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Preview of readings for Sunday, November 15, 2015

My normal posting rhythm is to read and pray through the passages for the given week and then post a key concluding reflection.  I want to keep doing this but also want to start posting a preview.   I’m doing this as an encouragement for my family to read Scripture together.  They’ve told me it’s been hard to get into the lectionary because they don’t have enough orientation.  So this is my attempt to be the intrepid tour guide.  Yet I thought I’d post the previews here in case others want to join in with us.

(Regarding the schedule, I’m always one week ahead of the calendar because I want to post my concluding reflections the Sunday prior, so that they are available for the week leading up to the actual Sunday).

1 Samuel 1 & 2
This is the story Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel.  Hannah wasn’t able to conceive for a long time.  That’s painful enough.  But on top of that her husband’s other wife Peninnah would  deride her for it.  What a dysfunctional family!  (The way things are going culturally we may be heading back toward polygamy so it’s nice to know the Bible already has that covered.  The story of Hannah is one of grief turned to joy and providence unfolding into legacy, for Samuel would lead to Saul, Saul to David, David to Jesus, and Jesus to us.

Mark 13
This is a story about Jesus’s core disciples (Peter, James, and John, with Andrew the fourth man) marveling at the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus predicts its destruction.  The disciples have the same reaction we all would:  “Ooh, when’s that going to happen?”  Jesus response is curious.  He could have simply said, “Within your lifetimes” and he would have been quite correct.  Yet instead he warns them not to be led astray.  Why is this?  In short, because there is much more in play than the mere destruction of some buildings, albeit some marvelously grand ones.

Hebrews 10
Ah, Hebrews again.  Oh how I love this book.  I believe it was written by the great Jewish orator and apologist Apollos as an Apologia to Jewish Christians not to abandon their new-found faith, as well as to Jews to see the fulfillment of God’s promised Messiah in Jesus.  In this chapter he’s explaining the significance of the sacrifice Jesus made, his ongoing ministry as our high priest, and the impact all of this has on both our relationship with God and with each other.  Can you imagine the excitement a Jew would have hearing that the place their priest could only enter once a year, the Holy of Holies, was now a place that God was inviting themselves into on a daily basis?  Wow, wow, wow!!!

The mighty tempest of God’s intention

"Transfiguration" by Raphael, 1518 - 1520.  Vatican City, Direzione generale dei musei.

“Transfiguration” by Raphael, 1518 – 1520. Vatican City, Direzione generale dei musei.

For Sunday, February 15, 2015
Psalm 50:1-6

Sometimes under the cloud of injustice we sometimes experience in the world we ask reflexively, “Where is God?  If he’s there is he asleep at the switch?”  The writer of Psalm 50:1-6 responds, “Where is God?  Look no further than the sun which rises every morning.”  “The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting” (v. 1).

Asaph, the author of this Psalm, gives us a powerful and ever-present metaphor of the presence and righteousness of God.  The blinding beauty of the sun shining the sky, he says, is like God shining forth out of Zion (Zion meaning Israel as all it is intended to become) as the perfection of beauty (v. 2).  The presence of God is a “consuming fire” and a “mighty tempest” (v. 3).  There is no injustice that the consuming fire of a mighty tempest cannot overcome, not even that of a Jordanian fighter pilot being burned alive in a cage.

Over the last two weeks my family has been enduring a painful trial that seems very unjust.  It’s made us angry.  It’s made us weep.  It’s brought our spirits down.  This reading has been a tremendous help in that I’ve realized no matter the specifics there is no injustice the righteousness of God can’t consume.  The sun rising in the morning is a constant reminder of this.  (Of course, in a Wisconsin winter, the sun may not appear for days, but this is where a little moral imagination can be helpful).

What God has called us to do in the face of injustice is raise it up and release it into the presence of his consuming righteousness.  He WILL be the defender of our cause.  “The heavens declare his righteousness, for God Himself is judge” (v. 6).  What a joy to know that we know the Chief Justice of the Heavenly Supreme Court personally and that our world is a mere dot in the universe of his courtroom.

On this Transfiguration Sunday, our readings also take us to the Transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9:2-9).  In Jesus’ clothes becoming dazzling white we have another picture of the mighty tempest of God’s intention.  God is committed to setting everything right, no matter the cost, as demonstrated in the sacrifice and victory of his one and only Son.

Points to ponder

  • What is the greatest injustice you or your family have ever faced?
  • How did God show you his righteousness and generous love through that trial?
  • The next time someone encroaches unjustly into the lane of your life how could you respond better understanding now the mighty tempest of God’s intention?

2014 in review

WordPress offers bloggers an Annual Report.  Below is mine.  This blog was viewed 18,000 times in 2014 throughout 121 countries.  That’s exciting.

I remember a conversation with Stuart Briscoe, one of my mentors and former Senior Pastor of Elmbrook Church.  My friend Peter Mitskevitch, Dean of Moscow Theological Seminary, asked him, “What’s the secret to your success?”  Stuart responded, “I know a good book and share with people what I find there.”  My purpose with “Church in the World” is to help the church be the church in the world by sharing what I’m finding the good book to say on the topic.

I’m currently writing my 2015 goals and trying to discern what to do with this blog in 2015.  One thing that I’ve concluded is that I want to keep writing for it because I enjoy it.  I would also like to grow my readership to an average of 2000 per If this was your blog what would you do next so that it would serve others more effectively?

Grace and peace.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

making straight paths for Messiah

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For Sunday, December 7, 2014
2nd Sunday of Advent

In introducing his gospel and the coming of Messiah the Apostle Mark says, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight” (v.3).  I’ve read this many times but never appreciated the full significance of the straight paths until now.  Subconsciously I’ve thought, “Well, yeah, I guess a straight path is better than a crooked path.  Jesus must like orderly paths.”  You too?  Thought so … This totally misses the point!  Mark is quoting Isaiah 40:3.  Look at this quotation in Isaiah’s original context:

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah isn’t just talking about building a straight path. He’s talking about building a highway.  The Romans did just what we did.  They built the highway straight: mountains were leveled, valleys were filled, and obstacles removed.  The commitment and power contained in such a project is a metaphor for the commitment and power God has to accomplish his redemptive purpose.

This is very good news for us, for we, like the early church, find ourselves in exile.  We’ve lost cultural pre-eminence.  We’re increasingly outsiders.  Yet we can be assured that God has neither lost us nor this world.  He is going to accomplish his purpose.  What this means for us is that we can prosecute our daily callings with confidence and joy because we’re walking on the highway of God’s greater purpose.

Points to ponder:

  • How have you experienced being a member of a people in exile?
  • Where do you see God at work building the highway that Isaiah and Mark are so excited about?
  • How is God calling you to prosecute your calling with confidence this week?

The First Thanksgiving

My friend Fred Beuttler has a wonderful tribute to Thanksgiving here.  President Washington said in his original proclamation:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Hard to stop there.  Read Fred’s post (link above) for the full text of President Washington’s proclamation.

Happy Thanksgiving!

buying a stairway to heaven? … it makes me wonder

stairway-to-heaven-wallpaper-hd-1

For Sunday, July 20, 2014
Sixth Sunday After Pentecost

In Gen. 28, one of this week’s readings, Jacob has a dream of a stairway to heaven.  Having grown up in the 1970’s my mind immediately goes to Led Zeppelin’s song of the same name.  Are you still here?  Figure I probably lost a few people there, but think about it: why would Led Zeppelin draw upon the biblical imagery of this story in this song?  It’s because they are speaking to a spiritual problem.  The song’s lyrics begin:

There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for.
Ooh, ooh, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.

As one interpreter puts it insightfully, the song is about a woman who has based her life entirely on the pursuit of material things.  She’s sure that “all that glitters is gold” and that she can buy her way to heaven.  In actual fact when she arrives at heaven’s gates there is a sign saying that she cannot enter because “her life lacks a spiritual base.”  So continue the lyrics:

There’s a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure
‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.
In a tree by the brook, there’s a songbird who sings,
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.

Ooh, it makes me wonder

The end of the song brings the dilemma to a point of decision:

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul.
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold.
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last. . .

We “wind down the road, our shadows taller than our soul” because our souls are so shrunken spiritually by our material world.  What then is the remedy?  The words of this week’s second reading, Psalm 139 (vv. 23, 24), is the tune we’ve been listening for:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

I certainly know the lady in the song because I see how often, as my friend Gary Gregg puts it, that I “believe the lie embedded in the offer”.  I don’t want my life to be about the chase for material more.  I want it to be about Jesus, forgiveness, repentance, grace, and peace.  One way I can do this is by not letting other interests crowd out a daily devotional time with God.  Another way is to keep the gospel in the forefront and let any purchasing serve that greater purpose.

We cannot buy the stairway to heaven for the price of entry is far beyond our ability to pay.  Fortunately, the stair’s builder has made a way for us through the death of his son, if we will only repent and believe.

Points to ponder:

  • To what extent do you know the lady in the song?  How is God calling you this week to build up the stature of your soul?
  • What other thoughts or questions do the lyrics of this song bring to mind for you?

mental illness on Mother’s Day (Part 2: a surprising turn)

Mother’s Day Morning, on the anniversary of my Mom’s death in my own home, my phone rang about 8:00 am.  A good friend called in crisis saying he found his wife dead on the floor of their bedroom.  It was good to go to his home and help him through the initial shock.  But what a coincidence.  Or was it?   While his situation was different, I could understand.  How often does God use our own losses to help comfort others with similar ones?  He’s asked me to conduct the funeral which will take place next Monday evening.  

Life is so short for each of us.  Let’s treasure each day we have, love those around us while we can, and trust God with the rest.