfold. He explains to the three disciples that have accompanied him, "I'm very sad. It's as if I'm dying. Stay here and keep alert." (14:34) Jesus goes and prays and the three immediately fall asleep. This happens not once or twice, but three times. In essence Peter has failed Jesus three times before he ever gets around to denying him which occurs further along in Mark 14.

I believe Peter believed what he was saying when he promised to be faithful. I believe I mean it when I promise to be faithful. Like Peter I also find myself at times falling short almost as soon as I've begun aiming at a faithful action. All of us are blessed that, in the face of our wavering faithfulness, Christ's love, grace and mercy are steadfast.

Keys for today...

Prayer

Thank you for your steadfast love which endures forever. Amen.

 

 

May

| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 |

| 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31

 

 

May 1

1 Samuel 20, 21, and 22, Mark 15

Jonathan is the kind of person you expect to find in a holy book. Not the kind of person you actually do find all that often, but the kind you imagine should be there. Jonathan and David's friendship is one of the great friendships of history - it is legendary. As I read through the story I can't help feeling that Jonathan's side of the friendship is a little purer than David's. David is destined to be a great king. David knows it. He has ambitions that will not be denied. He is not unwilling to play the games of palace intrigue. Jonathan's actions are selfless. As Saul's son it makes sense that he would be in line for the throne. By this he seems entirely unmoved. Saul is his father, David is not a relative and yet he places David's welfare ahead of Saul's position. Jonathan is not deceptive or coveting in his friendship with David. Saul sees it and is confounded by it. "Do you think I don't know how you've allied yourself with Jesse's son? Shame on you and on the mother who birthed you." (20:30)

Jonathan appears never to be out for himself. He truly appears not to have a desire to oppose his father. His motivation is simply to care for and support his friend.

We would all be blessed to have a Jonathan in our lives, both to support and encourage us and to inspire us to be the best friends we can be to others.

Keys for today...

Prayer

I am grateful for friends. Help me to be a friend who desires what is best for others and takes delight in the well being of those with whom I share the journey.

 

 

May 2

1 Samuel 23 and 24, Mark 16

Mark's sprint through the story of Jesus concludes with the most unresolved version of the resurrection. Your Bible most likely indicates that Mark 16:1-8 is the original conclusion to the gospel and that verses 9 through 20 are a later addition. Even in the English translation the tone and the language of the later add-on sounds and feels different.

The original ending leaves so much up in the air. No post resurrection appearances. No summations to explain what it all means. No anything, but an empty tomb, terror, dread and fear. Which probably gets at what that first Easter morning felt like to Jesus' followers. An empty tomb and a lot of uncertainty. Nothing in the way of easy answers. Mark has been in a hurry to tell the story from the beginning and the pace has been frantic throughout. As he closes out his gospel there is no comfortable denouement. Instead Mark is racing along with us until suddenly we are left to continue the racing on our own towards wherever that empty tomb will lead us.

Keys for today…

Prayer

God of the cross and of the empty tomb, challenge us each day to determine how we will live in the light of the reality of the resurrection. Amen.

 

 

May 3

1 Samuel 25 and 26, Psalm 49

Abigail comes along at an important moment in David's leadership development. Angry at her husband Nabal, David is ready to give his temper free reign and kill Nabal and the men of his household. Abigail bravely talks the young king-in-the-making down.

Abigail assuages David's anger with gifts for David and his men, an apology for her husband's actions and a well-reasoned argument as to why it is not in David's best interest to follow through with his plans for Nabal.

As the story plays out Abigail becomes one of David's wives. It is easy to imagine she also became a trusted sounding board for David in future decisions and actions as king.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Help us to learn from Abigail. Help us not to respond in anger, but to seek God's guidance for the best way forward. Amen.

 

 

May 4

1 Samuel 27, 28 and 1 Corinthians 1

We are back with Paul as we begin to make our way through the first letter to the church in Corinth. As we read any of Paul letters one thing that is helpful to keep asking yourself is what motivated Paul to write this letter. Paul does not set out to make theological statements to his letter recipients simply because the mood hits him. Typically something is going on in that community that has led him to reach out to them, with instruction, guidance, admonition, encouragement...or any combination of these things.

Not much detective work is needed to see what is on Paul's mind as he early on writes that he's received information that they are "fighting with each other."(1:11) He follows this up with a call to set aside differences based on who baptized them or who they see as their primary teacher and to understand that their fidelity is ultimately to Christ and it is in Christ where they should find their unity.

Keys for today...

Prayer

Thank you for all of the people who have been a part of my faith journey and have pointed beyond themselves towards you. Amen.

 

 

May 5

1 Samuel 29, 30 and 31, 1 Corinthians 2

As we finish out 1 Samuel, things are kind of all over the place. David is seemingly disappointed because the Philistine Achish is told by fellow Philistine leaders that David and his six hundred man army is not welcome in the battle against Saul. This seems to me sensible on the part of the Philistines. And yet, as I read through here I see no indication that David intends to play the double agent and join against the Philistines once they take the field. Instead he seems genuinely upset that he won't be participating.

Chapter 30 is like a solo adventure in a franchise film series – away from the main continuity our hero takes revenge on the Amalekites for their raid on the city of Ziklag. In an odd way the whole story feels like it is presented so that we can get to the principle that if one group goes off and does the raiding and the other stays back and guards the supply lines, everyone participates in the windfall of what is captured.

Finally, and unceremoniously, Saul and his sons are killed on the field of battle. Perhaps David is portrayed as off on his Ziklag adventure as a means of absolving him of any possible blame for the death of the Lord's anointed. He didn't kill Saul and he is in no position to have helped either his friend Jonathan or the king.

Keys for today...

Prayer

As we continue to read through the history of the people of Israel help us to continue to search for the message you are speaking to us for today. Help us to look for you in the details and at the same time to be watching for the grand sweep of your story. Amen.

 

 

May 6

2 Samuel 1 and 2, Psalm 50

A couple of times David has Saul in his grasps and declines the opportunity to kill the king. Each time he cites the idea that he cannot kill the Lord's anointed. Here in 2 Samuel 1, he receives the report of a young Amalekite telling him that Saul is dead. Further, the Amalekite says that, at the dying king's request, he himself had finished Saul off. David responds with grief to the news of Saul's death and summarily has the messenger executed for killing the Lord's anointed.

My question is how much of this is David holding fast to the principle of not killing the Lord's anointed, and how much of this is David shrewdly recognizing that he also is the Lord's anointed and that upholding such a principle could serve him well in the future?

Notice that David is initially king over only Judah, the northern kingdom of Israel is ruled for two years by Saul's son Ishbosheth, with support from Abner, the leader of Saul's army. One take away from that is to be aware of the tenuous nature of the United Kingdom of Israel. Saul, David and finally Solomon will rule over what is portrayed as a united kingdom. It will be at its most united under David and Solomon, but it should not be a surprise when Israel and Judah go their separate ways at the conclusion of Solomon's reign.

Keys for today…

Prayer

Help me to be aware of my choices and the motives that I have for actions that I take. Help me to be honest with myself and before you so that I may recognize when I am most effectively listening for your will and when I am serving my own selfish causes. Amen.

 

 

May 7

2 Samuel 3, 4 and 5, 1 Corinthians 3

In our reading from 2 Samuel today, we hear of the ongoing war between the House of Saul and the House of David. Both houses ostensibly vying to provide leadership to God's people. If you'll recall, Abner had killed one of Joab's brothers. Now Joab has the opportunity for revenge. This is set in motion when Ishbosheth, Saul's son and the ruler of Israel, calls Abner out on a question of immorality. Abner is upset by this and decides to betray Ishbosheth to David. David happily receives Abner. Joab is upset with David and follows after Abner and kills him. David then puts on a show of being upset that Abner is dead.

Ishbosheth has two mercenary types working for him who decide to turn on him. They kill Ishbosheth and then take the proof to David who invokes his killing the Lord's anointed rule and has them killed.

In the midst of all the backstabbing, unethical behavior, murder and opportunistic coalitions it is clarifying to turn to Paul and find this, "This world's wisdom is foolishness to God." (3:19) Indeed.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Wise God, help me to pursue much less of my own foolishness and to seek after your wisdom. Amen.

 

 

May 8

2 Samuel 6 and 7, 1 Corinthians 4

On view in todays reading is another example of two traditions co-existing in the pages of the Old Testament. David makes Jerusalem the capitol of nation and along side of that wants to move the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and build a temple. Presented forcefully is the argument God makes against a temple. God has lived all this time without a house in a particular place and can continue on just fine without one. Temple or no temple, this is an important conversation.

During the Exodus wilderness years and to this point the place of worship has not been fixed. It could be wherever it needed to be. This is not to say that there have not been places that have taken on heightened significance because worship occurred there, but that the place never became the place God was viewed as being, over and above other locations. The Jerusalem temple will change that.

One demonstrable way will be in the faithfulness of the kings of Israel and Judah when the nations divide. Judah will have a number of kings, the majority will be unfaithful, but a few who are judged faithful will be in the mix. Israel (the northern kingdom) will have no kings who are judged to be faithful by the scriptural editor who makes such summations. Why? Because it is by definition impossible for them. Proper worship could only take place in Jerusalem in the view of the biblical editor. No northern king was going to send his people to the southern kingdom to worship. Instead we will see places of worship established in the north. That is all ahead of us, but the fundamental point is this: the establishment of a temple in Jerusalem changes the way God is viewed by the people. In the days of the temple God is much more likely to be portrayed as in Jerusalem at the temple. Thinking of God in this way is a major shift for a people who had been nomads and with whom God had traveled in a tent.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

God of all creation, thank you for the beauty and wonder of the earth. Help us to look for you in all corners of your creation. Amen.

 

 

May 9

2 Samuel 8, 9 and 10, 1 Corinthians 5

The story of David and his treatment of Jonathan's son Mephibosheth is one that I have been aware of since I was a child in Sunday school. The story was always cast as an illustration of David's love for his friend Jonathan and as an example of David's great compassion in choosing to care for Mephibosheth.

In the midst of all the sordid goings on and questionable motives of palace intrigue that actually show up in these stories, I find myself wondering if there is another explanation. One that maybe allows for compassion on David's part, but also features at least equal parts cunning and political savvy. The son of a former king is a problem, because the son of a former king is always potentially a king in the making. Whether through his own ambitions or as someone else's puppet, Mephibosheth is a potential rival for the throne. David could, of course, had Mephibosheth killed, but rather than a story of a compassionate king we'd have the story of a mean-spirited bully who acted against a sympathetic figure, specifically in relation to Mephibosheth's physical limitations. Instead, David keeps Mephibosheth basically under house arrest for the rest of his life, always eating at David's table. This allows David to honor his friend's son and keep him in sight and under observation.

Keys for today...

Prayer

Holy God help me to be honest with myself about my motivations for my actions. Help me to seek after your will and your way. Amen.

 

 

May 10

2 Samuel 11 and 12, Psalm 51

"Create a clean heart for me, God;
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!" (Psalm 51:11)

Your Bible may tell you that Psalm 51 is attributed to David as a work created following Nathan's pronouncement of David's guilt for his actions with Uriah and Bathsheba. It is indeed a strong statement of the need for God's mercy, compassion and forgiveness in the face of the realization of one's own sinfulness. "Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean, wash me and I will be whiter than snow." (v.7) There is recognition here that even in our deepest sin there is hope to be found in God.

Psalm 51 is a passage that is often used in Ash Wednesday services. Ash Wednesday being the time at the beginning of the season of Lent when we are beginning to make the forty day journey of self-examination and confession prior to the celebration of Easter.

My practice in imposing the ashes has been to speak a version of Psalm 51:10 to give voice to our desire for God to be at work in us throughout the season: "Create in (your name) a clean heart and put a new and right spirit within (him or her)."

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Create in us a clean heart and put a new and right spirit within us. Amen.

 

 

May 11

1 Samuel 13 and 14, 1 Corinthians 6

Things were complicated around the palace for David and his family. Here is a vile story of violence, violation and revenge; and the aftermath of all of that. Two chapters after the story of David and Bathsheba we have the story of Amnon and Tamar. Then two chapters after the story of Nathan confronting David over his actions we have Joab bringing a "wise woman" from Tekoa to confront the King over his banishment of Absalom. There is plenty of pain and grief in this story and the tragedy of one bad action leading to another. It won't stop here.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, help me to understand how my choices will impact on my life today and tomorrow and how those same actions will impact on the lives of others. Help me to make wise choices. Amen.

 

 

May 12, 2019

2 Samuel 15 and 16, 1 Corinthians 7

David abandons Jerusalem. That's the headline. Absalom, having returned from exile, begins a slow campaign of winning the affection of the people and undermining his father's leadership. It must have been masterful work. When David is finally told of what is happening his reaction is to pack up and leave, placing the possibility of his ultimate return squarely in the providence of God. David sends the Ark of the Covenant back to the Holy City stating that if God wishes for him to see it again he will one day return and if not, so be it. David inserts several spies, a couple of priests and an advisor, who will monitor the situation and let him know what is happening in Absalom's Jerusalem.

Beneath the big picture of political upheaval and struggle for power is the story of a father and son. When David sees Absalom he sees a committed and conniving rival, but he also sees a beloved son. That must take a toll. Once again, as in the days of his youth when he was hiding out and on the run from Saul, David is once more on the run for his life from a leader of Israel who has it in for him.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Help me to value and care for relationships with family and friends. Amen.

 

 

May 13

2 Samuel 17 and 18, Psalms 52, 53 and 54

It seems like it wasn't that long ago we were traveling with Samuel to visit Jesse in Bethlehem looking for the successor to Saul. That day when none of Jesse's sons fit the bill until finally they sent for the shepherd boy out in the fields. So much water under the bridge, deeds detestable and great, years hunted by Saul, ruling as king, a victim of an overthrow attempt by his own son. Now this. Success in returning David to power, but the toll is clear - "Oh, my son Absalom! Oh, my son! My son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! Oh, Absalom, my son! My son!" (18:33)

What will reach us to our core is not our ambition or our attainment of power or possessions. It is our relationships. It is always our relationships.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even as you attend to the relationship within yourself you show us the importance of our relationships with one another and with you. Help us to value and tend to those relationships. Amen.

 

 

May 14

2 Samuel 19 and 20, 1 Corinthians 8

It is sometimes hard to know which plot lines to pay attention to, which will be followed up on, which will be dropped, and which will continue on, but in a way that makes no sense without more information. We might have thought we had seen the last of Shimei back when David was fleeing Jerusalem and Shimei was throwing insults, rocks and dirt at the king. But wait, he's back and he's — surprise — seeking forgiveness for past misunderstandings as David returns after vanquishing Absalom. David appears to be okay to let bygones be bygones in this instance. (19:23)

Next it's Ziba, whose name reemerges when Mephibosheth comes to welcome David back, and explain why his staying behind was not disloyalty and potentially a play for power, and was instead a case of a guy not being able to find anyone to help him get a donkey. (19:26) David takes some of what he'd given to Ziba back and returns it to Jonathan's son.

Then there is Amasa. Amasa was put in charge of Absalom's army, serving as his version of Joab (17:25). Then David, upon his return, tells Amasa it's all good, and says he's going to replace Joab and appoint him to the same position in his renewed kingdom. (19:13) It's hard to know what to make of this. David appears to be genuine in this switch, the text gives no clue of any subterfuge. Further on, during Sheba's rebellion, Joab is back and pursuing Sheba. On the way he stops long enough to kill Amasa in gruesome style (20:10) and then continues to pursue Sheba,; his loyalty to David seemingly untouched by the reality that David had replaced him with Amasa in the first place.

In the midst of all that haze, let's lift up some wisdom from Paul in our 1 Corinthians passage: "Knowledge makes people arrogant, but love builds people up." (8:1b) Let's build some folks up.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, help me to be so filled with your love that it flows forth in ways that builds up others. Amen.

 

 

May 15

2 Samuel 21 and 22, 1 Corinthians 9

I ran cross country in high school and in college. Many years later I still enjoy running, although at a slower pace. I am competitive. I like to see improvement in my running over time. One thing I have learned over the years is that my competition is typically not so much other runners. My competition is myself. What have I run in the past at this distance? Can I go faster?

Paul says, "Don't you know that all the runners in the stadium run, but only one gets the prize? So run to win." (9:24) What I hear him saying is not that we are in a faith competition with one another, but that we are called to grow as disciples as measured against ourselves. My striving is for a deepening relationship with God. Running to win is keeping the nurturing of that relationship a constant priority.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Loving God, you offer us the opportunity to be in relationship with you and to come to faith in you. Help me to accept that gift each day with gratitude and enthusiasm. Amen.

 

 

May 16

2 Samuel 23 and 24, 1 Corinthians 10

Paul's writings are sometimes used as the foundation for borders of orthodoxy. I don't read that as Paul's primary point. Paul is not about smacking the hands of wayward believers; Paul is about living in ways that make the gospel as winsome and appealing to folks beyond the community of faith as possible. Paul is about creating the most effective and caring community of believers. If the individual is acting in a way that harms others, it is a problem. "Everything is permitted, but everything isn't beneficial. Everything is permitted, but everything doesn't build others up." (10:23) My goal in faith, as I understand Paul's instruction, is to be a follower of Christ who looks to support and encourage other followers of Christ and invite those who are not followers to consider joining us on the journey.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Keep me regularly examining the impact of my choices and actions. Remind me that I am not the judge of others. Instead, help me to walk faithfully with others and aim not to be a stumbling block to another person's relationship with you. Amen.

 

 

May 17

1 Kings 1 and 2, Psalm 55

There is an important word on humility in the portrayal of David's final days. Gone are the marauding days of his youth with his band of warriors. Gone are the glory days of the height of his power over the unified northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah. We are left with David who gets cold at night, and who has one more tempest to deal with, the matter of succession.

David's final years are not a victory lap. They are a continuation of the challenges of leadership and of the results of choices made throughout his lifetime.

Alongside the primary story of the conclusion of David's life, we are also told of the violent conclusion of Joab's life. Joab was many things, ruthless, brilliant, cutthroat and, through it all, pretty much loyal to David. Still his violent ways catch up to him as Solomon carries out David's instructions. (1 Kings 2: 5-6)

The overall impact of these chapters of summation is one of sadness and regret and consequences. It does not feel like the best atmosphere for the launch of Solomon's reign.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Loving God, help me to make loving and living in accord with your will my goal. Enable me to embrace the reality that in following and living for you I will find the most welcoming future for which I can imagine or hope. Amen.

 

 

May 18

1 Kings 3, 4 and 5, 1 Corinthians 11

There are a couple of references in today's readings from 1 Kings to Solomon enjoying peace on all sides. As we read on it will be clear that peace is not a normative thing for either what will become the northern kingdom (Israel) or southern kingdom (Judah). The biblical text will typically tie the presence or lack of peace and the fortunes of the people in war to their faithfulness, and often to the specific faithfulness of their king. Fair enough, but there are some other factors to be aware of that made peace a tenuous thing and continue to do so up until the present.

These reasons are largely geographic. To the south was one of the great civilizations of the ancient world — Egypt. To the north were the Assyrians who were followed by the Babylonians. Israel fell squarely between these two areas, meaning that the promised land was in essence a buffer between two great powers. This meant that this space was often a site for proxy wars between these two regions.

Additionally, Israel was on a land bridge between Africa, Asia and Europe. Israel was located on a north/south trade route (The Way of the Sea), which was important for commerce. It was also of value to control this area and be the kingdom in charge of the flow of that commerce.

Another factor is that, even excluding the external considerations to the north and the south, there are places in Israel that are wonderful for farming and there are areas that are quite averse to it. When visiting the Holy Land I was surprised by the tropical climate that prevails in certain areas and by the amount of citrus that is grown there. There are highly fertile areas and therefore highly desirable areas if you are a king looking to make your name, enrich yourself and upgrade the life of your people (probably in that order).

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, we pray for peace in the land of the Bible. History tells us that "peace on all sides" is a rare occurrence in Israel/Palestine. We know this struggle continues. We pray for your shalom to prevail. Amen.

 

 

May 19

1 Kings 6 and 7, 1 Corinthians 12

One thing which comes through clearly in reading Paul's letters is that he is not intending to write theology. His point is not to sit down and create a great analogy for what the person of Jesus Christ is. His goal is at virtually every point to build up the community of faith; first by drawing folks into it and second by sustaining and nurturing them once they are there.

1 Corinthians 12 is full of brilliant theological insights and is so rich it requires reading again and again to begin to get at the depth of meaning and insight it holds. At its heart though it is a description of how community can grow and thrive if each part is understood to be of value to the whole. "You are the body of Christ and parts of each other." (12:27) Paul's pastoral heart is forever in evidence as he aims to guide the fluid web of human relationships in the body of Christ.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Thank you for the body of Christ and for my place in it. Help me to see myself as a person of value in your kingdom. Help me to see the value that you see in each person. Amen.

 

 

May 20

1 Kings 8 and 9, Psalm 56 and 57

As we read the description of the construction of Solomon's temple there are some things to keep in mind. First, it is likely that if you have seen drawings or models of the temple they have been of the second temple from the time of Herod. The difference being that while in both instances the temple itself is not all that large, in Herod's temple — the one Christ would have known — the temple complex is indeed quite large. Pictures of that area today do not feature a temple but rather the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque atop the Temple Mount. We do not know exactly where the Temple was located on the Temple Mount but do know that the huge retaining walls including the Western or Wailing Wall are features of the construction from Herod's time period.

Also note that as Solomon's construction projects go forward there is a discussion of the use of forced labor. While there is a verse that says that Solomon did not force the Israelites into forced labor for the temple or palace, the practice was indeed leaned on as these major projects and others were carried out by the king. This is the beginning of the fulfillment of what Samuel told the people would be the result of having a king. While the text is largely favorable to Solomon to this point there have been hints that he is beginning to ignore the prohibitions against foreign marriages and the subsequent accommodation of foreign gods. He is not averse to the use of forced labor. And it is somewhat telling that the temple took seven years to complete while the palace took nearly twice that amount of time. Kings in Israel and Judah are headed for hard times.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Holy God, it is easy to drift from the promises I make to you. I am well intentioned, but I falter. Open my eyes to the places I am straying from your will. Amen.

 

 

May 21

1 Kings 10 and 11, 1 Corinthians 13

Solomon's reign reaches its final days and we see that the tenuous relationship between the northern and southern kingdom is already nearing the breaking point. Jeroboam, with guidance from the prophet Ahijah begins to see himself as a king in the making. Solomon's son Rehoboam is set to succeed his father, but the story, along with the kingdom, will continue to unravel.

1 Corinthians 13 is one of those biblical passages that even people with little interest in or exposure to scripture may recognize and enjoy. There are places in Paul's writing where the right subject matter combines with the right theological/spiritual insight and what had been a letter becomes a work of art. Romans 8 is one of those passages. Here 1 Corinthians 12 and, even more, 13 have this transcendent quality. Paul writes words that are simultaneously practical to daily life and timeless in their beauty as he speaks of the gifts of God that the people of God enjoy and of the greatness of love.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Giver of all good gifts, thank you for the gifts that you have placed in me. Help me to be enthusiastic in cultivating these gifts and putting them to work for you. Teach me daily of the greatness of love. Amen.

 

 

May 22

1 Kings 12 and 13, 1 Corinthians 14

Some important pieces are put in place that in the eyes of the biblical editor will shape the remainder of Israel's history until the fall of the northern kingdom and the fall and exile of the southern kingdom. Note that Jeroboam is shown creating alternative places of worship for the people of Israel in Bethel and Dan. He is concerned that if they travel to Judah to the temple in Jerusalem they will revert in their allegiance to Rehoboam. Bethel is in the southern portion of the northern kingdom and Dan is in the north allowing the people to worship without traveling to Jerusalem. This, as the history is told, will be the original sin of the northern kingdom.

As we read you will see assessments of the kings of both kingdoms as we make our way through the list. A few will be judged faithful. Many will be seen as doing what is sinful in the eyes of God. There will be no northern kings judged to be faithful due to the sin of Jeroboam.

Also in today's reading we see Rehoboam further live into the negative characteristics of a king that Samuel long ago had outlined to the people. Rehoboam receives counsel from the elders to listen to the requests of the people, but his peers encourage him to be even more harsh than Solomon, his father, had been. They quickly turn on him leaving him king of one tribe, Judah, but again in control of the holy city, Jerusalem.

Keys for today...

Prayer

I am prone to listening for advice that confirms what I want to happen or to be true. Help me to listen for wise counsel that leads me first to your will and your way. Amen.

 

 

May 23

1 Kings 14 and 15, 1 Corinthians 15

Paul speaks compellingly of his role as an apostle, how it is an honor he feels he did not deserve because of his time persecuting the people of the Way. He continues on, explaining how committed he is to his call and how driven to share the good news. The discussion of the nature of the resurrection is timeless. Still today in Sunday School classes, Bible studies and many informal discussions the topic is what happened at the resurrection and what does it mean.

Paul gives the wonderful illustration of a seed which is put into the ground and must die before it becomes something new. It does not come back as a seed, but as a new form of life. This is how he describes the transition that lies ahead for us as we move from physical bodies to spiritual bodies.

To be honest I have never been too fixated on trying to figure out the details of what it will all look like. My first priority is to value the present moment and all the blessings of God that are before me even now. And tomorrow? I do not know how to describe what it will be, but I trust that it will be wonderful.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Help me to live each day with joy and expectation. Amen.

 

 

May 24

1 Kings 16 and 17, Psalms 58 and 59

Three major figures of the Hebrew Bible make their debut in today's reading: Elijah, the great prophet of ancient Israel and two of his leading adversaries, King Ahab and his wife Jezebel.

Elijah is introduced with little fanfare. He is described as "Elijah, from Tishbe, who was one of the settlers in Gilead"(17:1), without a mention of his role as prophet, even as he immediately speaks a prophetic word to Ahab. Elijah is fed miraculously, first by birds who bring bread and meat and then by the widow of Zerephath, who has barely enough for one last meal with her son, but sees her supplies extended through God's provision. To round out our introduction to Elijah, the prophet revives to life the widow's son who had died.

One thing to watch as the narrative continues is the way in which the focal point of the story switches from the king and the halls of power to the lone prophet operating with power from God outside of the traditional systems of power.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

I ask you, O God, to provide wisdom and compassion to those in leadership and when it is needed to send voices of correction who call both leaders and people back to faithfulness. Amen.

 

 

May 25

1 Kings 18 and 19; 1 Corinthians 16

The housekeeping details in the final chapter of 1 Corinthians are both humanizing and endearing. It's the New Testament equivalent of the tail end of a work group meeting in the local church. The content of the meeting is largely taken care of and what is left is the who is going to do what and when, and the human particulars that these nuts and bolts conversations cause to come up in our minds. Haven't seen this person for a couple of meetings - anyone know what is going on with them? I saw someone else at the store last week, they said to pass this along to the group. The giants of the faith from the pages of scripture were people like you and me, trying to live out their faith in the web of relationships and context of their historical moment. As are we.

"The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love to all of you in Christ Jesus." (16:23-24)

Keys For Today...

Prayer

I pray this day for the folks with whom I share the journey. May they be blessed and may they know how important they are to me and how much I appreciate them. Amen.

 

 

May 26

1 Kings 20 and 21; 2 Corinthians 1

The story of Naboth's vineyard hits several of the same notes as the story of David and Bathsheba. In each a king who has much does harm to a member of his kingdom, someone less powerful who is vulnerable before the machinations of the king. Just as David ordered Uriah exposed to danger, so Jezebel, acting on behalf of Ahab, orders Naboth placed in a position that will almost surely bring his death. Naboth's death enables Ahab to have the vineyard he covets. Even as we read the story, we can't help notice the slimy feeling of greed and uncontrolled desire for what one does not have, no matter the cost.

Elijah's prophetic judgment of Ahab brings repentance from Ahab just as Nathan's did from David. As the story wraps up we are told that this will save Ahab, but will not save his household beyond his lifetime.

These stories reach across the millenniums as timeless cautionary tales about the power of envy and avarice to corrupt our judgment, our relationships with others, and ultimately our relationship with God.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Help me to guard against wanting what belongs to others and what I truly do not need. Make my deepest desire to be cherishing my relationships with others and with you, my Creator. Amen.

 

 

May 27

1 Kings 22, Psalms 60 and 61

1 Kings closes out with the interesting story of Micaiah son of Imlah, a prophet. The story illuminates for us the role of the prophet in ancient Israel. Ahab wants to take back Ramoth-Gilead from the king of Aram. He wants the king of Judah, Jehoshaphat to go with him. Jehoshaphat wants a word from the Lord. One receives a word from the Lord by consulting with a prophet or prophets.

Ahab just happens to have some prophets. Four hundred of them actually and all prepared to give their blessing to Ahab's plans. Why? They are court prophets. They work for the king. They are more likely to divine what the king wants and prophesy what the king wants to hear than to give a prophetic word from God. Jehoshaphat knows this and asks for a second opinion.

Ahab says there is another prophet, but he never agrees with Ahab. Miciaiah is summoned and, after mockingly offering the prophecy the king wants to hear, gives the true word from the Lord that Ahab's campaign will fail. Ahab orders Micaiah locked up until the battle is decided. Micaiah responds with a fundamental definition of a measure for the veracity of a prophetic pronouncement: "'If you ever return safely,' Micaiah replied, 'then the Lord wasn't speaking through me." (22:28a)

Keys For Today...

Prayer

It is tempting to listen for voices that agree with my opinions and say things that I want to be true. Help me to listen for voices that speak your will and speak truth, even when it challenges me. Amen.

 

 

May 28

2 Kings 1, 2 and 3; 2 Corinthians 2

Elijah's prophetic work is coming to an end. The mantle will be passed to Elisha, who will receive the gift he requests – a double portion of Elijah's spirit.

Pay attention to where this changing of the prophetic guard takes place. After going to Bethel they move two more times, first to Jericho and then, nearby to the Jordan river.

Now, let's backtrack to 2 Kings 1:8. Ahaziah is trying to figure out who the man of God is who has stopped his messengers and returned them to him with a message of doom. "They said to him, 'He wore clothes made of hair with a leather belt around his waist.'" Ahaziah immediately knows who they are describing: Elijah.

The clothing and the location are important for this reason: the clothing sounds quite similar to the description Matthew offers of John the Baptist (3:4). We believe that the area where John the Baptist carried out his ministry was at the Jordan River near Jericho. John's clothing and his location are not accidents. And it is no accident that the people see him as a new Elijah.

This area of the Jordan river is also likely the approximate location of the point of entry of the people into the promised land during the time of Moses. Clearly there is a lot of meaning in this particular bit of real estate.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Thank you for the great people of faith from throughout the Bible and for the grand story their lives tell. Amen.

 

 

May 29

2 Kings 4 and 5; 2 Corinthians 3

Elisha is often thought of as what he literally is, a second generation version of Elijah. As you read through the stories in today's passages from 2 Kings however someone besides Elijah must surely be coming to mind.

Elisha revives a dead son, much like his predecessor was portrayed as doing. Elisha performs a feeding miracle which includes the words, "Give it to the people so they can eat." (4:42). The food being proposed for the people is not enough to realistically feed them, yet it does with leftovers.

As we read of Elisha and these mighty acts it is easier to understand the questions that swirled among the people as Jesus went about his ministry in the Galilee. It is easier to understand the source of Jesus' question when he asks the disciples, "Who do people say that I am." It is easier to see clearly how Jesus is viewed as standing within the prophetic tradition of the scriptures of Israel that existed in New Testament times.

It is easier, even with all of the mayhem, bloodshed and violence to see the importance of the Hebrew scriptures for understanding the full scope of the New Testament.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Lord, keep me open to the beauty of your holy scriptures. Help me to follow the epic sweep of your salvation story. Amen.

 

 

May 30

2 Kings 6 and 7; 2 Corinthians 4

"'Don't be afraid,' Elisha said, 'because there are more of us than there of them.'" 2 Kings 6:16

This is a passage I have revisited in prayers in trying moments many times. Elisha's assistant is concerned by the army that is coming for the prophet. Elisha sees a different situation. Not only can he see those who are coming for him, he sees the army of God surrounding him in all of its glory. He is confident that, though the earthly count seems to tilt in the direction of his adversaries, the true count is decidedly in his favor.

Does returning to this story always have the effect of lifting my confidence and renewing my faith? Probably not to the level that Elisha exhibits, but it helps. It helps to be reminded that God is with us no matter the circumstance and that this is sure and trustworthy.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Holy God, when I am overwhelmed, in doubt, and struggling with the circumstances of life, open my eyes to the reality of your constant presence and abiding love. Amen.

 

 

May 31

2 Kings 8 and 9; Psalm 62 and 63

It was clear that life was anything but a picnic much of the time for Elijah. While he was clearly revered by some, he was reviled by others, including the very powerful Ahab and Jezebel. We can see the same dynamic in the portrayal of Elisha, and will see it in many of the prophets we are yet to meet. A combination of awe and disdain from the public, depending on the circumstances and the prophecy.

What is clear is that those who were recognized as true prophets also enjoyed a measure of power and influence. People, important and powerful people, sought out their opinion. Notice that while they may be the targets of anger at times, and while there are times when they hide for their own safety, for the most part no one is actively seeking to do them harm or execute them.

Nathan spoke truth to David and lived to tell the story. Elijah and Elisha both say difficult things to kings and live to prophesy another day. This tells us that one who was recognized as a prophet was in the unusual position of saying things to powerful people that they would not want to hear. Recall Micaiah and his interaction with Ahab. It seems there were the prophets who worked for the king who would say what the king wanted to hear, blessing the king's plans as the will of God. Then there were the prophets who did not work for anyone but God; true mouthpieces of God. While their lives were not easy, we can see from these many examples that there was an honor to their work and a protection that they enjoyed because of their perceived close alliance with God.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Thank you for those who speak truth to me when I need to hear it. Thank you for those who help me to hear your will when all I am listening for is the desire of my own heart. Amen.

 

 

June

| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 |

| 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30

 

 

June 1

2 Kings 10, 11 and 12; 2 Corinthians 5

"We know that if the tent that we live in on earth is torn down we have a building from God. It's a house that isn't handmade, which is eternal and located in the heavens." – 2 Corinthians 5:1

"So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away and look, the new things have arrived!" – 2 Corinthians 5:17

I have repeated these two verses many times over the years in very specific activities of ministry. 2 Corinthians 5:1 is the culmination of a passage that begins at 4:16. It is a rousing word of hope about the life beyond this life. I have shared it at many funerals, especially with families who have experienced the sharp visible decline of a loved one. There is great comfort in Paul's assurance that even when our earthly tent is failing, there is a house that isn't handmade, eternal in the heavens that awaits us.

Most weeks in our worship services we say a corporate prayer of confession, together seeking God's mercy, compassion and forgiveness. Paul's words that the old things have gone away and the new things have arrived are wonderful words of the assurance of God's forgiveness.

Both of these verses are words of the hope we have in Christ. The hope of forgiveness when we sin and fall short in this life, and the hope of the wonder of the kingdom that is to come beyond this life. Thanks be to God for those who, like Paul, find words to express the glory of the hope that is ours through Christ our Lord.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Thank you for the hope we find in the pages of scripture. Amen.

 

 

June 2

2 Kings 13 and 14; 2 Corinthians 6

2 Corinthians 6 gives us a glimpse into Paul's understanding of what he is doing and why he is doing it. We also get a sense of how all encompassing the task of ministry is in his life. When he writes, "Look, now is the right time! Look, now is the day of salvation!" (6:2) there is a clear sense of the urgency and immediacy that he brings to his work and to his faith journey. Tomorrow or next month – some time off in the future – is not the time to get started. Today, for Paul, is the day.

I find this a helpful reminder of a core belief that we are often so focused on destinations that we forget to live the journey. The journey is the place where life happens. Not after we graduate, or get the right job, find the right significant other, acquire the right house or car – now. God is present with us every minute of every day. In our waking and in our sleeping. In the moments we recognize as profoundly important and in the moments we might overlook if we don't remind ourselves to pause and have a look around. As the theologian and pop singer Miley Cyrus has reminded us,

"Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb"

Enjoy the climb. Now is the right time. Now is the day of salvation!

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Open my eyes to your presence today and everyday. Amen.

 

 

June 3

2 Kings 15 and 16; Psalms 64 and 65

While Egypt is consistently the great power to the south of Judah, there are two great powers in the north in Old Testament times. In the era of the two kingdoms – the time period which we are presently reading about – the Assyrians are the northern power. Over time, by the fall of the southern kingdom of Judah, the Assyrians will have given way to the Babylonians.

Tiglath-Pileser III shows up a couple of times in todays readings. What is useful to note again is the perspective of the biblical authors. We are reading the story of the history of the kings of Israel and Judah along with judgements as to their faithfulness or lack thereof. Tiglath-Pileser is a character in their story. His actions as an aggressor and the desire of the southern King Ahaz to emulate an altar he sees in Tiglath-Pileser's kingdom are related as explanations of God's unhappiness with the practices of the kings of Israel and Judah. They are not told as the story of the dominant king of the age having his way with lesser powers.

In a secular history of the time period, Tiglath-Pileser III would be one of the star players in the drama. In the biblical story of the relationship of God with God's chosen people even the giants of the day become bit-part players in the story.

We live in a time of celebrity and of giant personalities in many walks of life. Our attention is directed by the media to the people who are important and whose actions, we are told, make all the difference. In such a cultural moment it is important to keep focused on God and on the people in our path each day. This is not a call to ignore the important events of the day, but to be reminded that whether Tigleth-Pileser or anyone else, there comes a time when we are all best remembered for our role in God's unfolding kingdom story.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God reorient me away from what this present moment says are the most important things and focus me on what truly matters, your will for my life, our community and our world. Amen.

 

 

June 4

2 Kings 17 and 18; 2 Corinthians 7

"But they wouldn't listen." – 2 Kings 17:40

Much of 2 Kings 17 is an autopsy on the northern kingdom of Israel. While many specifics are cited going back to the days of the Exodus and tracing their way through a history of God's faithfulness and the people's waywardness, the essence of the passage is summarized with the words, "But they wouldn't listen."

Jesus is reported to have finished off some of his teachings by calling for those who have ears to listen. Whether it is the people with Moses in the wilderness, the people in the time of the monarchy, or those who listened to the words of Jesus around the Galilee and in Jerusalem, the place where things often become problematic is in the capacity of the people to listen.

I find this to be a timeless truth and consistent with my own experience. There are times when I struggle to listen. There are times when I willfully do not listen. There are times when I think I'm actually listening pretty well, but life happens and my listening slips and slides. God continues to speak to us, to desire to be in relationship with us. Let us listen.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Grant me ears to listen and a heart that longs to hear your voice and be faithful. Amen.

 

 

June 5

2 Kings 19 and 20; 2 Corinthians 8

Present day Jerusalem is a hodgepodge of modern city and historical wonders. On our first trip there back in 2000, among the many sites we visited was the Pool of Siloam. It was, at first, unimpressive and a little bit sketchy. It may have changed over the years, but at that point it was apparently by appointment only. Our bus rolled up and seemed to stop right along a busy street. We disembarked to discover a gate separating us from a set of ancient stairs that led down to a small pool of water that seemed to find its source in a tunnel just above it. My enduring memory of the Pool of Siloam on that day was that the gate was locked (we waited for an attendant to come from somewhere else to unlock it for us) and the water appeared a bit stagnant. It was not terribly impressive.

Over time I have come to very much regret my initial reaction and to hope to return there one day. In several subsequent trips our itinerary has never included this stop. It turns out the tunnel just above the pool is the end of what is believed to be Hezekiah's tunnel. This would make it one of the few places where one could stand with confidence and say not only was this near the spot of this or that, but that this was actually the place and this was truly the ingenious tunnel created by Hezekiah's engineers to help circumvent the siege of Jerusalem.

As I often do I feel compelled to pause here and encourage you if you have any interest at all in visiting the Holy Land, make every attempt to do so. It will not disappoint. I cannot tell you what will be meaningful, but I can nearly guarantee you that there will be at least one, and possibly many moments when the Fifth Gospel (as the Holy Land is often referred to) will deepen your experience of God and draw you deeper into the story of scripture.

Key For Today…

Prayer

We give thanks for the people and places of scripture. We give thanks that the story of your relationship with your people happened and is happening in our very real world where we can to this day walk around with our eyes, ears and hearts open to you. Amen.

 

 

June 6

2 Kings 21 and 22; 2 Corinthians 9

Hezekiah, who is portrayed as being relatively faithful as king, is followed by Manasseh, who is portrayed as the worst of the worst. Manasseh behaves in ways that are monstrous and idolatrous. Sacrificing his son, consulting fortune tellers, desecrating the temple and worshipping all manner of deities – this is the legacy of Manasseh. His rule is summed up by the summary that he has dug a hole so deep Judah cannot dig back out of it. This clearly foretells the fall of Judah as the inevitable consequence of generations of faithless leaders, with Manasseh as the exclamation point.

On the other hand the stage is set for Josiah to bring Judah back to one last golden age of obedience in relationship to the covenant. As we consider Manasseh and next Josiah, it is worth asking what led one to go one direction and one to go another. What led the kings who were not faithful to their God to place self first in whatever they chose, and what led the kings who kept faith with God and with the covenant to follow the path of fidelity. It is possible such contemplation might help us examine the ups and downs of our own journey with God.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, source of all that is good and right, help me to acknowledge you in all that I do and to hold faithfulness to you as most to be sought after. Amen.

 

 

June 7

2 Kings 23, 24 and 25; Psalm 66 and 67

Turn back to Deuteronomy 31:14-23 and you will find an account of the transition of the leadership of the people from Moses to Joshua. In addition to the transition of leadership there is a reminder of the centrality of the covenant for the relationship between God and the people. "So Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves at the meeting tent. The Lord appeared in the tent in a pillar of cloud; the cloud pillar stood at the tents entrance." (Deuteronomy 31:14b-15) Now look again at the story of Josiah and the beginning of his reform with the reading of the newly rediscovered scroll of the law. "The king stood beside the pillar and made a covenant with the Lord that he would follow the Lord by keeping his commandments, his laws, and his regulations with all his heart and all his being in order to fulfill the words of this covenant that were written in this scroll." (2 Kings 23:3)

The biblical writer is wanting us to notice the parallel – as the laws given to Moses were once handed along to Joshua, so now, again literally by a pillar, they are being handed to the young king Josiah. Josiah is a throwback to the faithfulness of the leaders of those earlier times, before the corruption of the monarchy which reached its crescendo in Josiah's predecessor Manasseh. It will not be enough to rescue Judah from its eventual downfall, but it will briefly hold back the tide.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Gracious God, help us to grow in our own faithfulness by looking to the great leaders of the past and studying their fidelity to you and to your guidance. Amen.

 

 

June 8

1 Chronicles 1, 2 and 3; 2 Corinthians 10

Things get personal in 2 Corinthians 10. Paul has his heart placed firmly on his sleeve as he appeals to the folks in Corinth to follow his guidance. We get a glimpse even of some Pauline insecurity as he indicates that he knows what the people are saying about him in his absence, notably that he is bossy in his letters and shy in person.

The look into Paul's mind and the questions he may have about his work and the way people perceive his work humanizes him and gives us a Paul with whom we can connect. Most of us, even the most confident among us, have questions from time to time about the impression we make on others. Are we coming across in the best way possible? Do people take us seriously? Do people question us or talk about us when we are not present? These kinds of questions can become problematic if they are increasingly the focus of our thoughts.

Paul gives us a clue as to how to deal with this kind of self doubt and questioning. Address it head on. Name it. Talk directly to folks when we feel the need to iron out the wrinkles that occur in our relationships. Paul makes it abundantly clear that the foundation of his relationships is love and a desire to see everyone grow in their faith and discipleship. If we can keep these motivations we will give our relationships the best chance to be fruitful.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

In all my relationships help me to lead with love, honesty and sincerity. Help me not to be defensive or argumentative, but to keep direct lines of communications open and operating with the people in my life. Amen.

 

 

June 9

1 Chronicles 4, 5 and 6; 2 Corinthians 11

Paul continues to make the case for his authority with the church in Corinth, expressing concern about those who are questioning his leadership. Passages like this one point out the magnitude of what Paul ultimately accomplishes through his work in the development of the early church.

Imagine a time with no twenty-four hour news channels, with no cell phones, with no social media. Now imagine trying to lead a coherent movement that spreads over the breadth of a large geographic region and manage to largely do so without splintering into as many different manifestations as there are practicing communities. Does Paul seem to be an overbearing micro-manager at times? Perhaps so, but the task of holding the many churches in community while constantly seeking to birth new ones is enormous.

Paul is certainly not alone in this endeavor. He names many people who share in the ministry of many of the churches in New Testament times. At the same time he is consistently on guard against those who are leading those churches away from a shared understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is also consistent in his desire to build bridges between the Gentile churches and the church in Jerusalem. It is hard to imagine what might have emerged out of those formative years of the church without the leadership of Paul and those who worked alongside of him to share the good news.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

We give thanks this day for the early leaders of the church and for the legacy of faith that continues forward to this day. Give us hearts that share their commitment to the good news. Amen.

 

 

June 10

1 Chronicles 7, 8, 9 and 10; Psalm 68

1 Chronicles 10 returns to a narrative of the history of Israel, again returning to the same time period that has already been covered in 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. It is not a word for word rehearsal of that history. There will be some strong similarities, but there will be different themes and points of emphasis.

An immediately obvious difference is the quick movement through the reign of Saul. Saul here is primarily a prelude to the main event, David's rule as king. There is a brief account of Saul's death, the retrieval of the bodies of Saul and his sons by the people of Jabesh-Gilead, and a summary judgment that "Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord and hadn't followed the Lord's word." (10:11)

As you have time you may want to compare the way a story or an individual is portrayed in the material we have already read and in 1 and 2 Chronicles.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Along with the Psalmist, we sing to the Lord. Let us remember to lift up our voices and sing God's praises anew each day, giving thanks that our awesome God cares for each one of us. Amen.

 

 

June 11

1 Chronicles 11, 12, 13 and 14; 2 Corinthians 12

Today we encounter what Paul calls "a thorn in my body." (12:7) Much speculation has taken place through the years as to what precisely Paul was talking about – what was the nature of this thorn? He writes that he has asked for relief from God on three occasions and yet it has persisted.

The focus here in Paul's own account is less on whatever the malady is and more on how he deals with it in his relationship with God. Paul understands it as a reminder of his humanity and his dependence on God. Paul is a dynamic individual who accomplishes much in his practice of ministry. The lesson he takes away here is that his strength is not something he summons from within himself, but is rather a gift from God.

"Therefore, I'm all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I'm weak, then I'm strong." (12:10)

To arrive at such a place of acceptance is no easy task. It is easy to imagine ourselves falling short, not being good enough or up to God's call when we feel overwhelmed, stressed and weak. It is encouraging to read Paul's frank admission that he deals with these things and more encouraging still to learn how he views them ultimately as a source of strength.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

When I am feeling defeated remind me that in weakness there is strength Amen.

 

 

June 12

1 Chronicles, 15 and 16; 2 Corinthians 13

I led a memorial service for a young man recently at our church. His family selected a couple of songs that spoke to their loss and to their souls which were used as the opening and closing music of the service. One was by Lynyrd Skynyrd, the other by Diddy, Faith Evans and 112. During the service we sang Amazing Grace.

One of the ways David is remembered is as author of many of the Psalms. Did he actually compose those Psalms? Who knows, but there is something about worship and music that seems to have been of great importance to Israel's greatest king. Today's passage mentions bronze cymbals, harps, lyres, and trumpets among the musical instruments employed in the worship of God at the time when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem. It doesn't say anything about forever using any of those instruments or exclusively using any of those instruments – it merely indicates that these instruments of the day were used to worship God.

Music is one of those places that brings great depth and joy to worship. It is also one of the places where there can be intense disagreement among folks. People have different opinions over the type of music that is appropriate for worship and the instruments that should be used to make that music.

I will share two things. First, I am more a person who enjoys traditional hymns. I love the language and the theology of many of the great hymns of the church. Second, that's just me. Many people experience God's presence through a praise band and contemporary praise music. I've also many times felt the Holy Spirit move while listening to Bruce Springsteen and understand how Skynyrd and Diddy might speak to the souls of others. Just as we are not bound to cymbals, harps, lyres, and trumpets in worship, we are also not bound to organs, or guitars or drums or any other instruments. If it facilitates worship and brings glory to God I believe it is a joyful noise in which God takes delight.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

In my worship and in my life help me to make a joyful noise and to offer you thanks and praise. Amen.

 

 

June 13

1 Chronicles 17 and 18; Galatians 1

It was not until our church did an Adam Hamilton video study on the life of Paul that I became aware of the importance of a bit at the end of Galatians 1 and begining of Galatians 2. I had always imagined Paul, bent on persecuting Christians, having his Damascus road experience, and immediately becoming the Paul who was on fire spreading the gospel and establishing the early church.

Not so fast.

Here in Galatians 1, Paul recalls his conversion experience and then states that he went to Arabia, then back to Damascus and "then after three years I went up to Jerusalem." (1:18) That's three years between conversion experience and making contact with the Jerusalem church. This is followed by Galatians 2 which begins with these words, "Then after fourteen years I went up to Jerusalem again…." (2:1) That's fourteen years before Paul begins the first of his missionary journeys.

This is not to say that Paul wasn't busy in the meantime. Perhaps there was a lot of work that we don't know about that was being accomplished. But maybe not. Maybe the work that was being accomplished was formation. Preparation. God working in this person who had experienced this amazing conversion. Maybe it was getting Paul ready to be the Paul who we know through the book of Acts and through his letters.

I find this to be very heartening. There are times in life where it feels like things are standing still. Times when we may feel uncertain what direction we are to go and what action we are to take. It is encouraging to read that Paul, one of the most dynamic forces in the history of the church, may have gone through a period of time where he too was waiting to discern what would come next.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

I am too often impatient. I am too often doubting. I am too often wanting to know what happens next. Help me to trust that you are at work in the present, always at work and always building. Amen.

 

 

June 14

1 Chronicles 19, 20 and 21; Psalm 69

Psalm 69 is a fully fleshed out example of the themes of the Psalmist feeling overwhelmed, threatened by legions of enemies, and ultimately making the choice to embrace God's salvation with a rousing call to offer praise and worship to our Creator.

Along the way, there is an assertion that is worth noticing. It is not unique here as it is a consistent theme of many of the prophets as well:

I will praise God's name with song;
I will magnify him with thanks
because that is more pleasing to the Lord than an ox,
more pleasing than a young bull
with full horns and hooves. (69:30)

Statements like this one make clear that there is tension between the symbolic trappings of worship and the true intent that is to be at worship's heart. This tension is strewn through the work of the prophets and, in a variety of ways, is present in the relationships between Jesus and the religious authorities of his day.

The message to us in this present day is still a powerful and important one – the form of our worship is not unimportant, it is of value to pay attention to why we do what we do. However, the primary importance is always not on form, but on content. It is not the clothes we wear, the place we worship, or whether we say "debts and debtors" or "trespasses and trespasses against us" – worship is about the fullness of our hearts for God and the for will of God for our lives.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Keep my worship focused on my heart and it's relationship to your will. Amen.

 

 

June 15

1 Chronicles 22 and 23; Galatians 2

Theology is here demonstrated by Paul to be imminently practical and essential to the direction of the early church. The grace of God in Christ that is given to Jews and Gentiles alike is understood by Paul to be the source of salvation. "I don't ignore the grace of God, because if we became righteous through the Law, then Jesus Christ died for no purpose." (2:21) These words summarize the message that Paul has lived out in a confrontation he outlines that occurred in a meeting with Cephas (Peter) and some other Christian leaders of Jewish background who were meeting with the church in Antioch.

Paul had noticed that Peter and even Paul's ministry colleague at the time, Barnabas, were acting in two ways. One was to eat with the Gentile Christians in instances where there was no one else present, but to eschew them and eat separately with representatives from the Jerusalem church when they were sent to Antioch by James. Paul is having none of this double standard and makes his argument against this discrimination loud and clear on theological grounds.

This is an important reminder that our minds need to be engaged in the practice of our faith. Theology is not an idle field of inquiry to be left to religious leadership types and scholars. Theology, faith seeking understanding, is key to us living our life of faith with integrity and provides a basis for mutual accountability, as we see in this passage.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Grant me a heart that desires to know you better each day and the curiosity to engage both my heart and my head in my journey of faith. Amen.

 

 

June 16

1 Chronicles 24, 25, 26 and 27; Galatians 3

"You are all God's children, through faith in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26)

Paul is sharing that the invitation is broad and open to all. "There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (3:28) It is a recurring problem in the ordering of Christian community from then until now that we routinely ignore these words. Too often our intent seems to be to find ways to divide and to figure out who is on the outside and who is on the inside.

It is not our work to make those kind of calls. If we find that ourselves doing this we have strayed from the core of faith to love and to be in relationship with God and with one another. Jesus was never about making the circle smaller or about figuring out who was outside the sphere of his care. Paul's words here echo that truth; God's love, Christ's salvation, the invitation to be in relationship is for all. Everyone. No exceptions.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Thank you for calling me your child and for offering the great gift of faith and relationship with you. Help me to do all I can to share that invitation and to ever be learning from you about widening the circle of your love. Amen.

 

 

June 17

1 Chronicles 28 and 29; Psalms 70 and 71

Chronicles covers a period of history that is already covered in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. The books of Samuel and Kings are from an earlier period, coming together around the time of the exile of the southern kingdom of Judah. Chronicles comes from a later period, coming together after the exiles have returned to Jerusalem.

If you were to compare the two closely you would notice that what you have in Chronicles is something of an airbrushed version of history. David's sending Uriah to his death so that the way can be clear for the king to marry Bathsheba? No where to be found in Chronicles. The rough edges are removed and a much more idealized version of both David and Solomone emerge.

Also, with today's readings as good examples, there is an emphasis on David having a strong interest in priestly things. David taking a personal interest in the organization of the priesthood and in the details of the temple. One theory on this, which I believe I encountered for the first time when I was in college, has to do with the needs of the people at the time when the stories were being told. The exiles returned to a land they did not govern. From the time of their return when Persia was the absentee landlord, up through the time of Christ when Rome played that role, the Jewish people would not have a king and for the most part would not have a government of their own. However, they did have a priesthood. The suggestion is that it makes sense to emphasize David's connections to and affinity for the priesthood in Chronicles because it provided a connection to an institution that still existed and was a part of the people's lives after their return from the exile.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Along with the Psalmist lead me to hope, to praise and with my mouth to speak of your righteousness. I too will dwell on your mighty acts and speak of your righteous deeds. Amen.

 

 

June 18

2 Chronicles 1 and 2; Galatians 4

Following Jesus is never as simple as knowing where Jesus is going. Sometimes I believe we tell ourselves that if we know the right thing to do we would do it. If we knew God's will for our lives we would work at fulfilling God's desire. Certainly discernment and confidence in our understanding of what God wants is important, but it is only a piece of the puzzle.

"…Now after knowing God (or rather being known by God), how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless world system? Do you want to be slaves to it again?" (Gal. 4:9,10) It's a rhetorical question on Paul's part – he knows the answer and the answer is yes. There are times when the "weak and worthless" former ways seem to be exactly what we want. There are moments when, like the Hebrew people pining for Egypt in the wilderness, the life of bondage doesn't seem so unattractive.

As we read about the struggle the Galatians were having to live in their new found freedom, it is helpful to realize how short a path it is from following Jesus to following our short–term, short–sighted whims and wants. The journey with Jesus, Paul reminds us, is where life is what it is meant to be, and the one place where real freedom can be found.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

When I wander from your way, correct me and help me to find my way back to following you. Amen.

 

 

June 19

2 Chronicles 3, 4 and 5; Galatians 5

"I say be guided by the Spirit and you won't carry out your selfish desires." –Galatians 5:16

Often the thing that winds up causing me the most difficulty is doing the thing I most think I want to do. How could more pizza not be better than less pizza? It's a trivial example, but a true one that I have fallen prey to more than once in my life. Because I am free to eat as much as I choose does not make it the kind of freedom that will have long term benefit.

The subject in Galatians 5 is freedom and what it means. Freedom, as Paul articulates it, is not to be understood as license to behave badly or selfishly. Freedom is freedom to follow the Spirit rather than be slave to our own gratification. Living in freedom is living in alignment with the fruits of the spirit. A way of thinking about it is that through Christ we are free to see the world as it truly is, and to want what we see through the Spirit that is truly of value and life–giving. When we are not slaves to sin, instead freely following the Spirit, we get a taste of life as God intends.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

As Christ died to free me of the burden of sin, help me to live in the freedom of following the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

June 20

2 Chronicles 6 and 7; Galatians 6

A moment today on each of the readings…

You may have at some point heard it said that the Bible is the product of a patriarchal society and as a result it becomes very important to listen for the voices of women and the portrayal of women in the text. This is not a provocative ideological statement and is not meant to speak a negative word about the scriptures. It is simply the truth. This section of 2 Chronicles 6 and 7 is a good example. Chapter after chapter of lineages of the houses of Israel in a format that names the male "head of the house" and their sons almost exclusively. There is the occasional nameless wife or daughter and the rarer woman who is named, but the massive overall effect is to portray a history of the people of Israel that is defined by its masculine representatives. That is a patriarchal society and that is why listening for the women whose stories remain part of the tradition, or are hidden beneath the surface of the tradition, is important. Then, as now, there were both men and women present.

Paul closes out his letter to the church in Galatia, with a rousing call to care for each other. I'm drawn to Paul's consistent emphasis on mutual support, and on avoiding being consumed with judging others. They should "carry each other's burdens" (Gal. 6:2) while Paul also calls them to "test their own work and be happy with doing a good job, and not compare themselves with others." (6:4) This is a wonderful recipe for community. If you are looking into the life of another person in the community, look into it with an eye to how can I help, not how can I compare myself or how can I tear down. Bring your critical abilities – in a positive way – to your own actions. Rather than critique others let us be about loving others and making an honest assessment of our own works.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Help me to love my neighbor and to be a source of light and love in the world. Amen.