Thursday, April 30, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 33

Psalm 33:1-22
Key Verses: 33:20-22
“We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. Our heart rejoices in God because we trust his holy name. Lord, let your faithful love surround us because we wait for you.” CEV
We are surrounded by God’s love, which will never abandon us or fail us. God is with us, working to redeem the worst places in our lives. When we trust in the Lord, we often times must wait for the Lord. We live in a time when we expect everything to come quickly, if not immediately. Even Amazon does same day delivery now. With God, we cannot expect everything to come right now. God’s faithfulness takes time to work itself out in our lives. God is faithful to make all things right, but somethings take time to work out. But even as we wait we can trust that God is at work, that God is always faithful and is even now our help and our shield. We can rejoice in God’s goodness in all things.  
Thing to Think on
In what ways has God been able to change bad things which have happened in your past to bring about good? (this is redemption at work in your life)
Are there things in your life which have not yet been redeemed?
Can you trust that even now God is at work to make good come out of all the bad in your life?
How can you give praise to God right now?

A Prayer for Today
Lord you are worthy of all praise and honor. I know I can trust you to make all things right. I know you work for good in this world. I know you are a good God and trust that you are at work in all things. Help me to trust you to bring good to my todays, my tomorrows, as well as my yesterdays.  Help me to continue to rely on you as I continue to wait for you to work. - Amen

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 29

Psalm 29:1-11
Key Verses: 29:10-11
“The Lord rules on his throne, king of the flood forever. Pray that our Lord will make us strong and give us peace.” CEV
The greatest power the psalmist would have known would have been the powers found in the natural world. First these is the life giving power of nature, as seen in a skipping calf, or the jumping of an ox but also seen in the construction of natural things, as found in the birth of a fawn or the great cedars of Lebanon. But this power is also seen in the powers of natural destruction, such as winds which would bring down the cedars, that of the storm made manifest in thunder and lightning and of course the power which literally shook the earth in an earthquake. Such power was mind boggling and frightening. But those who believed in and worshipped the Lord, knew the power which belonged to the Lord, was stronger and greater than any of these powers. The power of God over all creation was likened to the power of a king over the people. God’s power reigned over all the powers of creation, those who trust God can rely on this power and it was this power which gives the believer strength, blessings and peace.  
Thing to Think on
What is the most destructive power of which you can think?
What is it that frightens you the most?
Does it help you to envision God as reigning as king over these things?
What does it mean to you to know that God’s power is over and above even that that which frightens us the most and hold the most power over us?

A Prayer for Today
Lord, you are God over all things. You are the creator and all creation bows to you. There are things which seem to hold great power, and there are forces which control various aspects of my life. You are more powerful than all these things. Instead of seeing these powers as hold ultimate authority in my life, help me to see you as more powerful. Help me to rely on you in all things, to trust you and find strength in you. - Amen

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Manna for Today: Pslam 28

Psalm 28:1-9
Key Verses: 28:9
“Come save us and bless us. Be our shepherd and always carry us in your arms.” CEV

This Psalm begins by asking God to hear us when we cry out and ends with a plea for God to save us, to bless us and to carry us as a shepherd carries a sheep in need of care. God is our rock, and thankfully, God is not unhearing as a rock. When we are weak and vunerable, God is our strength our stability, God gives us the power we need to endure the hardships which come into our lives and to overcome the obstacles which stand in our way of being the people God is calling us to be. When we feel over whelmed or as if the situations in our lives will overcome us, when our faith wavers because the difficulties all around see to be too much, God is our shepherd, lifting us up, tending to our needs, mending our wounds and carrying us through. Trust God at all times to be who God is.  

Thing to Think on 
The Psalmist cries out for mercy, what is your plea to God this morning?
What would it look like for God to be your strength and your shield? In what ways can God help you be strong and from what do you feel you need to be protected?
If you were to sing a song of praise to God today what song would you sing?
Sing that song to God this morning.

A Prayer for Today
Lord, life is hard. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and today feels too hard to face. The future ahead of me seems bleak and I need the strength to get up and face the day. When life it difficult, when I am struggling, hear my prayers, listen to my pleas. Help me to see your hand in my life, help me to feel your arm around me, lifting me up and carrying me through. I trust you to be the good shepherd to who tends to me needs and mends my wounds. Help me to sing your praise today and everyday. - Amen

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Hard Road: Luke 24:13-35

I had a sermon from 1 Peter this morning. But even as I went over it again this morning, I kept thinking about this passage here in Luke, about these two men and their long sad journey. So I am confessing right now, this morning, I pulled out an old sermon dusted it off, cleaned it up and remade it anew for today.  God does it with us, so I figure ever so often I can do it with a sermon.
As I was working on my 1 Peter sermon this week, I kept thinking about these two men and their trip to Emmaus. They are walking and as they are walking they are wrestling within themselves; and struggling.  Wrestling with their sorrow over the death of their friend, their teacher, the one in whom they felt the hope of all Israel, perhaps the whole world resided.  And struggling with what it means for him to be gone. They loved him, they trusted him, and they had put all of their confidence in the future, in him. Now he is gone. And they have not only lost a friend, but they have lost the future they had come to believe was possible with him, in him, and through him.
They are not simply struggling with his loss, but they are also struggling with some very strange news; strange news, brought to them by the women.  The women had told them, they had gone to the tomb early that morning to assure that the body was properly buried. When they returned saying that tomb was empty. Not just that the tomb was empty and someone had stolen his body but that they had seen Jesus. He had spoken to them, not as an apparition but as himself, he was alive. 
What was wrong with these women?  Why would they say such a thing?  Why would they come back with such a ridiculous story?  Had they gone completely and absolutely mad?  Did they really expect them to believe this untenable tale?  
The answers to these questions really did not matter, because this tale now haunted them, bringing forth memories of the last days they had spent with him. It reminded them of his glorious entry into Jerusalem, the meal they shared with him. Reminded them of the last words he spoke to them, of how he looked helpless and hopeless dying, like a treasonous criminal; of his limp body, taken down from the cross.  It brought to mind his mother’s anguish cries as she held him before he was taken to the garden tomb. 
This idea, this story that he was alive tortured them with hope. What would it mean if the women’s tale was true?  What would it mean if he lived once dead?  The idea was too far beyond reality to truly think about.
They walked slowly, their steps heavy with grief, their gait weighed down with the enormity of all that had happened.  As they walked, they talked; as they talked they mourned; as they mourned they questioned, and as they questioned, they wondered at all these things which had so recently occurred.  It was all too much.  Jesus was the messiah; they had thought they were sure of this fact.  But, then he died and he was not.  They had been wrong. They had been duped.  Many false messiah’s had come and gone before Jesus of Nazareth and all them had gone the same way.  They had all died. 
The way you knew a false messiah was false, was that he died.  But, they had been so sure.  They had seen the miracles, they had heard his teachings.  Everything about him seemed so right, so real.  How could he have not been the messiah?  How could things have gone so wrong?  How could they have been wrong?  How did this happen?  And the women, what is up with the women?  Why would they say such things?  None of it made sense.  It was all wrong.  Everything was wrong.
So here they were, on this same day, when the women had come back with their fanciful tale of Angels and a living, dead Savior. And for some reason they decided to head to Emmaus that day. It seems odd to me that they were on this journey and not gathered with the others for comfort, solace and company in their grief and confusion.  But for reasons which can only be speculated and will forever remain their own, they were journeying toward Emmaus that day, and as they journeyed, they mourned, as they mourned they questioned, and as they did these things, a stranger began to journey.  They don’t seem to be alarmed or disturbed by his presence, they just keep talking.  And at some point the stranger asks for clarification about what it is exactly they are speaking. 
The men are dumbfounded.  They stand stock still and stare at him for a minute.  They thought everyone knew what had transpired these last few days.  It was all over Jerusalem, it was the biggest thing on their minds.  He seemed to have been coming from Jerusalem.  How could he not know?  It was the most significant thing that had happened in their lifetime.  The whole world had been turned upside down and ripped to pieces and here this man did not even know what was going on.
So as they begin walking again, they told him.  They tell him everything.  They even tell him a little about their hopes concerning Jesus. As well as telling him about the women and their story.  Then it is this stranger’s turned to be shocked, but he does not seem to be shocked in the manner which they expected.  He is shocked that they do not understand.  And he begins to speak to them of scriptures.  He talks to them about the prophets and opens up the scriptures to allow them to understand that all that had happened in Jerusalem these last few days had been laid out in scripture.  They should not be shocked or amazed that these things had occurred.  In fact these events were exactly what God had told them, through the prophets, would happen to the messiah.  He would suffer and then he would die, and he would rise again.
As he finishes saying all these things, they have just arrived at their destination.  He seems to be going on further but they invite him in, to eat with them, to stay the night with them.  They did not want to part with this man and his wisdom.  They couldn’t let him go on, he must join them.  They want to hear more.  They want to know more.  He acquiesces and comes in with them. 
Once they are there, they prepare a meal and sit down to eat.  Once they have all arranged themselves and are comfortable, he takes the bread, he blesses it and beaks it and gives it to them.  This seemed surprisingly familiar; at that moment they look up and see him, really see him for the first time. It is HIM, it is Jesus. He had been with them all afternoon.  He had journeyed with them.  He had been with them all this time.  The women’s tale was true, it was all true!  And then . . . then he was gone.  They stare at each other, amazed, dumbfounded once more.  They try to speak.  They start sentences, but can’t finish them.  When they do manage to speak they speak over top of one another.  What they have to say comes tumbling out.  “Didn’t, didn’t our heart burn within us?”   “How could we not know?”  “We must go back!” “We must tell the others.” “Right now.”  “Yes, now.”  They grabbed their cloaks and their staffs and hurry out the door. 
Dusk is upon them but they walk quickly.  The world does not seem to be darkening; everything seems to be getting lighter and brighter.  The journey which had taken them all day when they were heavy with grief, trudging along slowly in their pain, takes not even half the time.  They run up to the door of the place where they know the others to be.  They pound on the door in anticipation, the person coming down the steps, moves so slow.  The door is opened, they push past the one who opened it and hurry up to the room.  They begin talking.  They talk over each other, interrupting each other, finishing each other’s sentences.  The story comes tumbling out, excitedly.  They stop.  They look at those who have gathered, not sure what to expect from them.  Will they believe their story?  Will they laugh at them, but instead of doing any of these things; they stare back at them just as excited just as filled with hope.  Those gathered begin to tell their story, just as amazing, just as unbelievable.  Jesus was busy today.  Peter had also seen him.  Just as they finished saying all this Jesus appeared among them.  And all of them get so see him, touch him and know for sure that he was really and truly alive (save Thomas of course).
What an amazing day! Not only is Jesus alive but Jesus reveals himself to them, first over the breaking of the bread and then as they had gathered together just as those who had seen him bear witness to this. 
These two men have had a truly remarkable day.  Jesus walks with them, talks with them, teaches them and brings them to a new understanding, revealing to them the truths that can be found in scripture and then in a recreation of their last supper, he reveals himself to them.  These two men receive an amazing Easter revelation.  An amazing revelation indeed, Jesus was with them. 
They were broken hearted, they were confused, they were sorrowing, they did not know what to do and Christ came along and walked with them, talked with them, gave them hope, gave them understanding.  He had journeyed with them down their darkest road, on their darkest day.  They did not know it; they did not realize it at the time. Although they wondered after how they could not have known, but even if they did not recognize him, he was there with them the whole time, guiding them, comforting them, being with them, and speaking truth into their lives.
Right now, it seems we are walking down a pretty dark road. We are living through one of those times when the future is uncertain and our todays seem dark.  Our hearts are heavy.  Our spirits are crushed.  It seems that our hopes have been shattered. Any travel plans we had in the next few months, anything we may have hoped to do this summer.  We look around and there seems there is no way to make plans for the future because we literally cannot imagine what live might possibly be like in June or July, much less next fall. 
We are walking through a long dark tunnel and there seems to be no light in sight. We are living in a time in which we all struggle.  We all mourn the lives we once had.  We and for differing reasons we are all hurting.  We ache for small pleasures we once took for granted which are gone right now. We long for the presence of other people.  We feel as if we are alone.  We feel as if things will never be “alright” again.  And perhaps they never will be.  Our lives will never be the same again.  We do not know if the pain and the sadness, the crushing feeling in our chest, the weight with which we walk through this world, will ever go away. 
As we think about the situation we are in right now we can relate to the feelings these disciples were feeling that day. We have all been on this kind of journey, had these kinds of conversations.  We have all been there, are there right now.  There seems to be no hope on roads like this one, they seem to end in nowhere good.  Emmaus was nowhere special, it was just where they needed to be that day and they headed out because there was nothing else to do but trudge forward, fumble their way through the day, through the rest of their life.
But the road did not merely take them to Emmaus.  The journey was not as bleak and gray as they had expected.  A stranger met them that day.  A man drew up alongside them, walk with them.  Gave them hope, gave them truth, bore their burden journeyed with them, in their pain, and sorrow; journeyed with them through their grief and along that long road that day.  And at the end of the day when they had learned what they needed to learn they saw what their pain and grief would not allow them to see, over the table, through the breaking of the bread, they saw that Christ was with them, had been with them all along the way.
When we are on this tough journey it is hard to see the truth.  When we are walking through the pain, in the moment of grief, when we are full of sorrow it is easy to believe that we are alone, that our burden is too great, that God has abandoned us, left us alone to muddle through these horrible things we are going through.  But this is simply not true.  Jesus was there with those men as they journeyed through that dark day.  Jesus walked beside; them taught them and guided them, even when they did not see that it was him. 
We may not see the hand of God in our lives right now; we may not feel the presence of Christ as he walks beside us, but that does not mean that we are alone in this.  Feeling alone and abandoned does not mean we are alone and abandoned.  Sometimes (more often and we would like to admit), our feelings lie. The fact is, no matter how much it seems to be true, we are never alone.  Even in our darkest days, no, especially on our darkest days, when the road seems too long, the skies too dark, with the future more uncertain than ever before, our Savior is with us.  In fact our savior is walking with us, journeying with us, right there with us, even if our eyes are clouded and we cannot see.
When we are hurting, when our lives are thrown into chaos, when it seems as if there is no hope or light in our future, it is easy to cry out, wondering why God is not there.  It is easy to not see.  Some days are the kind of days when we are acutely reminded of what we have lost, reminded of what we never had, but wish we had had, reminded that thing were not, have not been, are not how they “should” be, and that loss opens up a deep dark hole in the fabric of who we are. 
Some days there seems to be no end to the pain, to the sorrow, to the loneliness.  We hurt, we cry out.  Our journeys seem too long, our burdens too hard to bear.  And there will be days that feel like this.  Days that show us all too clearly how broken these lives which we live here on this earth truly are.  But on these dark days, our Lord is with us.  We may not see him.  We may not even realize Jesus is there, but he is.  And there is hope.  There is life where there seems to be only death.  There is light in the darkness.  There is Heaven where there once was nothing but Hell.  We may not see it now, but Jesus is with us, walking with us, talking with us, guiding us, directing us, teaching us, bringing us comfort and speaking truth into our lives.  We may not see him now, but someday, sometime in the future, we will be communing with him, drawing close to him, and he will be revealed to us.  His hand on our lives will be seen and we will turn to those around us and say, “How did we not know?  Did not our hearts burn with in us?  How could we not see?”
But the hope does not end there, we can’t hold this truth and this hope inside us, let it warm our hearts and bring joy to us, today.  We must be willing, as these two disciples did, to go, run even and tell others.  Share with them what has been revealed to us.  Share with them the one whom has been revealed to us.  There are two Easter revelations in this story.  Christ is revealed the first time at the breaking of the bread, in the shared meal with the Lord, Jesus is revealed again at the sharing of that which was witnessed.  The truth of the resurrected Lord comes when we draw close to God and to one another at the Lord’s Table, and Jesus himself reveals that he is with us along our journey.  But Jesus also reveals himself at the sharing of the truth of the gospel.  Christ is revealed when we speak the truth of who he is, and what he has done.  We come to see Jesus journeying alongside of us as we join him here at the table, but Jesus also reveals himself when we go out and speak the truth of his resurrection, when we get up from this table, go out from this place and take the truth of the gospel back to those whom we love, back to those with whom we share our lives.  The truth of Jesus Christ, his assurance, his love, his comfort, his peace is given to us when we gather here and it revealed to us, but it is also revealed when we then get up from here and go out there and take what we know, and the one whom we know with us.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 20

Psalm 20:1-9
Key Verses: 20:7
“Some people trust the power of chariots or horses, but we trust you, Lord God.” CEV

At times when life is difficult, when we are struggling to make it through, it is easy to seek assurance in many different places. Different people will seek comfort in different places. Some will seek out the counsel of the people around them. One person might find the assurance they need in reading, in gaining knowledge. Some people will bake or clean, or immerse themselves in some other activity, others tend to eat. There are almost as many things to which we might turn to find solace and assurance as there are people. None of these things are bad in of themselves, and can be helpful but when we put our trust in these things instead of trusting God,  we will find none of these things will be able to give us what we really need. It is easy to put our trust in things which are not only not worthy of our trust, and cannot provide what we are looking for. When we find ourselves struggling it is God in whom we should trust. It is only God who can provide the comfort, the assurance, the solace, the support we need in these times. Anything else to which we might turn will fail us, will let us down.

Thing to Think on

This Psalm is spoken as a blessing. When was the last time someone spoke a blessing over you?
What kind of blessing would you want spoken over you?
Write a blessing such as this one over someone else today.
Where do you turn when you are struggling? What is it that you do to help you find support, assurance or comfort?
What would it mean for you to trust God instead of trusting the things to which you would normally turn.

A Prayer for Today

God I know you are God. I know you hold all things in your hands. You created the world and all that is in it. I know it is you who I can trust in all things. Sometimes it is easy to seek out other things to give me the assurance I feel that I need. I try to fill the emptiness I sometimes fill with all kind of things that are not you. Help me instead to trust you. To turn to you in all things at all times. - Amen

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 21

Psalm 21:1-13
Key Verses:21:6
“Surely you have granted him unending blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.” NIV

The psalmist is asking for good things to happen to the king. The psalmist speaks on behalf of another, asking for the king’s life to be filled with joy, with riches, that his heart’s desire will come to him, on and on and on. Sometimes it is easy to be focused on ourselves. To think first of the things we want or need. But here the psalmist models an unselfishness in prayer. I am sure the psalmist concerns and needs, but they are put aside, so to bring another before God in prayer. Even as we have cares, concerns, wants and needs, we should always be bringing others before God in prayer. As Christians we should follow the unselfish example of put before us in this psalm, lifting others up, seeking the good of those around us each day.  

Thing to Think on

What does your prayer time normally look like?
How much time do you pray for good things for yourself and your loved ones?
How much time do you spend praying for others, outside of your family and those you hold dear?
What are the wants and needs of your neighbors?
Take time today to pray for your neighbors, that God will fill their lives with good things.
Have you ever prayed this fervently for your political leaders?
          Take time to pray for your leaders, for their good, that God will give them strength, good things, that they will be blessed with joy and with rich blessings.

A Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to see the good of others. Show me the needs of those around me to be sensitive to the cares of my neighbors, of others in my community. Help me to selflessly seek the good of others, that they may be blessed even when I am not. Also help me to desire the best for those who govern me, help me to pray for good to fill their lives. It is easy to be focused on myself, the things I would like to happen, the things I need, and to spend my prayer time on myself and on those I hold close. Help me to expand my concern to include people whose lives may not directly touch my own. Help me to turn the focus off of myself an instead focus on others. - Amen

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 19

Psalm 19:1-14

Key Verses: 19:12-14
“None of us know our faults. Forgive me when I sin without knowing it. Don’t let me do wrong on purpose, Lord, or let sin have control over my life. Then I will be innocent, and not guilty of some terrible fault. Let my words and my thoughts be pleasing to you, LORD, because you are my mighty rock and my protector.” CEV

It is our desire to live lives which God would find blameless. Yet there are times when we continue to fail in ways we do not yet know. Daily as we seek to draw closer to God we should continue to examine our lives to see how we can more perfectly reflect the life of Christ with our own. This means being humble enough to see where we have failed God and failed others, when we did not even realize it at the time. Even as we seek to be holy as God is holy we can find we are participating in systematic evils which we did not previously see. Or we realize our well intentioned words or actions actually did harm to those around us. As we seek to live lives of Christian perfection God will bring these failings to us, so we can choose to act or speak differently in the future. Part of living the holy life is making these changes in our lives bit by bit so that over time we more perfectly reflect the holiness of God in our daily lives. 

Thing to Think on
In this Psalm the psalmist speaks of the goodness of God, God’s perfection, the rightness of God’s laws, what are some of the things about God that you appreciate today?
In what ways has God brought goodness into your life?
In what ways do you fail to be the person God is calling you to be?
Ask God to show you the ways you have inadvertently brought harm to others, or have otherwise sinned in unknown ways?

A Prayer for Today
Lord, God I want to be holy as you are holy. It is my desire to be who you are calling me to be each day. Help me to grow and change so that each day I more closely reflect your character in my words and my actions. Help me to humbly take correction and as I seek to be more perfect each day. Show me the ways I have failed in the past so that today I can be more holy than I was yesterday and help me to continue to do better and be better so that tomorrow I will more perfectly reflect who you are in this world. - Amen

Monday, April 20, 2020

Mana for Today: Psalm 18

Psalm 18:1-50
Key Verses: 18:31-33
“You alone are God! Only you are a mighty rock. You give me strength and guide me right. You make my feet run as fast as those of a deer, and you help me stand on the mountains.” CEV

When the world around us feels out of control; when our weakness is highlighted by the goings on around us, it is good to remember God gives us strength. God is strong and gives us the strength the make it through. God is a stable rock in the midst of an unsteady world. When it seems the whole earth is quaking, that the foundations of our society of our world are about to crumble and fall, God alone is God and is a steady rock on which we can rely. When all else is shifting sand. God is firm. God is guide through it all. We can rely on God and trust in God when there is nothing else to rely on. When everything around us is changing faster than we can keep track, God will not change. God’s strength is our strength and when the way forward is unclear and the path is a maze, God will guide us and help us through. 

Thing to Think on
At one point the Psalmist writes that to the crooked God seems torturous. In what ways are the hard things which have happened in your life are a because of your own actions or choices?
What does it mean for God to pursue your enemies? What would God’s justice look like in your life?
In what ways has God been your rock? Your shield? Your guide?
When life has gotten rough how has God been there for you?

A Prayer for Today
Lord, the world around me is frightening, there is so much which makes me uncertain or nervous. Help me to look to you to for stability. Help me to rely on you to guide me through. Even when the world is scary you are a comfort. You are God, and in you alone will I put my trust. Help me to give you praise in all things at all times, knowing you are always there and will continue to good in all things. – Amen

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Our Imperishable Inheritanc - 1 Peter 1:3-9

Peter addresses his letter to the exiles in the diaspora, which is to Christians who live in the far reaches of the Roman Empire. The Christians to whom he wrote were living in a world in which the accepted norms of daily life were contrary and often times adverse to the way of life which Christ calls his followers to live.
The empire in which they lived called for its people to honor and revere it leaders, even worship the Emperor. It called for everyone to place the good of their society above all else. The values their culture upheld and honored could often be in direct opposition to the way the Gospel called for believers to live. Because of this living the way Jesus called for them to live was difficult, especially since the normative way of life in their society seemed to make sense. It was what they were used. The values seemed to be legit. There did not seem to be anything wrong with the people all around them lived. It was familiar. All this made it hard for them to eschew the norms and values of their culture and instead cling to the so very foreign, and controversial values espoused by Christians.
I don’t know about any of you, but the situation of the Christians, to whom the book of 1 Peter was written, is quite relatable. Their world, their society, may be very different from our own, but it also seems it was just as different from the way Christ was calling them to live, as it is for us today. We, also, live in a world, a society which calls for us to honor and respect certain people; actors, famous athletes, politicians, multi-million dollar heads of corporations. These people in of themselves may not be bad people, but the kind of honor and respect our society has for them at times is a form of idolatry which is out of place in the life of a Christian.
 The values to which our society holds can also be contrary and counterproductive to living a life totally committed to embodying and sharing the love of God with our world. We live in a world in which a person’s value is often found in being consumers, that is in what a person is able to purchase and thus contribute to the economic stability of our nation determines their value. And to another extent people are valued by what they are able to produce, how what they do for employment, adds to society. And whether or not what a person does for living, is valued by our society often times determines how “valuable” they are.  The CEO of proctor and gamble holds more societal value than the person who picks up your garbage each week (although it is interesting to note, in these times, which of these two is considered and “essential worker” right now) The ways our culture values does not line up with they ways Jesus calls us to value people. Whereas our society values people differently, Jesus calls for us to value all people, but especially the “least of these,” that is we are to value the very ones our culture and society values the least.
It is to people who lived in a world so very different from ours, yet experienced the same kind of dissonance between the way their culture and society called for them to live and the way Jesus called for them to live that this book is written. The struggles these Christians faced, are not all that dissimilar than our own and because of this the book of 1 Peter feels as if it was written to people “just like us.”  
We are Christians scattered to the far reaches of the globe, just as these early Christians, were scattered to the far ends of their known world. These Christians were living at a time in their history when they were trying to figure out who they were, what it meant to live the kind of lives they were called to live in their culture, and in their world. As a part of a Christian community, they were trying to navigate their identities. These are Christians who had no direct contact with Christ, they did not know him in his life, death or resurrection. Their faith was based on the truth of the Gospel which had been shared with them. They were trying to navigate what it meant to be Christians so very far removed from the place and time that the very things they believed in happened. They looked to the past for their faith and for guidance. They past they were looking to being the truth of the gospel of the resurrected Christ, but they also looked to the future as they worked together as communities of faith to discern their identities as people and communities of faith, in the places, and the world in which they lived. In these ways they are also not all that much unlike us.
Every church in every generation is faced with these kinds of questions, with these kinds of dilemmas. Who are we?  Who is God calling us to be?  Who are we becoming as Christ is shaping and changing us?  Every Church every generation of Christians needs to navigate who they are in relation to their culture. The Church in all the places it exists should always be evaluating our culture, the norms of the society around us, the things it honors, and the things it values to see how these things are embedded in the lives we all live. We must especially examine how these things influence us as Christians working to live as Christ calls for us to live. And how they inhibit us from being the people God desires for us to be.
It is easy for us to take the embedded values of our culture for granted; to see them as unexamined truth. THIS is just the way we live. It is easy to assume that since these values and ways of living are not inherently harmful, and make sense to us, the values, the hidden agendas, the assumptions of our culture and our society must be Christian. BUT in fact they are not. And very well may be contrary to the Christian way of life.
We are not called to just accept the values and norms of our society. We are not called to just live as good citizens of our country, or our culture, we are called to live Holy lives, lives which reflect the life of Christ, lives that exemplify the love of God. We are different, because Christ is different.
We are called to be different, in that we are called to live lives of Living Hope. Hope in a world that is better than the one in which we now live. Right now hope in a world better than the one in which we now live, sounds pretty good. We have a living hope, a breathing hope, an eternal hope which cannot be struck down by a virus, which will not be killed by the darkness all around.  We live, knowing the God who resurrected Jesus Christ from the dead, promises us abundant life, a life which is full and rich and free, a life of hope.
As resurrection people we live out God’s love, sharing this hope with the world around us. And it is with this hope and this love we seek to be able to infect this world; by sharing the truth of Christ and the love of God in such a way that it is contagious, so that others too will choose to love the God we love and live the kind of lives we live. It is our hope that this world can be filled with people living God’s love; filling this world with the love of God. We live in hope that we can infect this world, and it will be overrun with God’s love.
The people of the Old Testament longed for a good land, a land flowing with Milk and honey. When God called to Abraham to follow God to the land to which God would show him, God promised him a land, rich with natural resources, teaming with life and full all the good things a Bedouin man would desire. When God called the Israelites up out of the land of Egypt, they followed God to a promised land, a land which was flowing with milk and honey, a land which contained all the good things a nation of people wanted or needed. The promised land was a promise of a land where God reigned, where the goodness of God filled all things, a place where they could live as God called for them to live, as individuals, a nation, a society; a place where the love of God filled the world around them. A place where life was lived differently because the people lived lives which reflect the character of God in their day to day lives, in how they treated one another, and how they cared for one another. It was land which would be filled with a people living out the holy character of God, so that the world around them would see God in them and know God through them. This was the inheritance promised to the people of God.
God took those first Israelites to an actual land filled with actual animals which grew actual food and actually was filled with earthly goods. Here are the beginnings of 1 Peter, these early Christians are called to hope in an unperishable inheritance, one that cannot be defiled, or fade with time. They are no longer promised an actual land with physical good things, their inheritance as Christians is different than that promised to their Israelite forbearers, yet the same. They are promised something unfading, which cannot be defiled, something imperishable. Their inheritance is a new land, a new world, a new society, which is ushered in by Christ which is perpetuated, by their very lives, by living the Gospel, by being living breathing examples of God’s love, by following example of Christ in their world. And thus they bring God’s world, God’s society, God’s values to bear on the society in which they live. The land they are inheriting, the “heaven” they are promised is brought about in them and through them as they live Christlike lives and make disciples of Christ of the people around them. They have hope in this inheritance in this land, where God reigns, where all the world lives in Christlikeness, this is the living hope in which they exist, the hope for which they strive together with God for. They do this  knowing full well this salvation is not simply of their own selves, their faith communities, their little corner of the world, but the salvation, redemption of the whole world. They live knowing they are a part of the culmination of God’s salvation of the world, that by living as Christ lived and loving as Christ loved they are bringing heaven to earth, they are bringing God’s kingdom to this earth, in their lives, in their words, in their actions, one by one, moment by moment infecting this world with the truth, the grace, the mercy the love of God until, the infection takes over and the whole world filled with it.
The Christian life at its heart is evangelistic; it longs to spread, to share to infect the lives of those all around. The desire is for the lives our loved ones, our friends, our neighbors, our neighborhoods, cities, countries, and our whole world, to be contaminated with the love of God through us.
Yet although we live these lives of living hope, live this lives of infectious love, looking forward to the inheritance of a world corrupted with the love of God, and cleansed of all that is not grace and mercy and love, this is not easy. Our faith, these lives of Christlikeness is ultimately at odds with our world. Our world does not understand a God who requires so much, expects obedience and commands lives of full, unfettered, love. Lives that reflect the life Christ lived, lives which are lived dependent upon God, and in service to others do not makes sense to the majority of the people in our society.  They do not understand this kind of commitment, do not understand this kind of selflessness. For most, a way of life which constantly uplifts the disenfranchised, which cannot tolerate injustice, which speaks up for the voiceless, which touches the untouchables and cannot even stand to live with hidden sins, or the forgotten misuse of others, is radically out of place. Our world does not understand how One man dying can bring life to us all. It does not understand how your life of love, my life of love, our call for justice and fairness and love can make a difference, can change the world, can bring about anything.
Because the world does not understand, because the things God calls for us to stand up for, because what it means to love everyone with the love of God, because of what it means to live lives which embody God’s love, are so often contrary to norms and values of our society, this life to which we are called is not easy. There are trails and struggles we have as we attempt to love God and love those around us, to love as Christ loved, to live as Jesus lived, we are reminded that these very trails, these very struggles, refine us.
In our very struggles to love as God loves, to live as Christ lives, in the ways our culture and our society rub against us, we are refined like gold, we are purified. When we see our lives of love in stark contrast to the norms and values of our society, instead of bending and reflecting the society around us, we are able to better live, and thus better reflect the love and grace of God. The gold of our faith will shine in the bleakness of the mundane world around us.
As a body of people seeking identity we find identity in our inheritance, in the promise of our inheritance in the hope of that which will one day come. Even as our world is at odds with the lives of love to which we are called, we know that in this opposition we are refined and shown to shine like gold, but not simply so that we can shine and sparkle but so that we can infect the world around us. We infect, we share, we rub off. We are called to live lives set apart, marked by love, but not simply to be different, to live in contrast, but so that we can hope that by loving and living this love, we can call those around us to live life like ours. The heart of our faith is a hope for all to love God and love others with the love we are sharing with them. Love because we are called to love, love because God loves and love because by loving we call others to love as we love, to love who we love. Our identity in this society if first and foremost to love at all costs, to love where all other loves fail, to love those who are “unloved” to reach out and be the love of God in the darkest places, to those who seem the least worthy of our love, to those who do not desire our love, to those whom others refuse to love, to those whom others forget to love, to those whom others do not even realize are being unloved. We live this love not simply for love’s sake but in a hope that by loving in these extreme, unfathomable ways, others will hear the call to love, and they too will love as we love and love the ONE whom we love; living Christlike lives of love. Our lives of love are the evangelistic call which reaches out and calls the world around us, our neighbors, our friends and our families to come join us, love God and love God’s world as we love, as God loves.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 5

Psalm 5:1-12
Key Verse: 5:11-12
“Let all who run to you for protection always sing joyful songs. Provide shelter for those who truly love you and let them rejoice. Our Lord, you bless those who live right, and you shield them with your kindness.” CEV
Listen! Pay attention! This is the plea of a child who wants an adult’s attention. They are also the words which open this Psalm. Listen to us! Pay Attention to us! It feels as if God does no hear us. We cry out but it seems our prayers are not being answered. We are running to God for protection. We are seeking to find the protection of God. Even as we cry out, even as we run toward God, we do so with joyful song, rejoicing because we know because God loves us with an unfailing love, which never falters or fades away. God surrounds us, even in our fear. God is with us even in our loneliness. Even when our bodies fail us or we are weakened with sickness, we can rejoice, because God is our shelter, our dwelling place. God is with us in and through it all, even when we feel we are not being heard, even when it seems our pleas rise up to the ceiling and then fall again, without making it to the Lord. God still hear. God is listening and we can rejoice in God’s love, and find comforts in knowing that in all things God is with us.

Thing to Think on
In this Psalm the psalmist asks for his enemies mouths to be graves and their tongues flatten so they cannot speak out against him, what would you want to happen to that which comes against you, causes you pain, or brings heartache into your life?
How is God a shelter for you? How is God your shield today?
What does rejoicing look like for you right now?
What kinds of things would you include in your joyful song?

A Prayer for Today
Lord, you are hear with me. I call out to you. I tell you all about the things which bother me, I tell you my fears and my concerns. Sometimes it feels like my prayers go unheard. It seems to me that you are distracted and do not hear me. Help me to trust that your ear is always turned in my direction. Help me to rejoice even as I am running to you with my hurt and pain. Help me to sing for joy in your protection even before I see evidence of it in my lift. Help me to give you the praise even as I am calling out to you.  - Amen

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Manna For Today: Psalm 4

Psalm 4:1-8
Key Verse: 4:6-7
“Many people say, ‘Who will show us better times?’ Let your face smile on us, Lord. You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine.” NLT

Few things feel better than having a loved one smile kindly and lovingly in your direction. Whether it a parent, your spouse or someone else for whom you feel deeply, the right person smiling in your direction can make your day. How much more so, when the one smiling at you is God? When a loved one smiles at us, it does not necessarily change what is happening in our lives at the time, but a smile from the right person can help change our perspective on the events of any given day. A smile can make a rough day feel better.
We are at a time when we all are indeed looking for “better times.” But even in these dark times, God had given us great joy. Right now spring is upon us. The flowers are blooming, the trees are budding, the birds are singing.  There are so many joys which fill our lives. These can be the ways we experience the smile of God in our lives. Seeing the first buds on the trees; hearing the spring birds; or even seeing two bunnies chasing each other around the yard, can bring joy to these otherwise fearful times. God is smiling on us; God is giving us great joy.  

Thing to Think on
Think about a time when a loved one smiled at you, perhaps when you were small and your mother held you in her arms or sometime when your grandfather gave you that smile made you smile in return. How did that smile make your feel?
What would it mean for God to smile in your direction today? What would that look like in your life?
As you go through the day, make a list of the things which bring you joy. Take time to thank God for the ways you have seen “God’s smile” through these things.

A Prayer for Today
Lord, your goodness shines forth all over the earth. The Birds sing throughout the day. The trees burst forth with new life. The world is full of good and beautiful things. Help me to see you smiling at me in and through all these small things. Even as I am going through tough times, I can see the ways you bring great joy into my life. Help me to see your face throughout the day. Help me to experience your smile and allow it to change my perspective on the day. - Amen