Captivity…then, Freedom


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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 21:8 This is what you should tell this people: The Lord says: I’m setting before you the way of life and the way of death. 9 Whoever stays in the city will die by the sword, famine, and disease. But whoever leaves the city and surrenders to the Babylonians will live; yes, their lives will be spared. 10 I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good, declares the Lord; it will be delivered to the king of Babylon, who will set it on fire.

O (Observation):  God has finally allowed the people of God to be taken over.  Their lives are no longer dedicated to God, except when they are in a pinch.   God will be letting the people feel the pain of moving away from God’s grace.   

This pain, however, can possibly be assuaged.   God is giving life in the midst of the death and destruction to come.   If they stay in Israel, they will perish.  But if they go with the Babylonians – back to Babylon – they will live.   The people must decide.  

A note about “captivity” in the days of Jeremiah: neighboring countries that conquered a people and its land would take the people as captives back to their own homelands.   Some of the captors would stay in the place which they conquered, but mostly, folks whose land was captured would be taken to the land of their captors.  They would live, but in a foreign land. 

A (Application):  At times, we find ourselves in a pit that we have dug with our own hands.   We sort of wake up to the destruction we have created around our lives.   These moments of awakening can seem to be desparate times, indeed.  And yet…we are still people of hope.  

Our past does not define us.   Our errors are not what makes up our identities.  We are who are followers of Christ seek our identity in Him: forgiven sinners, sheep in the Great Shepherd’s flock, sons and daughters of The King.  

Who we are is shaped by God.  We err.  We repent to God.  We are made new.   

God’s people would be gathered once again, despite their captivity in Babylon.  The years would be many, but they would eventually be redeemed.  In Jesus Christ, who reconciles all of us to God.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, hear our cries of repentance.  Amen. 

Be the Malleable Clay


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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 18

1 Jeremiah received the Lord’s word: 2 Go down to the potter’s house, and I’ll give you instructions about what to do there. 3 So I went down to the potter’s house; he was working on the potter’s wheel. 4 But the piece he was making was flawed while still in his hands, so the potter started on another, as seemed best to him. 5 Then the Lord’s word came to me: 6 House of Israel, can’t I deal with you like this potter, declares the Lord? Like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in mine, house of Israel! 7 At any time I may announce that I will dig up, pull down, and destroy a nation or kingdom; 8 but if that nation I warned turns from its evil, then I’ll relent and not carry out the harm I intended for it. 9 At the same time, I may announce that I will build and plant a nation or kingdom; 10 but if that nation displeases and disobeys me, then I’ll relent and not carry out the good I intended for it.

O (Observation):  God’s metaphor for Israel is that God is the potter and God’s people of Israel are the clay. God wishes to mold and shape the people that God wants these followers to become.   Sometimes, when the potter works the clay, the clay becomes fractured or flawed.   So, the potter re-works the clay and re-shapes it. 

God sees that the people of Israel are like so much flawed clay.   Now, God seeks to re-shape the clay.   To be re-shaped, God’s people would need to ask to be forgiven.   Should they repent…they would become malleable.  Upon repentance, God’s people see that they will not receive harm.  

A (Application): Repentance is not something we embody very well in this nation, or even as The Church.    This is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and we lift up our brother, Martin Luther, as a saint.  Yet, in today’s world, I disagree much with what Luther had to say against Muslims and Jews.   I renounce those teachings and yet still revere and honor such a brave witness to the Gospel.  

I think Luther’s the perfect example of what it means to be clay that is willing to be reworked.  He was a bold, brave, and sometimes stubborn person. Yet, when he was convinced that he was in the wrong, he would repent.  (Though in his final years he spoke out too strongly, in my opinion, on the topics I already mentioned.)

We can all use a little repentance in our lives.  Myself included.   I confess of my shortcomings on a weekly basis.  This is part of my Lutheran heritage: confess and receive forgiveness, eat of the wine and bread of forgiveness…weekly.  

As we repent…we become that clay willing to be re-worked, re-shaped.  Molded to a fitting purpose.  Less of my will…more of God’s will.  I hope.  I pray.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, not my will be done, but yours! Amen. 

Exhortation or Salvation?


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S (Scripture): 1 Timothy 3:1 This saying is reliable: if anyone has a goal to be a supervisor in the church, they want a good thing. 2 So the church’s supervisor must be without fault. They should be faithful to their spouse, sober, modest, and honest. They should show hospitality and be skilled at teaching. 3 They shouldn’t be addicted to alcohol or be a bully. Instead, they should be gentle, peaceable, and not greedy. 4 They should manage their own household well—they should see that their children are obedient with complete respect, 5 because if they don’t know how to manage their own household, how can they take care of God’s church?

O (Observation): The author of this letter is encouraging the leaders of the churches to reflect on their actions and their home lives.   The work done at home is almost as important as the work one does as a public leader of the church.  

A (Application): Exhortation vs Salvation. Sometimes we get these two things confused.  We sometimes judge ourselves or others based on texts like the one I quoted for today.   

We would do well to discern which texts are helpful for discerning salvation, and which are useful for reproving, or becoming more faithful in one’s journey.  

Too often, we look at a text like this and judge ourselves too harshly.   My suggestion is that our repentance be a daily part of our journey.  And in daily repentance, we receive daily forgiveness.  

We confess to one another.   Or, at least, we should.   That’s exhortation.   Confession is not an issue of salvation, but it does a soul good!

Work on your faith in your home.  Work on forgiving one another in your home.  Doing this is part of working out your faith.   Your salvation is not based on how good you are at forgiving…but forgiving one another regularly is a good practical way to live out your faith, especially as a leader.  

Of what do you need to repent this day?  Who do you need to forgive?   

P (Prayer):   Lord, you have saved us.  Help us to act accordingly.  Amen.  

We Are Not Giving Up on Each Other

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 14

7 Even though our sins testify against us,
help us, Lord, for your name’s sake.
We have turned away from you
and sinned against you time and again.
8 You are the hope of Israel,
its savior in times of trouble.
Why are you like a stranger in the land,
like a tourist spending only the night?
9 Why are you like one taken by surprise,
like a warrior unable to act?
Yet you are in our midst, Lord;
we are called by your name.
Don’t give up on us.

O (Observation):  Jeremiah hears plainly from God that God desires to correct the people of Judah by bringing destruction on them.  Jeremiah doesn’t excuse God’s people, but rather, Jeremiah recalls God’s promises to forgive and serve God’s people.  Jeremiah pleads for mercy and wonders what justice will look like.  

A (Application):  “Don’t give up on us.”   In this state of crisis we are in as a nation, this phrase stands out for me.   God, don’t give up on us. 

Last night, I met with community leaders who are hoping that we all are not giving up on each other.    The discussion was about the statue in the square, but it was more than just the statue.  

What surfaced in our conversation was that this statue honored the Confederacy as a whole.  Not a tribute to an individual, by to all those who fought for the South.  To hear my African American brothers and sisters, this statue represents oppression and stands as a reminder that one group of people sees themselves as superior to another.  And this statue is a constant reminder of this racism.  

A peaceful conversation was had, and some opposing views were shared in good faith.   No one wants violence here.  We are striving for a good resolution.  We are not giving up on each other.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, where are you?   Show us!  Amen. 

Confession From a White Man & a (mostly) White Church


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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 13

17 If you are too proud to listen, I will go off alone and cry my eyes out.  I will weep uncontrollably because the Lord’s flock will be dragged off into exile.
18 Tell the king and the queen mother:Come down from your lofty place, because your glorious crowns will soon be removed from your heads.

19 The towns of the arid southern plain will be surrounded; no one will get in or out; all Judah will be taken into exile; everyone will be led away.

O (Observation):  Jeremiah mourns that God’s people are too proud, and as a result, they will be cast out.   God will not let go of them forever, but Jeremiah’s lament is that the people are so stubborn and arrogant that they are willing to be cast out into exile, rather than repent.

Perhaps Jeremiah’s tears come because he sees the disparity between the action of the people and God’s desires for God’s people.   And the people won’t listen.  So God will pull the old, “Ok.  You do life your way.   Let’s see how that works out for you.”

A (Application): Statues.   Confederate statues.  This is the talk of the town.   I’ll be listening in.   To those who want it removed.  To those who don’t.  (By the way, I’m okay with taking ours down in Murfreesboro…but I am one voice amongst many.)

I read something that woke me up, regarding the latest rise in awareness of racism.   One suggestion from a black writer to white folks wishing to be allies in the work of dismantling racism is not to act surprised.   The suggestion was this:   Don’t be surprised by acts of racism; it’s always been here.  The author wants folks to be aware of racism…the point is that the level of shock shows a lack of awareness on our (white people’s) part.   

Click here for the entire article from Sojourners. Here is the section that got me:

4. Please try not to, “I can’t believe that something like this would happen in this day and age!” your way into being an ally when atrocities like the events in Charleston, S.C., and Charlottesville, Va., happen. People of color have been aware of this kind of hatred and violence in America for centuries, and it belittles our experience for you to show up 300 years late to the oppression-party suddenly caring about the world. Don’t get me wrong, I welcome you. I want for you to come into a place of awareness. However, your shock and outrage at the existence of racism in America echoes the fact that you have lived an entire life with the luxury of indifference about the lives of marginalized/disenfranchised folks. Please take several seats.

I have had many moments of awareness, but let’s just say that I feel a bit more convicted now than I ever have.   

I invite you to discern your place in the system and to see how you might be both a part of the problem and solution.  I invite you (my white friends) to repent of your part in systemic racism.  Don’t look to others or their actions.  Look at yourself, repent, and then seek God’s direction in your life.  See how you can be a part of God’s glorious plan to bring about reparations and reconciliation in your town.   

Build relationships across racial lines.  In a workshop on racism, I explained to an African American friend that – even in a genuine show of neighborly love – that I might feel like I was trying to build a relationship artificially.  She assured me that if I was genuine, and she heard that I wanted to get to know her and befriend her, that that would not be as artificial as I am making it out to be.  She said, “I’d be happy to get to know you.”

So, you see…sometimes it just takes stepping out of the circle.  Just a step or two at a time.  

Step out.  Today.  

P (Prayer):  #SpiritLeadMe.  Amen.  

Paul Wrote a Letter to Me, Today (and Maybe to You, too!)

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S (Scripture): 2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we always must thank God for you, brothers and sisters who are loved by God. This is because he chose you from the beginning to be the first crop of the harvest. This brought salvation, through your dedication to God by the Spirit and through your belief in the truth. 14 God called all of you through our good news so you could possess the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions we taught you, whether we taught you in person or through our letter. 16 Our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and a good hope. 17 May he encourage your hearts and give you strength in every good thing you do or say.

3:1 Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us so that the Lord’s message will spread quickly and be honored, just like it happened with you. 2 Pray too that we will be rescued from inappropriate and evil people since everyone that we meet won’t respond with faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful and will give you strength and protect you from the evil one. 4 We are confident about you in the Lord—that you are doing and will keep doing what we tell you to do. 5 May the Lord lead your hearts to express God’s love and Christ’s endurance.

O (Observation): Paul gives encouragement to the church in Thessalonica, to keep on fighting the good fight of faith.  

A (Application):  I guess you can say that I feel as if Paul wrote this letter to me, today.   

Maybe you feel like this, as well?

#SpiritLeadMe

#NoSilenceNoViolence

P (Prayer): Spirit, lead me.  

Is There a Balm in Charlottesville?

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 8

19 Listen to the weeping of my people
all across the land:
“Isn’t the Lord in Zion?
Is her king no longer there?”
Why then did they anger me with their images,
with pointless foreign gods?
20 “The harvest is past,
the summer has ended,
yet we aren’t saved.”
21 Because my people are crushed,
I am crushed;
darkness and despair overwhelm me.

22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then have my people
not been restored to health?

O (Observation): Jeremiah sees the devastation of God’s people who have taken up their own idols as their gods.  And they weep.  And Jeremiah cries out: “Is there no balm in Gilead?!”

Jeremiah laments.  

A balm is a salve, an ointment used for healing, for bringing relief. Jeremiah didn’t see any relief coming anytime soon.  Not from a salve.  Not from a king.  Not even from God…at least, not yet.  

So at first, Jeremiah laments. 

A (Application):  Most of us probably don’t think of Scripture when we hear the word “balm.”   We think “lip balm.”   But that’s not what Jeremiah is talking about, now is it?

In light of the hatred shown by the white supremacists in Charlottesville this past weekend, the ugly underbelly of bigotry and prejudice in our society has been exposed once again.  The prejudice and bigotry by whites against blacks has always been there.   Sometimes we play nice enough to get by…but give a group of white supremacists a chance to wave Nazi flags and carry torches…and the truth comes out.  

We still have a segment of our society that truly sees itself as above the other…as whites being better than blacks, as “whatever they are” being above “Jews.”   Where in the world do they get this?  Well…for too long, we have let it slide.  We let racist comments go, because we don’t want to get our hands dirty, or we want folks to like us, so we laugh at their racist and bigoted jokes.  

We (as white folks) have no one to blame but ourselves when it comes to the existence of white supremacists.   

We lament, first, as Jeremiah did.  And just as Jeremiah cried out, “Is there no balm in Gilead?”, we cry out, “Is there no balm, in Charlottesville?”

I think there is a balm in Charlottesville.   The young UVA students who assisted a group of folks gathered for an interfaith prayer service on the UVA campus…they are a balm.   The clergy and leaders of various faith communities marching – arm in arm – through the streets of Charlottesville are a balm.   The folks I gathered with in Murfreesboro, TN, last Sunday night for a peaceful vigil are a balm.  

God would eventually send a balm in the person of Jesus Christ, but before that, God told Jeremiah that God would put The Law in their hearts.  That when the people of Judah and Israel were scattered…God would be with them. 

Sometimes we can’t sense the balm.  Sometimes we can.   Perhaps, God can work through folks like you and I to be that balm in our own home towns.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help me to serve you and my hurting neighbors.  Amen.