Foxholes (October 30, 2012)

…Opening To…

Sometimes the Lord rides out the storm with us and other times He calms the restless sea around us. Most of all, He calms the storm inside us in our deepest inner soul. (Lloyd John Ogilvie)

…Listening In…

Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It didn’t fall because it was firmly set on bedrock. (Matthew 7:24-25; context)

…Filling Up…

They say there are no atheists in foxholes. I’m not sure how true this statement is since I’ve never known anyone who has dug a foxhole while enemy mortars were raining down. But you can see where the line of thought comes from: when faced with dire circumstances, the conventional wisdom says that people tend to rely on, rather than deny, the existence of God.

Is this conventional wisdom true? Do more people rely on God rather than deny God when faced with life’s storms? I have no evidence one way or the other, but my gut tells me that people tend to rely on God, even if they would never use such language to express themselves. This reliance on God takes many forms, to be sure, and some are less obvious than others. Here are a few of them. See if any of these fall into your experience when a storm has arisen in your life.

  1. God has always been your steady rock, in both good times and bad. When the storm comes up, your reliance on God feels just as natural as it always does.
  2. You have a vague belief in God, but that belief doesn’t really impact the way you live your life. When the storm rises, you discover that your belief keeps you afloat and you are astonished to find out you believe as fiercely as you do.
  3. The storm rises and you feel like God has abandoned you. You search and search, but you just can’t seem to find God in your situation. When the storm subsides, you realize that the search for God in your distress was just what you needed to sustain you.
  4. The storm rises and you blame God for your distress. You tell God you don’t believe anymore. Then you realize that you can’t blame something you don’t believe in. And you understand that God will willingly take the blame if it helps you persevere.

Relying on God takes so many forms that trying to classify them all would be a fool’s errand. So I encourage you to tackle this question this week: when faced with a storm in my life, where do I expect God to be?

…Praying For…

Dear God, thank you for promising never to separate from me or let me wander off alone. In the midst of the storm, help me to recognize your presence and rely on you. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, praying for the faith to sustain me through all of life’s storms.

Pop Tarts or Eggs and Bacon? (October 22, 2012)

…Opening To…

Decision is a risk rooted in the courage of being free. (Paul Tillich, Theologian)

…Listening In…

“What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ “‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went. “The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go. “Which one of these two did his father’s will?” (Matthew 21:28-31; context)

…Filling Up…

Each of us makes hundreds of decisions every day. From the decision to hit snooze or get up to the decision to play five more minutes of that video game or go to bed, our days are just chock full of decisions. Most of them are so small that we don’t even notice that we’ve made them. We put very little conscious thought into these little decisions, but the trouble is that they add up over time and before we know it they can change the courses of our lives.

Then there are the big decisions that get all the press. This week, we are going to talk about decision-making, both small and great. We are going to talk about how we can invite God into the process of making decisions through daily prayer, through reading the Bible, and through various other methods.

But first, I’m going to ask you to read the following list of potential small and large decisions. Mentally check off which ones you’ve made – say, in the last week. Also note which you consider small and which you consider large. I’m going to write this list for someone who is in high school, so if you’re not, perhaps you’ll consider making your own list of decisions (which I’m going to have you do later in the week anyway). Okay, here we go:

Snooze for ten more minutes or get up (repeat as needed); eat breakfast or not; pop tarts or eggs and bacon; wear the light jacket or stick with just the sweater; take the bus or drive with a friend; go to your locker before home room or wait until after; stand up to the kid getting picked on or not; goof off in class or pay attention; eat the mystery meat at lunch or not; sneak a glance at your neighbor’s quiz or struggle through without cheating; say hi to your crush or keep on walking down the hall; wear your shin guards at soccer practice or not; do your homework now or wait until after dinner; eat your broccoli or fight with your mom; text your friend back or ignore her; download the new Taylor Swift single or wait for the album; play five more minutes of the video game or go to bed.

And that’s only a small sample. So where is God in the process of making all of these decisions? That’s what we’re going to talk about this week.

…Praying For…

Dear God, thank you for giving me the freedom to make my own choices. Help me to choose only those things that align with your yearnings for me. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, rejoicing that you are with me in all the decisions I make.

Transformation (May 2, 2012)

…Opening To…

Worship is a way of seeing the world in the light of God. (Abraham Joshua Heschel)

…Listening In…

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “ All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 25 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them. (Matthew 16:24-25; context)

…Filling Up…

Today, we begin our worship series with the first of twelve “moments” that happen during a standard Episcopal communion service. We’ll look at them in order, and although we won’t have the space to hit every piece of the service, the twelve we will look at will help us order our lives. So without further ado, the first “moment” is pretty much the first thing we do when we enter the church.

At the head of the procession an acolyte carries the cross. Have you ever wondered why we do that? There are a couple of reasons and the most obvious one can keep us from seeing the less obvious one. The obvious one is that the cross is the most recognizable Christian symbol of all – and Jesus tells us to pick up our crosses and follow him. What better way to remember that command than to carry one during our church services?

But the less obvious reason for carrying the cross into and out of the service has to do with what the cross represents. The cross is a made specifically to kill someone in a very painful, very public way. The Romans would line the main streets leading to cities with crosses to remind those they had conquered about the consequences of going against Rome. Thus the cross was a means to induce fear, which led to domination and control.

But Jesus changed all that. While the Romans continued to put people to death using crosses after Jesus rose from the dead, the trajectory of the cross as a symbol has arced toward freedom, love, hope, salvation and the constancy of relationship. These are the utter opposites of the Roman definition of the cross. The keyword here is “transformation.” Jesus transformed the cross from an instrument of death into an instrument of life.

We carry the cross into and out of church services to remind ourselves that when we are in worship, we too are participating in a transformative action. Worshiping God changes us, transforms us into better lovers, better servants, better people. And the cross is a symbol of that transformation.

…Praying For…

Dear God, your Son died on the cross, but through his rising again he took the symbol of death and changed it into a symbol of life. Help me, in my walk with him, always to choose life, that I may live a full and abundant life in you. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, ready to order my life around your movement in it and hopeful that you will continue to show me the way.

Therefore, Go (April 30, 2012)

This is the final Devo of the 10 part series from the last few weeks. It got pushed to today because I had a glitch last Monday that through everything off by one day. We’ll be back on track tomorrow. –Adam

…Opening To…

A marvelous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonor and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat. (St. Athanasius)

…Listening In…

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” (Matthew 28:16-20; context)

…Filling Up…

Today is the last day of our ten day look at Jesus’ Resurrection appearances. We close as Matthew does, with Jesus’ final words in the Gospel. Notice that his very last words: “I will be with you every day,” echo the name that the angel Gabriel gives to him: Immanuel, which mean “God with us.” Thus, God’s presence bookends the Gospel – that’s pretty cool.

But leaving that tidbit, let’s talk about the word “therefore.”

Matthew’s account of the Gospel comes to a close, Jesus says the above words to the disciples. By the power, by the authority of Jesus, the disciples are sent out. And by the work of the disciples down through the centuries empowered by Christ, we too hear these words, we too are sent out. Jesus’ authority spurs us to go, make, and baptize. Indeed, Jesus is the author, the source of our going, our making, and our baptizing.

Scholars call this the “Great Commission,” and within this commission is also great warning. Jesus says, “Therefore, go.” The therefore makes our commissioning contingent on recognizing that everything we do because of God’s call in our lives generates from the authority given to Jesus. The day, the hour, the minute we start to think that we are ministering to people by our own authority is the time we need to take a step back, fall to our knees, and ask God for forgiveness. Paradoxically, the better we get at following Jesus, the easier we fall into the trap of failing to recognize the authority of Jesus prompting and empowering our actions.

But when we come to God in prayer or when we come to the table to receive communion, we come with empty hands and dry mouths. We come reminded that our gifts, like the gifts of bread and wine, have their source in God alone. We come not trusting in our own righteousness, but in God’s manifold and great mercies. As the body and blood of Christ nourish us, the power and authority of Christ compel us to go, make, and baptize; to trust, hope, and believe; to love, serve, and proclaim.

So go out and by your love and your loving witness, make disciples – and remember that Jesus is with you always, to the end of the ages.

…Praying For…

Dear God, I was with you while I was still in my mother’s womb and I will be with you when I pass through death into new life. Help me to remember that your presence abides in my life, and help me act out of that knowledge every day. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, rejoicing that you raised your Son from the dead and showed me that nothing in all of creation can separate me from your love.

Two Witnesses (April 27, 2012)

…Opening To…

A marvelous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonor and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat. (St. Athanasius)

…Listening In…

With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. But Jesus met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.” (Matthew 28:8-10; context)

…Filling Up…

Today is the second to last day of our celebration of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances, and today we move to the Gospel according to Matthew to wrap up. Right before the verses above, the women have gone to the tomb and found the stone rolled away. An angel tells them: “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ I’ve given the message to you.”

And then the women hurry away to tell the disciples, but they run into Jesus instead. And he says almost the exact same thing the angel did a minute before. So, why the repeat dialogue? Why have the angel’s monologue and Jesus’ repetition so close together? Could it possibly be because what they told the women is so incredulous that they needed to hear it twice? Perhaps, the readers of the Gospel needed a “come again” moment. Didn’t quite catch that the first time. Come again?

Or perhaps Matthew is playing by the rules that he sets on Jesus’ lips ten chapters before. Jesus says, “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses” (Matthew 18:16-17).

Matthew uses the angel’s and Jesus’ testimony as proof of the Resurrection that would essentially hold up in court (the two witnesses thing). The thing is – they might have been the first to declare the Resurrection, but they certainly weren’t the last. God calls us to be witnesses to the Resurrection even now.

…Praying For…

Dear God, your Son rose from the dead to show us that death would never again have power over us. Help me to proclaim the grace of the eternal relationship that you yearn to have with each of us through the power of the Resurrection. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, rejoicing that you raised your Son from the dead and showed me that nothing in all of creation can separate me from your love.

“Y” is for Yeast (March 27, 2012)

…Opening To…

There is a green hill far away, outside a city wall, where our dear Lord was crucified who died to save us all. O dearly, dearly has he loved! And we must love him too, and trust in his redeeming blood, and try his works to do. (Cecil Frances Alexander, from The Hymnal 1982)

…Listening In…

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough.” (Matthew 13:33; context)

…Filling Up…

This Lent, we are exploring our faith by running through the alphabet. Today, “Y” is for yeast. Yes, the end of the alphabet is tough, but at least I didn’t have to resort to a gimmick like I did yesterday. While you might use the word “yeast” mostly in your baking, the word comes up a surprising number of times in the Bible.

First, yeast plays a part in the escape of the Israelites from Egypt in the book of Exodus. Or perhaps I should say, yeast is conspicuously absent from the account of the Israelites flight. To show the urgency of their departure, the writer of Exodus keys in on this small detail.  They didn’t have time to wait for the yeast to rise in their bread, so they resorted to unleavened bread for their journey. And to this day, unleavened bread is an important part of Jewish ritual.

Moving to the New Testament, Jesus speaks of yeast on at least two occasions. In possibly the greatest display of the disciples’ thickness, they don’t understand when Jesus says, “Watch out and be on your guard for the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” The disciples don’t have any bread themselves, so they at first think that Jesus is telling them to go borrow some yeast from the Pharisees. I imagine Jesus took several calming breaths at this. “Don’t you know that I wasn’t talking about bread?” he says, no doubt exasperated. Then they realize he is using “yeast” to mean teaching – as in, something that helps you grow.

Finally, Jesus uses yeast in one of his parables about the kingdom of heaven, which you can read above. Here Jesus emphasizes the hidden aspect of the kingdom. It is there, inside each of us, working, reacting with the spiritual chemicals within us to turn us into agents of the kingdom. In the Bible, yeast is slow, it works in secret, but its affects are visible, and it helps us rise.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you help me rise by infusing my life with the leaven of your grace. Make me more and more aware of your kingdom growing within me so that I can be an agent of your reign in this world. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, continuing my walk with you along this path through Lent and almost come to Jerusalem where I will wait and watch with the Lord.

“X” is for Marking the Spot (March 26, 2012)

…Opening To…

There is a green hill far away, outside a city wall, where our dear Lord was crucified who died to save us all. O dearly, dearly has he loved! And we must love him too, and trust in his redeeming blood, and try his works to do. (Cecil Frances Alexander, from The Hymnal 1982)

…Listening In…

Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21; context)

…Filling Up…

This Lent, we are exploring our faith by running through the alphabet. Today, “X” is for marking the spot. (Yes, yes, I’m cheating again. I hope you’re used to it by now.)

X is for marking the spot on a map containing the location of buried treasure. (Ya savvy?)  How many of us have seen films where pirates race to unearth the cache of golden doubloons after a creased and burned map surfaces in a tavern or an attic (Goonies, anyone?). Indiana Jones himself once said that X “never, ever” marks the spot. Then he went to Venice and found the knight’s tomb buried right under a Roman numeral ten in an old library.

What’s interesting about all of the literary and pop cultural references to X marking the spot is that the treasure must necessarily be hidden. There’s no story otherwise. But Jesus sees this X differently. For Jesus, the heart marks the spot, for “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” There shouldn’t be anything hidden about this at all if we use Jesus’ map. Go to your heart’s desire and you’ll find your treasure.

Of course, it’s not that easy. We fallen humans rarely set our hearts on the right things. We choose to mark all the wrong things with the X of our hearts – wealth, fame, material comforts, you know the drill. Perhaps the real treasure is hidden after all. Perhaps this is why our hearts are always restless. As Saint Augustine says, my heart is restless until it finds rest in God. In the end our true treasure is not hidden – a life lived by the riches of Christ’s grace.

But the maps we choose to follow often lead us astray.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you are always more ready to be found than I am to search. Help me to discern which course to follow so that I may find the treasure of your love, store it in my heart, and give it to all I meet. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, continuing my walk with you along this path through Lent and almost come to Jerusalem where I will wait and watch with the Lord.

“Q” is for Q (March 15, 2012)

…Opening To…

Therefore, we pray you, Lord, forgive; so when our wanderings here shall cease, we may with you for ever live, in love and unity and peace. (Gregory the Great, from The Hymnal 1982)

…Listening In…

Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12; context) (also Luke 6:31) (from Q? perhaps)

…Filling Up…

This Lent, we are exploring our faith by running through the alphabet. Today, “Q” is for Q. I know, I know, I’m cheating again – but there aren’t a lot of “Q” words that have to do with church or discipleship. So, instead of stretching to words like “quest” or “quality” (which I considered doing), I thought I’d talk just a bit about an important theory of Biblical scholarship (called the “two source hypothesis”). This theory is cool because it gives us one way to organize some issues surrounding why the accounts of the Gospel say different things.

It’s called (conveniently) “Q,” which stands for “Quelle,” the German word for “source.” Simply put, the theory behind Q posits that there was a written source of certain things that Jesus said and did, and this source existed well before the accounts of the Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Scholars call this document Q, and they think that only Matthew and Luke knew about it or used it. They think this because Matthew and Luke share details that do not appear in Mark. (John is usually left out of this discussion because it is so different from the others.) Matthew and Luke used Mark for the basic structure, but then added all sorts of other material that they presumably got from Q.

So why is this important for non-Bible scholars or seminary professors. Well, it isn’t really. Except that Q helps show how the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection spread abroad after his ascension. We don’t know for sure if Q existed, but it’s a safe bet that it did. Reconstructed, Q shows what some very early witnesses wanted to remember most about Jesus. You can find what these early witnesses held on to by reading Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and then figuring out what only Matthew and Luke share in common. Sounds like fun, right?

…Praying For…

Dear God, thank you for the witnesses that proclaimed the good news before the Gospel was written down. Help me to be a herald of the same good news all the days of my life. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, counting myself blessed that you would choose to make me the person I am and love me into the person I am becoming.

“N” is for Numbers (March 12, 2012)

Oops! Accidentally scheduled this for Tuesday instead of Monday — my apologies for being five hours late!

…Opening To…

Therefore, we pray you, Lord, forgive; so when our wanderings here shall cease, we may with you for ever live, in love and unity and peace. (Gregory the Great, from The Hymnal 1982)

…Listening In…

At that time some of the legal experts and the Pharisees requested of Jesus, “Teacher, we would like to see a sign from you.” But [Jesus] replied, “An evil and unfaithful generation searches for a sign, but it won’t receive any sign except Jonah’s sign. Just as Jonah was in the whale’s belly for three days and three nights, so the Human One will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. The citizens of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it as guilty, because they changed their hearts and lives in response to Jonah’s preaching. And look, someone greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12:38-41; context)

…Filling Up…

This Lent, we are exploring our faith by running through the alphabet. Today, “N” is for numbers. Numbers play an important role in the Bible (and I’m not talking about the Book of Numbers, though that’s important, too). I’m talking about good, old-fashioned numbers like one, three, seven, twelve, and forty.

When you read the books of the Bible, be on the lookout for numbers. Most of the time, if a number is attached to something, then the number is central to understand what the writer is trying to get across. If the number weren’t vital, the writer would just say “a couple” or “some” or “a lot.” Numbers, on the other hand, most often signal a link back to an earlier story.

Let’s quickly take the use of numbers in the New Testament as an example.

3 – number of days Jesus was dead links back to number of days Jonah was in the belly of the great fish.

12 – number disciples in Christ’s inner circle links to the number of tribes of Israel.

40 – number of days Jesus is in the wilderness following his baptism links back to the number of days of the flood and the number of years the people of God were journeying in the wilderness.

The list goes on. Take note of when the writers of the Bible choose to make note of specific numbers. Nearly every time, they will somehow link to another part of the great story that weaves through time, the story of the One God. What other numbers can you think of that can help us interpret the Bible?

…Praying For…

Dear God, you count every member of your creation as special in your sight. Help me to love you with my whole being, so that I may not be divided, but may give myself fully to your service. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, counting myself blessed that you would choose to make me the person I am and love me into the person I am becoming.