All-Access Pass

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S (Scripture):Hebrews 6: 13 When God gave Abraham his promise, he swore by himself since he couldn’t swear by anyone greater. 14 He said, I will certainly bless you and multiply your descendants. 15 So Abraham obtained the promise by showing patience. 16 People pledge by something greater than themselves. A solemn pledge guarantees what they say and shuts down any argument. 17 When God wanted to further demonstrate to the heirs of the promise that his purpose doesn’t change, he guaranteed it with a solemn pledge. 18 So these are two things that don’t change, because it’s impossible for God to lie. He did this so that we, who have taken refuge in him, can be encouraged to grasp the hope that is lying in front of us. 19 This hope, which is a safe and secure anchor for our whole being, enters the sanctuary behind the curtain. 20 That’s where Jesus went in advance and entered for us, since he became a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

O (Observation):  God promises to Abraham that God will bring about many descendants from Abraham.  Abraham had little to do with this, other than to be patient and let God prove trustworthy.  Generation after generation are born, and we have proof of God making good on a pledge.  

Knowing that God makes good on pledges, this gives God’s people hope.   That hope includes access to what was known as the “inner sanctuary” of the temple.   This was the “holy of holies.”   This space was where only the high priests could be admitted.   And this was also where God was believed to be most fully present on earth during the times of Temple worship of God.  

And yet, in Jesus’ death and resurrection, the temple curtain was torn, and God made it known that ALL have access to God – Jesus being the first with full access to God.  Now, Jesus makes it possible for all of us to access God fully.  

A (Application):  When was the last time someone broke a promise to you?   When was the last time you broke a promise you made to someone else? 

“Yeah, I’ll be there.”   “Yeah, I can help you move.” “Yeah, I’m open that day.”

Unfortunately, as a parent, I break promises to my kids: “I’ll be there in a second,” “we can go to the playground after school,” “we will go out to see that movie.”
Whether for time or budgetary issues, I break promises, and that hurts me and my kids.   My pledges are not always kept.  I repent of that and wish to be wiser in my commitments.  

But thanks be to God that God makes good on God’s pledges to us all.  God continues to bless the world through Abraham’s descendants.  And in some amazing turn of events, we are seeing many different groups of folks blessing one another.  

The world isn’t perfect, but I can see some perfect things in the world:  the innocence in my 5 year old; people helping in response to natural disasters; my wife, as she begins working as an educational assistant for special education (and putting up with me on a full-time basis).  

Blessings abound, since we have full access to God, just as Jesus does.  God promises to make many descendants from Abraham.  God also promises to bless the world through Abraham.  

What blessings can you see?   How has God blessed you?   Or perhaps a better questions is this: How is God working through you to bless others?

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to have hope in your pledge to be present in the world and to have access to your full presence.  Amen.  

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Work?  Rest?  Yes!  In a Rhythm…

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 6:1 So let’s press on to maturity, by moving on from the basics about Christ’s word. Let’s not lay a foundation of turning away from dead works, of faith in God, 2 of teaching about ritual ways to wash with water, laying on of hands, the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment—all over again. 3 We’re going to press on, if God allows it.

O (Observation):  The author is concerned that once the believers learn the basics of their faith in Christ, they will stop pursuing God’s call for them in the world.   That if they stop after the basics, they will find further challenges and not meet them.   The author is saying that if they turn from their disciplines of learning and living out their faith, they will be challenged to find the time or effort to keep on learning and living out God’s calling for them.  

They need to press on. 

A (Application):  But how much is too much?  Is too much Gospel a thing?   Are we offended by the Gospel call?    Sometimes we are.  Sometimes we can only handle so much as individuals…as faith communities.     This tiring should not bring shame, but neither should it bring disdain.  

Every healthy organism finds a rhythm of rest and work.   When God calls God’s people to get to work, they do so, or miss an opportunity.   When God calls people to rest, they should, lest they have no energy to do the work they will be called to do down the road.  

Every group must discern the right time for work and rest.  Whether to be out front, in the middle, or in the rear.   There is a time to be in each of those places.   

Sitting back…saying nothing…doing work…sharing the story…  we have lots of options.  

You have lots of options.  

What will you do, today?

P (Prayer):  Lord, give us wisdom to discern what to do when.   Amen. 

Where Do We Go From Here?


S (Scripture): Jeremiah 51:5 God, the Lord of heavenly forces, hasn’t abandoned Israel and Judah, even though they live in a land filled with guilt before the holy one of Israel.

O (Observation):  God’s people were oriented towards God after being rescued from Egypt.  Over time, they wandered away from God’s guidance.   They began to make their own paths without asking God about “where to next?”

As a result, God allowed them to wander and – eventually – be destroyed by the Babylonians.   The Babylonians came in, but God did not forget the people of Judah and Israel.  

One day, God’s people would be set free and come back into their homeland.  What comes first is not the people’s pleas, but God’s mercy – thus he verse above.   

God made a covenant that God will never forget…so God extends grace, and the people will eventually see this and respond with a new orientation: Hope in the midst of challenge. 

A (Application):  We are a people very much divided.  In an attempt to bridge some of the divide, our Theology on Tap group from Advent Lutheran Church gathered last night under the topic: “Race Relations in 2017 – Where do we go from here?”

25 of us gathered (21 white and 4 black) to discuss the issue of racism, of identity through skin color, and white supremacy.   Are there problems?  Yes!  Are we hopeless?  No!

We have seen progress, but like the crowd of God’s people that Jeremiah was addressing, we are a place steeped in sin, and the only way forward, is through the grace of God. 

I am hopeful.   We will start a mini-series of talks and conversations on race relations, and we will ask God to lead us.  Please say a prayer for us as we do the work of the Gospel, here in Murfreesboro, TN.   

P (Prayer):  Lord, guide us into the way of peace and unity, amidst our diversity.  Amen. 

The Priestly Role

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 4:14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

O (Observation):  The priests of the church were typically separated from the people in early times, so that they could properly observe liturgical rites (I.e. Worship).   The priest would be the “go-between” between the people and God.  

Of course, God has always been close to the people (never just far away).   Yet the priest helped God’s people see the connection between God and the people.  

With Jesus as the Great High Priest now, God’s people know a bit more fully that they can “approach the throne of grace with boldness” to receive mercy and grace.

A (Application):  The unfortunate outcome of having priests is the notion that one cannot speak directly to God, or that somehow the priest needs to be the elevated one who speaks to God on behalf of the people.  

For a time, this was something the Church took advantage of for selfish gain.  Think of it as “job security.”   

However, the Church has made it more clear over time that God is close to all, and has always been.  We have always had access to God through prayer and meditation.   And yet, most people say, “Oh, I’m not good at praying” or “I’m not good at meditations” or “I don’t have time to pray.”   Well, with that mindset, no, it will never work out for you.  

But let me ask you this:  Have you ever wanted something that someone else had (in terms of a peace or a spirituality that you admired, and wanted to make it your own)?   If so, have you approached that person?   If they didn’t respond, did you ask again?   

This is very important stuff.   Find someone who you think is someone God has put into your life to show you how to pray or meditate or give extranagavtly or build healthy friendships or serve selflessly.  Whatever the practice is that you are feeling God calling you to…go find someone who does that well.  

Then, once you’ve followed someone long enough, continue to adapt to your own style of prayer, service, meditation, giving, etc.  

The priest’s function – in my opinion – is to teach others how to pray, how to sense God’s closeness, how to pass on the gifts of grace in baptism and Commmnion, so that others can learn to do the same.   

So, what’s stopping you from taking the next step? From having that next conversation?  From seeing how close God and God’s mercy really are?

P (Prayer): Lord, you are close.  Show us.  Teach us how to connect.  Continue to send brace and patient leaders for your Church.  Amen.  

The Path Ahead

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S (Scripture): Psalm 107:
17 Some of the redeemed were fools because of their sinful ways.
They suffered because of their wickedness.
18 They had absolutely no appetite for food;
they had arrived at death’s gates.
19 So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
and God saved them from their desperate circumstances.
20 God gave the order and healed them;
he rescued them from their pit.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love
and his wondrous works for all people.
22 Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices
and declare what God has donein songs of joy!

O (Observation):  Funny how hunger and the smell of death can transform the faith of the folks spoken of in this text.   They wandered away from God’s ways, and suffered.   God didn’t punish them, they simply veered off from the path set for them.   And in veering off the path, the difficulties were more prevalent, the grace less apparent.  

And yet, God responds with grace when God’s people cry for help.  Now…having been saved yet again, the call is for God’s people to praise God again.  

Hope springs eternal!

A (Application): What about these hurricanes?  What about rampant racism?  What about terrorist bombings in populated areas?  What about same-sex marriage?  What about…<fill in the blank>?

We have a lot to worry about these days.  We have a political climate that is very divisive.  We have church leaders (myself included) all trying to speak the truth in love.  We have everyone blaming all kinds of things for “why” the crazy stuff happens:  sin, God, same-sex marriage, wealth/poverty divide, greed (or greedy people)…

The Bible speaks about brokenness in creation (which includes us humans).   The Bible also speaks of healing and grace.    

We can argue all day long about what got us here, but I hope we spend as much time on where we are going from here.   I don’t want to erase the past.  The past informs the present feelings and emotions of today.  And yet I’m trying to find a way to marry the past and the present to God’s unconditional love, so that a new path forward can be arranged…in peace.   

This is the hope that springs forth from God:  The possibility of a new day.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us not to talk past one another, but to hear and respect one another.   In that listening, soften our hearts to reply with compassion.  Amen. 

Jesus – The Great High Priest

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 2:14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] also shared the same things in the same way. He did this to destroy the one who holds the power over death—the devil—by dying. 15 He set free those who were held in slavery their entire lives by their fear of death. 16 Of course, he isn’t trying to help angels, but rather he’s helping Abraham’s descendants. 17 Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way. This was so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, in order to wipe away the sins of the people. 18 He’s able to help those who are being tempted, since he himself experienced suffering when he was tempted.

O (Observation): The concept of the the priest – the intermediary between God’s people and God – is lived out by Jesus.    Jesus is the High Priest, the one who intercedes for God’s people, who makes satisfaction on their behalf.  

The priest would offer sacrifices to God out of joy for praise to God, or as a sign of repentance.   Either way, worshipping God was the goal.  And now Jesus is recognized as the priest for ALL.  

In Hebrews, Jesus is the High Priest, seeking to satisfy God by offering himself as the sacrifice for all.  

A (Application):  Some debate exists over whether or not these texts are helpful. Perhaps this text can be helpful if we see that Jesus empties himself, thus surrendering himself completely to God. Perhaps not to satisfy God’s anger, but rather to be the example for us to follow.  

Jesus, as the High Priest, grants all of us access to God and God’s mercy, by being raised from the dead.  Jesus has overcome the power of sin and death, and through our baptism, so have we. 

P (Prayer): Lord, you have freed us!  We thank you.  Amen. 

Can You Forgive Yourself?


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S (Scripture): Psalm 106:
40 So the Lord’s anger burned against his people;
he despised his own possession.
41 God handed them over to the nations;
people who hated them ruled over them.
42 Their enemies oppressed them,
and they were humbled under their power.
43 God delivered them numerous times,
but they were determined to rebel,
and so they were brought down by their own sin.
44 But God saw their distress
when he heard their loud cries.
45 God remembered his covenant for their sake,
and because of how much faithful love he has,
God changed his mind.
46 God allowed them to receive compassion
from all their captors.
47 Lord our God, save us!
Gather us back together from among all the nations
so we can give thanksto your holy name
and rejoice in your praise!
48 Bless the Lord, the God of Israel,
from forever ago to forever from now!
And let all the people say, “Amen!”
Praise the Lord!

O (Observation):  This psalm walks through the history of God’s people: given grace, rebelled, repented, received forgiveness.   Over and over again, even up to the end of the psalm, which concludes with a word of praise for God.  

Forgiveness always lies in wait for God’s people.  

A (Application):  How willing are we to forgive ourselves?   We do wrong all the time.  From simple things – like procrastinating on an email or a phone call we need to make – to more complicated things – like hurting someone by our words or actions.   

How well we dish out forgiveness seems to be correlated to how willing we are to forgive ourselves.    (Now, I’m not suggesting we ONLY need to forgive ourselves.  We should do all we can to seek forgiveness and to forgive others, as well.).  

When you screw up, can you forgive yourself?  Because God can and does forgive you!  (Seems like I need to hear these words the most today, as I wrestle with issues of not forgiving myself.)

Seek God’s comfort today.  Take a moment and think of 2-3 things for which you need forgiveness from God.   Go ahead.  Take a minute.  This devotion will still be here when you get back…

….

There.  How’s that?    Now, after you have allowed God to forgive you…you are now better equipped to live a life in which you can also bring forgiveness to others.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.  Amen.