At least since college I have received a flu shot every fall. When I was in college and while in the Navy, I had lined up with my peers waiting for a technician to grab my arm and shoot in a small dose of serum. In those years I rationalized those few seconds of pain would help me avoid a week of illness or worse.
Reading a few verses of the Bible every morning provides a similar inoculation, that helps me get through each day.
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
— Psalm 119:104 (NRSV)
But sometime, perhaps after our children were born, I began getting my annual flu shot for other people. By avoiding bringing the flu home my children would be more likely to escape the flu. According to the Center for Disease Control about a hundred children die each flu season; some years less and others more. Now as a pastor, getting my flu shot each year helps me protect people I visit in hospitals and nursing homes from influenza.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:
to care for orphans and widows in their distress,
and to keep oneself unstained by the world. — James 1:27 (NRSV)
With all the concerns about viruses in the media, getting a flu shot is a small step most people can take to protect themselves, their families, and the people they meet each day.
“Live like God is standing next to you, because God is.”
When I first saw this quip on a church marquee, I wondered if its author had intended to warn readers to behave because God is watching.
But that has not been my experience with God. Instead I recalled the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and his namesake from the sixteenth century, Friar Martin Luther, who each dared to speak of God’s freedom when their enemies had uttered death threats, for these two men, as well as many others, have accomplished great deeds because they recognized God with them.
Knowing the master engineer stands beside me at all times, I have paused to consult God and found solutions to difficult problems.
Imagine living each day with your mentor and protector beside you. What might you accomplish with God standing beside you?
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies.
— Psalm 18:2-3 (NRSV)
Deep in the Allagash Wilderness, my friends and I met a gentleman and his two sons at an overnight camp.
My friends and I were in our last year as Boy Scouts on a week-long wilderness canoe trip with our leader, a former park naturalist. Forty years ago, the Allagash Wilderness had three roads: one that led to the launch point, one to the pick up point a hundred miles down stream, a logging road that crossed near the mid-point, and nothing in between them.
Before retiring for that evening when we had met that gentleman with his grandsons, we discussed the river and our plans for the next day. Our leader had a set of detailed topographical maps. That gentleman had a gas station road map. It adequately showed each of the various lakes and the river, but it made no mention of campsites, the ratings of the rapids or of the waterfall.
Our plans included portaging around that waterfall. The gentleman was glad we had met each other, for before we parted company in the morning our leader had drawn on his map the location of the waterfall and of the swiftest rapids.
In many ways the Bible serves as a map for life, showing us what to avoid and what to seek. It is possible to get through life without reading the Bible. Some people do this with much success. But knowing of potential hazards and how others persevered, enhances life.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
— Psalm 119:105 (NRSV)
Of all the answers I have received ‘wait’ is the hardest to accept.
A nice clear ‘no’ is far better. ‘No’ sends me back to researching other possibilities, retesting possibilities I had previously considered.
Even a mushy ‘maybe’ is better than ‘wait.’ ‘Maybe’ says there is stone I need to overturn, a variable I need to consider, a possibility I need to prepare to handle.
‘Wait’ says only that something beyond my control needs to happen before I can get the answer I seek. Only after some undetermined interval can I begin the step.
We wait daily: Behind a slow-moving truck on a narrow winding road waiting for a place to pass; In a line of customers waiting to pay for a purchase; After a medical appointment waiting for test results. These daily tests of patience can become moments of frustration, or opportunities for prayer, opportunities to chat with a neighbor, opportunities to trust God’s plans for us.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
— Psalm 130:5-6 (NRSV)
“I wish my husband would finish the job when he does the laundry,” a colleague lamented. “He just leaves my clothes on the foot of our bed. It’s like when our cat kills a mouse and leaves it where I will find it. I appreciate what he’s done, but I really don’t need to see it.”
Some times I wonder if our offerings to God are like a mouse a house cat has killed. A meager offering to show our gratitude for food, for life, for shelter, for friends, and for opportunities to contribute to God’s household.
I doubt God needs to see what we have done. I also doubt God needs us to do anything, especially after acknowledging God as creator of the cosmos. But God encourages us to present our meager offerings so we might acknowledge gifts we have received.
While I doubt my colleague’s cat understood gratitude, I suspect her stay at home husband may have left her clothes folded on the foot of their bed to symbolically say: “See what I’ve done for you this day while you were at work keeping a roof over our heads and food on the table.”
Thus when set our meager offerings in the collection plate that the ushers will place on the communion table we boast before God and before our friends: “See what I have done for you this day while you, O Lord, assure us of eternal life, forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection.”
With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good. For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies. — Psalm 54:6-7 (NRSV)
For most of my life I read Scripture like a text-book, seeking what information it could tell me about God and God’s relationship with creation. I learned stories of encounters by prophets and apostles, by sinners and saints. Even today, when I study a passage to prepare before writing a sermon, I delve into the details and nuances of each passage. I look at word usage including the meanings of named characters and consider why the Church has preserved particular details for two thousand years.
And as I reread familiar stories again and again I notice how familiar passage that I can almost recite word for word tell about me. Thus the Bible becomes a book that reads me. I wonder how am I like this character, or need to hear that counsel. Each time I open the Bible it shows parallels with my life and demonstrates why it remains near the top of best seller lists.
Sometimes when listening to a very familiar passage, especially one I have heard several times in close succession, I get caught up by the flow and sound of the words. My mind wanders to think of other things. Only by considering this third way of reading Scripture do I understand that the Church chose passages for their usefulness as liturgy in worship. This third way helps me appreciate why people who suffer from memory losses and other cognitive impairments can recite familiar passages along with me as I read them. In this third way of reading there is no longer a need to ask what did the author intend or how might it affect me. Instead Scripture reading becomes a key that opens my mind to God with us. God with us though ages past. God with me this day. God opening a way to a glorious future.
Your word is a lamp that gives light wherever I walk. — Psalm 119:105 (CEV)