October 31, 2019
Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1
The LORD’s power overcame me, and while I was in the LORD’s spirit, he led me out and set me down in the middle of a certain valley. It was full of bones.
Thought For the Day: This passage could be the beginning of a good book in the genre of horror. I recognize that there are many different opinions when it comes to Halloween, but I tend to be of the opinion that though most things can go overboard, the general idea of Halloween is not dangerous. In fact, I have always enjoyed the experience and delighted in the families that appear on our doorstep seeking a piece of chocolate or some other yummy item. Though Ezekiel had nothing like Halloween on his mind when writing these words, I sense he was seeking to create some discomfort and even a little trepidation in his reader. Most of us like the light of Easter and beauty of rebirth, but moments before these joyful experiences was something that was darker and discomforting. Unlike the young people in most horror movies who love to go into the dark cemetery at midnight, the rest of us find it downright frightening. Even if we are comfortable around the idea of death, the darkness of a cemetery gives us the Heebie Jeebies. Ezekiel seeks to place his readers smack-dab in the middle of death. A little like the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones breaks through the wall of the tomb only to thrust Marion into a room full of skeletons and mummies. I remember the first time seeing that scene (age 14) and hiding my eyes. Ezekiel takes his readers on a journey, yet he recognizes that the hope of new life cannot start with only kind of dead, or as Miracle Max put it, “Mostly dead.” The power of the story is life emerging out of the depths of hopelessness where darkness appears to be victorious. That’s the story, though frightening, that has the potential of bringing great celebration. More importantly, it provides hope for a people who have come to believe there is no future for them. They feel like that valley of dry bones, and though they have given up hope, Ezekiel meets them in their reality and takes them on a God-inspired journey of renewal and rebirth. That’s good storytelling, storytelling that would make even Stephen King proud.
Prayer: Wherever my valley of dry bones has given up hope, O Spirit of God, come alongside me and allow me to see these symbols of death take on flesh and experience life again. In the name of Christ I pray. Amen.
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October 30, 2019
Scripture: Psalm 33:22
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.
Thought For the Day: Yesterday, I wrote about mercy. In the above Psalm the language of “steadfast love” is a translation of the Hebrew word Checed, often translated as mercy or merciful kindness. This Psalm is intriguing as it suggests something radical for that time in history. So often religion (in the ancient world, but even today in more subtle ways) has attached qualifications and conditions to the mercy and loving kindness of God. There was and is a lot of use the the word “if” when presenting the transaction between the divine and humanity. The institution of religion, the self-empowered gatekeepers of these divine gifts, likes to name and control the “If – then” configuration of the system. If you follow the instructions or do what is commanded of you or pay us a certain amount, then you will receive God’s Checed. It was a clear business deal, but this Psalm seems to begin to disrupt such thinking. The prayer of this individual is seeking God’s steadfast love (Checed) even while s/he is hoping (could be translated as waiting). The one praying is not offering to do something in exchange for God’s steadfast love and mercy, but is making a request during a period of hoping and waiting, during a time of delay and uncertainty. The one praying is offering nothing in this exchange which would have been a radical shift in how people perceive the nature of God. Jesus would continue to deconstruct systems of control, unleashing the power of unconditional love. It is interesting how the very followers of Jesus have reinstituted within the structures of community much of what Jesus dismantled with his life and teachings. I don’t want to suggest this is the greatest sin of humanity, but it sure appears to be one of our go-to failings. Jesus puts to rest any thought that love is conditional, and then people receive this marvelous gift and place a price tag on it.
Prayer: For the beauty that is your unconditional love and merciful kindness, O Lord, I am in awe. Keep my awe fully intact, for I fear that the power and generosity of your gift can so easily slip into a commodity that I will try to sell. Amen.
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October 29, 2019
Scripture: Deuteronomy 25:11-12
If two men are fighting with each other—a man and his fellow Israelite—and the wife of one of them gets into the fight, trying to save her husband from his attacker and does so by reaching out and grabbing his genitals, you must cut off her hand. Show no mercy.
Thought For the Day: If there was any question on whether men wrote and compiled most of the ancient scriptures, I believe we have indisputable proof with this passage. Sorry, but this is something only a guy would create, and it might have been written by the very guy who had the wife of his opponent grab his genitals in a fight. It is fascinating that the response is, “Show no mercy.” Some translate it as, “Show no pity” or “Withhold compassion.” It is the Hebrew word Chuwc, and it is not the usual Hebrew word we translate as mercy – Checed (God’s loving kindness) or Rachamim (God’s merciful compassion). The word used in vs. 12 takes God out of the conversation as the word is not usually associated with what God has done or how God acts. It almost sounds as if the author does not want God’s loving kindness or merciful compassion to make an appearance in this situation. How often do we quietly exclude God from the response when the actions of someone else have negatively impacted us directly? We want revenge, not divine mercy. When it is theoretical or an event where injury was caused to someone unrelated to us or even someone we did not like, that’s when we call upon God’s merciful kindness as a model for others to use? It is easy to expect others to show mercy, but what about those moment when someone has you by the…?
Prayer: Teach me your mercy, O Lord, the same mercy you have shown me. Teach me to speak and share this mercy in every circumstance. Amen.
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October 27, 2019
Scripture: Esther 4:12-14
When they told Mordecai Esther’s words, he had them respond to Esther: “Don’t think for one minute that, unlike all the other Jews, you’ll come out of this alive simply because you are in the palace. In fact, if you don’t speak up at this very important time, relief and rescue will appear for the Jews from another place, but you and your family will die. But who knows? Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family.”
Thought for the Day: Today, we begin a new Worship Series entitled, The Design Stage. Each week, we will look at an essential characteristic of the Christian Life, and how we might deliberately draw it into the design of our unique lives. It doesn’t matter if you are creating a house or a dress or piece of furniture, the design phase is so important. If you want specific elements included in the final product, leaving it to chance is not a wise choice. On this Sunday, we will look at the specific characteristic of humility. One of the lesser recognized characters in scripture is Esther, yet she is a Rock Star (one of my go-to phrases when speaking of someone who is making it happen). She is a strong and confident individual. Don’t get me wrong, I imagine her a bit anxious as she decided to confront the king on behalf of her people. Some might not describe her actions as being an example of humility, but she channeled her strength to let go of any self-serving options. In that decision, she chose to serve the ways of God by putting others ahead of herself. Some might have looked at the situation and thought it was a 50-50 possibility of success, or maybe 80-20. In Esther’s case, I don’t believe she measured it in terms of possible success. She was going to be 100% faithful, and that was going to occur because she humbled herself before God and relinquished any attempt to protect herself. That’s humility, yet at different points in history, people of faith have tried to remove the Book of Esther because it did not specifically mention the name of God. I wonder if that is because people want to think of faith as simply speaking the name of God, and don’t like the challenging examples of the Esthers who allowed their humble and sacrificial living to point to God without ever mentioning the divine name.
Prayer: Provide me strength of heart and mind, O God, as I lean into that strength by choosing the way of humble living. I won’t pretend that it’s easy or glamorous or even rewarding in earthly ways. But I shall trust that living as Jesus lived that maybe you’ll be able to use my life for something pretty spectacular in this world. Amen.
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October 26, 2019
Scripture: Proverbs 28:13
Those who hide their sins won’t succeed, but those who confess and give them up will receive mercy.
Thought for the Day: I don’t do a thorough cleaning of the bathrooms as often as I should, but I regularly scrub the toilet and wipe it down. Last Monday, I got out the old toothbrush and got on my stomach and cleaned behind the toilet. It wasn’t too bad at all until I got directly behind the toilet where the waterline comes through the wall. The dust and gunk that had built up on the waterline handle and around it was really quite atrocious and a bit embarrassing. No one else would see it, but it was there. Things are much cleaner now, and I don’t believe much time will go by before I check it again. Once you’ve seen that kind of dirt, it is hard to forget it. I share that story because I want to use it as a metaphor for our lives. How many of us are doing pretty well with our faith? We feel comfortable, while recognizing the need for some regular work. Squeezing in between the toilet and wall gave me time to wonder where in my own life is there some gunk build-up? Regular maintenance through prayer and study and confession has kept my spiritual life pretty healthy, but do I take the time every once and a while to look a little closer? Am I willing to squeeze into areas of my own spiritual and emotional life to see what I would rather pretend isn’t there? I do not use this metaphor to suggest that we are gunky people, or that we have messy spirits. I believe God takes a much more positive and gracious approach, but is there a little build up of bitterness, resentment, envy, jealousy or arrogance? It might be hard to see on a daily basis unless we really take the time required for a much closer analysis. Let me recommend that we ask someone to help us. I know it can be a bit uncomfortable if we are going to see what is really there, but someone else can both hold us accountable and also remind us of God’s mercy that comes to us through genuine acknowledgment and confession.
Prayer: In your graciousness, O God, may I always find the freedom to ask questions and explore some of the challenging issues of life. Where there is unhealthy stuff collecting under the surface and may not be visible at first glance, provide me the faith to do the necessary cleaning. Amen.
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October 25, 2019
Scripture: Luke 24:10
It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles.
Thought for the Day: N.T. Wright is an interesting Christian scholar, and though I disagree with him on a few topics, I find him to be an exceptional conversation partner (as I read his books). Wright would fit in a more conservative theological world than my own, yet in a recent interview he spoke about the women coming to the tomb of Jesus and he suggested that within the first century culture having “the prime witnesses to the most important event in the whole story be women is so counter intuitive.” Wright went on to say that as a historian, “That no one would ever make up that story.” It is important for us in the 21st century to acknowledge how “counter intuitive” or even crazy it would be for a storyteller in the first century to suggest women as the first proclaimers of the resurrection. The four Gospels rarely agree on much, but they all tell the story of the resurrection and they all clearly have women as both the first witnesses to the resurrection and the first messengers of the resurrection. There are, of course, a handful of other passages that people are quick to quote when they want to create a gender exclusive club for preachers. But if the Gospels are our starting place, and if Jesus is our central teacher and model, then we’ve got to understand those other texts as either anomalies or stuck in the untransformed bias of the culture or a flat out mistake.
I share this today because of words of an author and radio host who said to a group of pastors recently that the Bible teacher and author, Beth Moore, should “Go home! …There is no case that can be made biblically for a woman preacher—period, paragraph, end of discussion.” In a conversation with our own Rev. Mariah Newell, I said that I had stopped responding to this kind of nonsense. Mariah ever so gently challenged me. Does the world understand these comments against Beth Moore to be nonsense? More so, does the world outside the church mistakenly put all Christians in the same category with this nonsense? The person who said this about Beth Moore claimed a “biblical” justification. It’s amazing how quickly people submit or even cower to the words, “biblical” or “it’s what the Bible says” without asking, “Really?”
Finally, my faith is a balance between the Jesus of Scripture and the ongoing work of the Spirit. I believe there is unmistakeable Biblical support for women preaching the Gospel. At the same time, I see the Spirit working in pastors who are women in stunningly powerful ways! I have always had my Top Ten sermons that I have heard preached, and twenty years ago, nine of those ten sermons were preached by men. Today, it is evenly split. Even if the Bible was loaded with declarations that women should not preach, I don’t believe I could ignore what I see and experience all around me. And any argument to the contrary is a distraction from what is happening, and more importantly, what could be happening. Those inside the church decry the decline in worship attendance, and though the reasons are many and complicated, this kind of nonsense is part of it. Of course, I use the word nonsense, but I also need to realize that this nonsense is dramatically impacting and undermining women who have been called by God to preach and teach the Gospel. It’s not just nonsense, it is painful and hurtful to them as individuals and to the whole church itself. So maybe instead of calling it nonsense, I should use words like, sin or demonic or not of God.
I have a place of privilege in our culture, and shaking my head and pretending the rest of the world understands it as nonsense is an enjoyment of my privilege. Borrowing from the old Spiderman line, “With great gifts comes great responsibility,” I should probably say that with great privilege comes great responsibility. Part of that responsibility is to help make a way for those who do not have a venue for their calling because of nonsense, while also getting out of the way so that such voices can be heard clearly.
Prayer: For every voice that announces the Good News of your love, O Lord, I pray for my ears to hear and my heart to be warmed. May the nonsense and sinfulness of some voices in the church be transformed by a clear vision of the Jesus-story and the power of the Spirit at work all around us. Amen.
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October 24, 2019
Scripture: Isaiah 43:19
Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness.
A Thursday Prayer: If a city can come around a sports team… if people who might usually be at odds with one another are able to find friendship because of a game… if what usually rips us apart is forgotten even for an evening as voices come together in a common chant, then why can we not live respectfully in our common connection as human beings? We ask this question of you, Lord, yet the answer is one already given to us. It is fear – fear of the unknown; fear brought on by insecurity; fear of the future; fear of people learning the truth; fear of change; fear that is rooted in nothing, yet it continues to keep us awake at night. Help us, God of All Creation, to trust in the power of your love – a love that casts out all fear. Let us find courage in this love – a courage to reach out and discover our fears may not always be justified. Let us find hope through this love – a hope that envisions your great community of shalom. If we believe in the power of the Jesus-life, then it is time for us to entrust ourselves to this way of living. Assist us in every moment of every day to believe there is an alternative to fear. When the world tries to tell us that we need to be afraid, allow for us to see the new thing you are doing in the world. Allow us to see it and to participate in it. For the sake of humanity, we make these requests of you, Amazing God whose love made real in Jesus provides an alternative to all the irrational fears that seek to control our lives. Amen.
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October 23, 2019
Scripture: Proverbs 21:13
Those who close their ears to the cries of the poor will themselves call out but receive no answer.
Thought for the Day: I have never read any of Harlan Coben’s books, but I am taken by a quote I came across:
Sometimes the loudest cries for help were silent.
Coben does not say that these cries have been silenced, but they are silent. Are they silent because these individuals have no voice or is it because no one will listen? There are so many people in our world who suffer, yet they have come to believe that no one cares. It is these people whose anguish makes no sound, but their circumstance, body language and facial expressions scream quite clearly. Are we paying attention to the cries that make no sound? Let us never close our ears, eyes or hearts to sisters and brothers who have come to believe their humanity is no longer recognized.
Prayer: Merciful God, as I have been known by your mercy, help me to show mercy to those the world has forgotten. Amen.
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October 22, 2019
Scripture: 1st Corinthians 10:23-38
Everything is permitted, but everything isn’t beneficial. Everything is permitted, but everything doesn’t build others up. No one should look out for their own advantage, but they should look out for each other. Eat everything that is sold in the marketplace, without asking questions about it because of your conscience. The earth and all that is in it belong to the Lord. If an unbeliever invites you to eat with them and you want to go, eat whatever is served, without asking questions because of your conscience. But if someone says to you, “This meat was sacrificed in a temple,” then don’t eat it for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience.
Pastoral Thought: Today, I am offering a Pastoral Thought in place of my Daily Devotional. To be honest, I don’t know if there is much difference. Yet I want it to be heard as a challenge from your pastor to continue to rise toward the Love First Life.
It would be shocking to no one if I were to speak of our highly charged political climate. Some churches have great uniformity in regard to their political ideology, but Cypress Creek Christian Church has just about every stripe imaginable… and some I have yet to explore. That’s wonderful! That’s beautiful! That is challenging! It really touches my spirit when I see folks who would disagree passionately in the polling booth, but love each other and treat one another with an amazing attitude of respect. It is not only what makes our church unique, but it is a model our culture desperately needs if we are going to rise above the ugliness that seeks to destroy others at any cost.
The Apostle Paul was no stranger to conflict and challenging questions in regard to maintaining the community. For most of us, we do not need to deal with meat sacrificed to idols. I have never stood at HEB’s meat counter and debated if I would save $.25/lbs by going with meat sacrificed to Apollo. In fact, we might find the whole discussion rather silly, but it was serious stuff at the time of Paul. I appreciate Paul’s words, “Everything is permitted, but everything isn’t beneficial.” I don’t know if I would echo Paul and use the word everything, but I might say, “Most things are permitted…” Yet when a community chooses to live in love, the amazing love of God made real in Jesus, there are very intentional choices the community members make. On one level, these choices may feel like a sacrifice or even an infringement on one’s freedom, but love teaches us that we have the freedom to choose what demonstrates respect for our neighbor. We have the freedom to make sacrifices for the sake of that neighbor. It is a much more demanding approach to life, but I believe it is both noble and Christ-like.
With that said, I want to raise the topic of politics, and specifically how we live the Love First Life in our current political environment. Some would say that politics never belongs in church. Not to be rude, but that’s nonsense. Everything Jesus said had political ramifications, especially when you understand that the word comes from the Greek Politiká or Polis which means the affairs of the city or community. The simple teaching of “loving the neighbor,” especially when Jesus explained who the neighbor was by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan, pushed back against social and political norms of the time…and still does today if we take it seriously.
At the same time, I think there is a significant difference in struggling with the social and political implications of our faith -vs- bringing a political party or candidate into the faith community. I have an unwritten rule, but I won’t quote a politician in a sermon until we are at least 10 years out from his/her term. I’ve made a few exceptions, but time is an amazing gift that often softens strongly held opinions.
With this, I am asking you to live into the Love First Life by respecting Paul’s invitation to embrace freedom by embracing the freedom to choose love. When we gather for worship or other church events, let’s leave our political t-shirts, hats, buttons and other paraphernalia at home. Let me also encourage you to be involved in the political conversations happening in our community, take seriously your responsibility at the voting booth, and feel free to support your candidate with yard signs or whatever else you might desire to buy. But let’s leave it behind when the community gathers for work, study and worship. We have enough challenges when it comes to Living the Love First Life, and we don’t need to be distracted because we are offending the person across the aisle from us because we are wearing socks announcing Politician X. Some might say that its his/her choice to be offended, and there is probably some truth to that, but Paul heard the same thing in regard to those who were offended by meat sacrificed to idols.
Let me return to an earlier thought for emphasis – I hope you will still discus the issues of the day and how you believe the teachings of Jesus invite you to respond. Let’s do so with lots of “I Statements” that provide opportunities for diverse opinions to be shared. I also encourage people to be confessional and talk about how they know the teachings of Jesus on a subject, but they find it difficult in just how that can be applied to some current social issue or engagement. There has never been a Christian politician or Christian political party. Many of tried, but all have failed. Don’t get me wrong, there have been politicians who are Christian and are trying to figure out how their faith shapes their political values, but they all fall short in being a full representative of Jesus in the world today.
Thanks for thinking with me when it comes to Live more fully into the Love First Life together. If by chance you show up, accidentally, in a shirt promoting a specific politician or party – don’t leave! We have plenty of Cypress Creek Christian Church shirts. We’d be glad to loan you one.
Prayer: Lord God, I love my faith community! I love the people who make up my faith community. I love the diversity found within my faith community, even those I find wrong when it comes to politics. Let the love you have taught me be the love I share, especially with those who disagree with me. Those are the moments when something special can happen, and humanity begins to rise above narrow partisanship to reflect the values of your merciful reign revealed in Jesus. Amen.
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