Tuesday, December 30, 2008

e-vo for week of December 31

Dearest e-votees-

As we squeeze out the last moments of this calendar year I hope and pray you are surrounded by the love of family and friends.

I pray, too, that you know the depth and surety of the love God has for you.

May you have a blessed 2009.



Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:3-14, NRSV

The words of our appointed epistle lesson for this coming Sunday from the church are so deep and rich and powerful. Feel free to read them again and linger over them.

The words above are even more powerful yet when you realize that we are not the subjects of the verbs. All three persons of the Trinity are at work in bringing to bear on our lives the good news of the gospel. We are the recipients of God’s amazing and pervasive grace.

The only thing that we do in the words above is hear the word of truth and believe in him.

And even that is not of our own doing as Martin Luther so clearly states in the explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed in the Small Catechism:

I believe I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith.

In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

In this Christian church day after day he fully forgives my sins and the sins of all believers. On the last day he will raise me and all the dead and give me and all believers in Christ eternal life.

This is most certainly true.

Go ahead and read those words again about all the good things that God is bringing to pass in your life.

It is not about your will or your strength of resolve or your resolutions. It is not about how hard you are going to try or what you will take up or put down in this coming year.

It is about our God who has blessed us beyond comprehension through grace. It is about a sure and certain hope that God has given to us. It is about what Jesus has done. It is about what God will still do as a result of Jesus’ work. It is about what God has done for us and it is about those God would use us to tell.

God, thank you for the blessings of this past year. Thank you for the blessings of this coming year. Thank you, most of all, for Jesus. Draw us into him even more deeply in the days ahead. Amen.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

e-vo for week of December 24

Dearest e-votees-

A blessed Christmas Eve to all of you.



For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Titus 2:11-14, NRSV

God’s grace has come upon us.

God’s salvation has come to all.

As this grace and as this salvation take root in our lives we grow and are trained in self-control, in upright and godly living and in patience.

We will continue to see people who have not yet arrived in these arenas of self-control, uprightness, godliness and patience. Sometimes those people who have not arrived yet are staring right back at us from the mirror. Sometimes those people are found at our family gatherings. Sometimes in our workplace. Sometime in the throes of hectic traffic. Sometimes down the pew from us at worship. Pretty much everywhere we humans wander.

That’s okay.

God’s grace has come upon us.

God’s salvation has come to all.

God is at work in us and God will bring that work to completion. All that is really needed is for us to open our hearts—wide and willing—to receive the Christ child as did the manger. We can make room for other hungry, stumbling, awkward pilgrims to join us at the Lord’s table. And they can make room for us too. God’s grace can be found in many places—pretty much everywhere we humans wander.

God’s grace has come upon us.

God’s salvation has come to all.

God we thank you that you stooped into the manger to reach out to your people. Help us know your grace. Help us know your salvation. Continue your work in us. Continue your work through us. We welcome you, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

e-vo for week of December 17

Dearest e-votees-

This week’s appointed text from the epistle is the closing words of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. The words speak of hope and mystery; of revelation and faith.

May they strengthen us and bless us this day that we might go out and encourage and bless others.



Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith-to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

Romans 16:25-27, NRSV

There is strengthening available for those as they encounter the gospel.

  • Perhaps we feel weak from despair.
  • Perhaps we feel listless from apathetic boredom.
  • Perhaps we feel tapped out from too many promises that didn’t bear out.
  • Perhaps we feel unable to grasp on to anything of depth and merit and truth.

There is good news (gospel) for us who need strengthening.

We need not despair. There is hope and future and a calling for us through the good news of Jesus Christ. There is nothing that can separate us from God’s love. There is no sin so great that God cannot forgive us. There is nothing we can do to get God to disown us. Despair should not win the day.

We need not drown in boredom. There is mystery and revelation to be had. Secrets kept over the ages are being revealed to all—including us Gentiles. God has commanded these mysteries and secrets to be made known. There is no way we should be able to remain trapped in boredom. Monotony should not win the day.

We need not get jaded by promises that didn’t bear out. God’s promises are coming to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The prophetic writings are fulfilled in Jesus’ ministry. The promises that we are neither lost nor forsaken are borne out in the life of Jesus. The promises of resurrection and restored life are borne out in the suffering on the cross and the empty tomb. There is no promise of God that isn’t answered resolutely in the affirmative in the life and ministry of Jesus. Broken promises should not win the day.

We need not fear when things seem unsure. We might reach out for a firm handhold during uncertain time. We need not fear that there is nothing to latch onto. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and into all eternity. Jesus’ words are sure and his mercies reliable. When we latch onto the things of Jesus we find depth and worth and truth. There is a reliable rock to cling to during the raging storms. Chaotic weather should not win the day.

God, give us strength through the gospel of Jesus. Give us hope. Give us enthusiastic curiosity. Give us sure words. Give us refuge in the storm. Help us be contagious in our sharing of these things with all the people we encounter this day. Amen.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

e-vo for week of December 10

Dearest e-votees-

The epistle lesson appointed for this Sunday could easily get lost in the shadows of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46b-55 which is an option for the psalm reading this week) or portions of the prologue of John (John 1:6-8, 19-28) talking about John the Baptist. That would be unfortunate because the lesson from Paul’s pen is quite potent and poignant as well.

We will hone in on that lesson for our time this week.



Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, NRSV

Bible trivia: “Rejoice always,” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) is the shortest Bible verse in the original Greek (14 characters). “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35, NIV) is the shortest English verse but has 16 characters in the Greek.

Part of the challenge in living in the world in which we do is that there is far more information available than can ever be sensibly processed and categorized. Back in the day someone like Isaac Newton could be an accomplished musician, mathematician, physicist and everything else he was. It was possible to get to cutting edge knowledge in several fields. Today one can devote their life to study a particular species of poison dart toad and still not learn all there is to know.

It is very similar in the spiritual realms. There is so much material out there. More than can ever be sensibly processed and categorized. It is not so much about learning everything as learning to sort out what you encounter. We are called by Paul to be able to “test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from any form of evil.” We don’t do this alone. God is at work in us.

Part of the way to constant rejoicing is knowing that we don’t have to know it all. We can learn what we can and trust God to guide and direct when things come our way. We can embrace the good. We can resist the evil.

We can’t keep our spirit, body and soul blameless. But God can. And God does. And God will. God is faithful and God will do this.

Because God is faithful we can rejoice even when we are not faithful. We can give thanks in all circumstances even those that seem unwelcome and uncomfortable. We can trust God to sanctify us even when we feel stained down to the core. God’s Spirit is at work and we should not quench the Spirit.

God, teach us to be a faithful and rejoicing people. Stir us to rejoice always. Do your work in us. And may your peace sanctify us completely. Amen.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

e-vo for week of December 3

Dearest e-votees-

For this week we will use the Isaiah text that is appointed for this Sunday to draw us into the good news of the coming of the Lord.

May your time of preparation and waiting this Advent be blessed.



Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Isaiah 40:1-11, NRSV

It is hard to read these words without having a soundtrack begin to swell up in the mind. Handel’s Messiah drew heavily from this text—as did the derivative Handel’s Messiah—A Soulful Celebration (a wonderful addition to one’s music library). The opening song in Godspell--Prepare Ye--also comes from this section of scripture. Worship songs about shepherds and sheep spill out of this text too. Why do these words from Isaiah catch our attentions and those of so many musicians and lyricists?

Maybe we know all too well the grassiness of our lives. Our constancy IS like that of the flowers of the field. We can be gone in a breath. Our loyalties can shift. The sure things we were betting on can evaporate right before our eyes. Our very lives could end this day. It is interesting to see in the passage above the breath of the Lord as a force taking life in contrast to God’s breath into the dust in Eden and the breath/wind/spirit of God into the dry bones in Ezekiel. When we draw near to the frailty and fickleness of life we are drawn towards the faithfulness and constancy of the word of our God.

Maybe we know all too well that we are sheep who have strayed. We have wandered far in heart and spirit. Our enthusiasm (literally in-Godness) is lacking. We have wandered off the path. We want and need our shepherd to come and guide us back into the fold. Perhaps that is why these verses resonate so deeply.

Maybe we seek comfort from the things that have beset us. We want the Lord to come and we want to be prepared. That is what Advent is about in a deep sense. It is also what our lives should be like. Repentance (turning back) and turning our eyes towards the Lord is part of the rhythm of the Christian faith. The words and music inspired from our Isaiah text accompany that rhythm well.

Stir up in us, O God, songs of praise. Move us to pray and trust in the sure and steady places found in the words you give us. Prepare in us a way for the Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

e-vo for week of November 26

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday begins the new church year. We are entering year B which leans heavily on Mark for the gospel readings.

Our church year in the United States ends with Thanksgiving (Christ the King if we are only considering Sundays) and begins Advent on the following Sunday as we wait and prepare for the revealing (liturgical and final) of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The appointed lesson for this Sunday is particularly appropriate balancing thankfulness and eager anticipation well.



Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Corinthians 1:3-9 NRSV

Paul opens this letter to the church at Corinth as he does all his letters with a word of grace and a word of peace.

Would that all of us always greet one another seeking grace and peace.

Paul offers an encouraging word reminding those reading the letter (including us) that we have spiritual gifts to equip us for the in-between time. God is the one who gives us strength—we need not muster it from within. We are blameless on the day of Christ Jesus because the cross has obliterated the accusation. We are called into fellowship with Jesus.

So, what shall we do while we wait for Jesus to come again in the manger at Christmas time? What shall we do while we wait for Jesus to come again at the end of all time to answer all the promises made to us with a spectacular “Yes and Amen!”?

There was a book that came out a long time ago called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain which suggested drawing something like a chair by drawing the spaces it defines. You draw what the chair is not and what the chair is emerges.

Perhaps we can try waiting for Jesus to come again on the right side of the brain:

  • Waiting for Jesus should not be squandering or burying spiritual gifts given to us.

  • Waiting for Jesus should not be thriving on conflict with others (within or outside) of the church. Conflicts may happen but they should be en route to peace.

  • Waiting for Jesus should not forgo offering grace to one another.

  • Waiting for Jesus should not depend on our own strength or stamina or ingenuity.

  • Waiting for Jesus should not be an exercise of self-loathing as we dwell on how far we think we have missed the mark. We are blameless through Jesus’ selfless sacrifice.

As we ponder these gaps that do not reveal faithful waiting in Advent and for the end of all time perhaps what that waiting should look like will emerge. It may look a little different for each of us. Thanks be to God.

God, give us gracious and peaceful patience as we rest in the truth that you are faithful to your promises even when we are not. Help us wait well and invite others to join in the process of trusting your faithfulness. Amen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

e-vo for week of November 19

Dearest e-votees-

This week we will look to our appointed reading from Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus to shape our time. No doubt our powerful gospel text in Matthew 25 about the sheep and the goats will also contribute to the conversation.



I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:15-23, NRSV

When you read this letter to the church it appears that Paul doesn’t personally know the saints. In some of his other letters there are more personal greetings. Paul seems to be relying on third person accounts in this case.

It is a dangerous thing to fixate on what others think about us. Putting too high a premium on how others regard us causes much pain in our growing years. Things are spoken from uninformed perspectives all too often. Even things spoken in truth are shaded by agendas of those spoken much of the time. Most of us would do well to not pay any attention to what others say about us and just do what we know to be right trusting that God can work all things for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose as Paul says in Romans 8:28.

But for a moment maybe we can ponder how others speak of us and regard us. Presuming they are speaking truthfully about us, what might they be saying? Do they see us as a sheep or a goat? We know with a moment’s honest self reflection that we are a hybrid. But are we more of a sheepish goat or a goatish sheep? How do others perceive us?

Paul has heard about these unfamiliar Ephesian saints and their reputation says that they have faith in Jesus and love towards all the saints.

How about us? When people are unfamiliar with us hear about us do the third party accounts say that we have faith in Jesus? Do people who gaze into our lives have any sense of who is our Lord? Do people who gaze into our lives see us being loving towards the saints?

My prayer is that when people talk about you and when people talk about me that they would see two things--our faith in Jesus and that we are loving towards all. I think the real gauge of our lives is how loving we are towards the unlovely and the seemingly unlovable. How do we treat the goats? How do we treat those who are unrepentingly nasty? How do we treat those that others tell us aren’t worth the time or are a threat to our well-being?

Lots of ink has been spilled over who “the least of these” are in Matthew 25:40. My guess is that we will always include too few people when we try to sort out the list. How we treat these fringe folks matters more than what any other person says about us. But hopefully when we are being watched and we don’t know it people are seeing us shower kindness on love on all we encounter—particularly the “least of these”.

God, help us have faith in you. Help us love the saints whether goatish or sheepish. Stir us especially to love the sinners whether goatish or sheepish. Help us to know your faithful and abiding love for us regardless of if we are having a sheepish moment or a goatish moment. Amen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

e-vo for week of November 12

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday’s appointed gospel text is one of those that it is hard to follow with an earnest “The gospel of our Lord.” The word “gospel” literally means “good news” and this text has a rather harsh edge to it.

If you want to check out the parallel version in Luke, direct your eyes to Luke 19:11-27. You might find it helpful for comparison purposes to know that a mina is a weight of about 1.25 pounds. A talent is a weight of about 60 minas (therefore 75 pounds). (courtesy of study helps of
NIV Archaeological Bible) A talent is a lot of money. The NIV study notes say it is worth more than $1,000 by modern comparison.

The fact that Luke and Matthew both have a parallel story that Mark doesn’t suggests to some that they were working from a common oral or written source to which Mark was not privy. That source has been called “Q” by scholars which is the abbreviation of the “Quelle” which is the German word for source.

May your week be blessed as you serve and keep your talents above ground.



“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

(Jesus speaking in) Matthew 25:14-30, NRSV

This text follows last week’s that had foolish virgins getting locked outside of the party with the bridegroom. Next week’s text is the sorting of the sheep and the goats with the goats heading towards eternal fire. Lots of judgment to be had in this portion of Matthew.

First and foremost: the judgment that we justly deserved has been endured and removed from us by the righteous and innocent sufferings of our Lord Jesus on the cross. We don’t need to fixate on locked doors, weeping and gnashing of teeth in the darkness and eternal fires. Jesus is the door and gateway who is open to all. Jesus wipes away all of our tears. Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus has extinguished the fires of hell. Jesus has done what we cannot, endured what we deserved and reliably saved us. Thanks be to God.

That said, how will we keep our lamps trimmed and burning? How will we put talents (in all the forms that the word “talents” takes linguistically—money, abilities, resources, etc.) that God has loaned us to good use above ground? How will we see Jesus in the thirsty, hungry, sick, naked, imprisoned and cut off folks that we will certainly encounter?

Surely we need the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us. On our own we snuff the lamps that God has ignited in our lives. On our own we run for the tool shed and bury our talents deep. On our own we can’t see past our own selfish desires let alone see the face of Christ in the needy one striving to make eye contact.

Holy Spirit, blaze in us that we might know the sure and certain hope of freedom from judgment in Christ Jesus. Help us wait with lamps ready, serve with talents invested for Jesus’ sake and with hearts and eyes tuned to helping even (perhaps especially) the least of these. You have set us free in Christ. Help us to freely serve in thanksgiving. Amen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

e-vo for week of November 5

Dearest e-votees-

Normally these devotions are based on the assigned lectionary texts for the coming Sunday.

This week, however, I beg your indulgence as we look at a different text which lines up well with what has been captivating the media in this country for the past way too many weeks.



“Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:15, NRSV

We have been fixated these past many weeks on who is the best choice to serve us. We ponder questions such as: Who has the best way out of the economic crisis that has beset our country? Who can bring the war in Iraq to the best resolution? Who can make sure that our needs and maybe even our wants are well tended? Who will do the best job as president serving the needs of this country’s citizens? Who is looking out for us?

Maybe we are thinking too much about ourselves rather than the call that is placed upon us. Maybe we are looking too much towards our own future and not enough into the future that draws and beckons us into a place of service and sacrifice—a place that looks more like a washbasin and a towel on Maundy Thursday rather than a hot steaming towel at the spa. This brings to mind John F. Kennedy’s famous admonition in his inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

Joshua’s admonition and JFK’s admonition still call out to us today. We are called to serve. We are called to decide in our hearts and in our minds and with our actions whom we will serve. All are invited to enter into service. All will enter that service one way or another. All must choose the one who will be on the receiving end of that service.

Bob Dylan was exactly right when he sang:

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

(Gotta Serve Somebody)

Who are you going to serve this day? As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

God, we thank you for those who dare to enter the fray of public service. Be with our newly elected president and all who serve in public office. Stir us to pray and support and engage them as we bear the mantle of service you have put on us all. In the name of Jesus who came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45) we pray. Amen.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

e-vo for week of October 29

Dearest e-votees-

This coming weekend is All Saints Sunday. It is a time when we reflect upon the great cloud of witnesses (present and past, living and dead) that form the body of Christ.

May your time be blessed this weekend as you gather with a great cloud of witnesses to give thanks and praise for an even greater cloud that have faithfully testified to the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.



See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.<br>

John 3:1-3, NRSV

There is no greater love than one who lays down one’s life for another. That is what Jesus tells us in John 15:13. Jesus then calls his followers his friends.

In this text we are reminded that God’s love has given us the gift of adoption. We are not only friends with God. We are not only friends that Jesus was willing to lay down his life on our behalf. We are brought into the very family of God. We are God’s children. We are sisters and brothers of Jesus.

We don’t begin to understand what all that will mean as God’s promises continue to unfold and come to pass in our lives. It has not been entirely revealed how things will look and how we will be in the final times—contrary to some books and some movies that claim to have it all figured out. What we can understand is that we are called to hope and trust and believe in God who engenders our hope, who is trustworthy and who is believable.

As we dwell in that hope we are made pure and drawn more into God’s likeness.

This Sunday we commemorate those who have died and been sealed in that hope. This Sunday we give thanks for those who have shown and taught us about this hope. This Sunday, and hopefully every Sunday, we are reminded that this hope is for us too.

We may not entirely get it but that’s okay—God has gotten us entirely. We are saved and we are loved and we will never be abandoned. Thanks be to God.

God, thank you for folding us into the great cloud of witnesses. Help us celebrate well all those who have surrounded us and preceded us in the faith. Teach us to lean hard into the hope we have in you and to be made more pure in the process. Amen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

e-vo for week of October 22

Dearest e-votees-

Sometimes we don’t want to hear the diagnosis. We don’t want to hear that we are sick or we are needy or we are broken.

But without the diagnosis it is hard to embrace the cure.

The people in today’s text may well betray our hearts and minds too. We don’t want to admit that we are in need of freedom. But as we embrace that diagnosis and abide in the healing presence of Jesus’ word we are made well.



Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

John 8:31-36, NRSV

In the “Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness” (Lutheran Book of Worship [aka
LBW] pages 56, 77 and 98) we together say “we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”

I remember a woman who came to our church who could not bring herself to say these words. Her point was that Jesus forgave us from our sins so we are no longer in bondage. In the grand theological scale I want to agree with her. In the particular incarnational case of yours truly I know all too well that sin still has its tendrils wrapped around my life. When I look in the mirror I see one who has been set free yet still struggles against the chains. How about you?

Two songs of Stephen Curtis Chapman’s come to mind:

Free (which can be found on
Signs of Life)

Remember Your Chains (which can be found on
Heaven in the Real World)

I commend both of these songs to you.

May your worship be blessed this Reformation Sunday as you remember you are simul justus et peccator (both saint and sinner). You are both set free and still bound up. You are a work in progress and God will not stop until it is all done.

God shape us into the people you want us to be. Thank you for setting us free on the cross. Thank you for continuing to set us free daily as we stumble our way after you. Thank you for salvation by grace, not by works, so we don’t get to boast (Ephesians 2:8-9) but receive it gratefully. Amen.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

e-vo for week of October 15

Dearest e-votees-

This week’s gospel text has the leaders trying to trip up Jesus in his words. In the exchange Jesus reminds them that God’s claims on our lives trump the world’s claims on us.

May we all know that God loves us, claims us and calls us into glorious and gracious expectations well beyond those of the world.



Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Matthew 22:15-22, NRSV

I got that e-mail again that tells me that I should boycott any money that is produced that doesn’t bear the phrase “In God We Trust”. I can’t remember how many times I have seen that one. Somehow it has been decided that we should shun money that doesn’t directly lay claim to our relationship with God. That seems perhaps well-intentioned but misguided.

Rather than worry about the exterior labels on things we use we should worry about our own interior attitudes. When we look at things it should be as if we are looking through contact lenses that have “This is God’s, too.” etched in the surface. That way no matter where we looked we would be reminded that everything we have—every possession, every moment, every breath, every hope, every joy and everything else all come from the hands of our gracious God. God cares how we use them all.

There is no problem with us living in the world and giving the emperor what is due. But as we pay taxes and cast votes and serve in our community and interact with our neighbors we should be looking through those lenses that remind us that God trumps all of these worldly interactions. That God wants to shape these worldly interactions. That God wants to shape us through these worldly interactions.

God, help us give everyone their due today. Help us love others as we would want to be loved ourselves. Help us to love you with all our hearts and all our souls and all our minds and all of our strength. Help us give you your due this day. Amen.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

e-vo for week of October 8

Dearest e-votees-

For this week’s focus we will use a portion of the assigned reading from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. Your on your own if you want to read the other portion dealing with Euodia and Syntyche.

If you are looking for a good song that derives straight from this text—and I know you are—I would commend to you the song Philippians 4 by the Spirit Garage Band on their CD Free Parking.

Have a blessed week.



Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

What a glorious contrast this passage makes to the furious and frenetic and foul tones that seem to permeate the campaigns for elected office in this world of ours.

Paul offers an opportunity to rejoice; the world tells us to bemoan.

Paul offers an opportunity to be gentle; the world tells us to savagely attack.

Paul offers an opportunity to forego anxiety; the world cranks up the stress and the fear.

Paul offers us a chance to be thankful; the world stokes our resentment.

Paul offers us the very peace of God; the world draws us into its wars and conflicts.

Paul offers that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable; the world counters with that which is false, base, wrong, tainted, unlovely and shameful.

This day, let us keep our eyes focused with Paul on the heavenly call in Christ Jesus.

God, help us walk in the world bearing the hope and promise that we encounter in Paul. Help us choose well, drink deeply and share your blessings with all. In the name of Jesus who is our Prince of Peace. Amen.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

e-vo for week of October 1

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday we have three texts about vineyards in addition to the portion of Philippians as we work our way through the continuous reading (lectio continua) of the epistles.

We will use our text from Isaiah to help focus our devotional time this week.



The Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard

Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!

Isaiah 5:1-7, NRSV

I was taken by the caption put on this portion scripture in the NET (New English Translation) which was "A Love Song Gone Sour". You gotta love the bad fruit pun.

This text is a picture of a loving vineyard keeper doing all that is possible to raise healthy vines that bear good fruit. It is a picture of a loving parent doing all that is possible to raise healthy children who develop into grounded and productive adults. It is the picture of any caretaker doing all that is possible to lead his or her charge to the best possible outcome.

No effort has been spared as rocks have been cleared, rains have been provided, a watchtower has been erected. With all the best efforts the best outcome is anticipated. But then reality kicks in.

Sometimes no effort is sufficient for the desired outcome. Vines have a way of growing their own ways. Children push away and sometimes plunge into dark places. Those needing care might choose the familiarity of addiction or unhealthy patterns or sub-par recovery over the challenges and struggles of getting to a better place. Those trying to help may well wring their hands and hang their hearts and cry out "What more was there for me to do that I have not done?"

Sometimes all that can happen is to let the circumstances run their courses. Hedges and protections and interventions may need to be lifted regardless of the consequence. Those we love might endure all sorts on attacks as a result of their own choices.

But even in the midst of all that God never forsakes us. In our gospel text the vineyard owner sends even his son to the unworthy tenants. The son, of course, is a picture of Jesus. We often are like the unworthy tenants who take what is not ours and traumatize others who are merely doing what God has called them to do. We are as often the ones needing the intervention as we are the one trying to bring about the intervention.

Thanks be to God that God's interventions never end. God's mercies are new every morning. Even if we dare to kill God's own son there is resurrection hope and a new start.

Dear God, we have been unfruitful vineyards. We have wandered our own ways and endured some of the consequences. Draw us deeply into your new mercies this day. Give us courage and patience as we reach out to others who have also strayed. Help us know the power of the resurrection hope that is ours in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

e-vo for week of September 24

Dearest e-votees-

Our texts appointed texts for this week have a strong theme of repentance and restoration.

Old Testament Lesson:
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 speaks of death as a consequence of sin and of God taking no pleasure in death but wanting rather transgressors to turn and live.

Psalm 25:1-9 (see below)

New Testament/Epistle Lesson:
Phlippians 2:1-13 speaks of taking our eyes off of ourselves and looking out for the welfare of others as was first and best shown in the work of Jesus on the cross. 2:5-11 is also known as the “Christ hymn” and is thought to have maybe existed outside of Paul and was folded into this letter.

Gospel Lesson:
Matthew 21:23-32 Jesus sidesteps a trap laid by the chief priests and elders questioning his authority. He goes on to talk about the kingdom as like a repentant son and one unwilling to change his ways. It brings to mind the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18:9-14.

May God bless these words to us and draw us to places of repentance and restoration.



Prayer for Guidance and for Deliverance
Of David.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.

O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.

Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

Psalm 25:1-9, NRSV

The prayer here is an earnest one from David seeking truth and salvation and mercy. David is full aware (as is Bathsheba and Uriah and short-lived baby) of his human frailty and his failings. Nathan reminded David and reminds us of how we stray. Psalm 51 was a response to Nathan’s rebuke.

Psalm 25 seeks after a God who transcends our failings. That is the hope of the son in Jesus’ parable who does as his father requests even after initially denying the request. That is the hope of those flocking out to see John the Baptist in the wilderness looking for cleansing and rebirth.

That God who transcends our failings is shown in words through the text in Ezekiel. There are consequences for the things we do and the things we opt not to do. Beyond that, however, is a God willing and able to grant life and newness to transgressors.

The God who transcends our failings is shown in deed on the cross as Jesus puts aside deity and enters into our world with compassion. Jesus suffers with (literal meaning of compassion) us and makes right what we could not.

Jesus took on the shame that David was so want to avoid in the psalm. Jesus opened up a way to new life and new hope and new chances. As we grow in taking that truth into our souls we grow into new life and new hope and new chances. As we truly live that restored life we find ways to offer new life and new hope and new chances to those that have transgressed against us.

We learn to pray with Jesus from the cross “Father, forgive them” and we learn to pray with Jesus on the Mount of Beatitudes “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”—and we find freedom in the releasing of others.

God, we need you to transcend our failings this very day. Shape us into people who know you and love you. Thank you that your faithfulness trumps our faithlessness. Amen.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

e-vo for week of September 17

Dearest e-votees-

I thought we might use the appointed psalm verses of this week to shape our time together.

The Old Testament lesson appointed for this week is Jonah pouting east of Nineveh because God’s judgment has relented (the Hebrew said that God repented). The gospel lesson is vineyard workers upset because all got paid a day’s wage even though some started early and some started quite late.

All of these verses call us to consider how we respond to God’s enormous and undeserved saving grace towards us and towards others. May you remember and experience and reflect that grace today.



Psalm 145:1-8, NRSV

1 I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.

If God is indeed God and sovereign in our lives than we are not. Blessing God’s name and God’s purposes may well mean that our name and our purposes might be cursed. This was Jonah’s struggle and part of why he resisted the call and pouted when God was merciful. This is part of why the vineyard workers felt slighted. How well do we get off the throne and bless God’s holy name?

2 Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever.

Blessing God every day is quite the spiritual discipline. Often we bless God through how we bless others. With the eyes of faith we can see every day as an opportunity to meet God and see Jesus. Rather than partition our week to holy times and secular times we can allow every moment to be both holy and have its secular portions. Mother Teresa seemed to get this when she talked about seeing Jesus in the face of those dying in Calcutta.

3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.

Allowing ourselves to allow God to be mysterious and unsearchable. We humbly come to Christ from below rather than dissecting God with scalpel and microscope from above. We don’t need to work as hard as some well-intentioned Christian authors to explore and explain every nook and cranny of God. We can be putting praise before understanding. We can be entering into the relationship in addition to an academic understanding.

4 One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.

This is the work of confirmation and fulfilling the promises made at the baptismal font. This is really the thrust of what youth ministry should be all about.

5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

Individual devotion time can be spent pondering God’s majesty and the wonder of God’s works. Time in the beauty of nature (particularly here in the Pacific Northwest) can be part of that discipline and joy. Time in Bible study and group interactions can serve that purpose as well.

6 The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed, and I will declare your greatness.

Giving testimony is part of the calling on all of us Christians. “Preach the gospel, use words if necessary” (St. Francis of Assisi) “They are necessary, tell them about Jesus” (Jim Burtness of Luther Seminary). Looking for opportunities to declare God’s greatness. This is a growth point for many mainline Christians.

7 They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness, and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

Rather than seeking fame and recognition for ourselves we can celebrate the abundant goodness of God. We can duck the spotlight that it might shine brightly on God’s gracious and righteous ways. We can join the choir singing praises rather than seek the diva/aria moment.

8 The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

This is the refrain of our lives: of Lent, of our dropped promises, of our remorseful turnings, of our hopeful new beginnings. This is how we know that when God’s mind changes (as it did in Jonah’s case) it is sure to be towards mercy from judgment. This is the good news with which we assure ourselves and others. Thanks be to God.

God, help us to abide with you this week. Speak to us and through us all to your glory. Shape us and continue to love us. Amen.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

e-vo for week of September 10

Dearest e-votees-

The appointed texts for this week are full of gracious forgiveness (or a stunning counter example in the case of the unforgiving servant).

Our transgressions are removed from us as far as the east is from the west (pretty far) in our Psalm. We are given counsel by Paul on not judging others too harshly if they practice their piety differently than we. Jesus reminds to forgive seemingly without limit. Joseph shows us what it looks like when he welcomes his brothers who left him for dead before they sold him off as a slave.

May God shape our days by larger-than-life, undeserved and seemingly unrelenting forgiveness (which has already happened at baptism) and may we bear that forgiveness out this week in the world.



Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Romans 14:1-12, NRSV

Who appointed us to judge other servants of God? Many of us seem quick fill that role. We look askance at others in our church or others in our denomination or other denominations. We sometimes even look in the mirror and heap judgment on that servant of God. By what authority do we dare to do such a thing? Our own?—bad news. Authority that comes with the stench of sulfur and discontented formerly angelic beings?—worse news yet. God is the only one who gets to truly hold God’s servants to account.

When we presume to take on God’s roles and God’s authority bad things happen. That is the real message of the garden of Eden. That was the not-so-badly imported message in Bruce Almighty. That is God’s words towards us today.

None of us have any standing before God on our own merits. Yet “the Lord is able to make them stand.” And the Lord is able to make us stand too. God will bring God’s work begun in us to completion (see Philippians 1:6). God will bring God’s work begun in others to its completion too (again, see Philippians 1:6).

What are our meat and veggie fights today? What are things that we are so sure we are on God’s side acting as God would have us act? Where do we sneer at others because they are too stodgy and restricted? Where do we sneer at others because they are too libertine and careless? How quickly do we fall into the trap of judging others. We may not physically throttle them like the unforgiving servant but throttle them we do. And as the parable suggests we really ought to be careful with that behavior. It could lead to disastrous results for us.

God, help us live into your grace. Help us love quickly, judge slowly, forgive often and bless you always. Amen.

e-vo for week of September 3

Dearest e-votees-

Our appointed gospel text from Matthew is powerful instruction from the lips of our Lord on how we ought to deal with sin and broken community within the church. It has obvious relevance to how we deal with others in our families, in the places where we serve out our callings (our vocations) and as we interact with the world.

May God’s words shape our ways in the world this week.



[Jesus talking:]

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Matthew 18:15-20, NRSV

The original language of our text doesn’t say “member of the church” but “brother”—an attempt at gender inclusion by the translators no doubt. The problem I have is that the language shifts from an intimate relation by happenstance to membership language. Church is mentioned later on (in verse 17) but we shouldn’t skip over the sibling language too quickly. Clubs, fraternities and sororities, academies, health clubs, country clubs, service organizations, etc. all have their place but they are completely different beasts than families. We may adopt language of brother and sister at some of these places but we know full well that there is something profoundly different from the groups that we chose and who chose us as compared to the family of origin into which we are born.

We are born into the church through baptism. Anyone else just may be baptized as well. Happenstance may bring them into our fellowship. They may do something that we regard as sinful towards us. Now these verses from Jesus come to bear in how we treat the other. We don’t pick our brothers or our sisters. When sin arises it needs to be dealt with directly and fairly. Jesus talks to us about how that should look.

Here are two reasons that we ought to truly take Jesus’ instruction to heart and engage our brothers and our sisters directly, discreetly and lovingly:

1. If we are wrong (wrong facts, misinterpretations, misheard words and intentions) we can correct the misunderstanding more easily. It is much easier to do damage control if we misread someone when we haven’t shared it with the whole church on the way to our holier-than-thou confrontation. The fact that we feel wronged may be different than if we were wronged by the other. Discreet and honest confrontation is healthier and better. Rumors are a lot harder to put back into the can once they get out.

2. If we are right (it happens on occasion) we can allow the person the dignity and the opportunity to make amends and offer repentance in a way that does not shame and embarrass them. If our goal is reconciliation (and when wouldn’t that be our hope?) is a lot more likely to happen if we haven’t dragged their name and reputation through the mud. Discreet and honest confrontation is healthier and better. Reputations and feelings are a lot easier to tend when they haven’t been ungraciously manhandled.

God, help us grow up into Jesus’ words about lovingly confronting our sisters and brothers. Give us grace to be lovingly confronted. Help us be in the business of loosing and caring for those who are bound up and hurting. Amen.

e-vo for week of August 27

Dearest e-votees-

I trust and pray that this e-missive finds you well. Our appointed epistle lessons continue to come from Paul’s letter to the Romans. We will let that portion of this Sunday’s lessons shape our time this week.



Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21, NRSV

This text reminds me very much of the 13 chapter of 1 Corinthians (another writing of Paul’s that gets lots of play, particularly at weddings). It is rich and strong. It speaks deeply of love. It is full of instructions and commands. It can be easily misused.

This beautiful passage evokes in me the same warning I share in pre-marital counseling with couples who insist on having 1 Corinthians 13 read at their wedding—“This passage should be used as a mirror rather than a club.” In other words this is a great text to use as a lens for self-study and personal evaluation. We don’t need to go out of our way to tell others how they aren’t living out this verse sufficiently well in our estimation.

A therapist I know has a cartoon taped on his desk. There are two bookshelves that the character is standing between. The one is about self-improvement. It is full to the brim with books for someone to examine their own life, their failings, their weak spots and do the hard work of sanctification. The adjoining bookshelf is about fixing your spouse. That shelf is picked clean.

As we read the text this week perhaps we can make a concerted effort to read it with the “self-help” glasses on rather than the “fixing the other” glasses.

The Romans text is so rich. It would be easy and fruitful to do a preaching series honing in on a verse each week. Themes of love (that deep, sacrificial, ah-gah-pay love), mutual affection (philadelphia—love of brother), hospitality (philoxenia—love of stranger), humility, seeking peace, empathy, disarming counter-responses and the like are the stuff that the deeper walk of faith exudes. When I look at myself through the lens of this text I’m not there yet.

But I hold onto another passage of Paul’s (Philippians 1:6, NRSV):

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

God isn’t done with me (or probably you, either) but will continue to bring that work to completion. As we take what we find in ourselves after the self-study with the Romans text to God in prayer and repentance God’s new mercies will flood our day again. Thanks be to God that our salvation and our growth are much more dependent on God’s faithfulness than ours.

God, shape us this day to be more like the one Paul writes of in our Romans text. Help us love others and ourselves deeply and give glory to you. Amen.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

e-vo for week of August 20

Dearest e-votees-

May your day be blessed as you serve others and our God with your gifts. Offer yourself as a living sacrifice as you practice your spiritual worship.



I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Romans 12:1-8, NRSV

So often we don’t notice how much we rely on a part of the body until it is injured or out of commission.

Once we get a strain in our back or our neck we become painfully aware of how often we use those muscles.

It isn’t until the cast or splint has been put in place that we realize how much our freedoms really have been curtailed (Fast Eddie Felson in the classic movie The Hustler has a hard time even drinking his coffee with both thumbs in casts).

It isn’t until we have stubbed our big toe or jammed a finger that we realize how often those joints get bent and used and bumped throughout the day.

So often we don’t even notice the parts of the body until they are under stress.

Paul reminds us in the Romans text that we are all part of the body of Christ. We have roles to play that some might not even notice until we are no longer serving in that way. Paul lists all sorts of ways that we are empowered and called to serve. What part(s) of the body are you? How would God have you serve this day?

Perhaps we can take on the discipline this day of noticing others and the role they serve in the body of Christ. Offer a word of praise or a note of appreciation or just a thankful smile. It may well make the day of the one you are regarding.

Paul reminds us to regard ourselves with sober judgment. We ought to also regard others with gracious appreciation. We would do well to regard others as holy and acceptable to God. And if in our estimation we think they are not doing all they might for the body of Christ we would do well to let God take care of that.

God, help us lean into You away from the conforming and confining expectations of this world. Stir us to serve in the body of Christ joyfully and to offer that joy to our brothers and sisters as well. Amen.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

e-vo for week of August 13

Dearest e-votees-

Amidst all the glitz and emotion and pageantry of the Olympics our appointed psalm speaks of blessings that transcend our own achievements—personal and national—that are for all peoples. May we know those blessings and bear them today.



May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us. May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.

Psalm 67, NRSV

Our appointed psalm begins with echoes of the benediction that we hear at the end of our worship services (see Numbers 6:24-26).

The move of this psalm is to ask for God’s blessings so that those who are blessed who may go out and be a blessing in the world. That is often how God moves through God’s people.

In Baptism we are blessed and then are sent out to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (see Matthew 5:16b)

In Communion we are fed and restored and forgiven that we might go out and invite others who are hungry and disenfranchised and laden by sin and invite them in as well (see Matthew 25:34-40 and John 6:35-40).

As we are encountered by the Word God’s purposes are accomplished (see Isaiah 55:10-11 and Hebrews 4:12) we are empowered and equipped to bear that Word in the world through our own words and actions.

As God’s blessings reverberate through those who have been blessed the world is blessed too: praise and glad songs are the thankful response; justice becomes more firmly established; nations sing joyfully and even the earth yields its increase.

Let us not be naïve enough to think that blessings will abound without challenge. Where God would work blessings and joy the devil would work curses and woe. Where God would work justice the devil would work tyranny and oppression. Where God would work harmony between nations the devil would work distrust and war. Where God would work bounty and abundance the devil would work hoarding and famine.

A quick look the newspapers and into our own hearts says that God is not done working yet. But God is at work in us this day. Receive the blessings God has for you this day. Bear them out into the world that is so desperate for a blessing touch as well. May God’s face shine on you and may you reflect that light wherever you go this day.

God, You bless us more than we could ever deserve. Use us as instruments of Your blessing today. And give us the humility to receive Your blessings from those who are made in Your image just as much as we are. Amen.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

e-vo for week of August 6

Dearest e-votees-

This e-vo is coming out a bit early since I will be out of town with our high school students on a mission trip to Benton Harbor, MI. Please keep our travels and the work that God does in us and through us in your prayers.



Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

Psalm 85:8-13, NRSV

The images in our appointed psalm text of very different realms making connection are stunning.

Love and faithfulness will meet.

Righteousness and peace will kiss.

Faithfulness will spring up and righteousness will look down.

There is a balance that is to be had in the Christian faith. Reconciliation and love and faithfulness and peace and other such things are one part. Jesus came to work these things through his life and his teachings. People are drawn in, called to be faithful and restored to a peaceful relationship. Images of restored lepers, tax collectors at the dinner table, forgiven adulteresses and forgiven repentant thieves show us this side.

There is also a call to righteousness and justice and sacrifice and discipleship which composes the other part. Jesus came to call followers. John called out for repentance. People are drawn out, called to choose the narrow way and be ready to lay it all down. Images of severed heads at king’s parties and empty nets left behind and worship in catacombs and conscientious objectors show us this side. In God these two sides come into intimate contact. Through Jesus we see these things wed together. In the church we are called to allow God to work this union as well.

God isn’t done creating these holy and unusual hybrids.

God shape us into loving, righteous, welcoming, sacrificing, peaceful and confronting followers all to your glory. Amen.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

e-vo for week of July 30

Dearest e-votees-

The appointed gospel text for this Sunday is Matthew’s account of the feeding of the 5,000 +. You will undoubtedly hear a thing or two about this text from the pulpit in church this week. (BIBLE TRIVIA: This is the only miracle performed by Jesus that is recorded in all 4 gospels)

Our appointed Psalm 145 text overlaps the appointed reading for four weeks ago (focus for e-vo for week of July 2nd). You heard something on that text not so long ago.

For our time together this week we will hone in on the other two appointed readings.



I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:1-5, NRSV

Paul is writing deeply from the heart longing for his people, the Israelites, to come to know Christ. Paul reminds the readers of the many ways that God has particularly been manifested to the descendants of Abraham—glorious appearances, covenants, the law through Moses, the worship through Aaron and his family, the promises. And further still, Jesus traces his lineage through all of these practices and these people. God comes to us in a particular way according to God’s choosing. We have the freedom to reject or accept Jesus come to earth to work what we could not but we don’t have the power to make it untrue. It is revealed to us—as to Paul—through the Holy Spirit.

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Isaiah 55:1-5, NRSV

These powerful words from Isaiah carried along by the Holy Spirit speak of abundance. There is talk of wine and bread and milk. Images of communion and blessing abound. Visions of baskets full of leftover fish and bread fit well with this text. Rich food and deep words bring life to all those who thirst. Jesus certainly appropriates these images into his ministry as he calls to all who thirsty (see John 7:37) on the last day of the feast.

The promises that are offered to Israel are extended to other nations not even known at that time (read, among others, the United States of America). We are folded into these rich promises of abundant life. We have the freedom to accept or reject this glorious and gracious call to abundant life but we cannot undermine the truth of the invitation. It is revealed to us by that same Holy Spirit that Jesus promises to us (see John 7:39) and to all who drink of him.

God, help us to know and live into your promises. Blow through us by the power of your Holy Spirit. Reach out to others through us with your gracious and glorious promises. Help us make room at the table for all who would come. Amen.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

e-vo for week of July 23

Dearest e-votees-

Looking through the appointed scriptures for this Sunday (the 11th Sunday after Pentecost) is like walking through a ripe orchard. There is abundant, tasty and life giving fruit hanging low all around. It seems like no matter what you pick you will end up with something good and life-sustaining.

I would encourage you to spend time with the verses of this abundantly rich orchard as you are able:

1 Kings 3:5-12
Solomon asking for wisdom over riches, honor, long life or vengeance

Psalm 119:129-136
Earnest prayer of thanksgiving for the decrees and laws of the Lord

Romans 8:26-29
Powerful words by Paul carried along by the Holy Spirit about our God who never leaves us as we weather all that this life brings upon us—more on that below

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
An orchard of ripe parables including the mustard seed, the yeast in the batch of dough, the exquisite pearl and the dragnet

May your perusing and picking and feasting on these scriptural delicacies bless you and those who receive them through you as well.



For today we will look at two portions of the appointed Romans text:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:26-28, NRSV

The gospel isn’t about us being wise or successful or composed or eloquent. The gospel is about God coming into our weakness. Jesus stepped into our sin-stained world and longs to enter into our sin-stained hearts every day. The Spirit comes into our fumbling and feeble prayers. The things that happen to us and through us are also sin-stained. But God can work all things together for good particularly as we grow in our love for God and in embracing the callings God puts on our lives. This isn’t some trite platitude from some sweat shop bumper sticker company far away. This is a deep and abiding promise from our God who bears things like the cross and our persistent sin and our scorn out of deep and abiding love for us. We are reminded that God has not forsaken us.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37-39, NRSV

If God was going to say one thing to you today what would you want it to be? Would it be an answer to a lingering question? Would it be a promise for justice or vengeance? Would it be a word of forgiveness or restoration? What would you want to hear? I believe that if God were limited to one statement (which, of course, is purely contrived) God would say “I love you.” God would say your name and God would warm your heart. God said it to Adam and Eve when he fashioned garments for them even after they had to leave the garden. God said it to Noah with the rainbow in the midst of the judgment. God said it to the woman taken in adultery. God said it to Peter and the others over breakfast at the beach. God says to you this day “I love you.” And the Holy Spirit through Paul reminds us that nothing can drive a lasting wedge between us and the love of our God.

Loving and faithful God, help us to abide in your loving and persistent presence this day. Help us walk in the world in a way that pleases you and blesses others. Amen.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

e-vo for week of July 16

Dearest e-votees-

The appointed section of Psalm 86 for this Sunday speaks on so many levels—confession, praise, proclamation and prayers. May our words and our prayers this day be as heartfelt and multi-faceted as this snippet from King David’s prayer journal—the Psalms.



Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol. O God, the insolent rise up against me; a band of ruffians seeks my life, and they do not set you before them. But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant; save the child of your serving girl. Show me a sign of your favor, so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame, because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

Psalm 86:11-17, NRSV


David asks the Lord to grant him an undivided heart. This prayer would only make sense if David were aware of his divided loyalties. Perhaps he is still struggling with how he made such a tragic mess of several lives by having relations with Bathsheba while her husband was off serving in David’s military. Not only did he kill of a faithful soldier but the child conceived in sin bore a heavy sentence as well. David didn’t even seem to realize his need to confess until Nathan hit him square between the eyes with “You are the man!” (see 2 Samuel 12:7 and surrounding verses). Maybe David struggles with being king over and against the Lord being King. Maybe David is living in the shadows of nuances and half-disclosures which is why he prays about walking in the truth. How about us? If we were to offer a prayer of confession right now what would spill off our lips? If you feel so moved to pray and confess go ahead. This e-vo will still be here after a short confessional break.

There is reason that worship and our days should be steeped with with confession—it is because we are kinfolk with David.


David promises to glorify the Lord’s name forever and to give thanks with his whole heart. The one who has been forgiven much loves much and the one who has been forgiven little loves little (see Luke 7:36-50). Whether it is David dancing before the returning ark of the Lord (despite the disdain of his own family as seen in 2 Samuel 6:16) or the extravagant adoration of a sinful woman who is made clean there is a theme of deep response to God’s holy presence and provision. Can we find time in our busy days to dance like nobody’s watching (thank you Satchel Paige or whoever first crafted that quote)? Better yet can we craft time in our days to dance when we know full well who is watching? Can we find ways to pour out ourselves in extravagant ways at the feet of our Lord? If you feel so moved go ahead and dance and adore right now. This e-vo will still be here after a short break for praise and adoration.

There is a reason that worship and our days should be bathed in praise—we are kinfolk with David and the sinful woman at Simon’s house.


David lifts up the qualities of God in words about God’s steadfast love and God’s deliverance. This psalm is still speaking to us so many thousands of years later. The psalm may well have been set to music and sung. Part of how God cracks through our encrusted hearts is through words of proclamation sung and spoken. Often it is not even in words as God speaks through the loving and restorative actions of people who have no reason in human wisdom to be reaching out to us. Can we find ways to receive love and deliverance in the many ways it will be offered to us this day? Can we be bearers of that love and deliverance in as many ways as the Holy Spirit stirs us this day? Can we live out that wonderful quote from St. Francis “Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary”? If you have an opportunity to proclaim God’s steadfast love and God’s deliverance right now go ahead and seize it. This e-vo will still be here after a short break for God to do holy and life-giving work through earthen vessels.

There is a reason that proclamation through music and word should abound in our worship and in our days—we are kinfolk with David and with the stones that shout out in Luke 19:40.


David offers prayers of thanksgiving and prayers for deliverance. David prays for grace and mercy for himself and for vengeance so that those who hate him are put to shame. Psalms resonate so well with us because they are holy and earthy all at the same time. The Psalms call us up to new heights and hunker down with us in the depths. The Psalms do what Jesus did in his earthly ministry—they meet us where we are and call us up out of the pit to new and redeemed life. God’s mercy and grace, slow anger, steadfast love and other qualities of restoration beckon us to new life. Because we are not yet done with the pain and suffering—both self-inflicted and from without—we can find places of solace and hope in the prayers of someone like David. If you have something you need to lay in the hands of our loving and merciful God right now go ahead and give it over. This e-vo will be here after a short break to engage God in the holy and healthy work of supplication.

There is a reason that prayer and supplication should be threaded throughout our worship and our days—we are kinfolk with David and Jesus and the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8.

God, stir us to confess and praise and proclaim and pray this day. Help us not relegate these life-giving moments and activities to our weekly worship. Infuse our day with the kinds of moments that our kinsman David had. Work through us to your glory. Amen.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

e-vo for week of July 9

Dearest e-votees-

Our appointed Old Testament text for this coming Sunday (the 9th Sunday after Pentecost) is full of promise and hope. May your life be blessed today by the deep and abiding promises and hope that comes from the steadfast and generous hand of our God.



For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Isaiah 55:10-13, NRSV

I remember well meeting a pastor one time who confided in me that after serving in the church for many years he still couldn’t manage to eat breakfast on the mornings he was preaching. His nerves and his digestion couldn’t seem to get along on such mornings.

While I don’t struggle with being able to eat on days I preach I do know the trembling of holy fear as I prepare to speak to God’s people on any given Sunday. What if I spend too much time afflicting the comfortable—too much law? What if I spend too much time comforting the afflicted—too much gospel? (as if that could ever really happen) What if I speak something that doesn’t pass theological muster? What if I try to engage people in a way that isn’t engaging? What if I empty myself from the pulpit and people leave even emptier than when I started? I cringe at the thought that I am wasting people’s time and people’s lives and squandering holy moments.

The problem with all the “What if…?”s is that they are focused too much on the messenger and not the message. They are too tightly wound around my own abilities or shortcomings and not nearly tightly enough around the deep promises found in the Isaiah verse above. Scripture—words that come out of God’s mouth—does not return empty. It accomplishes God’s purpose in God’s timing through God’s ways. God’s word will succeed.

If God can speak through inanimate things like water and bread and wine then God can speak through us too—particularly if we are willing to be like John the Baptist and decrease that God might increase in us. If God can speak through the donkey of Balaam (see Numbers 22:21-33) and bring deliverance then God can surely speak through people like us. If God can bring hope and restoration to people like the ones Jesus ate with and lived with then God can bring hope and restoration to and through us.

The point of all of this is that it is God’s work—not ours. God’s work doesn’t come up short. God’s promises are rock solid. The joy and the peace are for many including us. God’s provision is for many including us. Hope and salvation are for many including us. We can join the ovation of the trees of the field for our good and faithful God.

God, speak to us today by whatever means necessary. Speak through us today to a world that—like us—doesn’t always recognize your message as well as we should. Send your word into and through our lives to water and to bring forth and help sprout. Give us hearts to praise you with the trees of the fields. Amen.