Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Devotional Thoughts: Some Ideas for Lent and Beyond

Prof. John Goldengay shared some thoughts last Sunday at the church I participate in.

He asked us to consider doing at least one if not more of the following during Lent and beyond:
1. Praise God at dusk and at dawn
2. Relax and sleep for the time in between
3. Grow things to eat
4. Tithe what you grow
5. Keep out of department stores and shopping malls (beware the internet, too)
6. On Thursdays, pray laments for people who are suffering
7. On Fridays, think about the fact that you are going to die
8. On Saturdays, have a day's rest (you can tend your garden if it's not your regular work)
9. On Sundays, talk with your friends or family about Scripture
10. Three times a year, hold a week-long holiday with your friends or family and celebrate what God has done for us in nature and in delivering us

Lord, help me to stop now and then and take some of these ideas to help me get in tune with what is really important in life. Amen.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Devotional Thoughts: To whom shall we go

Bible passages that blow my mind ...

Genesis 1:1,
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

Psalm 8:3-4,
"When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?"

John 1:14,
"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

Romans 5:8,
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

As I contemplate these truths this Sunday morning, I can understand why St. Peter would say things like this:

Luke 5:8,
"Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!"

John 6:68,
"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

God, your love reached me in the little corner of the world I inhabit. Your grace is greater than all my sin. My guilt has been replaced with gratitude. Help me to live fully in the strength of the extravagant love you have poured out. Give me ears to hear and eyes to see your truths. Grant me courage to be your hands and feet dispensing grace. Amen.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Devotional Thoughts: He himself bore our sins

I Peter 2:18-25 ...

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.

This is hard to take. Unjust suffering is one of the things we all instinctively recoil from. And so it sounds hard for my ears to hear in this teaching from Peter to bear up under slavery.

Some have criticized Christianity for slavery. Yet, of course, it was William Wilberforce's Christian convictions that compelled him to oppose slavery.

So what gives?

We do have to remember, in one sense, when we read Scriptures, we are stepping into a time machine. When the Apostle Peter wrote this, Christianity was a still an obscure though growing community. Christians were not in a position to change the system at that time. If Peter had called for the abolition of slavery, the slaves he would have wanted to liberate probably would have wound up dead.

Christianity did eventually gain enough followers to have an influence in society but sadly it would be far too long before slavery would be opposed and eventually overthrown.

And even more sadly, today, there are now different forms of slavery. One Christian group dedicated to the fight against 21st Century slavery is International Justice Mission.

Does God understand this kind of suffering and injustice?

Indeed, he does ...

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

And so, God does know. He went through it in Jesus. And it is in his sufferings, we can be liberated. And in his power, we go forth into the world bringing the message of liberation of people's souls by helping them be reconciled to the Great Shepherd and by all means possible, also liberating them from real chains.

Lord, set me free. Break the bonds that hold me to false gods. Help me to see what idols I knowingly and unknowingly bow down to. Pull me away from selfishness. Give me the vision to see injustice and the ears to hear how I can help do something about it. Amen.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Devotional Thoughts: Show proper respect

Next up in 1 Peter ...

Is "submit" a bad word?

I suppose people think of someone with a rod beating an innocent person into submission. That's bad! As a side note, if a police officer beat somebody with her stick who was about to commit a murder or some other crime would be justified.

But of course, the idea of submit could be a child taking the parent's word that touching the hot stove is a bad idea. That's good for a child to submit.

image source: http://www.stnicholascenter.org/stnic/images/prop-crozier.jpg

The idea of submission comes up in this part of 1 Peter 2 and in the beginning part of 1 Peter 3.

Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

The wisdom of Scripture here says that government's role is to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. There are many ways that can be accomplished.

In American politics, there is an ongoing debate on the proper role of government. Simply put, the left wants more government, the center less and the right even less.

I do not think there is necessarily a "Christian" view of politics at this level. As I see it, the question is to what end (hopefully, a good one!)? And if to a good end, then what means (as long as it is moral) help achieve those ends?

Thus, for me, my political views are shaped by pragmatic concerns once my Christian ethic tells me the end being achieved is appropriate. As an example, making health care more available is a noble goal. Just think of how many hospitals have Christian affiliations! And so what are some practical means to reach that goal of making health care more available? At this point, my perspectives are guided by practical considerations. Since this is a devotional blog, I won't go into this matter any further!

But what happens when a government fails to live up to this role of to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right?

There have been governments that have done the opposite.

Nazi Germany clearly needed to be opposed and it was and it cost millions of lives to defeat that terrible evil. The Iron Curtain needed to be resisted and for much of the 20th Century, those totalitarian governments oppressed, arrested and executed many people. Over time, with determined resistance within and opposition from without, that system collapsed.

And so in St. Peter's day, the Roman Empire reigned strong. I suppose in some areas the local governors were brutal and perhaps in some areas they actually tried to be just. In any case, the admonition here is to start a revolution by a transformed life: doing good ... live free but don't abuse it ... live as servants ... Show proper respect ... love others ... fear God ... honor authorities.

Think that is good advice for me, living in 21st Century America?

How about where you clicked to this blog?

Lord, have mercy on the rulers and authorities in my nation. Whether they call you Lord or not, may they be granted wisdom to govern justly and effectively. There is a lot of frustration among the citizens of America with the government. Some of it quite understandable. Turn our disappointments into a renewed commitment to live rightly in our daily life toward our neighbors. Help us to do good. Help us to use the freedom and opportunities in the USA for good and not just self-interest. Give me a servant heart. Strengthen the impulse within me to be respectful and loving to others. Guide me to fear you and honor and pray for those who rule. Amen.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Politics: In a nutshell ...

"The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen." -- Dennis Prager

Fore more, see this where Prager expands on this idea.

Devotional Thoughts: Once you were not a people

Continuing in 1 Peter ...

There is often a pattern to the writings of the Christian Scripture: a statement or series of statements that get at some big picture truth which is then followed by an exhortation of how to live life. This is the idea of ethical monotheism, a phrase I first heard on the radio from Dennis Prager.

Briefly put, ethical monotheism says, if we believe there is a God then we have moral obligations to live accordingly.

And so, Peter, follows this pattern in 1 Peter chapter one and now again in chapter two.

We have the big story of the Living Stone and us as living stones which illustrates what Jesus the Christ has done for us. And now we have the big picture put this way ...

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

We once were on the outside: not chosen, not royal, not holy and not belonging to God.

But because of what Christ has done, we were brought in. This should not lead to a haughty exclusivism but rather a humble gratitude and a gracious sharing of what we have received.

And so indeed, Peter follows up this grand news of belonging when we once didn't with these encouragements on how to live life ...

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Living out the faith isn't easy. There is darkness in this world, yet we want to help bring people from that darkness into the marvelous light of God's love. The path for a Jesus follower can be misunderstood, ridiculed, rejected and even persecuted in some places in the world, yet we want to come alongside those in the world just as Jesus did when we misunderstood, ridiculed, rejected and persecuted him. Our calling is to hear the praise and commendation of our God and not the applause of the world or the comforts of our ease.

Lord, have mercy. Bring me from selfishness to living with an awareness of God and others. Bring me from silence to graciously sharing words of love and life. Bring me from fear to standing for what is right in wise ways. Amen.