Through the Bible in 2021

Through The Bible In A Year With A Friend

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

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

Through The Bible In A Year With A Friend

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

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

January

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

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

 

 

January 1

Genesis 1 & 2 and Matthew 1

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 2

Genesis 3 and 4, Matthew 2

"Where are you?" - Genesis 3:9

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 3

Genesis 5 and 6, Matthew 3

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 4

Genesis 7 and 8, Psalm 1 and 2

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 5

Genesis 9-11, Matthew 4

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 6

Genesis 12 and 13, Matthew 5

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 7

Genesis 14 and 15, Psalm 3 and 4

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 8

Genesis 16 and 17, Matthew 6

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 9

Genesis 18 and 19, Matthew 7

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

Keys For Today..

Prayer

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

 

 

January 10

Genesis 20 and 21, Matthew 8

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 11

Genesis 22 and 23, Psalm 5 and 6

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 12

Genesis 24 and 25, Matthew 9

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 13

Genesis 26 and 27, Matthew 10

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 14

Genesis 28 and 29, Psalm 7 and 8

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 15

Genesis 30 and 31, Matthew 11

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 16

Genesis 32 and 33, Matthew 12

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 17

Genesis 34-36, Matthew 13

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 18

Genesis 37 and 38, Psalm 9

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 19

Genesis 39 and 40, Matthew 14

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 20

Genesis 41 and 42, Matthew 15

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

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

Keys For Today

Prayer

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

 

 

January 21

Genesis 43 and 44, Psalm 10

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 22

Genesis 45 and 46, Matthew 16

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 23

Genesis 47 and 48, Matthew 17

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 24

Genesis 49 and 50, Matthew 18

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 25

Exodus 1 and 2, Psalms 11 and 12

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 26

Exodus 3 and 4, Matthew 19

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 27

Exodus 5 and 6, Matthew 20

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 28

Exodus 7 and 8, Psalms 13 and 14

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 29

Exodus 9 and 10, Matthew 21

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 30

Exodus 11 and 12, Matthew 22

A couple of things about reading the Bible.

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

January 31

Exodus 13 and 14, Matthew 23

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

February

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

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

 

 

February 1

Exodus 15 and 16, Psalms 15 and 16

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

February 2

Exodus 17 and 18, Matthew 24

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

February 3

Exodus 19 and 20, Matthew 25

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

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

February 4

Exodus 21 and 22, Psalm 17

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

February 5

Exodus 23 and 24, Matthew 26

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

February 6

Exodus 25 and 26, Matthew 27

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

February 7

Exodus 27 and 28, Matthew 28

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayers

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

 

 

February 8

Exodus 29 and 30, Psalm 18

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

February 9

Exodus 31 and 32, Acts 1

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

February 10

Exodus 33 and 34, Acts 2

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

February 11

Exodus 35 and 36, Psalm 19

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

February 12

Exodus 37 and 38, Acts 3

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

February 13

Exodus 39 and 40, Acts 4

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

February 14

Leviticus 1, 2 and 3, Acts 5

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

February 15

Leviticus 4 and 5, Psalms 20 and 21

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

February 16

Leviticus 6 and 7, Acts 6

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

Keys for today

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

 

 

February 17

Leviticus 8 and 9, Acts 7

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

February 18

Leviticus 10, 11 and 12, Psalm 22

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

February 19

Leviticus 13 and 14, Acts 8

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

February 20

Leviticus 15 and 16, Acts 9

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

February 21

Leviticus 17 and 18, Acts 10

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

February 22

Leviticus 19 and 20, Psalms 23 and 24

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

February 23

Leviticus 21 and 22, Acts 11

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

February 24

Leviticus 23 and 24, Acts 12

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

February 25

Leviticus 25 and 26, Psalm 25

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

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

February 26

Leviticus 27, Numbers 1, Acts 13

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

February 27

Numbers 2 and 3, Acts 14

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

February 28

Numbers 4 and 5, Acts 15

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March

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

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

 

 

March 1

Numbers 6 and 7, Psalms 26 and 27

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 2

Numbers 8 and 9, Acts 16

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 3

Numbers 10 and 11, Acts 17

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

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

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

Keys for the day…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 4

Numbers 12, 13 and 14, Psalms 28 and 29

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 5

Numbers 15 and 16, Acts 18

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

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

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

Key for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 6

Numbers 17, 18 and 19, Acts 19

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

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

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

Keys for the day…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 7

Numbers 20, and 21, Acts 20

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

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

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

Key for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 8

Numbers 22 and 23, Psalm 30

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

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

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

Key for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 9

Numbers 24 and 25, Acts 21

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 10

Numbers 26 and 27, Acts 22

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 11

Numbers 28 and 29, Psalm 31

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 12

Numbers 30 and 31, Acts 23

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 13

Numbers 32 and 33, Acts 24

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 14

Numbers 34 and 35, Acts 25

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 15

Numbers 36, Deuteronomy 1, Psalm 32

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 16

Deuteronomy 2 and 3, Acts 26

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 17

Deuteronomy 4 and 5, Acts 27

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 18

Deuteronomy 6 and 7, Psalm 33

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

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 19

Deuteronomy 8 and 9, Acts 28

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 20

Deuteronomy 10 and 11, Romans 1

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 21

Deuteronomy 12-14, Romans 2

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 22

Deuteronomy 15 and 16, Psalm 34

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

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 23

Deuteronomy 17 and 18, Romans 3

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 24

Deuteronomy 19 and 20, Romans 4

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

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

March 25

Deuteronomy 21 and 22, Psalm 35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 26

Deuteronomy 23 and 24, Romans 5

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 27

Deuteronomy 25 and 26, Romans 6

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 28

Deuteronomy 27 and 28, Romans 7

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 29

Deuteronomy 29 and 30, Psalm 36

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

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

March 30

Deuteronomy 31 and 32, Romans 8

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

March 31

Deuteronomy 33 and 34, Romans 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today

Prayer

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

 

 

April

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

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

 

 

April 1

Joshua 1, 2, and 3, Psalm 37

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 2

Joshua 4 and 5, Romans 10

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 3

Joshua 6 and 7, Romans 11

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 4

Joshua 8 and 9, Romans 12

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

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 5

Joshua 10 and 11, Psalm 38

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 6

Joshua 12, 13, 14 and 15, Romans 13

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 7

Joshua 16, 17, 18 and 19, Romans 14

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 8

Joshua 20, 21 and 22, Psalm 39

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 9

Joshua 23 and 24, Romans 15

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 10

Judges 1 and 2, Romans 16

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 11

Judges 3 and 4, Mark 1

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

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 12

Judges 5 and 6, Psalm 40 and 41

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 13

Judges 7 and 8, Mark 2

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 14

Judges 9 and 10, Mark 3

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

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 15

Judges 11 and 12, Psalms 42 and 43

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 16

Judges 13 and 14, Mark 4

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

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

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

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

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

Key for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 17

Judges 15 and 16, Mark 5

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

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 18

Judges 17 and 18, Mark 6

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 19

Judges 19 and 20, Psalm 44

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

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

April 20

Judges 21, Mark 7

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

April 21

Ruth 1 and 2, Mark 8

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

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

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

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

April 22

Ruth 3 and 4, Psalm 45

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

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

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

April 23

1 Samuel 1,2, and 3, Mark 9

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

April 24

1 Samuel 4, 5 and 6, Mark 10

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

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

April 25

1 Samuel 7, 8 and 9, Mark 11

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

April 26

1 Samuel 10 and 11, Psalm 46 and 47

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

April 27

1 Samuel 12 and 13, Mark 12

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

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

April 28

1 Samuel 14 and 15, Mark 13

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

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

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

April 29

1 Samuel 16 and 17, Psalm 48

David!

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

April 30

1 Samuel 18 and 19, Mark 14

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

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May

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

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

 

 

May 1

1 Samuel 20, 21, and 22, Mark 15

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

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 2

1 Samuel 23 and 24, Mark 16

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

May 3

1 Samuel 25 and 26, Psalm 49

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

May 4

1 Samuel 27, 28 and 1 Corinthians 1

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 5

1 Samuel 29, 30 and 31, 1 Corinthians 2

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

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 6

2 Samuel 1 and 2, Psalm 50

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

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

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

Keys for today…

Prayer

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

 

 

May 7

2 Samuel 3, 4 and 5, 1 Corinthians 3

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

May 8

2 Samuel 6 and 7, 1 Corinthians 4

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

May 9

2 Samuel 8, 9 and 10, 1 Corinthians 5

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 10

2 Samuel 11 and 12, Psalm 51

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 11

1 Samuel 13 and 14, 1 Corinthians 6

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

May 12

2 Samuel 15 and 16, 1 Corinthians 7

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

May 13

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 14

2 Samuel 19 and 20, 1 Corinthians 8

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

May 15

2 Samuel 21 and 22, 1 Corinthians 9

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

May 16

2 Samuel 23 and 24, 1 Corinthians 10

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

May 17

1 Kings 1 and 2, Psalm 55

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 18

1 Kings 3, 4 and 5, 1 Corinthians 11

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

May 19

1 Kings 6 and 7, 1 Corinthians 12

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 20

1 Kings 8 and 9, Psalm 56 and 57

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 21

1 Kings 10 and 11, 1 Corinthians 13

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 22

1 Kings 12 and 13, 1 Corinthians 14

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

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

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

Keys for today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 23

1 Kings 14 and 15, 1 Corinthians 15

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 24

1 Kings 16 and 17, Psalms 58 and 59

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 25

1 Kings 18 and 19; 1 Corinthians 16

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 26

1 Kings 20 and 21; 2 Corinthians 1

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 27

1 Kings 22, Psalms 60 and 61

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 28

2 Kings 1, 2 and 3; 2 Corinthians 2

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

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 29

2 Kings 4 and 5; 2 Corinthians 3

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

May 30

2 Kings 6 and 7; 2 Corinthians 4

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

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

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

Keys For Today...

Prayer

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

 

 

May 31

2 Kings 8 and 9; Psalm 62 and 63

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June

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

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

 

 

June 1

2 Kings 10, 11 and 12; 2 Corinthians 5

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

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 2

2 Kings 13 and 14; 2 Corinthians 6

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 3

2 Kings 15 and 16; Psalms 64 and 65

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 4

2 Kings 17 and 18; 2 Corinthians 7

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 5

2 Kings 19 and 20; 2 Corinthians 8

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

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

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

Key For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 6

2 Kings 21 and 22; 2 Corinthians 9

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 7

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 8

1 Chronicles 1, 2 and 3; 2 Corinthians 10

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 9

1 Chronicles 4, 5 and 6; 2 Corinthians 11

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 10

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

You may have at some point heard it said that the Bible is the product of a patriarchal society and as a result it becomes very important to listen for the voices of women and the portrayal of women in the text. This is not a provocative ideological statement and is not meant to speak a negative word about the scriptures. It is simply the truth. This section of 1 Chronicles 6 and 7 is a good example. Chapter after chapter of lineages of the houses of Israel in a format that names the male "head of the house" and their sons almost exclusively. There is the occasional nameless wife or daughter and the rarer woman who is named, but the massive overall effect is to portray a history of the people of Israel that is defined by its masculine representatives. That is a patriarchal society and that is why listening for the women whose stories remain part of the tradition, or are hidden beneath the surface of the tradition, is important. Then, as now, there were both men and women present.

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 11

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

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 12

1 Chronicles, 15 and 16; 2 Corinthians 13

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 13

1 Chronicles 17 and 18; Galatians 1

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

Not so fast.

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 14

1 Chronicles 19, 20 and 21; Psalm 69

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

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 15

1 Chronicles 22 and 23; Galatians 2

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 16

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

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 17

1 Chronicles 28 and 29; Psalms 70 and 71

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 18

2 Chronicles 1 and 2; Galatians 4

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 19

2 Chronicles 3, 4 and 5; Galatians 5

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

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

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 20

2 Chronicles 6 and 7; Galatians 6

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

Keys For Today…

Prayer

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

 

 

June 21

2 Chronicles 8 and 9; Psalm 72

Let the king bring justice
to people who are poor;
let him save the children
of those who are needy,
but let him crush the oppressors!
-Psalm 72:4

Psalm 72 is filled with this sort of sentiment. It's all about how the king is in the position to lend a hand to people facing difficult circumstances in life. This is not an idea that is unique to this chapter. It's a fundamental theme of scripture. Ultimately it is foundational. Jesus, who came to every one of us, can be described as king. We can be described as needy in relationship to what Jesus offers.

As I write this in 2019, it's hard to focus on a passage like this and not have it imagined to be intended as political commentary in our present difficult circumstances. I could be seen as taking a particular passage and using it to take a side. I don't think that is helpful and, while it's what could be seen, it is not what I intend.

I'd like to go more basic than that. I don't want to present it as commentary. I want to look at it as God's intention. I want to ask myself (remember yesterday's reflection suggesting our critique needs to begin in our own hearts) what I can be doing in my life to be for justice, for the poor, for the weak, the needy, the powerless, many of whom are often children. I'd love for us to reverse the flow in this way. Rather than take our issues to scripture we could take scripture to our world. Somehow, would it be possible to not bring the Bible as a tool to a fight, but instead to bring our brokenness to scripture for healing?

Let it be so, because he delivers
the needy who cry out,
the poor, and those who have no helper.
He has compassion on the weak
and the needy;
he saves the lives of those who are in need.
He redeems their lives from oppression
and violence;
their blood is precious in his eyes.
-Psalm 72:12-14

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Your will is for relief for the suffering, compassion for the hurting, love for all of us, each and every one who is precious in your eyes. Every one. Help me see as you see and work towards loving every one. Amen.

 

 

June 22

2 Chronicles 10, 11, and 12; Ephesians 1

God put everything under Christ's feet and made him head of everything in the church, which is his body. His body, the church is the fullness of Christ, who fill everything in every way. -Ephesians 1:22-23

If anyone understands the problematic nature of the church it is Paul. Much of his time is spent getting reports on what is happening in faith communities that he has had a part in starting and which now have hit upon some sort of conflict or problem. He knows that there is no end of ways for things to turn sour for the church.

It's worth taking a close look at his high opinion of the church here. The church is the fullness of Christ. Paul is ultimately optimistic about the church because it is Christ's body, and truly how can that be a bad thing?

I agree with Paul. I have a high opinion of the church, a strong belief in its power for good and its capacity to fulfill the work to which it is called by our Creator.

There is a seemingly endless supply of people who want to critique the church and point out why it is going to go the way of the dinosaur. And many who predict that its demise is near at hand, perhaps in fact has already been accomplished.

I reject any such notion. The church is the body of Christ. The church has survived through a couple of thousand years, and we will not be the people who will bring it to an end. We aren't that strong or powerful. As long as history goes forward, the church will also go forward. Thanks be to God.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

We give thanks for the church of Jesus Christ. We acknowledge that we have not made it perfect and we rejoice in the grace of God which allows us to be participants in the life of the church in spite of our imperfection. Amen.

 

 

June 23

2 Chronicles 13, 14 and 15; Ephesians 2

We are a work in progress. Each day of life is an opportunity to grow in faith and to deepen our relationship with God. Our life is all about journey. God has not stopped doing things that surprise us. God's love shows up regularly in ways we do not anticipate. Regardless of our age we continue to discover new gifts and resources in our lives that God has placed there for our growth, enjoyment, and to help us live out our role in God's divine purpose.

If we embrace these things to be true, life is a constant adventure. I don't mean to sound breathless or naive. It's not that you will never experience boredom. It's not that there won't be difficult and challenging times. The good news though is that the fundamental truth is that God is building something and that building project includes you and me. No one is extra to the process – each one is loved and valued by God.

"The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:21-22)

Keys For Today…

Prayer

I am excited to be a part of your building project Holy God. Keep making me into a place where your Spirit dwells. Amen.

 

 

June 24

2 Chronicles 16 and 17; Psalm 73

As we continue through 2 Chronicles and today finish the reign of King Asa and move through the reign of his son Jehoshaphat, it is worth taking note of what is missing here that was present in Kings. The northern Kingdom. True there is mention of the northern king in reference to the action of Asa making an alliance with the king of Aram, but Judah is the consistent focus. In Kings the story jumped back and forth, interweaving the stories of the kings of both the north, Israel, and the south, Judah. Here the preference for Judah, that in Kings showed up in the judging of every northern king as unfaithful, is even more pronounced. The line the Chronicler feels worth following is the Davidic line and it runs through the history of Judah.

Psalm 73 finds the Psalmist asking a question that is still making the rounds today. Why do we look around and it seems that bad behavior is rewarded while the person striving to be faithful struggles. It's a complicated question. It's worth asking how accurately we are viewing the situation in the first place; particularly if we are counting ourselves in the faithful group. That said, it is not difficult to find an example of a person who it seems is being rewarded or at the very least not suffering any ill effects in spite of their arrogance, selfishness and mean-spiritedness. The Psalmist has the realization that his heart was bitter (v.21) which impacted not only on his perception, but more importantly on his relationship with God; yet he also recognizes that God never left him. The whole conversation winds its way to grace which is a good destination for all of these concerns and considerations.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Your grace is beyond anything I deserve and I am thankful. Help me to realize that your grace is a gift intended not only for me, but for all. Amen.

 

 

June 25

2 Chronicles 18, 19 and 20; Ephesians 3

Today's Old Testament reading is another interesting place to compare the history of the Chronicler and the history of Kings. Here we have a total of four (17-20) chapters dedicated to the story of the southern king, Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat is a relatively minor player in a section of Kings that includes the Elijah cycle of stories, major attention to the story of the northern king, Ahab, and then the Elisha cycle of stories. In Chronicles there is very little Elijah, no Elisha and much less Ahab, but there is a good bit about Jehoshaphat. In particular, the lengthy story of Jehoshaphat assembling the people of Judah to humble themselves in the Lord's presence as foreign enemies bear down on them is unique to Chronicles. Jehoshaphat shows great humility and vulnerability as a leader when he concludes his public prayer with these words: "We are powerless against the mighty army that is about to attack us. We don't know what to do, and so we are looking to you." (20:12)

One takeaway for our reading is to understand that the various leaders are being shared with us based on their faithfulness as understood by the biblical writers. The Chronicler sees in Jehoshaphat a worthy example of the manner in which a faithful king would provide leadership. The various kings are not being measured in secular terms, but nearly exclusively in their fidelity to the covenant, and their vigilance in opposing the worship of other gods.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Each day is an opportunity to make choices about what I will value and in what I will invest my energy. Help me to make my relationship with you my top priority and my pursuit of your will my most deeply felt goal. Amen.

 

 

June 26

2 Chronicles, 21, 22, and 23; Ephesians 4

In the midst of still more carnage, bloodshed and political intrigue is this interesting historical footnote. In Queen Athaliah we have the one interloper into the Davidic line to serve as monarch in Judah. Athaliah was a daughter (or perhaps sister) of Ahab who was married to the King of Judah, Jehoram, for political purposes. She seems to be quite the plotter and up on the ways of palace intrigue and ruthlessness, and reigns for around seven years before she is deposed and executed. She is succeeded by a grandson of Jehoram who was saved by his daughter, Jehoshabeath from Athaliah. Jehosabeath was married to the priest Jehoiada who becomes a hero of this story and is portrayed as wielding great influence and power in Judah. We are told that Jehoiada lived to be 130 and that he was buried among the kings in David's City (24:15-16), an honor typically associated with kings. We can see here again an example of the elevation of the priesthood consistent with the role the priesthood played among the people in the time after the return from exile.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Thank you for all of the people throughout history who have worked for your purposes. Those whose names history remembers and those who were faithful in ways that made all the difference in their moment in time. Help me to strive to be faithful and to do my best to make an impact, not because of how history will remember me, but because it is good to be faithful. Amen.

 

 

June 27

2 Chronicles 24 and 25; Ephesians 5

There is some great stuff from Paul here on emerging from darkness and embracing light. Equally good is the call to live wisely rather than foolishly and to occupy ourselves by being "filled with the Spirit in the following ways: speak to each other with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts; always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; and submit to each other out of respect for Christ." (5:18b-21)

All of this gets lost in the minds of many folks because of what follows in v. 22 about wives submitting to their husbands. That one verse has done a lot of damage and been used to justify a lot of bad behavior, mistreatment, and abuse. Those who have used it in this way have, I would argue, completely overlooked the admonition that Paul places on the husband to treat their wives as they would treat their own body. I may be guilty of reading Paul through a twenty-first century lens, but I don't hear him establishing a flow chart describing who is in charge and who must follow orders in a marriage relationship. What I do hear him describing in the context of marriage is much the same thing I hear him describing in all of our interpersonal relationships, particularly in the community of faith.

We are to care for one another. Treat one another well. Love each other. Hold one another in mutually high regard. This is not about who makes the decisions and who is subordinate. It is about mutually finding our way forward, treating one another with love and respect, and seeking to follow after Jesus in all that we do.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Fill me with your Spirit. Help me treat the people in my life with respect, valuing them as your children. Teach me not to elevate my needs, but to regard all with respect and mutual concern. Amen.

 

 

June 28

2 Chronicles, 26, 27 and 28; Psalm 74

The Psalmist is torn here between God's power and majesty and the way this seems to be inconsistent with the suffering that is going on among God's people. "How long, God, will foes insult you? Are enemies going to abuse your name forever?" (74:10) God is reminded that it is God, not the rival nations or their gods, that is all powerful. "The day belongs to you! The night too! You established both the moon and the sun. You set all the boundaries of the earth in place. Summer and winter? You made them!" (Vs.16-17)

What is perhaps overlooked here is the participation of God's people and the leaders of God's people in the predicament in which they find themselves. Our three chapters from 2 Chronicles are a grab bag of faithfulness and rebellion, with the leaders following in the ways of David one moment and becoming arrogant and full of themselves the next. When we begin to question where God is and how God can allow things to be as they are it may be wise to ask what role we are playing in what is going on in our lives.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Help me to be honest about the places where my choices, my actions, and my lack of commitment to you have led me to difficult circumstances from which I seek your deliverance. Amen.

 

 

June 29

2 Chronicles 29 and 30; Ephesians 6

Ephesians 6 features another story that takes me back to my younger years in church at Wednesday evening Bible club. The full armor of God was a hall of fame flannel board story! It was made for illustration on a flannel board and made a dramatic impression on my grade school mind. As memorable as the armor was, so too were the flaming arrows of the evil one. I believe I understood basically that we were talking about symbolic armor and symbolic arrows, but a small part of me imagined those flaming arrows invisibly flying through the air around me, fended off, if possible, by a dedication to knowing more of God through Bible reading, study and good attendance on Wednesday night! I remember those lessons fondly and believe the foundation of my faith was put in place on those Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings. I believe also that those flaming arrows are symbolic and yet somehow also express a truth about reality. Because I had wonderful, caring teachers presenting the material these stories did not make me afraid and paranoid; instead they brought me comfort that God had provided us with scripture and through it with the necessary armor that would see us through our lives. Well done to the many wonderful adult leaders of my childhood and youth who taught me about a God who loves me, cares for me, and provides the tools that lead to well-being and a meaningful life.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Each day help me to find the full armor that I need for that day, and help me to be ever thankful for those who have shared the knowledge of your love with me throughout my life. Amen.

 

 

June 30

2 Chronicles 31 and 32; Luke 1:1-38

"Nothing is impossible for God." -Luke 1:37

"The Lord has definitely blessed his people! There's a lot left over." -2 Chronicles 31:10b

"All he has is human strength, but we have the Lord our God, who will help us fight our battles." 2 Chronicles 32:8

Each of these stories – Hezekiah's reform and Gabriel's visit to Mary – while very different, share the characteristic of clearly articulating basic pillars of faith that if we can embrace them can make a huge difference in our expectation and our outlook. Our God, for whom nothing is impossible, stands ready to fight along side of us when we find ourselves in need. We are never outmatched, as God is always on our side. This principle is reasserted throughout scripture, and is in plain sight in Hezekiah's assurance to the people and Gabriel's message to Mary. Additionally, as God provides, we will not find ourselves squeaking by – God's provision is often such that there is what is needed and more. Think of Elisha's miracle feeding story and either the feeding of the 5,000 or the 4,000 in the gospels. Granted there is also the cautionary tale of the manna where the people were advised to take what they needed for the day, but not to try to stockpile it; but even then on the day before the Sabbath there was enough to gather that would provide for the people for two days.

There is plenty to overwhelm us in life. There are many who want to tell the story of scarcity and lack of resources. It is easy in difficulty to imagine that we are alone in the face of adversity. These stories repeat core biblical themes that will speak a word of hope to us in such times.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Thank you for your provision and for standing with me at all times. Remind me, when I grow weary and are worried, to lean into your care. Amen.

 

 

July

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

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

 

 

July 1

2 Chronicles 33 and 34; Psalms 75 and 76

Amy Grant sings a song called "Who To Listen To" that simply says, "you have to know who to, and who not to listen to." These two chapters from 2 Chronicles make that point in their portrayal of Manasseh and Josiah. Manasseh is the epitome of a ruler who does not do what is right in the Lord's eyes. Josiah is one of the best examples of a king who strives to do what he believes is pleasing to the Lord. What is important to remember is that this is not the story of just Manasseh or Josiah. As far removed as we are from these stories, it is easy to sum up an era by referring to the leader at that time. This is the story of the people of Judah. It was the people who had to live with the consequences of the leadership these kings provided. There is much here for us to consider and give thought to in terms of those to whom we choose to listen. And there is much here for us to contemplate in those situations when we are in a position of leadership – it is never just about the leader, it is about the care of the leader for all who are being led.

Keys For Today

Prayer

Help me to know who to and who not to listen to as I aim to listen ultimately to you, my Lord and my God. Amen.

 

 

July 2

2 Chronicles 35 and 36; Luke 1:39-80

Take a look back at the close of the history that ends with the book of 2 Kings. There you will find a description of some folks returning to Egypt (a reversal of the Exodus if you will) and the beginning of the Babylonian captivity. The Chronicler gives us a much different feel as this version of history wraps up, again, indicative of the later date of its composition and the hope to be found in the return of the exiles. Here the Persian King Cyrus is understood to be an instrument of God's activity in the same way that a Judean King would have been viewed. The final words are the decree of Cyrus, again, the Persian King:

"The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the earth's kingdoms and has instructed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem, in Judah. Whoever among you belongs to God's people, let them go up, and may the Lord their God be with them!"

And on we go to Ezra!

Keys For Today…

Prayer

The earth is your creation and each person has a role to play in your unfolding story. Help me to look to the future with hope and expectation. Amen.

 

 

July 3

Ezra 1 and 2; Luke 2

Both of today's readings begin with a decree. Ezra unfolds with another version of Cyrus' decree authorizing the return of some of the exiles for the purpose of rebuilding the temple. Luke 2 begins with the decree from Caesar Augustus of the census, a huge event impacting on many, centrally for our story on Mary and Joseph and their reason for traveling to Bethlehem, where Jesus would be born.

Another parallel between the passages is the importance of Jerusalem and the role it plays in the hope of the people for the future. Clearly the people in Ezra are seeing hope in returning to the holy city and rebuilding the temple. In the story of the dedication of Jesus in the temple we have, in both the story of Simeon and of Anna, references to expectations of restoration and redemption of Israel and Jerusalem (Luke 2:25 & 38). Having just made our way twice through the history of the monarchy, and now reading stories both set in the epicenter of the Judean monarchy and the spiritual center of Judaism, we begin to have a sense of the grand stage of history onto which the infant Christ enters to be baptized and twelve years later returns to question the religious experts in the temple. So many of these stories have strands that, if followed, will lead to one another, adding depth, context and a sense of the scope of God's salvation history.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Thank you for the depth of the witness of scripture, the joy and drama of individual stories, and the ways in which they illuminate and elaborate on one another. Amen.

 

 

July 4

Ezra 3 and 4; Luke 3

One can see hopes and dreams crashing headlong into reality and memories of past glory in this passage. The foundation of the new temple has been laid. Many of the people rejoice. This is what they came to do; the project is underway. What better sign of progress than to see the foundation ready and the rebuilding prepared to take shape. And yet. "Many of the older priests and Levites and heads of families, who had seen the first house, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this house." (Ezra 3:12) Perhaps they wept because when they considered their memory of the Temple, they did not see the promise of that glory in this present foundation. Perhaps it was the realization of the long, slow process they faced and that even in rebuilding a building they could not recreate the past. The past can beckon to us. Our memory of what was can be beautiful, but it can also hold us hostage. The hope of tomorrow will not be found in the golden hued tones of yesterday.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Help me to be thankful in acknowledging your past care and provision even as I look with optimism and hope towards tomorrow. Amen.

 

 

July 5

Ezra 5 and 6; Psalm 77

The local authorities continue to not be thrilled with the returning exiles. They are not excited about the Temple being rebuilt. They are bureaucrats and government officials who are wary of any sort of change in the status quo. Letters fly between the local governor and King Darius. Is Darius sure Cyrus sent these folks? Are they really supposed to just let these former exiles show up and undertake this building project? In short, the answer from Darius is yes. Work continues, the Temple is completed, the people celebrate the Passover for the first time in a long time in a functioning Temple in Jerusalem. The work of God goes forward, through the decrees of Kings, through the exhortation of priests and prophets, through paperwork sent back and forth between offices of government. In all of it, God's work grinds and soars forward.

Keys For Today

Prayer

Open my eyes to see your hand at work in churches, office buildings, and in the lives of each one as we go about our work and live out our days. Amen.

 

 

July 6

Ezra 7 and 8; Luke 4

You may have wondered why the change of heart that began with the Persian King Cyrus, resulting in policies allowing the people of Israel, living in exile, to return to their land. As we see in Ezra, King Darius and Artaxerxes continue to pursue this policy, even when questioned by the apparatus of government that is uncertain how to receive these returning exiles. Were they kinder than their predecessors? More humane? Were they more cognizant of the faith of the people and truly desirous first and foremost of doing whatever they could to build them a new Temple because they shared the Israelites faith in some way? While the end results might have been interpreted by the exiles as supporting some of these possibilities, there is a more direct explanation. Cyrus was among the first to realize that it was easier to keep vanquished peoples happy if they were allowed to remain in their homeland. Rather than bring them to Babylon for instance, where they would be unhappy, underfoot and forever a source of potential conflict for the government that had defeated them, it was better policy to let the vanquished remain in their homes. Folks whose lives were allowed to continue in their homeland and who were allowed to continue to practice their faith, were more peaceful, and therefore easier to control. And they were more likely to pay the tributes due to the conquering kingdom which was a big part of why you would conquer them in the first place. We will see the Roman version of this sort of approach to governing in place in the time of Christ. Rome would largely allow their defeated foes to continue living in their home lands and practicing their religion, so long as it did not conflict with the ability of the Romans to govern and exact taxes.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Loving God, as you strengthened Christ in the wilderness as he faced temptation strengthen me this day that I may be faithful in my choices and my actions. Amen.

 

 

July 7

Ezra 9 and 10; Luke 5

I need to change my heart and life. I am a work in process. Statements like the following from Jesus are reminders I appreciate. "Healthy people don't need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn't come to call righteous people but sinners to change their hearts and lives." (Luke 5:31-32) The people in scripture who seem to struggle the most with Jesus' call to a new way of life are people who aren't particularly unhappy with things as they are before he shows up. On the other hand you have the man who comes to Jesus in 5:12-16 who is suffering from a skin disease, and recognizes the power Jesus has to change his circumstances. "Lord if you want to you can make me clean." (5:12) The man with the skin disease sees clearly what the less afflicted may miss, we all have need of what Jesus is offering.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Remind me regularly of my need to change my heart and my life to live more fully the life you created me to live. Amen.

 

 

July 8

Nehemiah 1 and 2; Psalm 78:1-37

What Ezra does for the Temple, Nehemiah undertakes for the city walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah begins with his account of the grief he experienced when he spoke to those who had seen what had become of the holy city.

Driven by his sadness he has a conversation with King Artaxerxes asking for permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city walls. We are told in more forthright language that as Ezra had been questioned so there was opposition to the project that Nehemiah was undertaking from other government officials already in Judea.

Nehemiah's account of his riding with just a handful of companions to inspect the walls of the city is poignant and intimate. What follows as he exhorts the people to the rebuilding project gives us a glimpse of the sort of leader Nehemiah must have been – wise enough to see the magnitude of the project before him and visionary enough to inspire the people to take up the task in spite of any reservations they may have had.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, when faced with tasks that demand wisdom and commitment, help me to respond with the resolve and faith of Nehemiah. Amen.

 

 

July 9

Nehemiah 3 and 4; Luke 6

I'm hearing Jesus ask me how my insides are and what kind of foundation I'm building on, and I'm pretty sure it's two ways of asking the same question. What's overflowing from within me? What are the words and the feelings that are spilling from me into the lives of others? How often do I blame another person or a situation for difficulties and avoid the task of looking within for answers? How firm is my foundation? Am I rooted in Christ or in something much less trustworthy?

There is not an easy question in that group. I believe Jesus means to challenge us to take unflinching looks at ourselves and answer as honestly as we are able about the welfare of our inner being, and what we are truly asking to bear the weight of what we are building with our lives. Earlier in chapter 6 Jesus had a sleepless night. That's not how it's phrased. In scripture it looks like this: "During that time, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night long." (Luke 6:12) That's a sleepless night. What's on his mind? He's preparing to call his disciples. How does he build the foundation for that decision? By praying and praying and praying, all night long. Life will bring its difficult choices and its sleepless nights. Prayer, checking our relationship with God, and in so doing, strengthening our foundation is a pathway toward a healthy life of faith.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

I want to build my life on you, my Lord and my God. You are the firm foundation, my strength and my refuge. Amen.

 

 

July 10

Nehemiah 5 and 6; Luke 7

Nehemiah works his way through internal and external problems as the goal of building the wall is shepherded to realization. He is distressed to hear from the people that they are bearing the majority of the financial burden for the work that is being done. He is offended that interest is being charged and moves swiftly to correct this situation. He points out that he has led by example by refusing to take the food allowance that is rightly his as governor of the region. Externally there is still the concern from regional leaders that the wall is an indication that Jerusalem and its inhabitants have intentions of becoming autonomous, and are a potential threat. The answer to this repeatedly is that there is no evidence of any such intent. The goal is to restore the safety and security of the people who have returned, not to assert their independence from the king who has allowed their return.

What stands out to me in these passages is that these are concerns that connect readily to the day-to-day lives of people trying to live out their faith. The story of Nehemiah is the story of a faithful person trying his best to do the right thing in difficult circumstances. He meets each challenge with integrity and authenticity, and he continues throughout to work towards the goal, not allowing distractions to sidetrack him from his primary objective.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Gracious God, help me to stay focused on faithful service to you. Guide me through the challenges of each day and help me to patiently seek to meet those challenges with integrity and authenticity. Amen.

 

 

July 11

Nehemiah 7 and 8; Luke 8

The pace of activity for Jesus is relentless. He is traveling, teaching, healing, performing miracles, and the expectations of the people around the Galilee continues to rise. What can Jesus do for them? People with sick family members, people who are sick themselves, many who are just curious to get a closer look at this person they've been hearing so much about. Jesus is on his way to help Jairus' daughter, when that story is interrupted by another story. A woman in need of healing decides that rather than disturb Jesus she'll just touch him and see if perhaps she can be healed without calling attention to herself. Jesus has a question at that very moment. "Who touched me?" (Luke 8:45) Jesus' life is a whirlwind of moving from one place to the next, featuring an endless supply of people with needs to which they hope he will attend. Still in the midst of it all, Jesus knows when one silent woman reaches out and touches him.

God's love for us is stunning in its specificity. God doesn't love us generally. God loves you and God loves me, each one of us for who we are, and with a deep and abiding care for the needs and concerns of our lives.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Loving God, help me to emulate the bold faith of the woman who trusted that simply by touching you she could experience wholeness. Amen.

 

 

July 12

Nehemiah 9 and 10; Psalm 78: 38-72

Both the entirety of Psalm 78 (the second half of which we read today) and Nehemiah 9 are recitations of the story of God's deliverance of the people from bondage in Egypt to the land that had been promised centuries prior to that bondage to Abram of Ur. It is a story of God's miraculous deliverance, and in both instances it is a story that unflinchingly acknowledges the people's lack of fidelity to the God who saved them.

Nehemiah 10 shows how the timeless story speaks to a particular moment in time as the people, who have returned from exile, locate themselves in the divine drama and make their own covenant and promises to God. The list of names of the priests and leaders literally writes the names of the people of that day alongside the names of the people of the covenant from its earliest days. This is not the story of someone else which the exiles either agree to or reject intellectually. It is their story, with practical implications for how they will live their lives, make their choices, and relate to their God in their particular historical moment.

We each receive the legacy of faith, the richness of tradition, and the stories of God's action throughout history. The question for each of us is how will we write our own name into that story? What will it mean for how we live our lives?

Keys For Today…

Prayer

I am in awe of and overwhelmed by your grace and love shown to your people throughout all of history. Help me to live in such a way that I write my name with gratitude into the story of your coming kingdom. Amen.

 

 

July 13

Nehemiah 11 and 12; Luke 9

Here is some personal trivia. For the longest time my favorite chapter of scripture was Romans 8. It's a great chapter – everything is there. In the last couple of years though Luke 9 has made a strong move and I'd have to put it on equal footing and perhaps give it a bit of a nod if I had to choose. It's packed with so many wonderful stories all reaching a crescendo with Jesus' decision to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) which I believe is one of, if not the key verse in the gospels. The language of the CEB translation – "he determined to go to Jerusalem" – is an instance where it leaves me wanting more. I am a fan of the more insightful "he set his face to go to Jerusalem" found in the NRSV. The idea of Jesus setting his face suggests his resolve in this decision. This is not another trip to another festival observance in Jerusalem; this is the beginning of the journey that will result in the epic events of Holy Week and Easter. How clear is Jesus' vision of what will happen? I have no idea, but have always believed that It was less about complete awareness of every event that would unfold and more of a knowledge that this was different; and whatever was going to happen when he reached Jerusalem, this was what he came to complete, and the outcome of this journey would be harrowing and make all the difference.

Notice in the Nehemiah passage that the individuals who have agreed to make their homes in Jerusalem during the rebuild are singled out for their courage (Nehemiah 11:6 & 14 for example). They also set their face to what was for them an uncertain future based on what they believed was God's will for their lives.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem, an act of faith and trust that changed history and continues to provide hope and the promise of life to this day. Give me the faith to be bold in trusting you and living out my faith each day. Amen.

 

 

July 14

Nehemiah 13; Luke 10

Luke 10 concludes with two stories that, to be honest, always worry me a bit. The parable of the Good Samaritan and then the visit to the home of Mary and Martha. As a preacher I'm always disappointed with the two representatives of the religious establishment in the story of the Good Samaritan. They have their reasons most likely for their choice to cross over and walk by the Samaritan, but at the end of the day, they can best be described as the two people in the story who didn't help. Martha also had justifiable reasons for wanting to make sure everything was in order for her guest; but she'll best be remembered as the sister who chose not to sit at Jesus feet. The point of these stories is not to "tsk-tsk" the travelers who do not help and Martha who does not pause and listen. The true point is to turn the light of examination on our relationship with God and ask when we have been in such a hurry or so blinded to the need of another that we have walked briskly and blindly past. The true point is to be honest with myself about times when I have prioritized some urgent bit of necessary busy work over an opportunity to know God better and more deeply by taking time for truly listening for God to speak.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Help me to understand the times when I can grow by placing myself in the story of scripture. Amen.

 

 

July 15

Esther 1-3; Psalm 79

In the early going it's hard to find a sympathetic figure in Esther. It begins as a story of wealthy rulers overindulging and narrows to the story of a Queen asked to perform an embarrassing task for the King, which she refuses to do, incurring his ire. If there is a sympathetic figure in Esther 1 it's Queen Vashti who clings to her dignity and loses her position. This creates an opening which the king's advisors counsel him to fill using a fairly offensive beauty pageant to the eyes of a present day reader. All of this unpleasantness eventually leads us to a Jewish leader named Mordecai and to his cousin, who is like a daughter to him - Esther. As our reading for the day winds down we meet the villain of our piece, Haman, who seems to be a political hack seeking as much of the king's power, money and influence as he can muster to himself.

Esther is a fascinating story about the Jewish people and their life in exile. It is the story of God's provision, without mentioning God directly. How God puts the pieces in place, through what appear to be the random acts of people in the king's court, to care for and protect the chosen people in what could be described as a largely powerless situation for them.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

You are master of everything and you are constantly at work in our world. Help me to trust in your care, to seek to be a force for good as I am able, and to oppose those who oppose your justice and your love for all. Amen.

 

 

July 16

Esther 4 and 5; Luke 11

"'Whoever isn't with me is against me, and whoever doesn't gather with me scatters.'" - Luke 11: 23

What I want is to be with Jesus. Am I? What I want is to gather with Jesus. Do I? That's the simple and profoundly important question Jesus is asking in this passage. What a privilege to know that Jesus is inviting us to be a part of his project. What greater work could there be in which to participate than to work by Jesus' side? And yet…is my lamp always high on a lampstand? Like the Pharisees, do I like the trappings of being close to Jesus, but resist the service that truly places one close to Jesus? Finally, how do others experience me as a person of faith? Am I an obstacle to another person's relationship with God? Through word or action am I standing in the way, or am I living in a way that seeks to draw closer to Christ and that invites others to do the same?

These are challenging questions. Jesus wants this close relationship with us. It is a relationship that I need to tend to and share.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Jesus, I thank you for your invitation to serve and to be a part of your ministry of love and life. Help me to be with you and to gather and welcome in your name. Amen.

 

 

July 17

Esther 6 and 7; Luke 12

Jesus makes an interesting differentiation here between worry and preparation. In Luke 12:22-34 there is an extended teaching centered around God's provision. We humans tend to worry about where the next meal is coming from, will we have enough money to pay the bills, will we be okay? Jesus points out God's care for birds, nature, for all of creation. "'Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life?'" (v.25) This does not mean that Jesus is directing us to have no concern for the future. The passage on worrying is followed by teaching about preparation, accountability, stewardship and conflict. Rather than worrying about unknowable future situations that deal narrowly with our own good fortune or lack thereof, Jesus points us to be aware of our own good fortune as children of God right now in the present and live today with that reality in mind for tomorrow.

"'Much will be demanded from everyone who has been given much, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.'" (v.48b) Our call is not to tie ourselves up in knots over our own well-being. Our God cares for us. The call is to live with the knowledge that we have been blessed and, as God cares for us, so we are to prepare to live in Christ's coming kingdom by extending that care out into our world.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Keep me focused on the future, not as a place of fear, but as a place I can prepare for this day through faithful service to you. Amen.

 

 

July 18

Esther 8, 9 and 10; Luke 13

Esther wraps up by making clear that this has been an origin story – the origin of the festival of Purim. Queen Esther and Mordecai are the lead figures in this story of the salvation of a threatened Jewish population. As is often mentioned, there is no overt mention of God in the book of Esther. God's providential care for the Jewish people is clearly the overarching theme, crystallized in Mordecai's observation to Esther early on in the book: "'Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family.'" God had placed Esther in exactly the right position to bring deliverance to the endangered Jews and this providential care is the foundation of what is remembered in the celebration of Purim.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Esther found herself in a position of power and therefore able to help in a moment of great need. Help me to consider where you have placed me today and the difference I can make on your behalf. Amen.

 

 

July 19

Job 1 and 2; Psalm 80

As we head into the book of Job I will say that the way we are about to read it is the most effective way to encounter Job. Beginning to end, all the way through. I find Job and Revelations to share this characteristic – both understood with the most clarity when read in their entirety. To illustrate what I mean, I find it very difficult to preach out of either of these two books. It is a challenge to find short sections that can be understood without pulling in more and more and more. Chapters 1 and 2 set the stage for us – Job is a righteous man, the Adversary wants to see if Job's faith can be shaken and God allows the testing to take place with the qualifying rule that Job's life cannot be taken. Off we go.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Help me to acknowledge along with Job that there will be joys and challenges in life, but that God is constant through all. Help me to be firm in my faith, trusting in God at all times. Amen.

 

 

July 20

Job 3 and 4; Luke 14

Job's friends come to console him, arriving to visit him in Job 2. In Job 2:13 they do the most helpful thing they could do for their friend. "They sat with Job on the ground seven days and seven nights, not speaking a word to him, for they saw that he was in excruciating pain." In Chapter 3 Job speaks of his pain and his anguish, he tells his friends the truth about what is happening with him. Their silence gives him the space to speak. We do a service to those we care about when we come along side of them and support them with our presence and listen to their true feelings. The problems can begin when we move from listening and presence to impatience and fixing. There is a role for a friend to play in healing, but the first and best thing we can do for a friend who is hurting is not to try to force them to an emotional, physical, or spiritual place they are not, when what they most need is simply to be heard.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

When I am hurting, bless me with friends who will sit with me and listen. When my friends are facing difficulties, help meet them in their suffering. Amen.

 

 

July 21

Job 5 and 6; Luke 15

When I think seriously about where I am in my relationship with God, I usually conclude that I'm a long way off from where I truly want to be. I want to be obedient, but I struggle at times to discern God's will which makes obedience a challenge. I can get fixated on what I believe is the right thing to do and forget that I am following God's lead rather than God following mine. I can be petty. I may become irregular in my spiritual disciplines. Basically there are a lot of places I may find myself coming up short of who I want to be as a disciple. There is a beautiful line in the story of the prodigal son that offers hope to anyone who knows that feeling of being a long way off from where they would like to be in their relationship with God. "While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion." (Luke 15:20b) The prodigal did not have to return to his home and seek out his father. Instead the father was watching for the son he hoped would return home. Watching as perhaps he had watched each day since his son left home. Watching for the son that he loved. Watching so that when his son appeared he saw him even at a great distance, even while he was still a long way off. This is the love God has for us. Even when we feel distant from God, God's loving eyes are on us ready for us to come home.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

I rejoice that your eyes are on me and that, even when I wander, your love does not waver. Amen.

 

 

July 22

Job 7 and 8; Psalm 81 and 82

Job's friend Bildad almost certainly has good intentions. He wants to help his friend. Unfortunately help, in this instance, means fix and move Job along to a place he is not ready to be yet. "If you will search eagerly for God, plead with the Almighty. If you are pure and do the right thing, then surely he will become active on your behalf." (Job 8:5-6) Bildad is trying to lift his friend up to a place where Bildad is more comfortable and where he thinks Job will be happy again. But what has he told Job? First, he's disregarded the pain of what Job has already stated by not acknowledging the seriousness and depth of Job's despair. Second, he's told Job that he's not been eager enough in his search for God; that he has not been pure enough, and that he has apparently not done the right thing. You might at this point go back and reread Bildad's words and suggest that he didn't actually say these things precisely, but if you were Job what do you imagine you would have heard?

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Help me to consider what I say to friends who are struggling. Am I truly listening to them? Help me to be a friend who supports, encourages and is willing to suffer with those I love. Thank you for loving and caring for me when life is filled with joys and when life is marked by pain and challenges. Amen.

 

 

July 23

Job 9 and 10; Luke 16

Luke 16 has the appearance of revolving around attitudes towards money; but, at its heart, it is about the long term value of friendship and mutual regard. The manager who is described as dishonest earns praise when he maneuvers a resolution to his job situation by leveraging human relationships that involve finances. Jesus makes a pointed observation about our inability to serve God and money. He says it can't be done. Then we have a story, Lazarus and the rich man, which illustrates that our actions in this present moment are actions that impact on our relationships in this life and the next. Taken as a whole we are being guided to value the people with whom we share the journey. And also to see our financial resources in light of our ability to impact those relationships, as well as our relationship with God and God's will, for the good.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Help me to trust in your provision and to value the people with whom I share the journey. Help me to use my resources in ways that are consistent with your will. Amen.

 

 

July 24

Job 11 and 12; Luke 17

There is quite a bit of gold in Luke 17. Towards the middle of the chapter the Pharisees are questioning Jesus about when the kingdom would come. Jesus gives an answer that is important for us to hear. "'Don't you see? God's kingdom is already among you.'" (Luke 17:21b) Jesus has already lived here among us, has already died on a cross, and has already defeated death on Easter morning. If anything Jesus' words here are even more true now then they were then. Is there more to come and a more fully realized arrival of God's kingdom? I think scripture points in that direction, but scripture is also quite clear – the kingdom has already arrived. It's happening! It's unfolding in our midst! Jesus' words call us to open our eyes, our hearts, our minds with great expectation of experiencing God's kingdom in our lives and in our world today.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Even as I am excited for the future and for the kingdom that is to come, help me to live each moment expectantly, looking to experience the kingdom that is already among us. Amen.

 

 

July 25

Job 13 and 14; Luke 18

My first car, a 1973 Chevy Malibu, cost me $35 in 1982. There were some complicating factors. It was on cinderblocks. It did not run. When we put tires on it and got it running it was necessary to set the taillights up so that they could be seen by the cars behind me. Typically by the time I got where I was going they had collapsed back into the trunk again. Also, the trunk had so many holes that pulled the exhaust back into the car that the vehicle could only be driven with the windows down for safety reasons. This made for some interesting looks when driving during the Ohio winter. My point is that my Malibu had some pretty severe limitations.

We humans have some limitations. There are things we cannot do because of those limitations. Fortunately my cars have become progressively more reliable and safer through the years. It is not necessary to think about my beloved Prius (named Panza after Don Quixote's sidekick) having the same limitations as my not-so-beloved Malibu. In the same way we do ourselves no favors when we imagine God operating within the framework of human limitations. Jesus says, "'What is impossible for humans is possible for God.'" (Luke 18:27) An important part of fully experiencing the power of God in our lives is to not fall into the trap of limiting God's activities to possibilities that I can imagine. God's abilities and imagination go places I could never anticipate on my own. It is exhilarating to follow God who is forever ready to surprise us with the joy and possibility of what can happen next.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, I marvel at all that you have done and watch with anticipation and expectation for what you will do in the future. Amen.

 

 

July 26

Job 15, 16 and 17; Psalm 83 and 84

There are things that happen in life and in the moment as they happen we imagine we cannot live beyond that moment. The pain is too great. The prospects too bleak. Purpose is nowhere to be found. A great deal of the time we not only survive those moments, we even go forward and again have happy days filled with laughter and joy. This does not happen because someone tells us that we should feel better. Our smile does not return because it is explained to us that it should. It happens because God walks alongside of us and day by day darkness turns to light and as the Psalmist suggests joy comes in the morning. Job has a question of his friends: "'All of you are sorry comforters. Will windy talk ever cease; what bothers you that you must argue.'" (Job 16:2b-3)

God sends us friends not to fix us, but to accompany us. God places us in people's lives not to teach them how not to feel bad, but to hold them close as they hurt. The joy will come in the morning, but very often it will not come a moment sooner.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

I give thanks for friends who will patiently come alongside of me when I am hurting. I ask for the wisdom to know when those I care for are hurting and need not to be fixed, but to be surrounded with a comforting presence. Amen.

 

 

July 27

Job 18 and 19; Luke 19

The Dominus Flevit Church was designed by Antonio Barluzzi and was opened in 1955. It is built on the Mount of Olives commemorating the moment when Jesus wept over Jerusalem. It features one window through which one's eye is drawn to the Temple Mount. It is common to see pictures taken from within the chapel centered on the Dome of the Rock which is a Muslim holy site on the Temple Mount. One could easily imagine Jesus standing on that location and focusing on the Temple itself which would have been in that same general area as he was entering Jerusalem during Holy Week. Our tour guide once told us that Barluzzi's intent was not to focus on the Temple Mount, but beyond it on the gray domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which marks the site where tradition says both the crucifixion and resurrection took place a short distance from each other. It is powerful to contemplate Jesus taking in the totality of the stage on which the events of Holy Week would play out in the days that would follow. It is deeply moving to imagine Jesus' tears shed over Jerusalem; tears perhaps of regret for what was to come or even tears borne out of Christ's deep love for each one of us.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, keep me mindful of Christ's deep love and profound sacrifice made on behalf of each one of us. As Jesus was moved with love for Jerusalem and for each one of us, inspire within me a heart that loves and cares for others and which responds with gratitude and devotion to my Savior. Amen.

 

 

July 28

Job 20 and 21; Luke 20

It is okay to ask Jesus questions. I think, in fact, that Jesus invites it and loves our questions. The twist is that Jesus will answer as Jesus will answer so, once our questions are asked, it is important we listen with all of our being for Jesus' answer. First, because we naturally want to hear it, but second because it is likely to be something we had not anticipated. It may be an answer that requires work on our part to understand and apply. Jesus may reply to our question with a question. This is not a strategy that Jesus uses to avoid answering our questions. It is instead Jesus drawing us to a deeper place to consider both what we have asked and what Jesus has said. There are multiple examples of this happening in Luke 20. Jesus is questioned about the source of his authority and turns it into a conversation about how we decide on who we will acknowledge as having authority, and how we reach those conclusions. Jesus is questioned – an attempted trap in this question – about paying taxes to Caesar. He answers with a question that points to the reality that God provides and is the source of everything.

Christ welcomes our questions. The trick is welcoming the challenge of the answers.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

I give thanks today for the gift of prayer as a place for conversation and questions. Thank you for welcoming me and hearing me. Help me to also welcome and listen for your voice. Amen.

 

 

July 29

Job 22 and 23; Psalm 85 and 86

Both Job and Psalm 85 share a struggle with the tension between a core belief that God is good and wills good for God's people, and the reality of life as hard, painful and challenging. Job is beyond discouraged. Everywhere he looks – to the east, west, north and south – Job cannot find God. He feels abandoned. The Psalmist begins with positive words about God – "Lord, you've been kind to your land; you've changed Jacob's circumstances for the better." (Psalm 85:1) – but the mood quickly turns.

"You, the God who can save us, restore us! Stop being angry with us! Will you be mad at us forever!" (Psalm 85:4-5a) This tension is our tension as well. Christians believe that God is good and the world, God's creation, is in God's hands. At the same time Christians, along with everyone on the planet, have good days and bad days. We have times when the sun seems to shine and all is well, and times when, like Job, we struggle to know where God is and how we are to move forward. Two takeaways seem important. First, it is a powerful witness that scripture is not a whitewashed work that ignores the reality of pain in the world. If it were it would be impossible for it to speak credibly to us and to our circumstances. Second, even when it is hard to locate God in the face of what is happening in our lives, the underlying conviction that God is good, cares for us and is in control is there for us to hold on to and to trust.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Loving God, help me to continue to seek your face and come to you in prayer even when I am struggling and having difficulty knowing that you are there. Continue to reach out for me and help me to have a deep and abiding trust in your love. Amen.

 

 

July 30

Job 24, 25, and 26; Luke 21

While the Temple itself is not there, the Temple Mount is very much present in Jerusalem. It is within a half-mile or so of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Its western retaining wall is the iconic Western Wall, a holy site of Judaism. Atop the Temple Mount today are the Al Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, two sites Holy to Islam. There is a location at the southwest corner of the Temple Mount where one is able to walk around the base and see the remains of an ancient Roman road and a number of rocks that at one time were a part of the structure. During the Roman destruction of Jerusalem these were cast down to where they presently rest. Walking among those ruins one can imagine Jesus and his friends walking by and Jesus commenting that this stunning architectural wonder would be destroyed, and how hard it would have been to understand why or how this would happen. Once again, let me encourage you to seek out pictures of the Temple Mount from a variety of angles. Search for the Western Wall, the Teaching Steps, the Al Aksa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, and the Jerusalem Archaeological Park for starters to gain a feel for the size and scope for this central location of the Gospels.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Gracious God, by looking at the reminders of the Temple and other buildings of Jesus time we are reminded that He walked around in real places among real people. Thank you for all the ways you tell us the story of your love for us. Amen.

 

 

July 31

Job 27 and 28; Luke 22

There are seriously dangerous forces at work in Luke 22. Satan, we are told, enters Judas. (22:2) Jesus warns Peter that Satan "has asserted the right to sift you all like wheat," and then encourages him by telling him that he has prayed that Peter's faith will not fail. (22:31-32) He follows this though by predicting Peter's denial. (22:34) The remainder of the chapter is peppered with references to temptation, betrayal and denial. These words wind their way like a force compelling the direction of the events that are headed towards the cross. Everything has been preparation for these moments and these moments are not going well at all for Judas, for the rest of the disciples, and ultimately for Jesus. Everything was preparation for these moments until they were over, and then everything including these moments becomes preparation for what comes next. Beyond the tragedy of Judas, the other participants in this passage will eventually see better, even triumphant days. Temptation, denial, the action of evil that moves in opposition to God's will are all serious matters that can threaten us in our attempt to faithfully follow Jesus. It is good to know that even when these forces are at the heights of their powers, there can still be better days ahead.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, help me to never underestimate the challenges that can arise to oppose living faithfully for you. Help me to each day set my sights on you and make my goal to keep you in view. Amen.

 

 

August

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

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

 

 

August 1

Job 29 and 30; Luke 23

It is impossible to read a passage like Luke 23 and not see the political implications of Jesus' ministry. The religious leadership is afraid of Jesus for ideological reasons and uses this logic to ask for action from Pilate – "He agitates the people with his teaching throughout Judea – starting from the Galilee, all the way here." (23:5) Pilate is portrayed as ambivalent, but clearly he is concerned. Concerned enough to involve Herod. Both feel the need for someone to do something, preferably the other one. Neither wants to sign their work, but both, in their own way, take seriously the threat of an individual whose teaching can stir up the population.

Jesus' teachings still stir people up. They are still revolutionary and speak to the way we should live our lives; what our highest priorities should be; and to our relationship with authority. Among the many books that portray the political terrain on which Jesus' life and ministry were played out I found Reza Aslan's book Zealot particularly helpful. Aslan is not a Christian, but this does not impact his ability to tell the story of the serious danger Jesus placed himself in through his ministry activities. Crucifixion was not an unfortunate accident, but rather the predictable outcome of standing against the status quo of the day. I am not in agreement with all of Aslan's conclusions, but he paints a vivid picture of the world in which Jesus lived.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Keep my heart and my actions focused on you and consistent with your will. Make serving you and living out your love my highest priority. Amen.

 

 

August 2

Job 31 and 32; Psalms 87 and 88

Psalm 88 is saturated with pain. Some may wonder how a Psalm in the Bible can end with the words, "My only friend is darkness." (88:18b) Where is the hope, the joy and the promise? Where is the uplift that faith is supposed to provide? Perhaps it would help to imagine the hymns of the Psalter as a quilt. Each square is unique and beautiful, a creation unto itself. Each square though is also a part of a larger visual, unifying all of the patchwork parts into a masterful whole. So we might say, the hope is around, but not so much in Psalm 88. That may be an answer and perhaps a partially correct answer, but it not the only answer. Perhaps in its complete honesty about pain and abandonment and suffering there is hope. Hope that we may be honest with God. We do not need to sugarcoat things for God or try to appear less wounded than we are. We are fragile and vulnerable and we experience highs and lows in life. Thanks be to God that all of it is welcomed in our holy conversations with our Creator.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Loving God, help me to know that your love is not situational or dependent on how I am feeling. Help me to be honest with you at all times, even and especially when times are difficult. Amen.

 

 

August 3

Job 33 and 34; Luke 24

Luke 24 is the story of a number of encounters with the reality of the risen Christ. First the women go to the empty tomb. Jesus is not there; in his place are messengers who give an explanation to the women of what has happened. The women carry the news of what they have experienced back to the male disciples who are skeptical. Peter goes to have his own look at the tomb and comes away wondering what has happened.

The Emmaus road story is the story of two more Christ followers, returning to their homes after the crucifixion. They are downcast over what they believe is the lost opportunity of Christ's ministry which must now be complete in his death. And yet, they've heard the tales of the women's findings and aren't totally sure what to make of them. Jesus breaks bread, they recognize him and turn around to make a beeline back to Jerusalem.

Jesus appears again to the disciples and they remain "terrified and afraid," certain they are "seeing a ghost." (24:37)

This continues to be the way we encounter and experience Christ. No one person has the totality of the experience. We each bring the news of our meetings to share. We learn from each other and in spite of the occasional doubt our faith grows and is bolstered by those with whom we share the journey.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, help me to be open to encountering the risen Christ in my daily life. Strengthen me when I experience doubt and help me to support and encourage others even as I listen to and am uplifted by their stories of you at work in their lives. Amen.

 

 

August 4

Job 35 and 36; Philippians 1

We are forever accessible today. We can email, text, instant message and even give a good old fashioned phone call on the phone that is ever with us. It takes real effort to not be available. This can be both blessing and challenge. It can bring comfort to parents, spouses, family members and friends who in a moment need to be in instant contact with someone. It can facilitate friendships over great distances. It can simply ease our ability to communicate.

And yet, it can also complicate by sheer volume our ability to communicate. It has brought us all manner of screening devices so that we can weed out and prioritize our interactions. It has made it difficult to truly ever get away because the world is always with us through our devices.

It has also damaged the art of the letter. Whenever I begin one of Paul's letters I wonder what Paul would have accomplished with modern technology. He could have been that much more in contact and yet would he have become more terse? Would he have taken to using acronyms and emojis? Would we have the well thought out and constructed statements of affection and theological instruction we have in books like the letter to the church in Philippi? I do not know the answer to that question, but I am thankful that we do have what we have, gifts of God from Paul's pen across the years to us.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Thank you Lord for the many ways you provide for us to be in relationship and to communicate with one another and with you. Give us thankful hearts for your gifts, while giving us discerning hearts to know when a gift is becoming an obstacle to real relationship. Amen.

 

 

August 5

Job 37 and 38

At last, in Job 38, God enters the conversation. It is a remarkable chapter, not only for the perspective it brings to Job, but for what it brings to each of us who read these words. It is a reminder, similar to Psalm 8, of how vast God truly is and how limited is our humanity. Any of these examples might jump out at you in demonstrating God's divine vision for the way the world fits together. My attention is drawn to this verse:

"Who cut a channel for the downpours
and a way for blasts of thunder
to bring water to uninhabited land,
a desert with no human
to saturate dry wasteland
and make grass sprout?" (38:25)

I remember standing atop the great rock of Masada along the shore of the Dead Sea. On the side facing away from the Dead Sea there are ditches carved into the side of the mountains. It has always been dry when I have been there, but I am told that these ditches are the result of water running off from lands to the west, water which brought life into that area and would have helped to sustain not only Masada, but so many others, including David when he was hiding in that region from King Saul. An accident? When we take the divine perspective we can see God's hand at work in fitting it all together.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

When I don't understand help me to step back. Help me to be patient. Help me to accept that there are some things I will not understand, but that in it all you are God and you are with me. Amen.

 

 

August 6

Job 39 and 40; Philippians 2

Some things are easily described and quite challenging to actually do. I'm in the midst of preparing to run a half-marathon. In order to get ready I found a twelve-week plan describing what days to run, what days to take off and how far and how hard to run on the running days. It doesn't even take up an entire page in the book. Easy.

Not so easy to actually do all the work it describes though. I'm halfway through and it's going okay, but there have been bumps along the way. Some days feel great and other days I want to stop as soon as I've started. I've mostly stayed on track with some minor adjustments, but it's harder to do the training than it was to read about it. Which brings us to…

"Don't do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus." (2:3-5a) Just a couple of sentences. Not even a full paragraph. Piece of cake to read. A lifetime of working at discipleship to try and begin to live this out. We understand what it's saying. We probably agree with it. I don't get up in the morning asking what I can do for selfish purposes, and yet when I look back at the end of the day I can find selfishness peeking out from too many places.

We are blessed by Jesus' action on our behalf and by his example. Christ's love for us shines through in all he did and all he does. It is not an easy task that we can ever take for granted, but let us make love our aim.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

I confess that it is easy to be selfish and hard to place the good of others first in the way that Christ did. Keep me seeking after Christ and looking to imitate the love of my Savior. Amen.

 

 

August 7

Job 41 and 42; Philippians 3

I was born in Ohio. Grew up there. I came to Kentucky for college and then seminary and, with the exception of five years in Missouri, have lived the rest of my life to this point in the Bluegrass State. There is something of each of the places I have lived in me that connects me to those places and which I deeply love. I cannot imagine holding an earthly location closer to my heart than Kentucky. Paul has a reminder for me and for all of us who seek to follow Jesus – "Our citizenship is in heaven." (3:20) Paul exhorts the Philippians in this passage to keep reaching for Christ. Christ has reached out to us in love; our joyful response is to reach for Christ and for our homeland in the God's coming kingdom. This awareness keeps us pushing toward the goal of being the people God has created us to be, ever striving to imitate Christ.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

While we thank you for this earth and for all the beauty in it and the wonder of the places that are our homes, we pray that you will keep calling and guiding us towards our home with you. Amen.

 

 

August 8

Proverbs 1 and 2; Philippians 4

I, unlike Paul, have not learned to be content in any circumstance. I have shown a masterful ability to be discontented in many circumstances. I don't even need truly bad or difficult circumstances to be anxious, unhappy and discontented. I am not pleased to share this, simply wanting to be honest. I do want to work at arriving at that place where Paul was when he shared that he could "endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength." (4:13) I am also drawn to the gratitude that Paul models as he gives thanks to the Philippians for their support of his ministry. I want to grow in my capacity to be thankful and to share gratitude with those who have blessed me. I find that too often I am thankful in my mind and that's as far as it gets. It is a gift to receive blessings from others, but it is also a gift to graciously receive and then offer appropriate thanks for the way in which we have been blessed. Feeling grateful is not sufficient, it is important that I communicate how much the kind actions of others mean, and how much it has improved my day and in some instances helped me to experience God in surprising and moving ways.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, help me to find contentment in being your child. Help me to be gracious and to offer thanks when those around me fill my life with blessings. Amen.

 

 

August 9

Proverbs 3 and 4; Psalm 89

I have noticed that my life being in generally good and happy times does not necessarily predict that I feel the most healthy, content and alive. It probably doesn't hurt to be at a smooth and less challenging moment, but the real predictor turns out to be the condition of my devotional life. Am I making time for reading scripture and for prayer. Am I truly making the time and dialed into this precious time, or am I looking to check off a box on a daily reading form. The times when I feel I am most in sync with who God is calling me to be, regardless of circumstance, nearly always seem to go hand in hand with the times when I am most consistent and intentional in spending time with God. Proverbs 3 would suggest that this reality is not a predictor, but is in fact a cause.

"Trust in the Lord with all your hearts,
don't rely on your own intelligence.
Know him in all your paths
and he will keep your ways straight.
Don't consider yourself wise.
Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
Then your body will be healthy
and your bones strengthened."
–Proverbs 3:5-8

I am not suggesting that if you read the Bible and pray that nothing bad will happen in your life and your health will be perfect. I am suggesting that when I'm communing with God I am more likely to experience joy and fulfillment in life whatever is going on physically, spiritually and mentally in my life. The cultivation of the relationship with our Creator is invaluable – it is the most needful thing.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Keep me seeking you through all circumstances. Amen.

 

 

August 10

Proverbs 5 and 6; Colossians 1

For Christians it all comes back to Jesus. It is not that Christians elevate Christ to a higher authority than the rest of the Trinity. It's simply that, because of the New Testament and specifically because of the Gospels, we have more material with which to interact as we see the nature and character of God illuminated in the person of Jesus who lived among us.

"He existed before all things, and all things are held together in him." (1:17)

With these few poetic words Paul gets at the core of what draws us to Christ – in him all things are held together. Jesus, with his humanity and divinity, is a window into the heart of God with whom we can identify and, more importantly, who we believe can best understand and identify with us. Jesus with his teaching, preaching, healing and miracle working presents us with so much data, evidence, and illustrative material as we grapple with God's desire for our lives and for the coming kingdom. My favorite way of describing my faith is to identify as a follower of Jesus. Paul's words give a powerful description of my affinity for being known as a Jesus follower. I have a strong conviction that Paul is right; all things are held together in Jesus Christ. It is Jesus I want to follow and to whom I want to point others seeking answers.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Thank you for making yourself known to us in Christ. Amen.

 

 

August 11

Proverbs 7 and 8; Colossians 2

Maureen was a student pastor at the church I served for a couple of years. One of the things that happened while she was with us was that our baptismal font became more central during worship. First, instead of a metal bowl that fit neatly into the font, out of sight of the congregation, she brought a glass bowl that was larger than the hole in the top of the font and put rocks in the bottom third of it. The glass bowl was very visible to the congregation. Second, she poured water from a pitcher into the bowl most weeks during the Assurance of Pardon following the Prayer of Confession, reminding us of our baptism with the sight and sounds of water spilling onto the rocks in the bowl. This reorientation to the baptismal font would have pleased Paul who tells the Colossians how important the event of baptism is for the follower of Jesus. "You were buried with him through baptism and raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead." (2:12) Buried in the waters of baptism to rise to new life. What a joyful truth!

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Thank you for baptism through which we may leave the old behind and become alive anew in Jesus. Amen.

 

 

August 12

Proverbs 9 and 10; Psalm 90

There is a dividing wall that exists in the imagination of some between faith and intellect. Proverbs is interested in tearing that wall down. "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord: the knowledge of the holy one is understanding." (9:10) Proverbs links up wisdom and righteousness and stands them over and against folly and wickedness. I find this emphasis on knowledge and learning encouraging. Surely there are times when faith will indeed be beyond understanding, but God did not give us brains and reason so that we could neglect them at every turn. "Teach the wise, and they will become wiser; inform the righteous, and their learning will increase." (9:9) Let it be so.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

I am grateful this day for curiosity and the capacity to learn. Help me to hunger to know more of you, your will and your ways. Amen.

 

 

August 13

Proverbs 11 and 12; Colossians 3

All of today's passages are talking about practical approaches to choices and actions we take in our daily lives. Proverbs repeatedly contrasts wisdom and foolishness, wickedness and righteousness. Colossians talks about putting away our old nature and developing our new nature in Christ. Most all of what we are called to do is not hard to understand; much of it is challenging to implement in practice in our daily lives. It is wise not to telescope in too closely on any particular passage in a way that obscures its location in the larger emphasis on a way of life that draws us closer to God.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Help me to hear the call to wisdom and righteousness. Lead me to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Amen.

 

 

August 14

Proverbs 13 and 14; Colossians 4

How does God guide events? What opportunities present themselves that are placed in our path with God hoping that we will see them and act on them? Is it odd to imagine God having hopes for how we will behave? Paul requests prayer from the Colossians that God will open the door in a way that will allow his preaching to be effective. I find this to be a winsome and appealing approach to prayer that I want to work at emulating. Praying that God will open doors for sharing the great news of God's love – what could be a better prayer by which to orient my life? In his book Reckless Love, Tom Berlin writes that "Jesus' desire is simply to set us free to love others." How better to love others than to pray that God will make me sensitive to opportunities and openings to share my faith? How sobering is it to imagine that I am perhaps regularly walking past doors that God may be opening, if only I were paying attention?

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God open doors that will allow me to see how you have set me free to love others and to point them towards abundant life in you. Amen.

 

 

August 15

Proverbs 15 and 16; 1 Thessalonians 1

It is not always easy to be teachable. It requires humility, a willingness to admit that we do not already know everything, and a vulnerability that welcomes instruction. There is a lot that can get in the way. The hardest may be the final of the three – vulnerability. Our culture is inclined to lift up the individual who is self-made, who pulls oneself up by the boot straps, the hard working, self-reliant individual. While there is nothing inherently wrong with a strong sense of self, we get in the way of our own growth and development when we continue to be unwilling to learn from others over time. "The ear that listens to life-giving correction dwells among the wise. Those who refuse discipline despite themselves, but those who listen to correction gain understanding." (15:31-32)

Keys For Today

Prayer

Lord, grant that my heart would be open, ready to be vulnerable, and in all ways open to your instruction and guidance. Amen.

 

 

August 16

Proverbs 17-18, Psalm 91

I am not precisely a camping person, but I do love to hike. My wife and I enjoy taking a few days when possible to travel to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We have a simple agenda. Eat pancakes in the morning at a favorite spot in town and then pick a trail out of a book of hikes in the Smokies. Both the pancakes and the hikes are always good. Some hikes, though, are better than others. The best are days when it is not too hot and not too cold – when the weather is agreeable. Many days it is borderline too hot, until you actually get to the trail and are off into the woods with the shade of the trees to take the sting out of the sun's heat. The Psalmist has a way of using imagery that connects to our experiences. "Living in the Most High's shelter, camping in the Almighty's shade, I say to the Lord, 'You are my refuge, my stronghold! you are my God – the one I trust.'" (91:1) It's a perfect description of what it is to feel the shelter of God's love, comfort and encouragement in difficult times. In the same way that the shade of the trees provides relief from the heat, the shade of the Almighty provides relief from all that would threaten our well-being. The sun is still there and the challenges may still be there, but the presence of the trees and the presence of God change the situation and give us a new and better outlook.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

When life is difficult, challenging and demanding, I give thanks for the gift of the shade of the Almighty, providing comfort and relief. Amen.

 

 

August 17

Proverbs 19-20, 1 Thessalonians 2

Paul identifies with both mother (v.7) and father (v.11) as he describes his relationship the Thessalonians. This gives us a helpful window into the way he cares for the Thessalonians and for each of the churches which he helped or led in parenting. To birth these new faith communities undoubtedly took great work from the very beginning, but also, in each instance required that moment when it came time to move on to the next place and let the children begin to grow on their own. I hear the pride, the joy of memories shared and the anxious anticipation in Paul's writing that I feel in relation to my own children who are now young adults. At times they will consult with my wife and me on decisions they are making, seeking our input and guidance, but we have learned that it is important that we relate to them in ways that are appropriate to their present status as young adults and not as the children we remember. In the same way, Paul must repeatedly leave behind communities he cares deeply about, trusting that he has done what he could to nurture and guide them and that they are now capable of continuing the journey, and making more and more of their decisions on their own.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Thank you for providing parents and others who have nurtured and provided guidance for me in my life. Help me to act in ways that honor the love they have poured into me in your name. Amen.

 

 

August 18

Proverbs 21-22, 1 Thessalonians 3

Liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez spoke of God having a "preferential option for the poor." I do not read this as a suggestion that God likes poor people better than any other people or that God does not love people who are blessed with material possessions. What it does suggest is that God cares deeply about the suffering that is likely to accompany material poverty. Further it pushes those who do have resources to be gracious in sharing those resources to help alleviate any suffering. A big piece of the message in Proverbs is that sharing one's resources and being sensitive to the needs of others will result not only in helping a person perceived to be in need, but will also broaden the humanity of the one perceived to be well off, and draw them closer to God as well. The theology Gutierrez articulated was not based on some new idea that just came into being in the middle of the twentieth century. It was built on the biblical foundation of both the Old and the New Testaments. The thread of concern for the poor runs through all of scripture and is a regular feature of the passages from Proverbs which we have been reading.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, whether rich or poor, help me to know trust that you love me. Help me to be thankful when I experience the blessing of being helped by someone else and, when I am able to share my resources, help me to be generous with a kind and loving spirit. Amen.

 

 

August 19

Proverbs 23-24, Psalm 92-93

Reading the book of Proverbs feels like mining for gold. You dip your pan into the water of scripture and sift through what is there in search of a nugget of wisdom that shines like gold and perhaps bring a "Eureka" moment of understanding, insight or more fully focused reflection. An important difference is that on any day, your gold and my gold may vary. You may lift your pan out and see only rocks, toss them back and continue the search. But I may pull out those same rocks and find the words that speak truth to me that day – gold! Much more so than a narrative, or even the poetry of a Psalm, the impact of a Proverb is hard to anticipate. There is very little in the way of a build towards any elaborate points with arrows pointing towards the grand reveal. Instead, it is one quick thought after another rushing by, waiting on us to dip in and see what sticks. It could make an interesting test to take a group of people and have them read, for instance, Proverbs 23 and 24 and ask them to pick a couple of sayings from the passage that spoke to them. It is likely that there would be as many answers as there were people, each one believing that the others had found rocks and they were holding on to gold, when in fact each one would be holding the gold they were to find, the gold that God had made ready for them, on that day.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, I am thankful for the gift of scripture and for the wisdom and guidance of the Proverbs. Keep me searching for the gold that is waiting for me in all the pages of scripture. Amen.

 

 

August 20

Proverbs 25-26, 1 Thessalonians 4

There are places where language fails me, but I try anyway. I can't explain to you why my love for Cincinnati chili (specifically Skyline Chili) is so great. The words can't approach providing what taste can convey. You might love it as well or you might be among the folks who follow a bite with the question, "Why would you put chili with spaghetti?" Either way, talking about it cannot compete with tasting it. In an obviously much more profound expression of this predicament we have Paul's description of the life to come. Jesus will come down from heaven, and those who have already died will meet him in the air following the blast of a trumpet. Maybe that's exactly what will happen. Exactly that way. Or maybe Paul was looking for words to describe something wonderful that defies description to encourage the Thessalonians. "Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about people who have died so that you won't mourn like others who don't have any hope." (4:13) What I hear and hold to most keenly is this word of hope. However it looks there is a life promised past this present life. It will be a good place that God has prepared. It will be the kingdom Christ has promised. That, I believe, is the best my present vocabulary can do.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

God, who in Christ lived for us, died for us and rose for us, thank you for the hope that we have in you. Amen.

 

 

August 21

Proverbs 27-28, 1 Thessalonians 5

People at church can raise my mood in a heartbeat. I may go in on a Sunday morning feeling like I'm not completely prepared for the day. Are the bulletins folded? Is the heat in the sanctuary working. Did I transfer my sermon notes over to my iPad? A few of these detail pieces begin to pile up and, like that, I'm a bit out of sorts. I sit at my desk folding the bulletins and I begin to hear singing. It's the adult Sunday School class singing a favorite of theirs – "Give Thanks" – before they dive into their lesson. The spontaneous joyful song of the faithful melts away the little niggles that have been nipping at me since I walked in from the parking lot. This kind of thing happens a lot in the body of Christ. True we can also irritate one another at times, but in our better moments, as we gather in the presence of God to worship, fellowship, mourn and celebrate, we are doing precisely the encouraging and building up that Paul asks of the Thessalonians. Again and again, it makes all the difference.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

I give thanks for the body of Christ and for the capacity of those who share the journey with me to encourage and build up. Help me to do the same. Amen.

 

 

August 22

Proverbs 29-30, 2 Thessalonians 1

Each day of middle school, after we ate, we had a kind of recess time that didn't involve so much playing in any organized way – us being in middle school and not wanting to have any appearance of being interested in playing – as standing around in small groups. Usually I would stand and talk with a friend of mine and a third boy would come and talk with us and randomly hit me in the arm. It was not pleasant. He thought he was being funny and was looking to get a reaction from me. I was not looking to fight with him, I just wished the punching in the arm that seemed so hilarious to him would stop. Eventually it did. I am sure at the time that I was hopeful there would be some form of justice that would be visited upon him. I don't know how that came out and truthfully I don't care anymore. If anything I'm glad that whatever I might have wished for back then received no divine compliance.

Paul is offering a word of encouragement to the Thessalonians. They have suffered and he is assuring them that there will be "payback." (1:7) Passages like this get a lot of attention from some folks waiting for the end time. They keep a list of who has wronged them and look forward to those who have hurt them getting what they deserve at the end of days. I would simply say I have no idea how God will work all of that out when we come to the end of this present age. I think my time is best spent less on what God will do with everyone else, and with how God might be interpreting my thoughts and actions. The desire for vengeance and comeuppance is natural, but I am hopeful that, like my schoolyard problems, those desires will fade with time and that the end of days will be filled not with joy at God exacting vengeance, but on the reality of God's gracious and loving promises being fulfilled.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Lord, help me not to place energy in keeping score of who is owed what justice. Help me to be grateful for the grace you give each day. Amen.

 

 

August 23

Proverbs 31, Psalm 94

Following up on yesterday, Psalm 94 leads to a little further reflection on actions and their consequences. On the one hand, yes, I do hope that the end of time is not a solemn time of punishment being doled out. For one thing I am fairly certain in such a scenario that I would be in line for some amount of just punishment. At the same time it is important, essential even, to trust that God cares what happens here and that God’s heart is filled with joy when we are kind, generous and good, and conversely that God is saddened and feels a righteous anger when we are cruel, selfish and a mean-spirited version of ourselves. To trust that God is gracious and forgiving is not to suggest that God is issuing a free pass for any and all of our actions, and truly does not care how we act. I may not raise my voice to demand – as the Psalmist does – that the avenging God would make that vengeance abundantly clear; however I trust that God will not hold back in caring for the poor, the widow, the orphan and the immigrant. That in fact, rather than being certain that I am not a bad actor, God is asking and calling to me – to each of us – to be the best actor we can be and to do what we can do to make a difference in the lives of those in need.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

As you daily show your love for me through your care and provision, help me to live in such a way that I show forth that love to those in need. Amen.

 

 

August 24

Ecclesiastes 1-3, 2 Thessalonians 2

Both our Old and New Testament readings are looking big picture today. Ecclesiastes has the sound of despair around much of the way. The writer is convinced that the same fate awaits everyone so all of our actions are somewhat meaningless. What will be will be. Paul is speaking to a very practical concern on the part of the Thessalonians who are apparently nervous that they will not know or recognize what happens when Jesus returns and seem to be worried they might miss it entirely. Paul’s response is to encourage them to hold on to their faith and trust in God. The author of Ecclesiastes seems to suggest the answer is to enjoy the moment because it is all you have. This could be taken to mean live for pleasure in the moment and disregard the implications of your actions, but that is not my takeaway. Instead this resonates with me as an adult in my mid-fifties. I have tended to have a mental mind set of thinking of all the things that need to be accomplished before doing something simply for enjoyment. I can think of a lot of reasons not to do something that I’m pretty sure I would enjoy doing. That finally changed a few years back. I began to reflect, perhaps in the way the writer of Ecclesiastes reflected, that life is short and our days here will not go on forever.

Looking forward, planning ahead, being responsible, putting off enjoyment until work is complete begins to look questionable as an approach to life when we begin to understand that each day is a gift and the supply of days is not infinite. As a person of faith I look to a future beyond this present life, and have hope for what God has in store of us when we reach that transition. In the meantime, there is much to enjoy here and a lifetime, nothing more and nothing less, within which to enjoy it. Take the hike you want to take this afternoon. Go on the trip you dreamed about taking. Spend time with friends and family even if it means knocking off work a bit early. Surely there are ways we need to be responsible to our obligations, but God has placed us in an amazing creation and I do not believe we have been placed here to ignore it.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Thank you for the gift of today. Help me to live in that gift fully, gratefully enjoying you and your creation in all that I do. Amen.

 

August 25

Ecclesiastes 4-5, 2 Thessalonians 3

I am participating in an online book club that is reading the book Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. The book is an exploration of the physical body as a way of coming to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ. Dr. Brand dedicated his life to working with leprosy patients and the book gives voice to his observations of the way this disease deprives its sufferers of the ability to participate in community in ways that are physical, mental and spiritual. The author of Ecclesiastes works similar territory from a different angle of approach. There is a contrast here between the lonely pursuit of that which we believe will fulfill us and the pursuit of what we need in life alongside of others who share the journey. “There are people who are utterly alone, with no companions, not even a child or a sibling. Yet they work hard without end, never satisfied with their wealth…how miserable are those who fall and don’t have a companion to help them up!” (Ecc.4:8a, 10b)

There is joy in the journey of faith. There is great joy in the journey of faith shared in community, growing in our relationships with one another and with our Creator.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy Trinity, within your very being, you model the importance of relationship. Guide us to share the journey with joy and expectation of finding deeper reservoirs of love and understanding. Amen.

 

 

August 26

Ecclesiastes 6-7, Psalms 95-96

Music has a power that is difficult to describe. It reaches into our hearts and speaks to feelings that go to our very core. It is one thing to contemplate the majesty of God. It is another thing to hear that majesty soar in Handel’s Messiah. A congregation lifting their voice to sing the words of a hymn can reach places in song that a sermon simply cannot go. The Psalms were the hymnbook of the the people of Israel and the psalmist in Psalms 95 and 96 clearly knows the music is central to connecting us with God in worship.

“Come let’s sing out loud to the Lord
Let’s raise a joyful shout
to the rock of our salvation!” (95:1)

“Sing to the Lord a new song!
Sing to the Lord all the earth.” (96:1)

Music can be a solitary experience and can be enjoyed in quiet and solitude. The music referenced here however is the raising of voices with fellow worshippers, joining together to praise God from that place deep within where we discover the love with which God has blessed us, and offer it up with joyful thanksgiving.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Thank you for the melody of praise that rises from within our hearts to you. Amen.

 

 

August 27

Ecclesiastes 8-9, 1 Timothy 1

Paul was a great teacher of the Christian faith. He was able to articulate the faith in ways that spoke to people and invited them in and then to move beyond that to greater and greater depths. Paul instructs through his letters to various churches and individuals, such as this letter to his protege Timothy. As demonstrated in the opening chapter of 1 Timothy Paul’s teaching extends beyond his ability to articulate his thoughts in writing, but to the way he is able to point to the example of his life. A basic truth of Paul’s life is that, through faith, change is possible. Paul says it a couple of ways here.

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength because he considered me faithful. So he appointed me to ministry even though I used to speak against him, attack his people, and I was proud. … This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ – and I’m the biggest sinner of all.” (1:12-13,15)

Paul does not sugarcoat who he has been. Paul does not try to obscure the life he led before his experience on the Damascus road. Instead he points to it as an example of the capacity of God’s grace to bring change and newness of life. This kind of honesty can be difficult, but it can be a wonderful message for those who feel that their lives are too broken and beyond redemption. I too know my capacity to sin and the hurtful actions of which I can be capable. The good news is that God’s grace can indeed pour all over us.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Loving God, I give thanks for your grace that flows over and saves a wretch like me. Amen.

 

 

August 28

Ecclesiastes 10-11, 1 Timothy 2

Ecclesiastes speaks of the “kind of mistakes that come from people in power.” (Ecc. 10:5b) Paul encourages Timothy to “Pray for kings and everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity.” (1 Tim. 2:9) Both writers then acknowledge the impact secular leaders can have on all of creation, and specifically on people of faith aiming to live as they believe God intends. It is impossible to live faithfully in the world and pay no attention to the words and actions of those in positions of leadership. Whether they be wise or foolish – to borrow from the categories in Ecclesiastes – they are in either event leaders. We make a good first step in living out our faith in the reality of the present moment when we pray for those in leadership. Pray that they will hear and respond to God’s will. Pray that they will lead in ways that are just, compassionate, merciful and life-giving. Pray for wisdom to prevail over foolishness. Pray for God’s will to be done in all things.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

God, whose authority is over all of creation, grant wisdom, creativity and good will to those who serve in positions of leadership. Amen.

 

 

August 29

Ecclesiastes 12, 1 Timothy 3

I grew up in the church. I don’t recall a time when I have not been attached in some way to some active part of the body of Christ, with the possible exception of my freshman year of college – and even then I still maintained my tie to the church that I had grown up in. In all my growing up years I had only known three pastors. Our church happened to be blest with solid, stable, consistent leadership for that nearly twenty year period. While each of those pastors certainly contributed to the person and Jesus-follower I became, I would say that much more impactful on me in those years were the lay leaders who invested time in me. Sunday School teachers, a dynamic Christian educator, Vacation Bible School teachers and volunteers, and especially my youth group leaders. I’m going to be honest – I did not do background checks on these folks. I did not go dig around to see if they were living perfect lives. I’m going to guess they were not as I don’t think any of us are living perfect lives. However, I would say that this group of folks was living lives that were genuine and faithful and that their care and concern for me and for the other children and young people of our church was real and abundantly clear. Paul offers some very specific directives to Timothy for leaders in the church. I’m not arguing with Paul, and there may be times when specific guidelines and expectations are absolutely necessary, but I’d make the case that what Paul was looking for in leaders was folks who were looking to genuinely offer their lives to God’s service. If we can begin by doing that, we are on the right track.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, help me to be the best leader and mentor I can be when the opportunity is available. Help me to follow you as best I can and lead others to want to do the same. Amen.

 

 

August 30

Song of Solomon 1-2, Psalms 97-98

Take your Bible with you. Read it in different locations. This morning I read Psalm 98 in my favorite chair in my living room. It is a comfortable place, and as I think of the wonderful things God has allowed me to experience I think of my family and the home where so many of our memories have been made. I am filled with joy. I notice as I finish reading and make a notation in the margin of where and when I read this passage today that I have been here before. Perhaps many times, but at least once, several years ago while at a retreat center on Lake Tahoe. As I see the words Lake Tahoe I can clearly see the place where I sat and read that day. It was early in the morning before the day's activity started and I was outside on the shore of the beautiful blue lake. That day I was moved by the almost supernatural beauty of the scenery, and was filled with thankfulness for the wonderful gifts of God's good creation that surrounded me. Take your Bible with you. Read it in different locations and let the Spirit move as you read.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Thank you for the many gifts that constantly surround me. Help me to rejoice out loud and to sing your praises. Amen.

 

 

August 31

Song of Solomon 3-4, 1 Timothy 4

I belong to a gym and have over time become fairly disciplined in visiting it regularly. Each passing year this seems like an increasingly good idea. Around the first of the year the number of folks at the gym goes up as people make resolutions that they will do more to be fit and take care of themselves. It's a great idea. For some it is an idea that is quickly abandoned, but for some it sticks and their health is the better for it.

Paul tells Timothy that it is important to be sure and make getting to the spiritual gym a priority. "Train yourself for a holy life. While physical training has some value, training in holy living is useful for everything. It has promise for this life now and the life to come." (1 Timothy 4:7b-8) Whether it is reading through Scripture on an ongoing basis as we are doing together here, or any of a number of spiritual practices, Paul wants us to keep after it, assuring us that there is ample benefit here and in God's great tomorrow.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Gracious God, keep me engaged in practices that deepen my knowledge of and relationship with you. Amen.

 

 

September

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

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

 

 

September 1

Song of Solomon 5-6, 1 Timothy 5

It's interesting to imagine how Timothy experienced Paul's mentorship. Perhaps he had shared questions he had with Paul and what we have are Paul's responses to those questions. In that instance one would imagine Timothy welcoming the direction from his mentor. On the other hand, perhaps Paul was offering direction for which Timothy had not asked. Did Timothy feel like he was being criticized? Did he think that Paul suspected he might not be up to the task? I believe Paul meant his advice and direction to be the best possible support to his protege. As we look at the end of this chapter we can see the obvious affection Paul has for Timothy. "Don't drink water anymore but use a little wine because of your stomach problems and frequent illnesses." (5:23) Practical words of care expressing concern for health and wholeness convey the love Paul feels for his friend.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Lord, help me to speak practical words of care to someone today. Amen.

 

 

September 2

Song of Solomon 7-8, Psalms 99-101

"Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with celebration!
Come before him with shouts of joy!"
–Psalm 100:1

"Oh, let me sing about faithful love and justice!
I want to sing my praises to you, Lord!"
–Psalm 101:1

"I belong to my lover,
And his longing is only for me."
–Song of Songs 7:10

The commonality between the texts above is passion. For the Psalmist it is the passion for worship, the desire to exalt God completely. In the Song of Songs, the passion is expressed in the back and forth dialogue of the lovers. When we explore our relationship with God, we will have times where God will seem very close and times when God may seem more removed. There will be times where it will be easy for us to experience God's blessings, and times when we may struggle to find God's presence at all.

It is important for us to express our passion for worship when it wells up inside of us, both to give voice to such a powerful feeling and to review when we are trying to find that spark. In the same way, in a committed covenant relationship between two people in love, every day will bring unique experiences and feelings. Sometimes our passion will bubble to the surface and others we will need to do the hard work of caring for and nurturing one another through disagreements and difficult times. The Song of Songs offers a reminder to share the depth of feeling we have for our partners when we have chosen to share our lives with someone. It can be a beautiful thing to give voice to our love, and it can be a lifeline to have those moments to hold onto as love is always a work in progress.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

God Of All Good Things, help me find the words to express my love for you and for those in my life for whom I care deeply. Amen.

 

 

September 3

Isaiah 1-2, 1 Timothy 6

Isaiah hits the ground running, hitting many of the primary themes of the Hebrew prophets within the first couple of chapters. God expresses a lack of enthusiasm for empty ritual. There is a call to justice, in particular for those who are the most vulnerable. Isaiah casts a vision of a peaceful future where the implements of war become tools for peace.

Paul closes out the first letter to Timothy with a warning about wealth and the danger it poses. He reminds that whatever we have is a gift from God, and that our riches are the good that we do in God's name.

How do we respond to Isaiah and Paul in practical ways this day?

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Help me to find meaning and value, not in what I gather and keep for myself, but in what I am able to share, particularly with those in need. Amen.

 

 

September 4

Isaiah 3-5, 2 Timothy 1

Isaiah 5 speaks of Israel and Judah as vineyards planted by God. God as a planter has great expectations for the vineyard. The vineyard forgets that it belongs to God and instead acts as though it is its own source of life. This spells doom. The vineyard is a creation and needs what it can find only in the Creator. When we begin to imagine we are the architects of our own success we dig ourselves a hole and find ourselves scrambling in ways that make it hard to differentiate between good and evil, light and darkness. Isaiah prophesies that our hope lies not in ourselves, but in our God.

Keys For Today...

Prayer

Grant me the wisdom to lean not on myself, but on you Creator God. Lead me to what is good, to the light where there is joy in the sweetness of your presence. Amen.

 

 

September 5

Isaiah 6-7, 2 Timothy 2

"I said, 'I'm here; send me.'"

There is a lot wrapped up in how we offer ourselves to God. Of course, before that there is the matter of how we hear God's call. Isaiah hears God's voice asking the question of who should be sent to do God's work and Isaiah volunteers himself. I've always imagined Isaiah's voice to be surprised, but confident when he offers himself to do God's work. If I volunteer myself, do I say those words in a way that suggests I'm fully present to God's call, or in a way that sounds like I believe myself to be a last ditch effort – "If I'm all you have left, I guess you can try me." I give thanks for the times I respond filled with trust, and also for the times when I respond knowing I will have to grow into the confidence that God can accomplish anything through me.

Paul gives thanks for Timothy's mother and grandmother whose faith was strong and who imparted that gift to Timothy. Who has imparted the gift of faith to us? Who responded to God's call and found themselves sharing the good news with us?

Keys For Today...

Prayer

As I listen for your voice throughout today, prepare me to respond with bold commitment to your direction. Thank you for those who have ministered to me and helped me grow in my faith. Amen.

 

 

September 6

Isaiah 8-9, Psalm 102

The psalmist speaks of trials and tribulations in the same poem where God's position "looking down from the holy summit" is referenced. The two chapters from Isaiah share a bit of that tone – on the one hand the people should "prepare to be shattered" and on the other those who have been "walking in darkness have seen a great light." It can be jarring when we lose our connection to God. It begins by following a pathway which is not God or of God. It's not as though we mean to do it. It's more of a gradual, one thing leads to another, sort of thing and one day we look up and we've lost perspective. Isaiah points out that consulting the gods that are not God is a way that leads to distress and anguish.

Throughout, God is God, which means God is faithful. Our goal in our scripture reading and prayer, our worship, our daily effort to be in God's presence is, whatever our circumstances, to be a people who walk in God's unfailing light.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Lord, when I cry out to you, I am grateful that you hear. When I feel as though I am walking in darkness, grant me hope by recalling me to your light. Amen.

 

 

September 7

Isaiah 10-12, 2 Timothy 3

"Will the ax glorify itself over the one who chops with it?"

Axes are tools used to chop down trees. They don't go chop down trees on their own. Saws don't cut wood by themselves and rods don't lift themselves in the air. They are, each one, tools. Isaiah, in a roundabout way, is offering a word of encouragement to the people of Israel. Yes, the Assyrians will devastate the people of Israel and Judah, but they themselves will not understand that they are being used as a tool by God. They will believe they have done this themselves. They will live with this delusion and the word of hope to God's people is that one day they too will face judgment for their actions – actions taken out of arrogance and without a thought to the source of their power.

It's worth a note here that chapter demarcations are later additions to the biblical text. To read one chapter without regard to what has come before or after can sometimes lead to an incomplete picture. Here, as chapter 11 begins is one of the famous passages from Isaiah, which is often read by Christians as filled with messianic promise. "A shoot," begins chapter 11 verse 1, "will grow up from the stump of Jesse." The interesting context here is that the imagery of a stump follows closely on the end of chapter 10 which portrays God who "will strike down the forest thickets with an ax." (10:34) The totality of this is to paint a picture that the God who brings judgment (wields the ax) is the same God who promises restoration (a shoot springing forth from the stump).

Keys For Today…

Prayer

God of all creation, help me to pause and examine the events of the day, looking not only for what is in front of me right now, but the larger picture of what has happened, what is happening, and what may lie ahead. As I do this, give me eyes that will see your hand at work. Amen.

 

 

September 8

Isaiah 13-14, 2 Timothy 4

I have been a runner for much of my life. I learned that I enjoyed distance running and had some aptitude for it in middle school and ran cross country in both high school and college. Over the course of the intervening decades I have continued to run, at least sometimes. I have never stopped loving running, but I have had times where I have stopped. Why? Because it requires effort, not only to run, but to get ready to run, and when finished with running to get ready to do whatever comes next. I have learned that a few days off can easily lead to a few weeks off and before I know it a short break becomes I don't remember when I last ran.

"Train yourself for a holy life. While physical training has some value, training in holy living is useful for everything. It has promise for this life now and the life to come." -2 Timothy 4:8

Training ourselves for a holy life is a good goal. When we take the time to pray and read scripture, worship regularly, share our faith through mission and service activities, we are training ourselves for a holy life. Most of the time such a lifestyle will lead us to a deeper relationship with God. Still, we know that stepping away from any of these disciplines or activities can lead to stagnation in our faith and stalling on our faith journey. Know that however you assess your situation on this day, tomorrow offers another opportunity to return to your training for the holy life God desires for each of us.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Loving God, you are holy and you desire for your children to know the joy of living a life that seeks after holiness. Help me to keep up my training and to not lose my focus on you. Amen.

 

 

September 9

Isaiah 15-16, Psalm 103

Psalm 103 is a divine pick-me-up of a hymn! From the resounding call to open our whole being to God to the assurance that God has separated our sin from us entirely, it is upbeat and full of the promise of God's goodness. In those times when we feel small and insignificant we may resonate with the idea that we are but a speck in the cosmic scheme of things that could easily be blown away by the next gust of wind. However, God loves us now and God loves us forever. Embrace the crescendo of praise that concludes this wonderful song and let it lift your spirit this day.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Let my whole being praise you Lord. Amen.

 

 

September 10

Isaiah 17-20, Titus 1

The readings from Isaiah are largely concerned with the giants who surround Israel. The greater of those giants being the Egyptians to the south and the Assyrians to the north. Several other nations and foreign cities are mentioned in these chapters as well. There is a strong faith in God in these chapters that could be understood by an outside observer as misplaced audacity. The God of Israel is understood by Isaiah as in charge of everything – no one is confusing Israel or Judah with the great powers of their time when Isaiah is working as a prophet. Yet Isaiah sees the great, and also seemingly lesser powers as all carrying out the will of God.

On the days when we may feel small and insignificant in the face of large events in our world it is important to remember that God's plans are realized using all of us. Great and small in our world are distinctions that are important to us. God is not impressed, does not play favorites and has a role for each one of us. Thanks be to God.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Some days I wake up feeling like a world beater and other days I can't imagine I make even a ripple in the waters of eternity. Remind me, O God, that you are working in everything and that everything includes me and what I will do today. Help me to be faithful and to be a blessing. Amen.

 

 

September 11

Isaiah 21-22, Titus 2

The theme here is mentors – role models. While reading the second chapter of Titus, my thoughts turned to the men and women who mentored me during my growing up years in the church. Beyond being thankful for those who invested their time and energy in me, I hear the call here to invest my time and energy in others. Perhaps you are hearing that call in these verses as well. The call to a sensible lifestyle is repeated throughout, calling the reader to consider how our actions impact and are viewed by others.

I am reminded of the furor several years back when basketball player Charles Barkley suggested that professional basketball players should not be looked to as role models. One of the responses to Barkley's statements was that it really wasn't a matter of what should be, it was a matter of what are the facts on the ground. Those facts are that young people likely look to emulate those they look up to, whether that attention is wanted or not. That sort of awareness seems to be in play in this passage. It is not whether or not people will look at what we do with our lives, they will. The question is what will they see. As people of faith we want to do all that we can to point as compellingly and winsomely to our God with the choices and actions of our daily lives.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Gracious God, I ask that you would help me to act in ways that build up your kingdom, and invite people to share in the journey of discipleship. Amen.

 

 

September 12

Isaiah 23-24, Titus 3

"Avoid stupid controversies…" (Titus 3:9a)

It is so easy NOT to avoid stupid controversies. Even if we understand that they are "useless and worthless" they can still have such allure. We take offense at something. We imagine that we have an insight that eludes others and must carry the day. It feels bad to lose and it feels great to win. And we can imagine that the outcome of the controversy is of the utmost importance.

The admonition here to avoid stupid controversies is one of several bits of highly practical wisdom in Titus 3. It goes on to advise us not to continue to be pulled into interactions with folks who thrive on conflict. The point is made that we aim to act in ways that are pleasing to God, not to earn God's affection, but in joyful response to what "God poured out upon us generously through Jesus Christ our savior." (v.6)

To bring in the Isaiah passages a bit – oracles of a world gone wrong – we see the importance of the practical advice in our individual lives and actions. Too much ignoring of what is good and just, too much investment in stupid controversies and conflict and bit by bit we move further from God's will and God's ways and closer to a world that is falling apart. The words of the Titus passage offer us a wiser path.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Help me when I enjoy stupid controversies too much. Lead me away from conflict and help me to live in joyous response to Christ's love. Amen.

 

 

September 13

Isaiah 25-26, Psalm 104

The language of Psalm 104 brings to mind both Pentecost and creation.

"You make the winds your messengers;
you make fire and flame your ministers." (v.4)

Out to the side of that verse I've written one word "Pentecost" that reminds me that I've been here before and makes sure that this time as I go through I'm on the lookout for wind and flame and imagery that calls to mind the Holy Spirit. In turn the Holy Spirit and subsequent language about water and gushing springs pulls me back to the beginning of the book of Genesis when the Spirit was moving over the waters in creation.

One theme that emerges is the purposeful nature of the work of the Spirit in the creative process. Much of the middle portion of this Psalm directs us to consider the way that one element of creation works hand in hand with another. God's actions are not random. The work of the Spirit can seem mysterious to us, but with reflection and study God's intent comes into view.

"The high mountains
belong to the mountain goats;
And ridges are the refuge of badgers." (v.18)

There is specificity to the purpose of the nooks and crannies of creation. Some suit one species ideally, some another. On one trip to the Holy Land, our bus was driving along the Dead Sea near the En Gedi Nature Reserve. There on small rock ledges was part of a herd of Ibex. As I looked at them I wondered at how they could possible have reached the small ledges on the steep rock walls and how they would ever get down. Then I saw one move from one spot to another. I'll be honest, I still don't know how it was possible, but I watched it happen so I knew it could be done. This is the wonder of God's creative Holy Spirit at work. Perfectly preparing an Ibex for life alongside of the Dead Sea – and perfectly at work in us and in our world as well.

Keys For Today

Prayer

The world with which you have gifted us is amazing, Creator God. Help us to care for it, celebrate it and participate fully it its life as stewards of your good creation. Amen.

 

 

September 14

Isaiah 27-28, Philemon

Paul's letter to Philemon asking for a loving greeting for Onesimus is a deeply personal and particular example of the expectation that following Jesus changes everything. Onesimus was a slave who apparently belonged to Philemon. Somehow Onesimus found himself with Paul in prison and Paul did what he does and shared the faith with Onesimus. Paul was now sending Onesimus back to Philemon with instructions that implored the man who used to "own" another man to instead embrace life as a spiritual brother with Onesimus.

One can't help but wonder how this turned out. Did Philemon respond with the Christian love that Paul asks of him? We do not know. This challenging letter though stands as an invitation to each person who strives to follow Jesus to let Christ change our lives, our behaviors, our assumptions, our prejudices in ways that follow the loving example of our Lord. It calls us to question the assumptions we make every day, regularly asking if our habitual or unquestioned behaviors are in line with the new life we have been given in Christ.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

I pray this day that things turned out well between Philemon and Onesimus. I pray that I would receive this ancient letter as a challenge to be more loving and to examine my choices and actions. Amen.

 

 

September 15

Isaiah 29-30, Hebrews 1

Faith can seem such a simple thing and yet at times can also feel very complex and complicated. There is the heartfelt desire to be in relationship with God, and there are the many things that can impede that relationship. Isaiah is troubled that the practice of religious faith can become one of the impediments to the relationship between our Creator and us.

"The Lord says:
Since these people turn toward me with their mouths,
and honor me with lip service while their heart is distant from me,
and their fear of me is just a human command that has been memorized…" (29:13)

The prophet continues on with the message that God will be experienced as a disruptive presence in the lives of those whose interaction with God fits this description. The practice of faith is not a rehearsal of things we memorize, even if those things are filled with wisdom, if our hearts are not engaged. The warning we encounter here and elsewhere in scripture is that God has no interest in the repetition of empty ritual. Faith is not an obligation to be satisfied or a box to be checked. It is an invitation to an ongoing relationship with the one who made us.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, help me to seek you with my whole being and to not be discouraged if I feel I don't have the right words. Help me to celebrate your invitation to relationship, and not to reduce it to an appointment that must be kept. Amen.

 

 

September 16

Isaiah 31-32, Psalm 105

Psalm 105 is one of a many places throughout the Bible that God's history with the Hebrew people is retold. Abraham is here. Joseph and the time of favor and then slavery in Egypt is included. And we are reminded of Moses and Aaron along with the plagues that convinced the Pharaoh to let God's people go. It is, of course, more than a history lesson. It is a way to weave into the fabric of the people's worship and prayer life the story of God's providential care, even in the most difficult moments.

Isaiah, God's prophet, naturally knows all those stories and in Isaiah 31 is feeling compelled to remind the people of the power of their God.

"Doom to those going down to Egypt for help!" (31:1)

It seems it is one thing to speak of a glorious past and to tell the stories of God's might, and another to trust it in the present. Jerusalem is facing dire circumstances, the Assyrians have great military might and the people of Judah are turning to Egypt, the military power to the south, because the Egyptians seem like the best alternative for finding an ally that can stack up against the Assyrians.

This is an ancient story with immediate relevance for us. This particular conflict is from long ago, but the temptation to trust the mightiest power we can find and seek their protection is ever with us. Mightiest power is often defined as most weapons, money and resources. Isaiah's words speak truth then and now. It is God who has cared for and delivered us in the past, and it is God who we may lean on today.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

I confess, Holy God, that there are times when I place my trust in the powers of this world. Their strength and their wealth seem invincible. Open my ears to the stories of your salvation history and to the truth that you are the one power that matters. Amen.

 

 

September 17

Isaiah 33-34, Hebrews 2

Isaiah 34 and Hebrews 2 pair nicely to make it abundantly clear that we need to be careful in evaluating what is significant and powerful. Isaiah speaks of powers that will crumble before God. Nations and peoples are invited to draw near to hear the word God has spoken. The word is that the power of nations and armies is no match for the righteousness of God. The place that appears to have all the power will get a new name:

"No Kingdom There," they will call it,
and all its princes will disappear.
Thorns will grow up in its palaces,
weeds and brambles in its fortresses. (34:12-13)

Hebrews 2 paints the reverse picture of power. Christ is portrayed as having set aside power, not to give up and lose, but to accomplish the greatest victory on our behalf.

"However we do see the one who was made lower in order than the angels for a little while – it's Jesus! He's the one who is now crowned with glory and honor because of his suffering and death. He suffered death, so that he could taste death for everyone through God's grace." (2:9)

One of the great challenges of following Christ is wrapping our hearts and minds around the message that Christ embraced weakness, accepted death, and in that found glory and ultimately life. We are often strivers. We work hard and we dream of success. When we get to what we have worked so hard for, will there be a sign at the city limit that says "No Kingdom Here"? Will we have the courage to choose the path of humble service and self-giving love that Jesus traveled ahead of us?

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, Savior and Lord of all people and places, in Christ you chose to give yourself completely in love. You did this for us. Give us eyes to see and minds that understand what your love teaches us about true strength, power and glory. Amen.

 

 

September 18

Isaiah 35-36, Hebrews 3

"Every house is built by someone but God is the builder of everything." –Hebrews 3:4

God built the house in which we live. God the creator called the world into being and gave each one of us life. This is important because it points us to our Creator. It is also important because it points us to the truth that we didn't make any of it. The author of Hebrews helps us to understand our role. We, the community of faith, are together the house of God. It is another way of talking about the way we, together, are the body of Christ.

It is a position that requires humility on our part. An honest recognition that we are not the architects or the builders of this house. It also grants us "pride that gives us hope" (v.6), because we "are partners in the heavenly calling." (v.1) It's all about getting our perspective right. Step away from the arrogance that comes when we imagine ourselves to be the source of what is good and beautiful in the world. Step boldly into the stunning grace that invites us to care for and be the steward of the wonders of God's good creation.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

I am grateful this and everyday for the house, this world, that you have given as a home for your children. Keep me alert to ways that I can care for this home. Help me to be a good steward and to care for my brothers and sisters in this great house. Amen.

 

 

September 19

Isaiah 37-38, Hebrews 4

There are many kinds of prayer, including prayers offering adoration to God who has provided everything for us, and prayers where we take the opportunity to be honest with God about the way sin is still at work in our actions and choices. There are many ways we can talk to God and many things for us to discuss when we have those conversations. Perhaps the most common prayers are the prayers where we or someone we care about is experiencing a crisis of some sort and we turn to God for help.

So it was with Hezekiah. Amos tells the King that he needs to be prepared to die, because the end is imminent. Hezekiah responds to this news the way many of us would. He prays with all of his heart and pleads with God to bring him back to health – to allow him to live. It works. God pledges to add years to the King's life.

So what happens in prayer? Do we change God's mind about things? Do we change the course of history with our petitions? I don't have any good answer to those questions. I don't have a way to explain how the Divine Will may be impacted by our intercession and supplication. What I do feel confident in saying is that God welcomes our honest conversation. We know what Amos said, but we can't know for certain what God had planned for Hezekiah. What we do know was that Amos' prophetic word to the King sent the King into a deeply honest conversation with God. And maybe that was the point.

God is surely there and ready to listen when we feel overwhelmed and uncertain. But God is always there and ready to listen. In times of crisis and on a day when not too much out of the ordinary seems to be going on, God is there. Anytime is a good time for a conversation with God, honestly placing ourselves in the presence of our Maker.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

I am so grateful that you are there when I am tired, upset and afraid. Thank you for listening. Remind me that you welcome my visits anytime. Amen.

 

 

September 20

Isaiah 39-40, Psalm 106

The King of Babylon sends a letter to Hezekiah wishing him well, now that Hezekiah has recovered from his illness. Hezekiah is so pleased with the letter that he shows the Babylonian king's representatives all of the riches of Judah. When questioned about what he had done by Isaiah, Hezekiah says, "They saw everything in my house. There was nothing in the storeroom I didn't show them." (39:4) Isaiah goes on to tell Hezekiah that one day everything will be taken away to Babylon. Isaiah seems to be saying that you've shown too much, the Babylonians know the riches you possess and they won't forget. One day this is going to happen and it will even impact your children.

Then Hezekiah says this: "The Lord's word that you delivered is good." (39:8) That seems an astonishing thing for the King to say. How does he come to this conclusion? Scripture tells us that he is happy because it means he will experience "peace and security" (39:8) in his lifetime. Hezekiah's thinking is short-term. How was what was happening in the world going to impact his life? His concern did not extend beyond his lifetime even as it involved his children.

We are still struggling with long-term thinking now. We take actions in ways that will inevitably impact our children and our children's children and the only answer for the way that we can live with ourselves is that we are thinking like Hezekiah. Oh good, we won't have to deal with it.

Our faith calls us to do better. We are called to be compassionate in our living in the present, and to consider the impact our actions will have on future generations. We have been recipients of many good gifts from those who have gone before us. To be fair we've also inherited a number of problems that we've had to come to terms with, so we know what it is to inherit issues created by others. Our faith is built around a promise that this life leads to something more. Being relieved that things may hold together until we die and then we don't have to worry with it anymore is one possible approach. As people of faith I believe that God desires that our vision be longer and that our compassion be greater.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

My actions have meaning for my life and also for the lives of others, now and in the future. Expand my vision and grow my compassion. Amen.

 

 

September 21

Isaiah 41-42, Hebrews 5

Isaiah draws our attention to the danger of placing anything other than God in the position of God. God is the difference between darkness and light, between rough places and level ground. (42:16) And yet there is a temptation to trust in idols of our own creation. The prophet reminds that idols are objects that are blind and deaf – they cannot respond to the people. Yet the people seek out and offer praise to the completely ineffective idols they can see rather than the God who has blessed them repeatedly throughout their history.

This sits well alongside the end of Hebrews 5 where the early church is being taken to task for a lack of progression in their faith. They are not maturing, but are content with milk rather than solid food. The idols, at a basic level, are easier – they can be seen. An immature faith is easier; it focuses on receiving and less on discernment and responding to God's good gifts. Our challenge is to keep our eyes on God and to ask God to kindle in us the desire for an ever deepening understanding of who God has created us to be.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Forgive me when I prioritize things that are not you, Holy God. Make me hungry for the solid food offered by a maturing faith in you. Amen.

 

 

September 22

Isaiah 43-44, Hebrews 6

Blues Clues was a popular children's show when my kids were little. An interactive combination of live action and animation, it was kind and gentle and fun. Blue was an animated dog and Steve was his human friend. Eventually Steve went off to college and a new host, Joe, was introduced. Recently, at the celebration of the shows twenty-fifth anniversary Steve Burns, the actor who played Steve, made a two minute video checking in with us following what was his somewhat surprising departure all those years ago. True to form, it was kind and gentle and fun. And poignant.

Steve, I believe, was talking more to the children who watched his show, but I feel confident that a number of parents of those children were, like me, watching with tears in their eyes. He spoke about going off to college, living many of the dreams that he'd had back in the days of the show, and about all that we all had done in those years. Student loans, jobs and families were just a few of the changes he mentioned that might have been part of the journey. It was a celebration not only of a moment and a television show, but of lives that were drawn together by that show all those years ago and all the things all those children had done over the next twenty-five years. Steve acknowledged that it was sometimes hard, but that we had all benefitted from sharing the journey together.

"So let's press on to maturity, by moving on from the basics about Christ's word." (Hebrews 6:1)

Steve has matured. He was reminding us that we all have. We've not only physically matured, we've also grown spiritually and physically in different ways, each at our own pace. The author of Hebrews wants us to know that maturity will happen, but sometimes we can enhance the process. We begin with a basic faith that puts us in relationship with Christ, but the experience can deepen over the years, as we experience things, as we live through good times and hardship, and as we continually reflect on these things with God and listen for God's guidance towards what comes next.

Blue's good friend Steve was still recognizably himself in many delightful ways, but he's also clearly grown and done many things over the years. Faith at work in our lives will by the grace of God have that effect on us. There was who we were when we first came to embrace faith, but over time and with experience we've grown in the height and depth of what our faith means in our lives. We mature. One step at a time – as Steve would say.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Loving God, you are with us every step of the way. Help us to grow and mature in our faith each day. Guard us from a lack of curiosity, helping us to strive to each day know you more fully and more deeply, so we can do everything that you call us to do. Amen.

 

 

September 23

Isaiah 45-46, Psalm 107

I like to listen for the Bible talking to itself. That's a clumsy way of saying that I enjoy the places where I read a passage of scripture and, in my mind, other passages are called to mind. Sometimes perhaps it's random with no deeper meaning. Often, however, I think these connections, intentional or not, can help us to find a deeper, fuller message in the biblical text.

Water is so common throughout scripture that it is not difficult to hear the several references to it in Psalm 107 and begin to find connections. We hear of the "redeemed" who had "wandered into the desert," who were "hungry and thirsty" (vs. 4-5) and thoughts turn to the people leaving Egypt for the sojourn in the wilderness. Further on in there is language about ships at sea, storms raging, and God whispering to the storm to be quiet. Was this Psalm in the disciples' minds that day on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus spoke a word and the storms were calmed?

The Psalm speaks of rivers turned to deserts and deserts turned to watery pools, and my thoughts turn to John the Baptist urging the people to make a way in the wilderness. What were they to make a way for? Jesus, of course, the living water that never fails to satisfy.

Scripture is composed of poems and stories, told and recorded over hundreds of years. It is an amazing collection that comes together as a quilt into a unified whole that speaks to us as the word of God. We see color here and a pattern there, and then look at another piece entirely and find that same color, that same distinctive pattern. Listen closely for what each engagement with scripture is saying to us, and listen also for how in our many engagements with scripture we hear the tapestry of God's word coming together to speak with a rich and glorious depth.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

It is a joy to find you in the wonderful words of scripture. Help me to listen for your message in each passage I read and help me to listen for your voice day to day, week to week and year into year as the journey of faith continues. Amen.

 

 

September 24

Isaiah 47-48, Hebrews 7

"You thought to yourself, I and no one else." -Isaiah 47:10

The prophet speaks here of those who see themselves as set apart from the vagaries of everyday life. They believe that they are exempt from the sort of suffering they see people experiencing around them. They imagine they can get away with any sort of behavior because they are unique.

The prophet's message is that they are wrong. It's a good message for each one of us to take to heart. I'm not suggesting that we all lack empathy and that we all imagine we are exempt from suffering. What I am suggesting is that we can fall victim to the "I am the exception" kind of thinking. Often times it is just wishful thinking on our part. The problem is it can be dangerous, wishful thinking, and can be devastating when we encounter a reality that includes hardship and challenges for everyone eventually. The case here in Isaiah 47 seems to be an advanced case which has led to delusions of self-importance and a lack of respect for others. Isaiah here cautions us that we are not exempt from the hardships of being human and we certainly are not immune to the consequences of poor decisions and bad behavior.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God I thank you that I am special because I am your child. I give thanks also that all those I share the planet with are also your children and also special. Help me to live with love, respect and empathy for all. Amen.

 

 

September 25

Isaiah 49-50, Hebrews 8

Isaiah 49 contains one of the most familiar interpretations of the way in which God comes to us and in which we know of God's presence. Israel here is told that they are more than God's chosen people – they are chosen for a purpose larger than themselves. They are to be a light to the nations. What a surprising word this could have been for them. A small country, bordered throughout it's history by major powers to the north and to the south. A place regularly buffeted about by the ebb and flow of the power struggle between those powers on their two poles. They are not promised merely survival. They are promised the role of catalyst in the story of God's interaction with creation. Where there is darkness God will bring light, and Israel of all the people God could have chosen will be the ones to share that light.

Christians hear these words as a promise that we believe was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus' earthly ministry is rejected by many and his faithful life results in death on a cross. Exile would not be the end for Israel and death on the cross would not be the end for Jesus. God's purposes would be fulfilled. Israel would be a light for the world and Jesus would be the light of the world. Thanks be to God who teaches us again and again that the place to look to see divinity in action may not be the most powerful, the biggest or whatever the current moment says is the greatest. Look to the small, to the outsider, to the despised and to the rejected. In such places we may come face to face with the light of God.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

I confess that I am prone to looking to the great and powerful people and places of the world and imagining that anything important must come from such places. Remind me again and again that Jesus, who experienced rejection and crucifixion, was and remains the best place to look for light for our world. Help me not to look past those who are despised and rejected today. Amen.

 

 

September 26

Isaiah 51-52, Hebrews 9

I love it when I am called to think of mountains. Our family lived in the mountains of eastern Kentucky for ten years and I imagine Kentucky to be the most beautiful place on earth and eastern Kentucky to be the most beautiful part of Kentucky. The distance to eastern Kentucky from other parts of the state is the same as it ever was, obviously, but the time it takes to get there and to move from one place to another within the mountains has changed. Where once there were windy roads that kept many locations remote and off the beaten path, the highway system has expanded and made travel in the mountains much easier today than it was even ten or fifteen years ago, let alone fifty or more years ago.

In that sense eastern Kentucky has been opened up a bit. It's easier to travel a distance to Lexington or to Huntington now than it was in the past. Imagining being in Prestonsburg without the highways that allow for easy travel gives me a greater appreciation for this famous passage from Isaiah 52:

"How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger
who proclaims peace,
who brings good news,
who proclaims salvation,
who says to Zion, 'Your God rules!'" (52:7)

A messenger who goes to the trouble to navigate mountains to bring good news would surely be a welcome sight. Being the recipients of good news originating from a distant location would be a grand experience. Whether we are talking about actual physical barriers or about the barriers that can get in the way of human interaction – anything from lack of interest in sharing to a shortage of confidence in our ability to carry the news – there is joy that awaits both the feet of the one delivering the news and those receiving it. We have good news. Let's take to the mountains of our lives and our world and share. And let's be grateful for the messengers who made the journey to reach out to us.

Keys For Today

Prayer

I celebrate the beautiful feet of those who have shared your good news with me. Send my feet to the mountains and make them beautiful because I too have taken up the call of sharing your good news. Amen.

 

 

September 27

Isaiah 53-54, Psalm 108-109

Is this about Jesus?

One could look at Isaiah 52:13 through the whole of 53 and find many phrases that seem to clearly describe Jesus and his sacrificial life and crucifixion. He's not named. It doesn't actually talk about crucifixion. But it talks about this one who carried our sickness and bore our sufferings (v.4). He is described as a "lamb being brought to slaughter" (53:7) who was "due to an unjust ruling taken away." (v.8) Christians, who speak of Jesus as the lamb of the world and remember the mockery of a trial which Jesus endured, quickly make these connections.

So, is this about Jesus? I'm always a little reluctant to jump to a quick answer. I want to tease out what the question is asking. Sometimes the implication is that the prophetic word is a seamless set of clues that anyone in their right mind would have known meant Jesus and would therefore have immediately recognized Jesus for who he was, the Messiah sent from God to save the world from its sins. If that's the question I'd have to say, no, Isaiah was not describing Jesus. Not with that kind of specificity, not with that sort of detail. It wasn't as though the prophet had a crystal clear image of Jesus in his mind and then translated that into mystical language for forms sake.

I think it is about Jesus. I think it is about Isaiah speaking a word of hope that will appear in an unlikely way via an unlikely source who will, at least at first, not be thanked for his work. It is a word perfectly consistent with the message of Isaiah who has already encouraged us to listen when God says:

"Look! I'm doing a new thing;
now, it springs up; don't you recognize it?" (43:18)

The words of the prophets, all of the prophets, help us to understand our lives as they unfold. Sometimes we look to their messages and we look to subsequent history and we see the truth of their words in bold relief before us. I think that happens here with the suffering servant in Isaiah and with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But that does not begin to exhaust the prophet's words or their meaning. The prophetic message of the Old Testament prophets may find fulfillment at moments in history, but they continue to move forward through time to us and to find fulfillment in our times and in our lives as well. If, for instance, there were folks in Jesus' time who overlooked Jesus because he was not what they expected God to look or be like, in what ways do we, today, overlook God's activity because God is active in ways or places where we are not expecting God?

The prophets leave us a rich tapestry, describing God's activity in their own time and calling us to the hope of faithful living while trusting in God's presence in every time and always before us in the future.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Lord, give us eyes to see you where you at work, hearts that are open and ready to find you in surprising places, and ears prepared to listen for your guidance and direction for our todays and our tomorrows. Amen.

 

 

September 28

Isaiah 55-56, Hebrews 10

One of the great temptations in life for those of us who live in consumer oriented societies is to imagine that the next acquisition will be the one for which we've been waiting. Everything else has been prelude. Maybe it was good for a bit, or maybe it turns out we were wrong about what we thought a product would accomplish, but hope can spring eternal for the next item on our to-purchase list to be the one that fulfills our lives.

That's overstating it perhaps, but the desire to have things is real. If we are paying attention we eventually realize the misleading nature of the whole enterprise – it turns out when the desire to have a thing has been satisfied, nothing is really satisfied at all; we simply turn our sights to another thing that we need and will perhaps complete us.

Isaiah calls us away from that race.

"Why spend money for what isn't food,
and your earnings for what doesn't satisfy." (55:2)

What follows is an invitation to find what we are looking for in God. There is an important transition of our energy suggested in this passage. The call isn't simply to seek God. We are also challenged to recognize the frustrating emptiness of seeking to fill our spiritual emptiness with everything that is not God.

Isaiah 55 gives us a way to understand how we continually fall victim to seeking stuff rather than God.

"My plans aren't your plans,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord." (55:8)

The counsel here is to step back and listen for the direction of God rather than bringing our plans for happiness and fulfillment to God for approval. This is one reason why prayer is so important. There is no fault in sharing what we believe are our needs and our desires with God. The harm comes when we measure God's usefulness by how much of what we think we need and want that God delivers. It's a conversation. Our plan is not better than God's plan. This means we must learn to be still and to listen for what God is saying to us about what is truly of value.

"All of you who are thirsty, come to the water!" (55:1)

Keys For Today…

Prayer

I confess I get caught up in the idea that the things I want can bring me happiness. Help me to be grateful for the blessings you provide, but help me even more to seek after the living water that comes from you, which satisfies like nothing else. Amen.

 

 

September 29

Isaiah 57-58, Hebrews 11

"Faith is the reality of what we hope for,
the proof of what we don't see." -Hebrews 11:1

There is wonderful language in Hebrews 11 that makes the best possible effort at saying what can't be fully expressed in words. Faith is this powerful thing that is impossible to point at and say, "There it is." So we point to those whose lives illustrate faith happening.

Abraham set out a journey with an unknown destination. He didn't leave his home because he was dissatisfied or because he knew what his new digs were going to be like; he left because God called him to venture forth. Moses, we are told, "kept on going as if he could see the invisible." (11:27). Moses could not see the invisible. But he could hear God's call.

This is the challenge and the joy of faith: to be willing to venture forth into the new and unknown because we believe it is where God is leading us. Listen today for how God may be calling you to head off in a new direction that may require the eyes of faith to see a destination that is not yet visible.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

God of yesterday, today and tomorrow, grant me courage. Courage to follow your voice even when it is leading me into the unknown. Grow my faith that I may see beyond the present and trust in the path you set me on as I move into tomorrow. Amen.

 

 

September 30

Isaiah 59-60, Psalm 110-111

There are moments in life when things seem really miserable. Impossible. We don't know how we will ever be able to go forward. And then something shifts. Our perception shifts. We get a bit of rest. We hear a story of someone who has gone through a hardship and emerged on the other side. We remember a blessing that we have experienced. What we thought was miserable and impossible, may in fact still be miserable, but we feel better and we find a way forward.

The two chapters from Isaiah offer two diametrically opposing viewpoints. Midway through Isaiah 59 we find this:

"Because of all this, justice is far from us,
 and righteousness beyond our reach.
We expect light, and there is darkness;
We await a gleam of light, but walk about in gloom." (59:9)

Then, just a short distance later there is the majesty of Isaiah 60:1-2:

"Arise! Shine! Your light has come;
 the Lord's glory has shone upon you.
Though darkness covers the earth
 and gloom the nations,
 the Lord will shine upon you;
 God glory will appear over you."

This is the glory of faith. Notice that even when the light has come there are still places covered in darkness and gloom; it's just that the light of God is greater than anything that might oppose it. Here is our hope. Everyday will not be full of radiant majesty. Some days we will have to work through hard circumstances and some days will be ordinary and feel like an uphill slog. But the light of God's love is ever-present and will break through, at times unexpectedly, and lift our spirits. Even in our most challenging moments we can hold fast to the truth of the love and light of God which has come and shone upon us.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

God of love and light, when clouds gather and darkness falls help to arise and shine and remember that you are present alongside of me. Amen.

 

 

October

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

 

 

October 1

Isaiah 61-62, Hebrews 12

One of the signs that life was slowly returning to something more familiar during the pandemic's first summer was the return of sports. But even then it was not the same. At first when games resumed there was one important piece that was missing. The fans! If there was ever a question about the importance of fans to the atmosphere of a live sporting event, those questions were put to rest. As the fans were gradually allowed to return there were many comments from the players indicating how happy they were to have people back in the stands.

Hebrews 12 speaks about running a race and about the fact that we don't run the race alone. Instead we are running our races in the presence of a "great cloud of witnesses" who are ever "surrounding us." The witnesses are those folks who have lived this life before us and have now passed from this life into the church triumphant. We are the recipients of the legacy of faith that they lived and passed on to us. When we are struggling to find the strength to run our race on any particular day it is a source of joyful encouragement to be lifted up by this great cloud of witnesses cheering us on.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, I am thankful this day for those who came before me, lived faithfully, and passed that faith on, one generation to the next. Help me to run this day well and to live with an eye towards the faith that I will pass on. Amen.

 

 

October 2

Isaiah 63-64, Hebrews 13

Hebrews 13 is like the last words before the team leaves the locker room. At that point, you are just trying to give a reminder of a few main points of the game plan and offer a final word of encouragement and inspiration before taking to the field of play. In this instance the field of play is our daily lives as we follow Jesus.

Basically, be good to each other, don't abuse relationships, and know God will help us. Trust Jesus and don't get pulled away from the work of faith by folks who suggest ways of living that are completely out of sync with Christian living. Ground these practical expressions of faith on a foundation of praise of our living God.

Close to the last is this wonderful blessing:

"May the God of peace, who brought back the great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, from the dead by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with every good thing to do his will, by developing in us what pleases him through Jesus Christ.

"To him be the glory forever and always. Amen." (13:20-21)

It is good to be reminded of what we are about as we aim to follow Jesus. And it is grand to be blessed in that endeavor. Finally it is worth remembering that we too can pronounce blessings on those we encounter – a gift that is easy to give and can mean so much.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Thank you for your call and your blessing. Remind me to share that blessing today. Amen.

 

 

October 3

Isaiah 65-66, John 1

John the Baptist is a puzzle Jewish leaders in Jerusalem are trying to solve in the first chapter of John's Gospel. They take the direct route, sending representatives to quiz him about his identity. Asked to give an account of himself John replies:

"I am a voice crying out in the wilderness,
Make the Lord's path straight
Just as the prophet Isaiah said." (John 1:23)

It is fitting that today we finish out the book of Isaiah and begin our trip through John even as Isaiah is referenced in John. Several days ago we heard Isaiah's call to "Arise! Shine! Your light has come." Here in the early verses of John we hear about a light that has come into the world and will change everything. In today's readings from Isaiah we hear of a promise that extends beyond Israel. "I'm coming to gather all nations and cultures. They will come to see my glory." (66:18) John introduces us to the "true light that shines on all people" (1:9) and more than once as the word spreads the invitation goes forth to "Come and see."

In today's readings we catch a glimpse of the continuity of the story of God in scripture played out over hundreds of years. Now more than two thousand years later that same story continues in our lives.

Keys For Today…

Prayer

Holy God, Light of the World, we give thanks for the promise of light fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Open our eyes to opportunities to invite others to come and see! Amen.