Archive for the 'Devotional' Category

Daily Office

“I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” –1 Corinthians 9:23

I have frequently and publically lamented the fact that I have no ministry, no particular service to the church in the sense of the paid clergy. I do not wear a collar or preside at the Eucharist…sometimes, I don’t even particular feel like partaking of the Eucharist. It’s not an easy way to feel or to live. I have spent a good part of the last year sobbing at the loss of my pulpit and my voice and my identity. Then I got to thinking—which is never a good thing—and I didn’t like the conclusions I came to.

Preaching is no easy task. Ask anyone who does it and they will tell you that it sucks the life out of your soul at times because, for one reason or another, the preacher typically really believes in what he is saying. I always, and I say this without equivocation, always preached to myself first. I went to the pulpit ready. I was so ready in fact that there was simply no challenge that could be mounted against my impeccable grammar, my on point theology, dead on conclusions, gripping introductions and weighty, challenging, and artful main body. I can say without blinking that I had mastered the art of preaching.

And it is for that reason, I suspect, that I was never able to conjure up a congregation. As a preacher, as a minister, I was an abysmal failure. I was better at shrinking churches than growing them. I did a lot of things and did them well, but there is a spot in my heart that knows I did these things for very wrong reasons. This is hard for me to admit because I loved preaching and I was good at it. I believed in preaching and the Word of God I preached. I believed it would do its work and not return to the Lord void. The problem is this: I wanted the Word to return to me. I say this too without equivocation: I wanted little more than to grow a church, be recognized by my peers as an outstanding preacher, and get an invitation to preach at some convention, or earn a chance to preach at a bigger church. This is not easy for me to admit, but it is true.

I loved preaching; I miss it terribly. But I know the truth is that I did not always preach only in service of the Gospel. Sometimes I preached the Word of God and it worked in spite of me…like those days when I was convinced the sermon stunk and someone would really be challenged by it. Those days the Spirit of God worked in spite of my best efforts, but I never really figured that out quickly enough. I confess here in public: I was a very self-centered preacher often more, and too, concerned with the form, the art, the process than I was with the Gospel I claimed to be preaching. There was more than once that while preaching I would come across a typo in the manuscript and instead of blowing past it I would note it to the congregation, take out my pen, and correct it then and there. We laughed, but inside I seethed with self-hatred that I had made such an error. Then I would regret sharing the news with the church. And so on and so forth.  Like I said, I have been a terribly ugly person.

So now I work at a video store and if there is one thing I have learned it is this: I am not there for myself. I am there in service to the corporation that owns the store. I have individual sales goals but they gain me nothing when I meet them and earn me scorn when I do not. They gain the store only the slightest recognition. They earn me no spiffs or perks or bonuses. They simply keep my name on the schedule because, as you might have guessed, I am good at it. I am good at it for the sake of the corporation. Period. I have no choice but to do everything I do there for the sake of the corporation. Frankly, I am more selfless working at the store than I ever was preaching.

Sad, but true.

It may be that someday I end up preaching again; maybe not. I will take this knowledge with me wherever I end up though: I do not preach for the sake of grammar, church growth, or for personal opportunities and advancement. Whatever I do, I must do for the sake of the Gospel. It’s a hard lesson to learn that those who serve the Gospel serve the Gospel alone. I talk a lot about taking up the cross, denying the self, and following Jesus—a lesson I clearly did not learn until the very thing I did to accomplish such a trifecta was taken away from me.

It seems to me that when we serve the Gospel alone, we share its blessings. In the meantime, we are just serving the self, alone It’s a difficult lesson to learn. The Spirit of God is still working on me. He’s still working on me, to make me what I ought to be.

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Daily Office

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21)

Something that has bothered me for a long time is the manner in which sinners are typically reckoned as members of the church. We ask them to ‘repeat the confession’: I believe, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God AND my personal Lord and Savior. So, we make sure we get in all those great Christological terms: Christ, Son, Lord, Savior, Jesus, God. And then, to much applause and fanfare, the right hand of fellowship is extended and the person is welcomed into the church. (Or they are baptized or catechized or turned into twice the sons of hell than they were before the confession.)

The problem is that nowhere in the Scripture are we told that this is even remotely close to the way in which sinners are reckoned as saints, orphans are reckoned as family, or wanderers are reckoned as disciples. In fact Jesus seems to be saying here that the confession of him as ‘Lord, Lord’ is one of the least reliable ways of determining anything. Jesus says that ‘not everyone’ who says this will ‘enter the kingdom’ (which I do not take to mean that it will be sufficient for some). There are wolves among the sheep. A lot of people are simply full of words, empty words as it turns out in the long run.

Bonhoeffer noted well,

“Even if we make the confession of faith, it gives us no title or special claim upon Jesus. We can never appeal to our confession or be saved simply on the ground that we have made it. Neither is the fact that we are members of a Church which has a right confession a claim to God’s favour…God will not ask us that day whether we were good Protestants, but whether we have done his will” (The Cost of Discipleship, 193; Bonhoeffer’s arguments here are a bit confusing but the short and long of it, he argues, is that this is not an ‘ordinary contrast of word and deed, but two different relations between man and God.’ One has to do with works, the other with grace.)

The gracious call of God, in other words, transforms us. There is a sense in which, in agreement with Bonhoeffer, our confessions are self-righteous and calls for people to notice us while our ‘doing’ is a drawing of attention to God, however quietly it may happen. Here N.T. Wright is also in agreement,

“This revolutionary vision of virtue thus enables us to shift attention quite drastically away from the idea that Christian behavior in the world is basically about ‘good works’ in the sense of good moral living, keeping the rules, and so on, and toward the idea that Christian behavior is basically about ‘good works’ in the sense of doing things which bring God’s wisdom and glory to birth in the world” (After You Believe, 71; his emphasis).

So Jesus is saying that, while a confession is not entirely out of place, if you truly want to demonstrate the grace of God in your life, or answer his gracious call, then respond to Him…make a confession not with words, but with actions. “The grace of Jesus is a demand upon the doer, and so his doing becomes the true humility, the right faith, and the right confession of the grace of the God who calls” He calls, we answer. “They know that confession does not justify, and so they have gone and made the name of Jesus great among the people by their deeds” (The Cost of Discipleship, 194).

Confession with words draws attention to the self: Lord, Lord, Look at me!

Actions, doing the will of God, calls attention to the God who calls: Behold, Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. So go, make his Name great today. Jesus seems to be more impressed with doing than with saying. And this, I suspect, will be the true test of whether or not a person has been received into fellowship in the church.

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Daily Office

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:1-6)

I did a quick search of Matthew’s Gospel and found that Jesus uses the words ‘do not’ relatively few times as far as direct commands are concerned. If I counted right, and I’m tired so I might not have, twenty-six times. That’s not a lot considering that Matthew wrapped thirty-three years of life into a mere twenty-eight chapters. Jesus probably heard ‘do not’ more than he ever said it, I guess. “Jesus, do not play with your food,” or something absurd like that. Or, “Jesus, do not give your brother swirlies.” I’m just guessing here.

This section represents one of those twenty-six times and this first verse is usually bandied about like a six-shooter and everyone lays claim to it for one reason or another. Everyone says, “Don’t judge.” It seems that anytime a pagan has a criticism of a disciple this is one of the first things out of their mouth, “You Christians do too much judging…didn’t Jesus tell you not to judge?” Well, yes. He also told us not to throw our pearls before pigs. I suspect we all retain a lot of riches in this way. As DA Carson is fond of reminding his listeners when preaching on this verses, “Someone still has to decide who is and is not the swine…and that involves judgment.” Ah, yes!

Jesus told us ‘do not’ to a lot of things. “Do not swear at all, by heaven or earth.” And, “Do not resist an evil person” (one I’m sure requires no judgment either!) “Do not judge” seems to carry the same moral and theological imperative as, say, “Do not worry” or “do not be afraid” or “do not call anyone on earth ‘father.’” But I know better than that. You and I know that the first thing we do when we see someone is we judge them, we size them up, and we form an opinion about them based solely on the way they look. I do it every time someone walks into my store.

Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” In a vacuum this means what it says: Don’t do it. But we don’t live in vacuums so Jesus also clarifies: the standard you use is the standard that will be used. OK. So I should be gracious, kind, merciful, and considerate. We need to read this post-Calvary, post-Easter, post-Ascension, and Pre-Parousia. Post-Cavalry disciples read this in light of the cross where the world and sin were judged. Not only do we understand the world differently, we understand ourselves relatively completely: we know there is a log in our eyes and this log necessarily obfuscates our vision. This means, I believe, that I simply cannot pass judgment on anyone. It will not do. Why? Well, frankly, because I’m no better.

We cannot even see ourselves, let alone someone standing in front of us. Hauerwas notes, “Following Christ requires our recognizing that the one I am tempted to judge is like me—a person who has received the forgiveness manifest in the cross” (S Hauerwas, BTCB, Matthew, 86). I might also add that it also means we are just like them: blind to our own unrighteousness. How have I heard it said? We are like one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.

This world is different now that Jesus has been resurrected. (Different also as we await his appearing.) Our judgments and opinions need to be sober, sophisticated, and humble. Or we should just be quiet. We belong to a community that sees life for what it is. We see reality: cold, hard, and determined. We see hunger and thirst and suffering and opportunity. But do we see the world that is God’s world? Judgment is too easy. Passing judgment, acting upon our judgment, withholding love because of that judgment is a damnable offense. We belong to a new community that is not conditioned upon judgment, but love. We belong to a community free of judgment.

Judgment is associated with a lot of things in this world: power, hate, prejudice, racism, and a whole host of other damaging behaviors. Judgment is associated with many things, but love is not one of them.

As I listen to the Spirit sing into my heart, I hear the words of the poet, “Love is blindness.” Where there is love, there is no judgment. Open my eyes so that I might see myself, Lord, and love as I have, indeed, been loved. I think when the plank is removed from my eye, and I confess the truth of my own sin, I’m not going to be so concerned about the sin of others.

Next time you want to judge: Just don’t; just love.

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“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  ”And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

John Stott just published his final book. He called it The Radical Disciple. I read it. I wrote a review of it. In short, Stott, well known for his preaching among other things, boiled down discipleship to eight ‘neglected aspects.’ In his opinion, those eight are: nonconformity, Christlikeness, maturity, creation care, simplicity, balance, dependence, and death. I love John Stott and have read many of his books. This is not one of my favorites.

He confesses at the end of the book that the eight ‘neglected aspects’ are random and that his readers very well may choose their own eight (or more or less). I don’t disagree that the eight he chose are important, I just disagree that they are the most neglected (creation care? Please!). I looked at the birds in my backyard; they eat well. I watched the flowers grow all year; spectacular indeed. I have tried to imagine Solomon in all his royal robes—some scene it must have been each day when he strode into the room. I imagine there is something more significant to discipleship than creation care, but that’s just my opinion.

It’s hard not to worry though. It’s like we are wired for it. Maybe we worry because we have placed too much stock in the things that we think are necessary to life on earth. Maybe I wouldn’t worry so much about losing my stuff if I didn’t have stuff in the first place. Maybe we spend too much time chasing too much of the wrong stuff, seeking the wrong things? Then again, I don’t happen to think it is a sin to have stuff.

If I were writing a book called The Radical Disciple one of my eight would be that the radical disciple is content. In Rich Mullins words, “Well, His eye’s on the sparrow/And the lilies of the field I’ve heard/And He will watch over you and He will watch over me/So we can dress like flowers and eat like birds.” I wish I had that sort of contentment and faith but when I wake in the morning some of my first words are ‘what will I eat today?’ and ‘what will I wear today?’ Maybe I have too many choices.

What does it take to have that sort of faith? You know what I mean—the sort of faith that is determined that flower petal dresses and birdseed sandwiches are quite enough thank you very much. Wendell Berry poetically noted, “In your wild foragings/The earth feeds you the way/She feeds the beasts and birds.” Yes, she does. I still wonder about all those people in the world whom God seems no to know need food, the ones dressed less as well as flowers.

I’m not, Jesus says, supposed to be like the pagans. Jesus says that following him means that we will approach each day differently than the pagans. Today is enough, he says, if I am seeking something other than the day. Seek righteousness. See his kingdom. Seek something other than the things the world expects you to be seeking. Is that the definition of faith? Do I have the sort of courage required to actually do that? What if I went an entire day seeking nothing but righteousness and His kingdom to the utter neglect of the things that I have been conditioned, from the day of my birth, to seek each day?

I’ll bet I would worry a lot less because those things, when sought, cannot help but be found.

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Daily Office

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. I don’t mean to ‘take-over’ the blog or anything, but I do think that sometimes we get so wrapped up in discussions that we utterly forget that we are all saved by grace by the same Lord. I’ve been meaning to do this—to start making a daily contribution to the blog (at least during the week) that would turn our thoughts to Jesus. You, the readers of this blog, so long as you choose to read, will be a congregation (of which I am a member) and these short devotionals, designed to turn our eyes upon Jesus, will be sermons of a sort. I will be following the Daily Office, Year One, as outline in the Book of Common Prayer because that is where I am reading.

There’s a little part of this pericope that is always overlooked by the commentators in their rush to point out that Peter will now be a ‘fisher of men’ or in the hurry to explain the miraculous catch of fish. It’s at the end, when Jesus speaks to Peter a second or third time. Notice what Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” In our hurry to get to that great part about ‘catching men’ we overlook the part where Jesus has to tell Peter not to be afraid. I suppose being afraid would be an appropriate response. Strange, isn’t it, that Peter’s response to Jesus was one of fear.

It’s too easy to think that Peter was merely humble (so, Bock, NIVAC, 154) or overly repentant of his unworthiness in light of ‘holiness’ (so, Wright, LFE, 55). It’s much more difficult to see Peter as absolutely terrified. Yes, yes. Peter calls himself sinful and bows down at Jesus’ knee. Yes. Yes! But Jesus tells him, “Don’t be afraid.” Jesus tells Peter that his new way of living henceforth is to be one without fear. “Don’t be afraid.” Howard Marshall suggests that here ‘do not be afraid’ functions as a ‘declaration of forgiveness’ (NIGTC, 205). But I’m not so convinced. If this phrase also marks ‘epiphany scenes’ (see Luke 1:13, 30), then perhaps it is much more than forgiveness Peter is asking for: in the presence of Jesus he was fearful for his very life! In the presence of Jesus Peter thought for sure he had seen something that marked his doom.

I think Peter recognized at that moment that Jesus was someone altogether different, altogether other—whatever that might mean. But let’s turn back to Jesus. It was Jesus who told Peter not to be afraid. It was Jesus who prophesied Peter’s vocation. It was Jesus Peter and the others ‘left all’ to follow. The fish were soon forgotten and off they went to follow Jesus. And before we go off and follow Jesus, and where he leads us we will follow, he tells us not to be afraid—even though in following him we may necessarily and inevitably end up in places that are rather frightening.

I know that perfect love drives out fear, but when we are about to embark on something so incredible as following Jesus won’t we necessarily be filled with fear? Or, at least, shouldn’t we be? Sometimes I wonder if we are a bit too glib in our calls for people to ‘come follow Jesus.’ He bids us ‘come and die;’ that’s rather scary. Does this strike no fear in us? Yet Jesus, the very one we will dare to follow, is the one who puts his hand on us and says, “Don’t be afraid.” We follow one who strikes fear into our hearts without fear. Is he safe? Of course not. But he’s good!

Do not be afraid.

It must be that even Jesus recognizes that some of the things we will see or some of the places we will go or some of the things he will ask us to do will cause us to be afraid. But isn’t it reassuring that before he asks us to go and ‘catch them alive’ he commands us not to be afraid? Isn’t it wonderful to know that when we follow him we do not have to be afraid? Isn’t it a blessing to know that this frightening One commands us not to be afraid? And whom shall we fear?

His word to us today is this: Don’t be afraid.

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Saturday evening I finished work at 5 pm and decided, since I didn’t have to return to work until 4:30 the next day, I would declare that period of time a Sabbath. I decided: no work, no homework, no nothing but relaxing with my family, watching movies, eating good food (Renee made Kebobs and homemade pizza), laughing, and worship Sunday morning.

We watched some excellent movies: Robin Hood (the new one with Russell Crowe); Is Anyone There? (with Michael Caine, and excellent movie); and the first seven chapters of The Boondock Saints (for which Willem Defoe should have won some serious awards). It was Defoe who played the lead character of the film, FBI Special Agent Paul Smeckers.

Then I went to bed.

I woke up today, Sunday, thinking about Smuckers. You know, of Jelly and Jam fame. And I got to thinking about their slogan: “With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good.” This led me to question what that slogan really means.

Does the phrase mean (that is, how should the phrase be interpreted):

A. With a name (as strange as) Smuckers, the Jelly/Jam had better be good? (Because with a name like Smuckers, it might not get a chance.)

B. With a name like Smuckers, the Jelly/Jam cannot help but be good. (Because those Smucker people really know how to make Jelly.)

C.  Something else?

I’m not really a fan of Jelly/Jam. In fact, I’ve never even eaten Jelly in my life. I like toast, but not with Jelly. I prefer my toast with cinnamon and sugar and butter. It’s really tasty. Toast and tea is one of my favorite breakfasts.

Well, my breakfast is now over and it is time to get ready for worship. My Sabbath only has about 8 more hours before it concludes. Then I have to go back to work and convince people to rent videos, give my opinion about the videos we rent, and help them select a great snack to go along with their video. Then I’ll come home, finish The Boondock Saints, and go to bed.

And wake up thinking about something else. But I’ll say this: the last 16 hours have been holy and blissful, which also makes me wonder why my son and his friends were talking about the Canterbury Tales yesterday…but that’s a fire engine of a different color altogether…

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I have been waking up early for the last two weeks. I’m not sure why. I’m content to stay up late and sleep late too; not much of a morning kind of guy. So it is indeed strange that all of a sudden I have been waking up at 6:45 AM and jumping out of my bed as if there were springs on my back and Wyle E Coyote had just pressed a remote control button activating a mechanism that releases the tension and sends me bounding into the day with reckless abandon.

Or at least that’s me waking up in the morning, for a week or two.

I share that short introductory remark about my sleeping and waking habits so that I can tell you this extra time has benefited me greatly. I have been using this time to read (and write, a little). I’ve been reading a lot. Today one of my books reminded me how amazing is this world and how wonderful is all that the eyes can see. I’m sitting behind a window, staring at a fake farm in a fake world, and right outside the window I am trapped behind is a spectacular, wonderful, grace filled world of trees and birds and spiders and flowers and grass and gravel and sunlight and paint and concrete and butterflies and squirrels  and the neighbors’ annoying feline.

About a month or so ago I moved my study desk out of my bedroom, to the downstairs, and in front of a window. I had grown weary of staring at the wall in my bedroom. Here I sit with my books surrounding me, my laptop beckoning me, my dogs crowding me, and the world open before me. There is a tree—one of my favorite trees: a Japanese Maple. It is a spectacular tree and I marvel at its grace and beauty. Have you ever seen one, ever beheld their breathtaking beauty and elegance? It is like arms reaching upward, palms upturned in worship, asking God for rain or light or a touch. It is balanced and perfect. It is a wonder to behold.

Hanging from the gorgeous Japanese Maple tree that God has so graciously permitted me to borrow for a while is a small red hummingbird feeder. My wife graciously created some yummy sugar water for the tiny birds and after about two weeks of hanging there silently, the hummingbirds finally discovered it. Now they make regular rounds visiting my feeder and, I presume, several other feeders in the area. I am amazed at their uncanny ability to hover (scientific explanations of how they do this hasn’t ruined my wonder of their doing so). I sit behind my window and watch the hummingbirds as they flit from hole to hole filling up on the succulent liquid. They are so perfectly designed, so wonderfully majestic, so majestically beautiful. I could sit and watch them all day.

I have two other trees in my front yard. They are tall trees. (The hummingbird has just returned. Now she’s gone.) The squirrels like to play in the trees. One day I went out and sat on the sidewalk. A squirrel walked right up to me and if I had had a peanut or a salad I suppose I could have fed it from my hand. It showed no fear of me. Although they can be annoying (David Crowder has written and spoken of how annoying squirrels can be) I love to watch them play in the trees. You can’t tell me they are not playing as they jump from branch to branch without a care in the world that they might plummet to their death. They frolic and play with abandon, throwing all caution to the wind and putting more faith in their furry tails than I put in my two feet. They are marvelous.

On the screen in front of me, the one that divides inside from outside when I have the window sash raised there lives a small jumping spider. I suppose it has a proper name, but I do not know what it is or care to look it up right now. I just call her Ma’am and I am very polite to her. She’s small and there’s glass between us, but I take no chances. I do not provoke her by tapping the glass or anything silly like that. I just sit and watch, amazed at how stealthily she glides across the screen looking for prey. I wonder if she prays?  I wonder if this glorious creature ever has thoughts about God? It is precisely that thought that prevents me from killing insects or animals of any kind. What if I squashed her under my thumb while she was praying to God? She is spectacular.

Every now and again I am also treated to a visit from a Cardinal. His glorious red feathers are all afire as he sits in the Japanese Maple or dares to hop over the white railing on my front porch. I love to watch him as he sits and looks at the ceiling of my porch. For a while, I couldn’t figure out why he would brave such a close encounter with my house when it is so clear that humans live here. Then one day I watched as he batted his wings, lifted off, and plucked a spider or another bug off the ceiling of the porch. He braved the encounter because he was hungry and found on my porch a wonderful restaurant, a smorgasbord of delectable delights. Look at the birds of the air…look at the birds on your front porch.

I could tell you about more. There’s also a Blue Jay that sits in the Japanese Maple cracking open seeds he gathered from the feeders we have out back of the house. I could talk to you about the Monarch Butterfly that just lighted upon the flowers surrounding the tall tree in my front yard. (I’d love to tell you about the two boys from across the street, the ones who are tormenting the neighborhood cat with their water guns.) There is the new grass that my wife planted that is the most perfect green I have ever seen, and delicate. There are the massive orb spiders that also live on the porch and scare me to pieces. There are the moths. The flies. The battalions of ‘Canadian Soldiers’ dead in spider webs. The Mosquitoes. The Ants. There’s more than I have time to tell you about this morning. But here’s the thing: I see all of this by looking out one small window, from one perspective, inside my house. I see all these creatures at least once a week, and most of them once per day. They are always there. And there is more: I haven’t even lifted rocks, dug a hole, or looked closely at the bark on the trees.

I am amazed at these things. Truly, utterly amazed that all of this is right outside my window. I am even more amazed that all of them, every single one will eat today. They will have enough and they will be here when I awake tomorrow and sit in this chair.

I marvel at God’s creativity and provision. I marvel that he allows me stewardship over some of this. I marvel that he is faithful in and caring (there’s a lot more too that I’m sure God also cares about as Jonah learned). I marvel that there is so much beauty around us and just two eyes to see. (I also marvel at how delicious olives are, even at 9:15 AM.) I marvel at the sunlight streaming down to touch the earth, that it still has strength and has not grown tired after traveling 93 million miles. I’m tired after five minutes. I marvel at the delicious, juicy sweetness of the Red Delicious apple I am consuming bit by bite.

I am amazed at God’s graciousness and grace. I marvel at his power. I marvel that his power is also love. I marvel that I am loved by him even though I am all too familiar with myself. I am amazed and I will continue to be amazed that this God of Japanese Maples and Humming Birds loves me. Right here, right now, the Holy King of Israel loves me.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

The hummingbird just came back for a third visit. This time, he sat for a while and enjoyed the drink before flying off again. I am still amazed.

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“When good is found and we embrace it with abandon, we embrace the Giver of it…Yes, in church on Sunday at 9:00 AM, but also in the seemingly mundane. In traffic at 5:15 PM. In a parent-teacher meeting. In the colors of a sunset. On the other end of a tragic phone call. Every second is an opportunity for praise. There is a choosing to be made. A choosing at each moment. This is the habit of praise. Finding God moment by revelatory moment, in the sacred and the mundane, in the valley and on the hill, in triumph and tragedy, and living praise erupting because of it. This is what we were made for.”–David Crowder, Praise Habit: Finding God in Sunsets and Sushi, 13-14

I’m required to wear shoes at work. I want to wear shoes at work. Even if I heard the voice of God on my way in saying, “Take off your shoes, the place where you are working is holy ground,” I would be hard pressed to be obedient. I mean people walk in an out of that store every single day with only God knows what on the bottom of their shoes. The other day a teenager walked in wearing only socks. Maybe he had heard God’s voice on the way in to the store; maybe he was a lazy teenager.

But that is where Moses found God, isn’t it? Out in the desert, at his place of ‘employment,’ there in the place where only God knows what walked by or through every day, Moses heard the voice of God say, “Take off your shoes, the place where you are standing is holy ground.” I find it strange, maybe I’m over-analyzing, that God did not say, “Come over here and before you do take off your shoes because the place where I am at is holy ground.” No that’s not what God said. According to the strictest translation of the OT (ESV), God said, “Do not come near; take off your shoes, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). Maybe I’m over-analyzing. Maybe I’m terrified that the place where I work, the unholy of unholies, is actually a place where I might find God and embrace him with abandon.

I have always been taught that it was God who made the place where Moses was standing holy. Yet God seems to be saying that Moses had something to do with it also. We cannot deny what God said, “The place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Did Moses have something to do with the consecration of the ground upon which he stood? Did God want Moses, who probably spent a lot of time complaining about those damn sheep, to see the sacred space created each day by his work with sheep? Could it be that there is no such thing as unholy ground if we are standing in a place practicing God’s presence?

I’m sure there will be all sorts of arguments to the contrary: Humans are sinful, we don’t make things holy, we foul things up, Moses was a sinner, only God is Holy. Yeah. Sure. Right. OK. I’m not going to win a theological argument by proposing that it was Moses, not God, who made the earth holy by his presence, by simply standing in a place where sheep likely urinated the day before. On the other hand, who is going to prove me wrong?

Still it is striking, isn’t it, that before Moses arrived the ground was just ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And nothing more. But after he arrived the ground where he was standing was holy because God declared it so. Moses didn’t decide that it was holy. To him it was just urine soaked, sun baked soil. When he arrived, however, God declared it sacred. God declared it sacred. Does he say that about the soil upon which we walk? Could he?

Someone asked me the other day: “This post makes me wonder how you would describe the high calling of working in a video store?” I confess that I find it difficult to practice the presence of God at work. It is extremely difficult to find God in the faces of mostly unhappy and lethargic people who are convinced that we charge too much for our rentals and that it is perfectly unreasonable that their credit card should be on file with our store. I wonder to myself: How can I find God in the face of a customer who is intent on renting the latest installment of ‘American Pie’ or the most recent Zalman King exploration of the world of porn? How can I find the face of God, I’d settle for a burning bush, when a customer is challenging me to a fist fight in the parking lot because his credit card was declined?

There’s also the issue of Jesus. I’m not sure, but something tells me Jesus would not be wearing a Slayer shirt, reek of alcohol and tobacco, curse at me if he had late fees, pre-order the latest episode or Halo, or rent Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus. I could be wrong. Seeing Jesus in the face of customers who refuse to buy their children candy (’because that junk food is bad for you’) but then rent or buy them Hot Tub Time Machine because, evidently, their minds don’t matter, is impossible. I’m not opposed to seeing Jesus there or meeting God or creating holy space, but, to be sure, it requires some imagination. I do not know if I have that sort of intestinal fortitude.

Then again, maybe it’s not so much about meeting God or recognizing him or receiving a calling from him in a burning widescreen high definition television playing Blue-Rays. Maybe it is simply about the very way I treat all those people just in case it is Jesus. “But Lord, when did we give you a cup of water or visit you in prison or give you a break on late fees?” (the implication being, of course, that when these things happened, Jesus went unrecognized.) Maybe it is the attitude that accompanies the service of the least and lowliest, the bawdiest, the raunchiest, the rudest, the crudest, and credit inhibited that matters. My co-worker said to me last night, after I was challenged to a fight, “What’s sad is that those people are allowed to breed.” I chuckled, politely, but inwardly I was cringing and my heart was broke.

Can it be that the very ground where we stand is somehow or other made holy just by our being there? Is that so much of a stretch? Maybe my problem is that when I go to work I refuse to take off my shoes because I’m convinced in advance that there is no way God could make such a place holy or would even declare it holy. Maybe the problem is that I refuse to see that place as a place where God might show up at any given moment. Maybe I am so intent on God not being in that place that I have refused to invite him in, or see him already there, or practice his presence because he loves all those that ’shouldn’t breed’. Maybe I’d rather have something to complain about than something to praise him for.

I don’t know what sort of shoes Moses was wearing. Maybe he had on a nice soft pair of Nike’s or some really comfortable Wolverine’s. All I know is that something happened after he arrived on the scene that day. Or maybe it had happened a week prior when Moses walked his sheep through that place. Whatever it was that happened, God told Moses to take off his shoes because the place where he was standing was sacred ground. And I think Moses had something to do with that.

When I go to work this evening to sell Starburst and Peanut Butter Whoppers and Coca-Cola and Jennifer’s Body, I’m going to take off my shoes for a while. I’m going to go ahead and take the chance that there might be holy space at my job. Could be that I spend way too much time waiting for God to show up when, in fact, God is already there and he is waiting on me to show up, take off my shoes, and let Him speak.

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Brotherly loveA study was recently published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which concluded that individuals who display consistently unselfish behavior are often rejected by peer groups for exhibiting this behavior.  The basic conclusion was that the individual was seen as a “rule-breaker” (breaking from society’s norms), someone who made others in the peer group “look bad”, someone who made them feel uncomfortable (feeling like they “owed” the do-gooder something in return), or as someone with ulterior motives.

This might seem surprising or counter-intuitive, but consider:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

Being Hated for the Right Reasons

So you see, Jesus, in the same conversation in which he gives the command that we should love each other, his next observation is that the world will hate us as a result, if we are acting like him.

Doing the right thing the wrong wayWe should not be surprised that we’re disliked by the world (and by other Christians) if we act like asses by showing up and preaching hate at gay pride parades, wielding our bullhorns to assault Spring Break partiers, or protesting at funerals of soldiers. The hate and dislike of our sanctimonious, ego-edifying grandstanding is rather understandable, and credits righteousness to nobody, ourselves included.

However, if we act like Christ and unselfishly serve, we should also not be surprised that the world will distrust our motives and reject us as ‘rule-breakers’. If we act consistently, though, Christ will be lifted up so that others will see him in the works he has given us to do.

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I laugh every time I watch that commercial.  In the words of Homer J. Simpson, “It’s funny, because it’s true.”  This situation speaks to our culture’s obsession with outward appearance.  A few weeks ago I had my wife shave off all my hair.  I like a short haircut anyway, my hair is thinning, it’s really hot out, and I’m sure I could find more reasons.  But mostly I just wanted to do it for the fun of it.  It’s hair.  It will grow back.  I knew people would comment, but I ended up discovering something disturbing the following few Sundays.

People care more about outward appearances than they do about other people.

People were free with jokes, criticisms, funny looks, etc., about my hair.  ”Did your head get caught in a lawnmower? Har, har.”  We do that with all sorts of outward appearances.  We’ll speak out about the most unimportant things:  Pants a little too short?  Where’s the flood?  Favorite sports team in last place?  I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that hat.  A little under the weather?  You look terrible.  Zit, bruise, or busted lip?  What happened to your face?  All said with a look of disgust and/or ridicule.

My thoughts on this subject were brought back to mind recently when one of our Jr. High students came to church with her new glasses.  As she was leaving the auditorium after the service, I complimented her on the new frames.  Her mother followed up behind her and said to me, “You actually like her glasses?  Why?  I think their ugly.”

I wish I had answered that I liked them because her daughter liked them.  That answer might have challenged her in how she looked at such things.  But instead I made a joke that she didn’t like them because she was old.  Tit-for-tat I suppose.  I was really kind of shocked that her mom had such a negative attitude toward something so innocuous.

We feel the need to speak out against hairstyles, clothing choices, etc. but when it comes to those things that really matter: spiritual health, attitudes of the heart, actions and words toward others, we keep our mouths shut.  The church is called to be a community that encourages, builds up, trains, teaches, feeds, shares with, corrects, prays for, confesses to, forgives and loves each other.  We seem to be content with complaining, gossiping, cajoling, ridiculing, laughing at, questioning, deriding, and otherwise beating each other up relationally.

I don’t care what anybody thinks about my hair, my identity is not found in my outward appearance.  And I of all people can joke around with somebody.  But I’ve also learned the inherent problems with doing that.  Such interaction, especially in a void of positive Christian fellowship and discipleship, leads to shallow people living superficial lives making inconsequential judgments.  Our Christian community is what we make of it.  Think deeper.  Speak less.  Challenge each other.  Follow Jesus.

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