Not Sure What to Do? Do Justice NOW

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 22:1 The Lord proclaims: Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and declare this message: 2 Listen to the Lord’s word, king of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you and your attendants, and all those who go through these gates. 3 The Lord proclaims: Do what is just and right; rescue the oppressed from the power of the oppressor. Don’t exploit or mistreat the refugee, the orphan, and the widow. Don’t spill the blood of the innocent in this place. 4 If you obey this command, then through the gates of this palace will come kings who occupy the throne of David, riding on chariots and horses along with their entourage and subjects. 5 But if you ignore these words, I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that this palace will become a ruin. 6 The Lord proclaims concerning the palace of the king of Judah:

Though you are like Gilead to me,

    like the summit of Lebanon,

    I will turn you into a desert—uninhabited cities.

I will summon destroyers against you,

    who will use their weapons

        to cut down your finest cedars

        and hurl them into the fire.

O (Observation): The Lord seems to speaking in odd ways, here. God is threatening to destroy the Temple of the people STAY? Wouldn’t God wish for the people to stay?!?!

Well, God is more than disappointed in the people for worshipping other gods. God has allowed the Babylonians to come in and in a sense, God is inviting the people to trust in God again…this time by telling the people to leave the land God promised them and to trust that God would one day bring them back again.

The really challenging point is that some who will leave the Promised Land won’t survive to see it again…but their offspring will!!!

A (Application): Nothing in life is more difficult than saying goodbye to the old and waiting for the next thing (or taking the step towards that next thing). God’s people are called to trust God, once again, in the Scripture above.

As a person of faith experiencing major life changes (new jobs for me and spouse, moving, selling a house, new schools for kids), we are looking forward to getting settled soon.

We trust God. We have faith. But the stress exists all the same.

So – in the mean time – what to do? Well, do justice! Treat all people fairly. Don’t exploit or mistreat the refugee, the orphan, and the widow. Hmmm??

Well, let’s trust that God will lead us into the way of justice. Let’s trust that God will work through us to be kind to the most vulnerable in our society, instead of treating them like scum or the deplorable. Let us show mercy, that mercy might rule the day.

P (Prayer): Lord, soften the hearts of all of us towards compassion, that we might all benefit from your grace. Amen.

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The Public Church Figure

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S (Scripture): 1 Timothy 3:This saying is reliable: if anyone has a goal to be a supervisor [bishop] 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? 6 They shouldn’t be new believers so that they won’t become proud and fall under the devil’s spell. 7 They should also have a good reputation with those outside the church so that they won’t be embarrassed and fall into the devil’s trap.

O (Observation): Seems like a tall order. Be perfect? Well, Jesus said something about being perfect. Maybe all of this language about being perfect and striving for the Kingdom is about doing all you can do serve God in your context on this earth.

Bishops and deacons are mentioned in 1 Tim 3. Those taking public roles in the church have a responsibility. To serve God and to do so full of confidence and humility is a tough challenge. Yet that is the call.

A (Application): If you don’t want to be scrutinized, don’t go into public church work. You will be scrutinized and critiqued and challenged.

Now, with a humble spirit, you can take all of that public scrutiny and work it towards good for you and for God.

If the critique is good and honest and given in a constructive way, then by all means: bring it on!

If the critique is given to push you down so that another can lift themselves up, then that is not helpful. In fact, that is destructive.

I can gladly say that over my years of ministry, almost all of my critiques have come in loving ways that have helped me to grow. That encourages me to keep serving God and Church. (For those few times I received negative comments in a spirit of fear, I tend to dismiss rather well…though they do affect me.)

Please remember all of this when you are using 1 Tim 3 to constructively criticize your public church leaders. We aren’t perfect. We strive for the greater things by striving for the Kingdom. We know that God will guide us and shape our work as leaders in the church.

P (Prayer): God, mold us into the leaders you call us to be.

Times Are A-Changin’

Photo credit (and YouTube link) here.

Hello, friends!

I am going through a change of employment soon. I have resigned my position as Pastor of Advent Lutheran Church, Murfreesboro, TN (a member church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America), effective August 31, 2019.

I did this to accept a position in the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA as Assistant to the Bishop for Formation and Communication, effective September 1, 2019.

I have been blessed to serve Advent LC these past 7 & 1/2 years, and I look forward to the adventures to come, so that I might serve as a resource to the congregations in our synod, which spans the states of GA, MS, AL, and TN.

This synod raised me, essentially, from 6th grade (when we moved to Lilburn, GA) and became members of All Saints LC, Lilburn, GA. The faith leaders there built up my understanding of God’s Grace for all people. They gave me chances to step forward in leadership and absorbed my faults with great kindness. They inspired me to look beyond myself and supported me financially, emotionally, and spiritually.

I later served All Saints LC for one year, as a youth leader, before my wife and I took the leap to head off to Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, in Columbia, SC, where we spent two years leanring and growing together as a family.

That took us to Bethlehem, PA, for a year of internship at St. Peter’s Evangelical LC, followed by one more year back at seminary.

I was ordained at Rock of Ages LC, in Stone Mtn, GA, in 2007, where my father-in-law serves as Pastor. (That is also where Kelly and I were married and Rock of Ages was Kelly’s home church for all of her growing up years.).

Then on to Greeneville, TN, where I served for 4 & 1/2 years in my first call as Pastor of the beautiful people of St. James LC, Greeneville, TN, a 200+ year old congregation!!! (They really know how to absorb the foibles of first time pastors like me.)

That then landed me in Murfreesboro, TN, where for a few more days, I serve as the Pastor of the extraordinary folks of Advent Lutheran Church.

Things have come full circle for me. The synod that has served me my whole life now allows me to return the favor. I will seek to serve the congregations of this synod and the ELCA at-large. I will do my best to gather and distribute resources for faith formation and communications. I am eagerly looking forward to serving…to giving back.

Peace!

Pr. Michael

(Oh…by the way…this blog will continue! My job changes, but my (almost) daily digging into the Scriptures is a must for my spiritual health and that of my family.).

The Poor, The Downtrodden

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S (Scripture): 2 Thessalonians 3:6 Brothers and sisters, we command you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to stay away from every brother or sister who lives an undisciplined life that is not in line with the traditions that you received from us. 7 You yourselves know how you need to imitate us because we were not undisciplined when we were with you. 8 We didn’t eat anyone’s food without paying for it. Instead, we worked night and day with effort and hard work so that we would not impose on you. 9 We did this to give you an example to imitate, not because we didn’t have a right to insist on financial support. 10 Even when we were with you we were giving you this command: “If anyone doesn’t want to work, they shouldn’t eat.”

O (Observation): Paul (and those who wrote using Paul’s name) was big on using the Law to guide and direct behavior in Jesus’ followers. He was a Pharisee at one point, critiquing God followers when they broke from the Jewish teachings and customs.

Paul was always good at challenging folks. Having been transformed by an encounter with Jesus, he understood, anew, that grace puts one in a stance that requires a person to love God and neighbor…even in the most dire of circumstances. And since Paul was a person of great challenge – to himself and to others – he also fought hard to make sure no one took the Gospel for granted.

So, if you can work, then work. If you can put food on your table, then the right thing to do is to work so you can put food on your table. Don’t take advantage of other folks’ generosity.

We are subject to no one; yet we are subject to all. If you need help, ask for it. If you can help yourself or others, do it. Both are valid ways of living.

A (Application): Some like to use these words of Paul today to make an excuse for not contributing to the needs of the homeless. They think: why can’t these people work for themselves? Earn their own way? Paul says this is the way!

I say we should challenge folks to find a way to use their God-given gifts to make the world a better place and to put food on their own table. Yet, the judgment does not belong to you or to me as to another’s abilities (or lack thereof). Each one must judge for themselves.

How do we teach this in a way that encourages all to work for their own sake, without using this as a judgment against others?

The easy thing to do is to say, “You don’t work, you don’t eat!” Didn’t Jesus go around healing people, loving all people, and reminding us to sell what we have and give alms?

Surely we can use our gifts for good in this world. Surely we can have compassion for those who cannot mentally or emotionally hold themselves accountable. Surely we can use our gifts to walk alongside those who have trouble figuring out how to make a new life in this country.

Perhaps in showing compassion to those who have trouble figuring out life, those who received help will one day have the means to help someone else. Perhaps being the example of uncoerced generosity will lead to others being generous, as well.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us generous hearts. Amen.

America, America

Photo credit here – and a great article that addresses the win-win scenario of citizenship in America.

S (Scripture): 2 Thessalonians 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 and crew are encouraging the people of God in Thessalonica to continue to seek God’s will and to do God’s will. Even though evil still abounds, Paul prays for protection from evil ones. Seems to be that even though God is present, that doesn’t stop evil ones from working against the people of God.

Paul’s message is clear: keep up the good work, people of God, for the Lord leads your heart and gives you Christ’s endurance. That endurance does not demand retribution nor fairness. That endurance is based on faith in God alone.

A (Application): So an article has come up recently regarding White House reps saying that the poem adorning the Statue of Liberty was for Europeans, originally. And a movement is afoot to vet folks so that only those who can “stand on their own two feet” should be allowed to seek citizenship in this country.

America was a place where people could go when people were oppressed or simply wanted freedom. The times change and I get that. But one thing that is a constant guiding light to this world is that we are a country that is full of promise.

That promise is eroding. We are becoming more and more selfish. We are looking to our own needs first, instead of helping others to succeed…like it’s a zero-sum game. Win-win scenarios exist! We just get lazy and think, “If you win, I’m gonna lose. So instead of helping anyone else, I’m gonna get mine.” How selfish is that?

Anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ looks not to one’s self , first, but last. Being nourished at the table in worship, confessing and receiving forgiveness, sharing the peace in worship…these rituals remind me that Christ is our center and sets us free from selfish desires in order to help us look to our neighbors in need.

May God help us to fight the evil that is around us and seeks to change our hearts for the worse. Help us to look outwards, that we might see that God already is taking care of our hearts and minds.

P (Prayer): Lord, help make Americans care again. Amen.

Seeking Refuge

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 9:23 

The Lord proclaims:

    the learned should not boast of their knowledge,

        nor warriors boast of their might,

        nor the rich boast of their wealth.

24 

No, those who boast should boast in this:

    that they understand and know me.

I am the Lord who acts with kindness,

    justice, and righteousness in the world,

        and I delight in these things,

            declares the Lord.

25 The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will deal with everyone who is physically circumcised: 26 whether they are Egyptians or Judeans, Edomites or Ammonites, Moabites or the desert dwellers who cut the hair on their foreheads. All these nations are really uncircumcised; even the people of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.

O (Observation): God is dealing with God’s people much in the same way disappointed parents deal with their children: truth and love.

God is reminding all of God’s people that they have noting to boast in, except this: that they know and understand God (insofar as one can “know” God, that is).

God reveals God’s self as loving and merciful. When we disobey God, God’s frustration does show through, but always in the hopes that our behavior changes.

God’s people (and others who wishes to be in God’s favor) would circumcise themselves as a sign that they followed God and God’s ways. This was a commandment from God to Abraham. This was a sign of faithfulness to God.

But God says even those who are circumcised physically are not really circumcised towards a change in behavior. They are circumcised in ritual alone. In other words, their hearts are not changed to live with faith alone in God. They still veer towards the gods of this world.

A (Application): God’s frustration rests in the fact that all the things we trust in this world are fickle and change nothing.

So we, who are Christian, are called to trust in God. We are called to lean on God alone: not in knowledge or resolve or riches.

With that said, I point you to a statement by the bishop of the St. Paul Area Synod of the ELCA, on the ELCA’s decision to become a “sanctuary church denomination.” (Click here for that statement. I beg of you to read that, then come back to this devotion.)

Much has been said on various news outlets about our denomination’s stance regarding this declaration. I beg of you to consider today’s scripture reading and consider God’s call for God’s people to be faithful not to a political party or to our wallets or to our “safety,” but rather to be faithful to knowing God and listening for God’s call to walk alongside and to serve our neighbor in need. It’s a simple as that.

P (Prayer): God, we seek refuge in you. Help us to help those who seek refuge in body and spirit. Amen.

What Will Their Song Be?

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 8:22 

Is there no balm in Gilead?

    Is there no physician there?

Why then have my people

    not been restored to health?

O (Observation): God’s people have strayed far, far away. Turning to idols and other gods, Jeremiah is called upon to be the prophet to speak God’s word to God’s people.

“Return to me!” This is God’s cry.

“Why are you so stubborn?” This is God’s question.

If Gilead – a place where God is most certainly found – is supposed to bring hope and healing, then why can healing and hope NOT be found there now?

God is discouraged because God’s people are not being God’s healing touch on earth and they are not seeking the balm to heal them of their difficulties.

A (Application): The African spiritual, “There is a Balm in Gilead,” is in our hymnody as Lutherans. When I sing it, I give thanks to God that Jesus is our balm. When I sing it, I think of the wrongs I have done – known and unknown – and I hope for healing for my soul…that I might be able to point others to Jesus to be their balm.

But I wonder what my African and African American brothers and sisters hear? Have you ever wondered that? (I’m going to assume that a vast majority of my readers of my blog are white.)

Have you stopped long enough to stop trying to explain what this song means to a person of color, and simply asked a person of color: “What does this song mean to you?”

And then I think of the families torn apart in the recent ICE raids in Mississippi and I wonder: “What do these verses from Jeremiah and this song mean to them?”

And I wonder…about those children who may never see their parents again: what will their song be?

P (Prayer): Lord, let compassion win the day. Let compassion drive our legislation and judicial system so that people may find ways to live together in harmony. Amen.

P. S. Listen to Paul Robeson’s rendition of “There is a Balm in Gilead” here.