My Personal Hell

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Psalm 86

11

Teach me your way, Lord,

so that I can walk in your truth.

Make my heart focused

only on honoring your name.

12

I give thanks to you, my Lord, my God,

with all my heart,

and I will glorify your name forever,

13

because your faithful love toward me is awesome

and because you’ve rescued my life

from the lowest part of hell.

O (Observation): Recognizing God’s hand is a powerful thing. Knowing that the pit / hell can feel all encompassing, the psalmist is relieved to know that God still pulls her out of that situation and into a new way.

A (Application): My personal hell is nothing compared to what many have had to go through in their lives…but I still have a personal hell: self-doubt, feelings of being a failure, lack of self-discipline. And yet, God keeps finding ways to pull me out of my hell. God surrounds me with people who see the beauty in me, the strength in me, the calling of the Spirit in me. And even though I just used the word “me” 4 times in that sentence, I know it’s not about me, but about how God desires to work through me.

Step One, on a daily basis, I seek God to pull me out of my personal hell…to remind me that I have been set free!

Step Two, I wonder how God will wake me up to my purpose every day.

Third, I go out and do my best for God and for neighbor – and some days I get it right and some days I fail. But then, I go back to step One : )

P (Prayer): Lord, make me an instrument, a vessel of your grace…helping to pull others out of their personal hell today…to show them that you have a purpose for every one of us. Amen.

Advertisements

Blessings and Curses

Photo credit here (I don’t always find a piece of art related directly to the text for the day, but today, we have found one! Read Deut 27:11-28:68)

S (Scripture): Deuteronomy 28:1 Now if you really obey the Lord your God’s voice, by carefully keeping all his commandments that I am giving you right now, then the Lord your God will set you high above all nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come upon you and find you if you obey the Lord your God’s voice…15 But if you don’t obey the Lord your God’s voice by carefully doing all his commandments and his regulations that I am commanding you right now, all these curses will come upon you and find you…

O (Observation): God’s people are established after having been slaves for so long…for generations! They have no understanding of healthy boundaries for a person or for property. So, God sets forth the boundaries and declares what types of things should be done and what types of things should be avoided.

They assume all good blessings and all bad curses come from God, so this only makes sense to God’s people. They need strong direction in their time of uncertainty. They got it!

A (Application): I think about my own children. When young, we set strict boundaries for them. “Eat all your food! No playing in the street! Follow directions and get a treat!”

In this way of looking at blessings and curses, God’s people needed what they got: treats and warnings. Yet, as God’s people became more and more established, the idea of blessings and curses became less and less about a strict way to live, and more a guide to healthy community.

In Jesus, we start to see the true intention behind blessings and curses: healthy community. And in Jesus, start to see that one’s blessings doesn’t necessarily coordinate with how “good” one has been and one’s curses don’t necessarily coordinate with how “bad” one has been.

Instead, filled with the Holy Spirit, and with Jesus as our Guide, we simply look to God to provide and we seek to serve others, first. May we all be strong in faith and humble in spirit.

P (Prayer): Lord, we look to you for guidance and love and mercy, whether we do good or bad – well…we do both…so…uh…have mercy on us, Lord. Amen.

Aaaaaaand…We’re Back!

It’s great to be back at it with the daily devotions! Vacations and youth ministry trips are over, and it’s time to get back at the devotions…but first, a recap of my / our summer:

    Spent a week at The University of West Alabama (Livingston, AL) for a youth retreat called AFFIRM (hosted by the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA).
    Spent a week in Houston for the ELCA Youth Gathering with 31,000 other Lutherans.
    Spent a week at Orange Beach, AL, with LOTS of my side of the family.
    And if that’s not enough…we had a water leak damage our bathroom floor and hallway (on first floor) which we caught within 24 hours of the leak. So, we are in “drying out” phase and will be moving into renovation stage soon : )

So…all in all…not a whole lot of physical rest, but certainly a lot of highs over the summer.

I also turned 40 on July 10! My wife surprised me with the beginnings of a plan for going to Disney World with our immediate family. Plans are yet to be finalized, but we are excited to take steps to make this happen. Our kids love the idea, to say the least : )

And now, back to our regularly schedule program!


S (Scripture): Luke 8:28 [Jesus] took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him. 31 They were clothed with heavenly splendor and spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he would achieve in Jerusalem. 32 Peter and those with him were almost overcome by sleep, but they managed to stay awake and saw his glory as well as the two men with him.

33 As the two men were about to leave Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it’s good that we’re here. We should construct three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—but he didn’t know what he was saying.

O (Observation): As I’m standing here with Jesus and I here about his pending departure, I want to just make it all stop! He can’t go! I won’t let him go!

This mountaintop. This here is what we need. We have Moses and Elijah and Jesus. We will keep them all here. We don’t need anything else. We will keep Jesus up here, safe and away from his “departure” (whatever that means).

This can work, right???

A (Application): Coming off of vacation, I get what it means to want to hold on to something beautiful. The picture above is from the area where we were on vacation in Orange Beach, AL.

This is always a mountaintop setting. And the beauty of the sand in the day and the stars at night are a wonderful beauty to behold.

Coming back means dealing with our water damage, working with contractors, getting our kids back into routines as school approaches, and getting back into the swing of things as pastor for my congregation.

The call of following Jesus is not about staying on the mountaintop, but experiencing the mountaintop moments, coming down, and then telling others about the experience. About how God’s story continues through us – from Moses (the Law) to Elijah (the Prophets) to Jesus (God’s Beloved) to us (also God’s Beloved).

Our naïveté will keep us on the mountaintop. Our call as disciples will call us back down the mountain in order to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others.

P (Prayer): Lord, thank you for a wonderful couple of weeks in discipleship formation and vacation. Amen.

The 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering

One of the reasons I’m not posting these days is that I’m at the ELCA Youth Gathering all this week.

I am serving as a Property Manager, a volunteer who helps out one group on Thursday, one on Friday, and one on Saturday. My time so far has been spent prepping for those days.

And now…the reason why I help: faith formation.

These Gatherings helped me in my faith development. And now, I hope others will benefit from my service.

Here is a post from a friend, on the overall Gathering Experience. Please give it a read.

LEAD: Embodied Faith – the ELCA Youth Gathering.

Women’s Rights [The Daughters of Zelophehad]

Photo credit here

*** NOTE: The entire section of “Observation” and about 80% of the Application section is copied and pasted into my post today. The research and interpretation are brilliant. I include some of my own comments at the end of the Application section. To see the entire article, click here. ***

S (Scripture): Numbers 27:1 The daughters of Zelophehad, Hepher’s son, Gilead’s grandson, Machir’s great-grandson, and Manasseh’s great-great-grandson, belonging to the clan of Manasseh and son of Joseph, came forward. His daughters’ names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. 2 They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chiefs, and the entire community at the entrance of the meeting tent and said, 3 “Our father died in the desert. He wasn’t part of the community who gathered against the Lord with Korah’s community. He died for his own sin, but he had no sons. 4 Why should our father’s name be taken away from his clan because he didn’t have a son? Give us property among our father’s brothers.”

36:1 The leaders of the households of the clans of Gilead, Machir’s son and Manasseh’s grandson, of Joseph’s clans, approached and spoke before Moses and the chiefs, who were the leaders of the Israelite households. 2 They said, “The Lord commanded my master to give the land as an inheritance by lot to the Israelites. But my master was also commanded by the Lord to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother to his daughters. 3 If they are married to someone from another Israelite tribe, their inheritance will be taken away from our household and given to another tribe into which they marry. Then it will be taken away from the lot of our inheritance. 4 At the Israelite Jubilee, their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they married. Then their inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of our ancestral tribe.”

O (Observation): (This entire text is from MyJewishLearning.com)

We might expect that women, heirs to Egyptian slavery and then put under law that frequently favors men, might react by keeping silent, by accepting as natural the rule decreed for them to follow. We might expect women in those days to stay close to their tents, remain out of sight, and not go far from their families. So how and why did Zelophehad’s daughters write a new chapter in history? First, they dared to “go out” from their living place, from their social space, from the destiny imposed on them.

Let’s imagine the scene: the Israelite camp is formed of tribes, each of whom has a determined place, with the Tabernacle in the middle; and in the center stand the main authority figures, all of them men: Moses, the priest Eleazar, and the chieftains. Imposing as this structure may have been, the five sisters decide to claim their rights. Together, they go out of their tents, without being called by anyone, to the place where only the high-ranking men congregate, to the place where the Tablets from Sinai rest in the Ark, to the place of holiness and authority, to a place where women did not have authority. These men must have been overwhelmed when they saw such a startling, unprecedented situation!

[Zelophehad’s daughters] know that the continuity of family name depends on inheritance of the land; and they realize that the current law is not adequate, for it does not take into account the unusual circumstances of a man without sons. They possess the acumen to recognize this omission–in God’s law! But because they consider God’s law to be just, or to aim to be just, they show no hesitation in pointing out the unfair nature of the present situation with complete confidence and supporting their claim with compelling arguments.

[Moses] takes the case to God, who responds by unequivocally supporting the sisters’ demand and even by promulgating a new and permanent law to secure inheritance for any daughters in such circumstances (27:6-8). Thus, the sisters’ claim leads to the law of inheritance’s being changed forever.

A (Application): (Almost all of this text is from MyJewishLearning.com); my own comments are below the horizontal line at the end.

The achievement of Zelophehad’s daughters was a landmark in women’s rights regarding the inheritance of land, from those days up to now. In addition, however, the story of these five women offers a compelling lesson for all those who believe that their destiny is fixed or that divine justice has abandoned them. It encourages us to think differently— and provides a message of hope for all those faced with obstacles. Perhaps the most important legacy of Zelophehad’s daughters is their call to us to take hold of life with our own hands, to move from the place that the others have given us–or that we have decided to keep because we feel immobile–and to walk, even to the most holy center, to where nobody seems to be able to go.

After all, nothing is more sacred than life itself and the fight for what we believe is worthy. Thus, this parashah inspires us to discover that we too have the ability to know what is right for ourselves and what our rights ought to be. When we believe in our capacity to shape our history, to the point of being able to change even a law that came from the Revelation at Sinai, then we pay a tribute to Zelophehad’s daughters.


Back to me, now… : )

In the ELCA, in 2018, we have seen a high number of female bishops being elected. This is exciting news! We are so happy for this continued strengthening of female leadership in the ELCA. And in case you don’t know, our current Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, is also our first female to hold that position.

We hope for fair and equitable treatment for all of God’s people. We hope for stronger pushes for equal pay for men and women, especially our younger female cohorts who seem to be trending downward in pay, causing the divide in pay to be ever-increasing. Not good!

We will continue to pursue God’s will in seeking fair treatment to all people. This text is a good reminder that God’s law is meant to protect and bring life to all who believe in the Lord. May it be so.

P (Prayer): Lord, we give you thanks for listening to our please for hope and justice. Amen.

The Long Game

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Luke 3:23 Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his ministry. People supposed that he was the son of Joseph son of Heli…31b son of Nathan son of David 32 son of Jesse…34 son of Jacob son of Isaac son of Abraham…38b son of Adam son of God.

O (Observation): Jesus’ genealogy shows up here and a slightly different format shows up in Matthew.

Why is this genealogy here? Jesus is God’s new plan, right? Well…sorta…

The arc of salvation history runs long. In the beginning, God brought order and life out of chaos. God chose Abraham and Sarah to be the parents of God’s people. When God’s people were enslaved, God set them free. God assigned judges to speak on God’s behalf and to oversee the people in the Promised Land. When the people wanted a king, God let them have one, but then provided prophets to be God’s mouthpiece. A few kings were really good…some really bad.

Eventually, God’s people were so self-centered, God said, “Fine. Let me know how things work out for you.” But God never gave up…God simply let them figure things out on their own.

And eventually, Jesus comes along. In that great long lineage, comes the Savior. God never forgot the wrongs the people committed and God never forgot the joy of being with humanity.

Jesus – who was in the beginning – comes to earth…through the Great Lineage…to be hope for the hopeless, joy for the sad, corrector of the haughty, and raises those made low.

A (Application): Life can get us down. But what gives me hope is that God is working in many and various ways – much of which we cannot see. Evil may be hanging around, but it will not be the victor!

May God challenge us to move through the world with eyes wide open! Notice the special God-moments all around.

God is up to something. Can you feel it?

P (Prayer): Lord, we fail to notice your new life. Remind us that your reign works and grows around us. Help us to see it. Amen.