Work and Rest

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S (Scripture): Psalm 127
1 Unless it is the Lord who builds the house,
the builders’ work is pointless.
Unless it is the Lord who protects the city,
the guard on duty is pointless.
2 It is pointless that you get up early and stay up late, eating the bread of hard labor
because God gives sleep to those he loves.

O (Observation): Pointless. That’s the common thread of this psalm. The people of God strive for so many things (building houses, protecting, overworking). The point the psalmist is making is that all of this labor is done in vain if not done “in the Lord.”

The Lord is the key to all of the work and rest that lies ahead for God’s people.

A (Application): I hope you hear the Word today, especially when it comes to work and rest. That is a HUGE issue for us in America in 2017.

I remember going to hear a speaker back while I was in college. His motivation was this: the person who works 60 hours per week will do more and make more money than the person who works 40 hours per week; and the person who works 80 hours per week will make more than the person who works 60 hours per week.

That never sat well with me. Now I have a clearer understanding of why it didn’t sit well: God gives sleep to those he loves.

Lots of other scriptures support the balance of work and rest, and today’s Word is of importance. Getting up too early or staying up too late (in order to be more productive) is silly, it’s pointless. You work at like 50% efficiency when you’re tired and need sleep. So sleep!

I understand we all have deadlines, but don’t let staying up late and getting up early be the norm. Don’t let that lifestyle be the default for your production in this world. You will cause damage to your life and your loved ones when you go down that path.

Embrace the sleep God gives you. Turn it all over to God. Rest your weary mind.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us in our work and our rest. Amen.

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Lead With Love

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S (Scripture): 1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love because God first loved us. 20 If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. 21 This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.

O (Observation): The community of 1 John is seeking to be a true community of followers of Jesus. In doing so, they are working out what that means, practically. They conclude that when one has faith to believe in and love God, one also will love their brother and sister. (Is that a brother or sister in Christ, or any brother or sister in the world? Not sure.)

Fear will not lead their decision making nor how they view their relationships. Love will define their words and actions.

A (Application): I once heard someone say, “Sometimes, the worst part about being a Christian can be…other Christians!” How true!

I know many Christians with whom I disagree. I know of many who think what I write and speak of is leading the flock astray and helping to condemn souls.

What will lead our relationships? Hopefully, love, and not fear. With love, we can start to see one another as brother and sister. When fear leads, we see a false future. When love is our lead, we see the best in one another. When Love is our lead, we see each other as God sees us.

Let’s choose love first. After all, God does.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see through the eyes of love. Amen.

Bowing to our Idols

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S (Scripture): Daniel 3: 14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: Is it true that you don’t serve my gods or worship the gold statue I’ve set up? 15 If you are now ready to do so, bow down and worship the gold statue I’ve made when you hear the sound of horn, pipe, zither, lyre, harp, flute, and every kind of instrument. But if you won’t worship it, you will be thrown straight into the furnace of flaming fire. Then what god will rescue you from my power?”

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar: “We don’t need to answer your question. 17 If our God—the one we serve—is able to rescue us from the furnace of flaming fire and from your power, Your Majesty, then let him rescue us. 18 But if he doesn’t, know this for certain, Your Majesty: we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you’ve set up.”

O (Observation): The backdrop of the book of Daniel is this: “In the third year of the rule of Judah’s King Jehoiakim, Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and attacked it” (Daniel 1:1). Attacked and defeated it. The land of the Jewish People has been taken over by the Babylonian empire. This is known as the Babylonian exile. (Different from the exile in Egypt, before God’s people wandered in the wilderness…before they finally settled back down into the Promised Land.)

Having been placed into Nebuchadnezzar’s service, Daniel, along with his Jewish friends (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) began to serve the king. Some of the Chaldeans (Nebuchadnezzar’s people) didn’t like the fact that Neb chose some of the Jews to serve as some of the higher ranking advisors to the king.

In their jealousy, some of these Chaldeans plotted against Rach, Shach, and Benny (that’s what I’ll be calling them here and going forward : ). They convinced the king to throw into a fiery furnace any people who would not bow down to the golden statue of the king. The king agreed, not realizing that his Jewish captors (and advisors) would not bow. The text above shows the interchange after the first opportunity to bow is met with resistance.

Rach, Shach, and Benny won’t bow. The king confronts them. Their faith drives their decision to stand instead of kneel. Very bold, considering their people were handed over to this king. Is God on their side still? Apparently so, for they would choose death over kneeling to a foreign god.

A (Application): How many of us bow down to idols…EVERY DAY?!?!? Maybe the question should be: How many times a day do I kneel to foreign gods?

We have created a system around us in which we have become slaves to convenience and comfort. I include myself in this…so I’m preaching to myself, as well.

We have created a world in which MY life is number 1. My idol is my life, sometimes. Or maybe my “convenience and comfort.” I think we all need to take care of ourselves, don’t get me wrong. I’m thinking about when we are rested and ready to go, but choose not to, because it would be uncomfortable…a stretch to my personal comfort.

What is your golden statue that you bow down to? Money? Power? Authority? Work? When we make these our priority, when we bow down to these idols, we are like those who bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue.

Yet, we have a God who continually calls us to reassess our priorities. God has released us from the power that sin has on us. As we live into this freedom, we can choose, as Shach, Rach, and Benny…we can choose to stand and not kneel down. We can choose to trust God. We can choose to allow God to help us deal with the consequences of putting money, power, authority, work, second or third or fourth in our lives.

God will see us through the shifting of priorities. God chooses to save us, even when our priorities are screwed up, so that we have the opportunity to be bold and brave, like Rach, Shach, and Benny. We might realize a cost, but we will also realize the blessing of knowing that our God is (and will always be) faithful to us.

I pray for you as you give thought to your priorities this day. Please pray for me, as I am challenged with the same struggles as you.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to know that we are enough in you. Amen.

The Voice of Truth is Love

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S (Scripture): 1 John 3:18 Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. 19 This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence… 23 This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love each other as he commanded us.

O (Observation): The community to which this letter is written is encouraged to let their actions match their words. A set of doctrines and beliefs will not suffice for sharing faith. No, actions would need to follow up with the words spoken. This benefits not just the immediate community that considers itself followers of Jesus, but also those who witness the words and actions of this community.

Outsiders will hear the words of this community, and if the words don’t match the actions, the outsiders will see this as hypocrisy. Instead, the author encourages the community to be true to one another.

A (Application): When members of a church love each other and love those in their community with unconditional love, the truth will be experienced in its fullness. Sometimes we get this, sometimes we don’t.

But the grace is that we have this love to begin with! The Spirit gives us truth and we will know this when we love one another.

Our recent #MurfreesboroLoves movement in our town is a great expression of this love. Some think we are naive. I think we are living the truth.

When we have truth, we will show care for rape victims by believing them and (in appropriate ways) walking with them through difficult testimonies and trials. We will care for the perpetrator by not ridiculing them, yet still calling for justice to be done (which may mean getting released from their jobs or contracts, or engagements, etc.).

Love covers many wrongs. Anyone who has wronged someone can – in love – seek forgiveness. Our laws still hold true, as does our justice system, but our call is to love people through those challenging processes so that truth…love…prevails.

P (Prayer): Lord, take our frustrations, that love and light might shine through the darkness. Amen.

Prepping for the Thanksgiving Pilgrimage

pilgrimage

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S (Scripture):  Psalm 123

3 Have mercy on us, Lord! Have mercy
because we’ve had more than enough shame.
4 We’ve had more than enough mockery from the self-confident,
more than enough shame from the proud.

O (Observation):  Sometimes some of the psalms will run in themes; other times, the psalms are a bit random in their placement / order.   This is a case in which a few of the adjacent psalms have a bit of a connection, with the theme of “Pilgrimage psalms.”

One can see a cluster of Hebrew people, walking along dusty roads leading towards Jerusalem, kids laughing while sitting on the cart being pulled by the donkey.   Weary from travel, they repeat the words: “I raise my eyes to you – you who rule heaven.  Have mercy on us, Lord!  We’ve had more than enough shame.”

They come, seeking wisdom and comfort from the Lord.  They pilgrimage to be reminded that God is in the world, making things right for all who believe.  That God stands with the downtrodden, the weak, and the poor…for the rich will rarely stand with the poor, and the self-confident will rarely show mercy.

A (Application):  As Thanksgiving approaches (less than 2 weeks away), we have the privilege of thinking about all of the things for which we are thankful.   We journey to see family and friends, kids playing (or hopefully, sleeping) in the back of the car, while we check our smartphones for directions (or to take side roads to avoid the traffic from the accident a few miles ahead).

But do we take time on those trips to recognize God’s Spirit pulling us together as friends and family?  That unspoken draw, that gravitational pull, that tug within our heart…to gather together…that pull is the Spirit drawing us together.  We draw together to put away the shame for a few days – at least, hopefully.

I recognize that for some, the shame deepens at the holiday season.  Trips are made reluctantly, because the shame will get worse, by family members that wish to disown you, or show apathy towards you and your life.

So as we pilgrimage…let us go with our eyes lifted towards heaven…where God hears our calls and our cries.

May we show thankfulness and gratitude, and be surrounded by those we love.

And check out Seth Godin’s Thanksgiving Reader, a free resource that will help you to remember that Thanksgiving is about gratitude and possibility.  Perhaps just one or two of the readings from it would lift your spirits and bring joy to you and those you gather with this coming Thanksgiving holiday.

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep us mindful of the joy you have in store for us…joy that overshadows the shame we feel in this world.  Amen.

The River of Life

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S (Scripture): Ezekiel 47:1 When he brought me back to the temple’s entrance, I noticed that water was flowing toward the east from under the temple’s threshold (the temple faced east). The water was going out from under the temple’s facade toward the south, south of the altar. 2 He led me out through the north gate and around the outside to the outer east gate, where the water flowed out under the facade on the south side. 3 With the line in his hand, the man went out toward the east…
6 He said to me, “Human one, do you see?” Then he led me back to the edge of the river. 7 When I went back, I saw very many trees on both banks of the river…
9 “Wherever the river flows, every living thing that moves will thrive. There will be great schools of fish, because when these waters enter the sea, it will be fresh. Wherever the river flows, everything will live…”
12 “…on both banks of the river will grow up all kinds of fruit-bearing trees. Their leaves won’t wither, and their fruitfulness won’t wane. They will produce fruit in every month, because their water comes from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for eating, their leaves for healing.”

O (Observation): The Temple was at times the locus of worship, the center of God’s presence on earth. Ezekiel is given an extremely detailed explanation for the Temple’s layout and function. In this particular text, he is shown a river that flows from the Temple, outward. And where that river flows, life springs forth! Abundant life, at that. Like trees that bear fruit every month! Like fish being plentiful!

And not only does life spring forth from the fruit of the trees, but also the leaves of those trees are for healing.   

A (Application):   Knowing that God provides life and healing is comfort that I need.  I try to muster up healing and actions on my part that will provide what God promises…and yet I fail.  

As life goes on, I realize more and more that I am simply NOT God.   We all know that, but if we’re honest, we try to prove to ourselves and to others that we can keep our sh!t together.  That we can provide life and sustenance on our own. That we can be on top of all things.  That we can handle this thing called life.

The thing is, we will never have our lives completely together.  We will have days where we drain life from others, rather than give life.  We will cause pain, instead of healing.   

So, our complete hope is in God. Not in our hands alone, but God working through our hands.  Not our voice alone, but God working through our voice.   Not our hearts alone, but God calling us together into one heart that is bent towards loving God and loving our neighbor.  

May we share in the hope of the river of life that brings true life to all!

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep us alongside your life-giving waters, always.  Amen.  

True Fellowship


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S (Scripture): 1 John 1:1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life– 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us– 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

O (Observation):  The community from which the author of 1 John is writing feels very strongly that they have a message to pass on to the recipients of this letter.  The author – and the community from which the author writes – is full of an overflowing excitement and spirit based on having had true life revealed to them. 

The desire of the author is an extraordinary fellowship, based not solely upon “common interests,” but upon true life revealed to them by being in fellowship with Jesus Christ and God.   

(I’ll assume that the Holy Spirit is the vehicle for this fellowship and this revelation.)  

A (Application):  The excitement that comes from a revelation of the Spirit is unexplainable.  I can think back to several times in my life when I FIRST sensed the Spirit joining me to a larger fellowship:

  • Becoming a part of All Saints Lutheran Church, in Lilburn, GA, after we moved to Lilburn from Lodi, NJ
  • Going to church camps in my middle school years
  • Seeking forgiveness from a friend in high school 
  • When I began dating Kelly (who is now my wife)
  • Entering seminary

So many times…some big moments and some smaller moments…I was acknowledging that God was up to something greater than just making me feel comfortable.  God was showing me what true fellowship can be like, what it can look like.  

Why did God do this?  Perhaps so that I can help create a welcoming environment for others, wherever I go (like those who were a part of the fellowship established in 1 John).  The most holy thing I know is true fellowship.  True fellowship makes room for those who have open hearts and minds to work together, to share our God-given gifts, and to welcome the new kid from New Jersey (the kid with the funny accent)…or to welcome anyone else.  : ) 

Can you name a time when you were welcomed in?

Can you name a time when you welcomed others in to your fellowship?

P (Prayer): Lord, you gather us together into one Spirit. Help us to know that oneness with you and with our neighbor. Amen.