We are all in this Together

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S (Scripture): Acts 20:3b When [Paul] came to Greece, 3 he stayed for three months. Because the Jews hatched a plot against Paul as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided instead to return through Macedonia. 4 He was accompanied by Sopater, Pyrrhus’ son from Beroea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. 5 They went on ahead and waited for us in Troas. 6 We sailed from Philippi after the Festival of Unleavened Bread and met them five days later in Troas, where we stayed for a week.

O (Observation): Paul did Church with other people. He didn’t travel alone, like some solo salesperson. He did life together with folks who travelled with him. They ate together, worshipped together, they did everything together.

This journey included disciples of Jesus following Paul and learning from one another.

Paul’s mission planted Gospel seeds and included workers for the garden. And when a certain amount of growth and fertilization had taken place, they moved on, leaving behind some to tend to the garden.

A (Application): How do we do Church in 2019? Are we like the early church? Like Paul? Do we tend to be more about individuals who are talented and show promise to create a free-standing, independent organization known as a local congregation? When new leaders are called to lead, who goes with them?

These questions start to reveal the nature of the organized Church of 2019. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m just curious about it’s sustainability. Many congregations, like the one I serve, is fairly stable and will continue on.

I make the most of building relationships where I am, so that on days when I am sick (like I was yesterday) I could rely on others to tend the garden God has asked me to oversee. And the results were wonderful…fruitful, you might say.

What are we doing to bring others along? Who is receptive to the ministry you are doing? Are you receptive to the ministry that others are doing? Are you leading others? Following others? Are you going it alone?

Please see how God’s abundance supplies for you and your loved ones. See that God gives you (time, talents, treasures) is enough to connect you with others with whom you can work to tend to God’s garden.

P (Prayer): Lord: gather us, feed us, send us. Together. Amen.

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Keep Your Eyes Open!

I am back in the saddle, folks. Around this time, I typically take a few weeks off from my publication of blog posts to focus on my family and my pastoral work. The blog centers me, but a break from the publications helps me to focus on other areas. Here we go…

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S (Scripture): Acts 10:44 While Peter was still speaking (to Cornelius, the God-fearing centurion), the Holy Spirit fell on everyone who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 They heard them speaking in other languages and praising God. Peter asked, 47 “These people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. Surely no one can stop them from being baptized with water, can they?” 48 He directed that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited Peter to stay for several days.

O (Observation): So a group of rule-following / circumcised Jews witness the Spirit coming upon a group of uncircumcised folks who believe in God. They see proof that these folks (who did not follow Jewish customs) are being welcomed into God’s body of believers.

And Peter questions his fellow believers: What is to stop us from baptizing these folks?

A (Application): While at Publix the other day, the young lady bringing the groceries out to my car noticed that I had made a tax-exempt purchase. As such, she inquired about our church. She asked me what was different about the Lutheran Church, what made it stand out from other churches.

Trusting that the Spirit would give me the right words, I said, “Well, we start with grace. And we follow up with grace. We want all to feel welcome to be a part of God’s family.” I know that sounds real “loosey-goosey” to some, but I believe we all have to start there. Help people to know that they belong. As people become a part of the body of Christ – through the movement of the spirit and in baptism – they will be challenged in many and various ways by God and by fellow disciples.

But we always start and end with grace.

Kind of like the message that Peter received from God (Acts 10:15): don’t consider anything unclean that God has made clean. If someone inquires about God’s grace, we give it and help them to see that they, too, have a role in God’s Kingdom. The centurion realized this. The crowd realized this. May we all realize that we all have a place.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep my eyes open to those who enter the path you have laid out for me. Amen.

Disciples Bear Much Fruit

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S (Scripture): Acts 3:1 Peter and John were going up to the temple at three o’clock in the afternoon, the established prayer time. 2 Meanwhile, a man crippled since birth was being carried in. Every day, people would place him at the temple gate known as the Beautiful Gate so he could ask for money from those entering the temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he began to ask them for a gift. 4 Peter and John stared at him. Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gazed at them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 Peter said, “I don’t have any money, but I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, rise up and walk!” 7 Then he grasped the man’s right hand and raised him up. At once his feet and ankles became strong. 8 Jumping up, he began to walk around. He entered the temple with them, walking, leaping, and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God. 10 They recognized him as the same one who used to sit at the temple’s Beautiful Gate asking for money. They were filled with amazement and surprise at what had happened to him.

O (Observation): The Church. Not a building, but a people. Those early disciples were quite faithful, maybe even naive. Could their hands and mouths convey healing as Christ’s could?

In this instance, the answer is yes.

The blind man asked for money, daily. Yet Peter gave him his sight. In whose name? In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene. The disciples could heal!

A (Application): Being the church means producing disciples who make disciples. So many of us focus on Sunday morning and little else. The congregation I serve continues to dive into the many ways of connecting with the people in and around our community.

We connect through worship and Bible Study, service, fun, fellowship, and other ways. We are discerning how Jesus led his disciples and how to lead others down the same path as Jesus.

May we all learn this path and continue to follow Jesus and his way. That we might learn to preach, teach, and heal as Jesus did.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide our hearts through the right pathways. Amen.

Who are you Called to Be and Do?

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S (Scripture): John 16:5 [Jesus said to the disciples]: “But now I go away to the one who sent me. None of you ask me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Yet because I have said these things to you, you are filled with sorrow. 7 I assure you that it is better for you that I go away. If I don’t go away, the Companion won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will show the world it was wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment. 9 He will show the world it was wrong about sin because they don’t believe in me. 10 He will show the world it was wrong about righteousness because I’m going to the Father and you won’t see me anymore. 11 He will show the world it was wrong about judgment because this world’s ruler stands condemned.

O (Observation): Jesus goes, but with a promise. Jesus moves from doing the preaching / teaching / healing to handing over these duties. And in handing over these duties, Jesus is also equipping the disciples. They will have the Spirit. (Not to mention, Jesus was mentoring these disciples all along.)

So, as Jesus goes, he also promises that this is for the best. Hard to trust, but trust we do.

And we will see the truth revealed: about sin, righteousness, and judgment.

A (Application): How often do we fret over getting things just right? How arrogant can we become to the point of pointing out the sins of others???

Or, perhaps we put in long hours as a volunteer at church, and fail to see others stepping up to help?

In both cases, we get complacent in the pathway towards discerning what one is called to be and do. We fail to see that the Spirit is busy equipping us. We like to short circuit the process of raising up leaders. We expect people to act like us (“the righteous”) and fail to see our own faults.

Leaders are born, they’re made. New leaders need existing leaders to raise them up. Self-righteous need to see the world through the eyes of others.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us discerning hearts and minds. Amen.

Rhythm: Abiding and Bearing Fruit

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S (Scripture): John 15:1 [Jesus said to the disciples:] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. 2 He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. 3 You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. 6 If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.

O (Observation): What is the point of being a disciple? That one produces fruit for God and God’s Kingdom. How does one bear fruit? By being a branch connected to the vine – Jesus. How can one stay connected to the vine (and this bear fruit)? By remaining / abiding in Jesus, the vine!

So we are supposed to bear fruit and stay connected to Jesus.

Seems simple, but can be very hard.

A (Application): Over my studies of discipleship, I’ve come across a great illustration of remaining connected to the vine and also of producing fruit for God’s Kingdom.

First, a disclaimer: only because Christ makes it possible, can we produce fruit for the Kingdom. This devotion leans towards what we can do with salvation, and is not about how we earn salvation!

Second, the key to abiding and bearing fruit is to know that these two elements that seem like opposites belong on either sides of a pendulum swinging back and forth. On one side “Abide.” On the other side: “Bear Fruit.” (Annalternstive is Rest / Work.

An illustration: when I began serving the congregation I’m serving now, I drew the picture included in this devotion (see above). I asked them where the congregation felt they were on this pendulum. They mark the spot towards the work / bearing fruit side. The sentiment was: “we’ve got a pastor, so let’s get moving!”

Then I asked them: “When you make a new friend, or add a family member through marriage or birth, what do you typically do?” They all responded with remarks that belong to more of the abide/rest side of the pendulum swing. They realized that having a new pastor on board would mean that we would want to get to know one another and become one, before we started getting very active toward the bearing fruit side. We needed time to dwell together and be together.

Jesus knew when working with the disciples that they would experience times and seasons when they would need to simply remain in Christ and be one with Christ in order to be strengthened for the times when they would have to go and bear fruit.

This same sentiment holds true for you and me today.

If you are all work and no rest, you will burn out. If you are all rest and no work, you will not produce fruit. Imagine the pendulum swinging back-and-forth causing you to find rhythms of rest and work of abiding and bearing fruit.

How are those rhythms working for you these days? What is your daily rhythm? Your weekly rhythm? Your monthly or annual rhythms?

P (Prayer): Lord, you sustain by inviting us to abide in you. Help us also to bear fruit for you and your kingdom! Amen.

P.s. this concept and image comes from elements taught by 3D Ministries (3DM; https://3dmovements.com/)

Breakthrough

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S (Scripture): John 10:37 (Jesus replied to the Jewish opposition) “If I don’t do the works of my Father, don’t believe me. 38 But if I do them, and you don’t believe me, believe the works so that you can know and recognize that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again, they wanted to arrest him, but he escaped from them.

40 Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had baptized at first, and he stayed there. 41 Many people came to him. “John didn’t do any miraculous signs,” they said, “but everything John said about this man was true.” 42 Many believed in Jesus there.

O (Observation): Jesus spends a lot of time and energy trying to convince God’s religious elite that He is God’s Son. The leaders who have studied Scripture the most might be able to connect the dots, but they have such tunnel-vision, that all they can do with Jesus is throw him into a category that makes him a heretic.

The crowds, however, likely didn’t know the Scriptures as well, and focused more on the signs / works Jesus was performing. Perhaps their attention to the present was helpful, noticing not only what God did in the past, but also what God was doing in the PRESENT!

A (Application): Does this all sound familiar? I hope so, because this is what we do as a Church nowadays. We miss God’s movement in the present. When we notice God’s movement, we can name it and call it a “kairos.”

Taking time to dwell in that moment (and even inviting others to chime in with their thoughts on your moment) is helpful. For when we discern and invite community to help discern, we make less of a rash decision and we can actually see faith forming before our very hearts. This is called spiritual breakthrough, and I wish for so many of you to find a way to be in the moment. See what God is up to right here, right now. See every moment of your day as a pregnant moment, filled with the anticipation of God’s presence in those moments.

From that moment and discernment, you will know what to do, in God’s name. Your moment will be a time of reflection AND a call to action.

May you see the kairos moments all around you today…moments both big and small.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us into the moments and help us see you in them. Amen.

How’d That Happen?

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S (Scripture): John 6:16 When evening came, Jesus’ disciples went down to the lake. 17 They got into a boat and were crossing the lake to Capernaum. It was already getting dark and Jesus hadn’t come to them yet. 18 The water was getting rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When the wind had driven them out for about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the water. He was approaching the boat and they were afraid. 20 He said to them, “I Am. Don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and just then the boat reached the land where they had been heading.

O (Observation): Jesus just got done feeding the 5,000 and they wanted to make him king. So Jesus got out of there. They didn’t get it.

The disciples were hanging out in their boat, waiting on Jesus. But a storm came up and drove them off the shore – without Jesus! (Oops! Sorry, Jesus…the rope broke : )

That didn’t stop Jesus. He just walked on the water to go out to where the boat was – in the middle of the lake!

Night time. Storm. Wind. Chaos. The makings of quite the scary story – not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually, as well.

The disciples still don’t know what to make of Jesus, yet…

And to top it all off, as things settle down in the boat, and they are ready to head to the shore – Voila! – there they are…on the shore of their destination.

How’d he do that?

A (Application): How’d that happen? What went right? Where did we go wrong? Every church leader I know asks these questions, hoping to make an impact for God’s Kingdom.

We reverse engineer things to try to figure out the right formula. And then we replicate over and over again. But the only constant I see is “change.”

We are never the same people in more than any one instant. So that means whatever we lead has to be lean and flexible, so that the vision and mission can exist without too much structure. Yet, some structure is helpful along the way.

The Holy Spirit works in many and various ways. In meetings, while you’re driving to work, while you (individually or collectively) are at your wit’s end. The Spirit works in our midst.

Just ask the disciples in the midst of their spiritual turmoil. How did Jesus do that thing with the walking on water and the boat being at the shore? Only God knows.

How do we do the Church on earth? Just do it! Let God Lead! Enjoy the ride!

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us and make us wise to your commands. Amen.