Sunday, August 1

Proverbs 28:25-27

The greedy stir up conflict (v. 25, NIV). What am I greedy for when I “stir up conflict” with my father over politics? I tell myself I’m forging a connection by convincing him to see the world the way I do. If that were really my goal, I’d have to admit that it doesn’t work. Perhaps, that’s not really what I’m after. Maybe I’m using him as a safe place to vent my anger, that nasty by-product of fear. 

What does this have to do with greed? We don’t just hunger for money, or power, or more cake—we can be greedy for attention and validation, too. One antonym to “greed” is “generosity.” So, if the greedy stir up conflict, perhaps the generous seek to heal.
A generous, rather than greedy approach to my father might be to work harder to connect the threads of our shared perspective. Lately, I’ve been telling my three-year-old son stories about “Sammy the Ghost” and “Maggie the Witch,” two characters my father invented when I was little. On my generous days, I send him videos of my son talking about these characters. On greedier ones, I call railing about the latest news headline and asking him to share my anger, which he never does. You can guess which action brings us closer.

I’m not likely to ever stop believing that my worldview is the right one. But it’s possible that we are trusting in ourselves a little too much in this time of division, putting too much stock in our own lived experience, rather than understanding that people experience the world in millions of different ways. Remembering that the people who disagree with us may do so because of something real and different in their lives is one way to walk in wisdom (v. 26). Reading today’s passage, I imagined Jesus walking into a clash between protesters and counter-protestors and smothering both sides with love. 

Consider

When you stir up conflict, what are you greedy for?

Pray

God, teach me to open my eyes, walk in wisdom, and put my trust in you instead of hungering after foolish alternatives. Amen.

Saturday, July 31

Philippians 3:17-21

As I write this, it’s been 7½ months since the pandemic prompted our country to throw on the brakes. There’s a vaccine in sight but certainly it’ll be months before it is approved, distributed, and widely administered. So many businesses have closed, many permanently. Entire industries are on the brink. (Certainly, the arts and cultural field, where I have spent nearly the entirety of my career, is reeling.) Millions have seen their incomes contract or vanish. It’s a time of loss.

Paul and Timothy are endeavoring to encourage the Philippians in the midst of equally trying times. They’ve been persecuted for preaching; Paul has been imprisoned and sits in chains. Still he writes with encouragement about God’s faithfulness. But Paul challenges those who read his letter to be God’s hands and feet: “…in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (2:3-4, NIV). We can hear no more important words today than to take care of each other. 

Paul doesn’t mince words with those who focus on their own selfish interests: Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things (v. 19, NIV). Their god is their stomach—ouch. Paul and Timothy challenge us to think beyond our own self-absorbed desires—the gluttony of me. In the next chapter, they offer this: “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” (4:8). In the midst of incredible loss, if we can focus on those things, we have no option but to help each other, even if we must do so masked and from a safe distance.

Consider

What can I do this week to uphold someone in my community? 

Pray

God, give me strength amid so much loss and gratitude for what’s good, pure, and lovely. This one is hard to do. Help me. Thank you. Amen.

Friday, July 30

Ephesians 5:15-20

I grew up in a teetotaling household. Neither parent ever indulged in a single sip of alcohol. Their deep Southern Baptist roots told them drinking was wrong—no ifs, ands, buts. When I discovered Dad’s family history, I found two brothers who were, in not-so-kind parlance, raging alcoholics. Dad’s aversion to alcohol had as much to do with immense family pain connected to alcohol abuse as it did with the scriptures.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery (v. 18, NIV) Getting drunk has zero positive outcomes. The best outcome is a bad hangover. Other outcomes head south from there. But we can be drunk on so many things. Drunk on power, on being right, revenge, self-pity, or anger. Being drunk on anything takes us out of our right minds. 

But here’s the pivot: Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord (v. 19, NIV). I’ve been in the performing arts my entire life and can say without question that music also takes us out of our minds—but leads us into a “righter” place. Music can carry us straight to God’s footstool. 

When I was growing up, my family visited the Glorieta conference center in New Mexico each summer for Music Week. The primary attendees were music ministers, choir directors, singers, and musicians. Imagine an auditorium seating 2,600 professionally trained musicians. Four-part harmony (or more) was beautifully offered on every song. Once, the music director instructed those seated on the main floor to stay silent: “Let’s listen to those in the balcony sing—it will be a prelude of what the angelic choirs in heaven will sound like.” Some fifty years later, that joyous sound still reverberates in my ears. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord. Better than being drunk. 

Consider

Think about how worshiping through the gifts of music and dance and song requires our sharpest minds, whether as performer or congregation member.

Pray

God, thank you for the miracle of music. Thank you for how it speaks to my soul through a path of mystery. Amen.

Thursday, July 29

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

It’s interesting that, just prior to this passage, Paul begins with an admonition to avoid taking one another to court. Lawsuits and sexual immorality, hand-in-hand. In today’s world, the former is often the result of the latter. Of lawsuits, Paul says, “In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you” (6:7). I think it is completely proper to say the same thing about sexual immorality; the fact that it exists points to a defeat.

So often, there is real betrayal when sexual immorality occurs (ditto for lawsuits!)—often betrayal of those closest to us, those who love and care for us the most. Paul specifically admonishes against consorting with prostitutes and I think we can all agree on that one: bad idea. But certainly, this cautionary Scripture about sexual gluttony is broader than participating in the sex trade, as awful as that is for all involved.

A few months ago, I learned of a minister who, decades ago, cheated on his wife with the best friend of his son. That best friend was also a member of the minister’s church. Betrayal on betrayal on betrayal. Even 40 years later, the razors of pain caused by that choice continue to cut into the hearts of those impacted. The admonitions here aren’t just Puritanical chest beating over sexual impropriety. This matter of using our bodies selfishly is a gluttony with an impact that stretches over generations. The gluttony of indulging our bodies runs the risk of destroying not just ourselves but others.

Consider

Consider how God endeavors to love and protect us—and those we care most deeply about—by giving us our bodies as a most sacred vessel. How will you honor God with yours today?

Pray

God, thank you for the sacredness of our bodies and the sacredness of sex. Remind us as needed not to be forgetful about this. Amen.

Wednesday, July 28

1 Corinthians 3:16-20

Paul seems to be attempting to get these early Christians to, you know, grow up. Here they are, just a few years after Jesus’ death, and they are already splintering into cults of personality. Some are Apollos Christians; some are Paul Christians. Each seems to believe that they’re wiser than the other guy. Paul tries to nip that in the bud in his “not-so-fast” kind of way. Just a few verses earlier, he reminds them (and us) that we are all co-workers in God’s service; “you are God’s field, God’s building” (v. 9). Presuming that we’re wiser than the person sitting next to us is a sure formula to destroy ourselves.

The gluttony of self-assured wisdom. There is a particular humbleness that Paul is calling us to embrace. (The irony that this comes from Paul, who doesn’t come across as a particularly humble guy, is something we’ll leave for another day.) We see this play out in the corporate sector all the time. Radio Shack, Lehman Brothers, Enron—who actually referred to themselves as “the smartest guys in the room”—were all gone in a cloud of hubris.

Emo Philips—always one of my go-to theologians—expressed this notion of self-assured “wisdom” in his Golden Gate Bridge routine (check it out on YouTube). A paradox for believers is that we often disagree more ferociously with someone just a few notches away from ourselves. Entire faith traditions have begun from a splintered view on a single issue. As though our compass is the only one that points to true north. This is the gluttony of trying to be smarter than you. 

Consider

How have I done damage to myself as God’s temple in believing that I’m right and everyone else is…not?

Pray

God, keep me humble. Keep me curious. And when I’m right, help me have the grace to let someone else say it. Amen.

Tuesday, July 27

Luke 12:13-21

“He Who Dies with the Most Stuff Wins,” said the bumper sticker on a fancy pickup truck towing a sleek pair of jet skis and a pair of shiny motorcycles in the truck bed. Wins what? is the salient question, I suppose. But before I get all high and mighty and judgmental on that F-150-driving gent, a personal story. A confession, really. Since 2012, my wife and I have moved six times (for work-related reasons). If you want to find out how much useless junk you’ve accumulated, make a move in late middle-age. Then do it again. And again. And a couple more times. So. Much. Stuff. But the real lesson took hold on the third move. For five months, we lived in a quite small, three-room apartment while we looked for permanent accommodations. At least 85% of our belongings went into storage. The shocker: we didn’t miss it. Any of it. Okay—we missed having a couple of bowls that inadvertently got packed away. Bowls. Otherwise, it was breathtaking how little we actually needed and used.

As I write these words, news has just arrived of the death of a long-time professional friend and colleague, several years younger than me. He was a kind and compassionate man who managed to leave the world in better shape than he found it. As his friends and family and spouse collectively grieved and honored him (on social media, as we now do), he was praised as a winner for his leadership and how he treated others. Not a single mention of his stuff. 

Jesus reminds us that life does not consist of an abundance of stuff but in being rich toward God. I need to work on that, but first I must answer the front door. The Amazon delivery guy is here. 

Consider

How much of my life have I committed to accumulating more stuff instead of investing in what really matters?

Pray

God, forgive me for being consumed with consuming. Even at the risk of yet another move, keep me focused on what matters. Amen.

Monday, July 26

Amos 6:4-7

Wow—who doesn’t love some Amos to start or end the day? He’s a fella with a harsh message focused around social justice. The rich are ignoring the poor and taking advantage of them. The courts are catering to the rich, taking bribes, and depriving the poor of justice. This could be taken from this morning’s headlines. And enveloping these injustices is the specter of conspicuous consumption. Amos is saying, “Israel is going to hell in a handbasket while you people sit in your ivory tower, eating and drinking and ordering exotic skin cream.”

Reading Amos’ prophetic takedown reminds me of a moment in a speech by Garrison Keillor: “My generation strikes me as self-absorbed. You hear them at the grocery store deliberating the balsamic vinegar and the olive oils….”

It’s easy to find ways to distract ourselves—especially with food and drink—rather than focus on the injustice around us. We casually walk by a homeless person to buy a $4 cup of coffee. 

I suspect Amos didn’t have a lot of social interaction…or friends. Sitting next to him at a dinner party—besides the obvious irony—would probably not yield an evening of scintillating conversation. Amos reminds us, relentlessly, that we cannot forget the injustices of the most vulnerable, lest we find ourselves in exile. The gluttony of self-absorption is easy. But Amos says to his people, “Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.” We should strive for no less.

Consider

What injustice will cross your path today and what step can you take to help counteract it?

Pray

God, let me see my world with new eyes that allow me to see and act on the injustices heaped on the most vulnerable around me. Amen.

Sunday, July 25

Proverbs 23:19-21

We begin this week on gluttony by asking our friends at Merriam-Webster for a definition of this third deadly sin. MW defines gluttony as (1) excess in eating or drinking; (2) greedy or excessive indulgence.

Definition one is my normal “go-to,” but definition two is even more challenging when it comes to choosing how we live our lives. How do I practice gluttony? Let me count the ways. As a baby boomer, I have seen self-indulgence as a sadly defining dynamic of my generation: bigger houses, enormous SUVs, exotic vacations. Keeping up with the Joneses is how we keep score. I’m not proud of this.

The Bible says much about gluttony’s deadly trap. But today’s text warns of the elemental dangers of excess consumption—and of keeping company with those who overindulge: Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat (v. 20, NIV). If we’re looking to improve our diet, showing up for “Chicken Wings and Nachos Happy Hour” may not be our best choice. In that environment, we tend to encourage everyone to overindulge…a not-so-subtle justification for our own “I’ll have another” decision. The author doesn’t focus on the negative impact on our bodies here, which we’re keenly aware of today, but on the broader impact of overdoing it, specifically, the hangover effect. No one is at their best the morning following a food and wine bacchanal. Put enough of those “morning after” moments together and poverty is sure to come—both economic and spiritual. 

Solomon implicitly encourages us to make each day count to its fullest and admonishes the reader to focus on what goes into our bodies. It impacts tomorrow.

Consider

Intentionally making good choices about what we eat and drink honors our bodies and our Creator. How does this assurance affect your menu today?

Pray

God, give me the wisdom to make good choices today so that I can avoid asking for forgiveness tomorrow. Amen.

Saturday, July 24

1 Peter 2:1-3

Of the “deadly sins,” envy is the one custom-fitted to a person’s particular ego and insecurity. It begins quietly in a personal disappointment. Left unchecked, it leads to broken relationships. It wears you down before leaving you with no one to blame but yourself. Shame.

It’s “the most odious, and also the most comical, of vices,” says C.S. Lewis’ fictional demon Screwtape, who gleefully adds, “those who were aware of feeling it felt it with shame” (Screwtape Proposes a Toast, 1952).

Rid yourselves, therefore, of…envy, the Scripture says. But how?! Doesn’t God know I didn’t get the part, was passed over for promotion, got cancer, or had to care for someone who did? Doesn’t God know how deeply I desire to have a child, a relationship, to be accepted? “Rid yourself of envy,” it says, but I’d rather be rid of the Joneses across the street who seem always to have an abundance of good going on. Somewhere, Screwtape is enjoying this.

An old ad campaign asks, “Got milk?” James recommends pure, spiritual milk, and advises we seek it like newborn infants (v. 2). That’s how to rid yourself of envy, we’re told. Pure spiritual milk isn’t watered down. It contains no contaminants of opinion, self-help memes, or guilt. No additives of churchy language, doctrine, or theology. Pure spiritual milk is 100% Gratitude. O, taste and see that the Lord is good!

When we return to the basics, drinking in the goodness and sustaining love of God, absorbing the perfect gift that is life itself, we are like a child at a mother’s breast. We’re not looking around at what others have or don’t have. Not comparing or complaining. 

This, James says, is how to diffuse and rid yourselves of sinful envy. Focus on these things. Got milk?

Consider

We cannot fathom the depths of God’s love for us. But when is the last time we tried?

Pray

God, help me extend to others today the blessings you’ve given me. Amen.

Friday, July 23

James 3:14-16

O come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind; bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease; fill all the world with heaven’s peace. —O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, 8th century, trans. John Mason Neal, 1851

Why do we only sing this hymn during Advent? Certainly not because Christ’s birth rid all envy, strife, and quarrels from our midst once and for all. Not in the least. Not between nations. Not between individuals.

Indeed, as another hymn proclaims, Bethlehem’s dark streets shineth the everlasting light. But King Herod simmereth with envy nonetheless, and would soon be in pursuit of the hope of all ages. The holy family, and in some sense the human family, has been on the run ever since, refugees in a foreign land.

Let’s be honest, during these centuries since the advent of the Word made flesh, the Church as Christ’s body has not only seen terrible violence and division, it’s been a source of it. Envy plays a part in that.

When Paul writes to the Christians in Philippi, he wastes no time addressing this: “Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry” (Phil 1:15). Across any town, one church is attracting the membership of another church. The reasons cited include “better music, better preaching, better hours, better youth program, better this, better that.” In another church, deacons and elders divide over the pastor. Quarrels ensue in flower committees. Singers resent not getting the solo.

As long as there is envy and selfish ambition, James reminds us, wickedness and disorder lurk nearby—like Herod’s secret service agents—with ill intent. 

Consider

How much of my energy for God’s work do I divert to competitiveness or envy toward other people or programs in my church?

Pray

Come, God of Peace, be our true desire. Bind us together to work in unity for your kingdom of light and love. Amen.