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.
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!
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...
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.
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...
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.
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...
Forgive us when our actions break your heart, compassionate God. Thank you for loving us and continually pointing us towards a hopeful future. Amen.
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...
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.
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...
We give thanks today for the sunrise and for every evidence we encounter that points to your glory. Amen.
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...
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.
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...
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.
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...
Help me this day to find agreement between my beliefs and my actions, my love for you and my choices. Amen.
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..
Thank you for scripture that shapes us and offers us the possibility of transformation and growth. Amen.
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...
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.
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...
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.
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...
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Strengthen me and stoke my desire to faithfully follow you. Amen.
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...
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.
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...
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.
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...
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.
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...
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.
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...
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.
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."
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...
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.
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...
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.
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
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.
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...
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.
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...
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.
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...
Lead me to long for your will and to live towards your purpose. Amen.
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...
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.
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...
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.
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...
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.
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...
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.
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...
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.
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...
Loving God, there is a hymn that reminds us we need you every hour. It's true. Thank you for always being there. Amen.
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...
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.
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...
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.
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...
God, help me to trust in your provision. Save me from unnecessary anxiety and help me to be content where I am. Amen.
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...
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.
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...
Merciful God, I want to commit to the words "everything the Lord says I will do." Help me be able to do it. Amen.
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...
Loving God, for your mercy I am thankful. Help me to live my thanks by extending mercy in my relationships. Amen.
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...
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.
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...
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.
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...
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.
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...
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
Exodus 35 and 36, Psalm 19
"Heaven is declaring God's glory;
the sky is proclaiming his handiwork."
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…
God of abundance, you have richly blessed us. Help us to be generous with our resources and with ourselves in service to you. Amen.
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…
Holy God, change my heart and life so that I am ever moving towards the life you intend. Amen.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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 those 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".https://delightindisorder.org
Keys for today…
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.
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 steps up forward and in 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 are we 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…
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.
Leviticus 17 and 18, Acts 10
Peter has his vision of the clean and the unclean food. Then 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…
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.
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...."
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…
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.
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 struggle with the inclusion of Gentiles, and 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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
God of Jubilee, keep my eyes looking always to you. Amen.
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 in the opening verses. The odd detail of the sorcerer Bar-Jesus who is confronted by Saul and then blinded. 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...
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.
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 they are 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…
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.
Numbers 4 and 5, Acts 15
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 their has been a faith to have disagreements about. Paul and Barnabas, a team that had done so much great work, 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…
We confess there are times when are 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.
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 - 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…
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.
Numbers 8 and 9, Acts 16
One of the flannel board images that I recall most clearly from my childhood Sunday School is 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 is not predictable. The people don't walk by day and camp by night. They move when the cloud/fire moves and they stay put when it doesn'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 the marched at the Lords 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…
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.
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 any where 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 is 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…
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.
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 which sees 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 and they are looking to elect 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…
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.
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 critic. It is less easy, but often far more productive to, as our parents told us, be part of the solution.
Key for today…
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.
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 become dug 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…
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.
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 have 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.
Their are a number of people from that congregation who did extraordinary things for me. And not just for me. 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…
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.
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!"
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…
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.
Numbers 24 and 25, Acts 21
Acts 21 cannot help but raise echoes of Luke's traveling gospel - the portion of Luke beginning which begins 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 who advise him in the strongest terms not to go to the Holy City. Paul would 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 seems 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 dangerous for Paul. They also know enough of God's will, that when they Paul embraces it, they recognize it's authenticity and they are prepared to go with him towards whatever awaits.
Keys for today…
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.
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 who are recorded - see the previous chapters and it's mostly male cast for an example. Here though we have an instance where the daughter's 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 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…
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.
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 are to be offered.
The many and various sacrificial offerings are clearly important to the community of faith at that moment in time and over the course of three thousand years it's 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 what was it 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…
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.
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…
Whatever the next moment holds, help me to be looking for how I may faithfully share your good news in it. Amen.
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, the average reader 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…
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.
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 it's reasons are often not humanitarian and certainly not drawn up with the benefit of the early believers in mind. Still, I believe Paul feels 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…
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.
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…
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.
Deuteronomy 2 and 3, Acts 26
A couple of things stand out to me in Acts 26. First, 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, 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 the cross the Jordan that Moses is 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…
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.
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…
I am grateful for all of the ways you care and provide for us Holy God. Today I give thanks for the Table which reminds us of your love and prepares us to go forward as we respond to your call each day. Amen.
Deuteronomy 6 and 7, Psalm 33
For my in flight movie as I am winging my way towards Johannesburg, South Africa I chose Wonder Woman. The movie is set during World War II, but the movie 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 films 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 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…
You, O Lord, are God. You are one. Help me to love you with all my heart, being and strength. Amen.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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.
We were on a bus today 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…
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.
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 does it say and how does it 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 last 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…
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.
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…
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.
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...
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.
Deuteronomy 21 and 22, Psalm 35
"I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will celebrate his salvation."
Today was 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 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 a 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…
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.
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 for certain is 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, 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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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...
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.
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…
Build up my strength and help me when I am fearful. Thank you for walking with me at all times. Amen.
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.)
Keys For Today
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
Help me to resist evil and to love what is good. Amen.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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 chargers 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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
Loving God, help me to see past this present moment and its challenges to what is possible through faith in you. Amen.
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…
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.