Evangelism: a Joy not a Requirement

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S (Scripture): John 13:20 I assure you that whoever receives someone I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.

O (Observation): Jesus is in the midst of establishing the Last Supper. He is teaching them about humility and being sustained by God’s Grace by sharing a meal and serving his disciples as he washes their feet.

The sentence quoted above is in the midst of Judas’ betrayal. Jesus is not forcing Judas to believe. Rather, he states that those who receive Jesus, receive God.

A (Application): This approach to following Jesus is sort of a “positive-only” reinforcement. You follow Jesus? Good!

But what happens when we or others don’t?

Not punishment. Not in this sentiment. Jesus simply lays out the hope: that people follow Jesus, and thus, God.

We need not worry if people don’t follow Jesus. We need not worry about their “salvation.” Instead, we live in faith, and encourage others to do the same.

The hope is that they receive this peace, which has an impact on every single part of their lives and our lives.

So evangelism is truly an invitation, not a guilt-ridden admonishment. Evangelism is a joy, not a point of privilege.

The sooner we understand following Jesus as an invitation, the sooner we help others see God as grace-filled, and not just a distant judge.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, you invite all to become pilgrims on a journey with you. Help us to keep this pathway as a joy, and not just requirement. Amen.

Finding Life within God’s Guidance

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S (Scripture): Psalm 119

169

Let my cry reach you, Lord;

    help me understand according to what you’ve said.

170 

Let my request for grace come before you;

    deliver me according to your promise!

171 

Let my lips overflow with praise

    because you’ve taught me your statutes.

172 

Let my tongue declare your word,

    because all your commandments are righteous.

173 

Let your power help me

    because I have chosen your precepts.

174 

Lord, I long for your saving help!

    Your Instruction is my joy!

175 

Let me live again so I can praise you!

    Let your rules help me!

176 

I’ve wandered off like a sheep, lost.

    Find your servant

        because I haven’t forgotten

        your commandments!

O (Observation): How God’s people crave structure and guidance in order to live freely! The commands from God, while not possible for us to follow in total, are life-giving. God’s ways call for order and boundaries, so that we can ensure life for one another. Not only life, but life abundantly!

The abundance comes NOT from our hands, but from the bounty that God has given us!

A (Application): In the midst of challenges and pandemic and what seems like a never-ending election cycle (and likely TWO US Senator run-off elections in GA), the way forward seems clouded and fogged. We turn to our base desires of survival and “win at all costs” mentality – for an election, for our households, for life.”

We devolve so quickly into hoarding and defense. According to the psalm for today, however, we see a different way forward.

We can embrace the challenge to live within the boundaries God has set up. Living within God’s commandments includes embracing our neighbors (especially those in need) and not looking at politics as always a win-lose situation. Instead, we can see a path forward that all of us can journey on.

May this time of divisiveness become one in which we can all see life. May we see the path forward as broad enough for us all. May we know God’s life-giving instruction that invites us all to journey together.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, may we find this common path together this day. Amen.

This Day Before the 2020 Presidential Election

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S (Scripture): John 11:38 Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb [of Lazarus]. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”

40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” 43 Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

O (Observation): Jesus was greatly disturbed. This can be interpreted in two ways: 1. He was saddened and upset over the death of Lazarus; 2. He was disturbed at the lack of faith from Lazarus’ loved ones.

Most can relate to the death of a loved one. Jesus certainly loved Lazarus and Mary and Martha. So there is that.

However, these folks who are so distraught have perhaps not learned of God’s pervasive presence, even in death. And not only this, but the fact the Jesus himself is with them and has been a witness to God’s eternal gift of presence and love may be disturbing Jesus.

Either way, Jesus is disturbed and stands to correct the lack of faith of those around him by resuscitating Lazarus. And in the end, Lazarus is unbound and set free.

A (Application): In what way does your faith and life need to be set free? Are you someone in whom the system of things around you is holding you back? Are you someone who is doing the binding?

Remember that we are called to live for one another and to know that God’s presence is with us. Especially on this day before the 2020 presidential election.

I’m not gonna say, “regardless of the outcome, we all just need to get along.” We do, for sure. We need to keep the peace…but when do face the racist systems around us? And at what point is the cost too great for black and indigenous peoples?

I am sensitive to people of color and indigenous people and immigrants who are trying to make a better way for themselves in America (or are fleeing violence).

I have heard their cry. Have you? Have you stood by and heard their stories? Are you simply telling them they are not welcome? Are you (white folks like me) taking for granted hundreds of years of legislation and prejudice in favor of people considered “white”?

I pray for a leader of this nation who will bind us together. Who will lead us in a common path for good.

May we seek God’s guidance today, tomorrow, and for always, for the betterment of our society…that we may face the wrongs done to people of color, indigenous peoples, and all who wish to make a better way for themselves in this country.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, give us courage to do the right things. Always. Unbind us and set us free – not for selfish gain, but for the sake of the other. Amen.

With the Eyes of One Made Whole

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S (Scripture): John 9:4 (Jesus said to his disciples): “While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

O (Observation): Jesus famously has seven “I Am” sayings. I am the light of the world.

The man who is blind cannot see. Jesus makes the man able to see again. He is the light to this man’s darkness.

The disciples want to know if this man sinned, since he was blind, or if his parents sinned. Jesus says that it doesn’t matter. What matters is that he is in the dark and needs light.

So Jesus acts. Jesus redeems the man. And the man is sent to tell the story of God’s redemption.

A (Application): We like to get caught up in declaring who is right and who is wrong. We spend more time deciding this for others, and therefore spend little time in introspection.

We’d rather see the fault / blindness in others and wonder why they are so bad, and less time wondering about the sins we ourselves have committed (or the things we have left undone that should have happened).

Instead of taking time to wonder why others are bad, I invite you take time to consider how you can seek forgiveness and sit in the difficulty of that pain. And in due time, seek a way forward.

Find the moments of Jesus wiping the eyes of others, but also, pray for the wiping of your own eyes, that you might see with fresh eyes…with the eyes of one made whole.

P (Prayer): Open our eyes, Lord. We want to see Jesus. Amen.

One With God, Our Sure Defense

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S (Scripture): John 8:56 (Jesus said to the “Jewish opposition”): “Your father Abraham was overjoyed that he would see my day. He saw it and was happy.”

57 “You aren’t even 50 years old!” the Jewish opposition replied. “How can you say that you have seen Abraham?”

58 “I assure you,” Jesus replied, “before Abraham was, I Am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and left the temple

O (Observation): Couple of things:

  1. Jewish authorities strictly thought of Abraham as in the past; Jesus saw Abraham – through God’s presence – as having a spirit of everlasting life…an ongoing presence, thanks to being one with God
  2. Jewish opposition think anyone claiming to be “I Am” is blaspheming; in being one with God, Jesus claims to be a part of the great “I Am.”
  3. Jewish opposition will resort to violence to defend their belief system; Jesus needs no defense…he ducks out, but needs not battle these authorities.

A (Application): What do we do to defend our thoughts and beliefs? Is our faith something we need to fight for?

So many Christians have been steered by the powers of this world, that they feel the need to defend themselves. The Church feels the need to defend itself.

I say let God defend the Church. I say let God purify the Church. God has and will work through prophets, who are hard truth-tellers.

May we have the wisdom to be the Church God has called us to be. Let us make disciples. Let us keep the Gospel in the forefront. Let us lead with grace and truth, so that others might also look in on the Church and be overjoyed or challenged, as the need arises.

And when fellow Christians show their disdain, let God be the one to speak to your mind and heart, so that healing may begin.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, this is your Church. Guide and direct the Church, and all of us as members of your one body. Amen.

Salvation in Christ – a Misconception

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S (Scripture): John 8:31 Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 They responded, “We are Abraham’s children; we’ve never been anyone’s slaves. How can you say that we will be set free?”

34 Jesus answered, “I assure you that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 A slave isn’t a permanent member of the household, but a son is. 36 Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free…”

O (Observation): The freedom that comes from the Law is a false freedom. God’s people figured they were handed an instruction manual, and they thought the best way to God was through the instruction manual (The Torah and the laws from scripture).

Only problem was they started to worship the Law, and sort of left God out of the picture. They clung to a name – Abraham – and used that name as a privilege.

Jesus reminded them that ALL people were on the same plane. All fall short of perfection.

Yet, all have access to seeing that God is the one to care for and protect all of us. God calls us to love and protect one another. God is the one to provide us true freedom. This freedom – which lasts – comes from the Gospel.

A (Application): Freedom through the Gospel is hard for both non-Christians and Christians to comprehend.

Lots of Christians base their salvation not on faith, but on how well they stick to the Christian lifestyle. This is hypocrisy at its clearest.

Many Christians will live one way in public, showing everyone how “Christian” they are, and then turnaround and make decisions that are selfish or self-serving. It’s the irony of all ironies. And is the reason many people choose NOT be considered a Christian.

Claiming Abraham is no way to salvation, to freedom. Claiming Abraham is a shortcut, and requires no faith.

Instead, we can lean on the Gospel to bring us safety. We can use the Law for guidance, but never for judging others. We can use the Law to remind us of what God seeks for us in terms of relationship to God and others, but the Law cannot save us.

Our freedom comes from serving and loving one another, not from claiming a position of privilege.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, free us from our own enslavement to the Law. Give us freedom to love you and one another, fully. Amen.

Blessed Already

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S (Scripture): 2 Samuel 12:24 Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba. He went to her and had sex with her. She gave birth to a son and named him Solomon. The Lord loved him 25 and sent word by the prophet Nathan to name him Jedidiah (meaning “Loved by the Lord”) because of the Lord’s grace.

O (Observation): David had just completed his deception of Bathsheba’s husband. Essentially, David took Bathsheba, got her pregnant, and when David’s plans to cover this up went sideways, he had her husband killed.

He felt the weight of his sin, and eventually his son died. Yet God, who takes the brokenness of the world and redeems it, revealed a new blessing in the midst of sin and brokenness.

David and Bathsheba’s son would be named Solomon. And God told Nathan to also call him Jedidiah, which means “loved by the Lord.”

Before the child has a chance to think, talk, or walk, we know the child will be blessed and loved by the Lord.

Is this fair? Is this deserved? Is this right?

A (Application): God has a strange way of being. God has a strange way of raising up leaders. God has a strange way of naming and claiming us, even before we deserve it. Especially before we deserve it!

Good is delighted in Solomon. And now David and Bathsheba can raise Solomon – and Solomon can grow up – knowing that the Lord is pleased with Solomon.

That blessing can be taken for granted or it can be the catalyst for a life lived for God.

Who knows? So, we take the blessings we have, regardless of our doing, regardless of our faults. We give thanks to God that forgiveness is always an option.

So we can live today as God’s Beloved.

P (Prayer): Lord God, we give thanks for your blessings in our lives. Help us to live from those blessings and to share them with others. Amen.

Who’s in Charge Here, Anyway?

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S (Scripture): 2 Samuel 7:8 I took you from the pasture, from following the flock, to be leader over my people Israel. 9 I’ve been with you wherever you’ve gone, and I’ve eliminated all your enemies before you. Now I will make your name great—like the name of the greatest people on earth.

And the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make a dynasty for you. 12 When the time comes for you to die and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your descendant—one of your very own children—to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He will build a temple for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to me… 15 But I will never take my faithful love away from him like I took it away from Saul, whom I set aside in favor of you. 16 Your dynasty and your kingdom will be secured forever before me. Your throne will be established forever.

O (Observation): David has the ark (God’s Chest) brought to Jerusalem. This is a big deal! This is “God on earth”!!!

David celebrates and dances before the ark/chest. He’s caught up in a frenzy.

David then (in today’s text – 2 Samuel 7) makes a declaration: I will build a Temple for the Lord!

God speaks through Nathan – God’s prophet for David – and God says that instead of David establishing God’s throne, God chooses instead to focus on God building David “a throne.” David’s throne will be established as a dynasty – he will be the ancestor of a great people.

God chooses for David to be as a son to God. And God will be David’s father. God establishes faithful love towards David. Why? Not because of what David has done, but because God chooses to do so.

In the time to come, Jesus would come to earth. From the line of David. And before David? Go read the Bible and check it out. Quite a lineage for Jesus. And all of God’s guidance and grace.

A (Application): Who is in charge of your calendar? Your wallet? Your life? Is it you?

What happens when letting go of that control? Of handing the steering wheel over to Jesus?

I mean, not literally : )

But allowing God to guide your calendar, wallet, and life is the grace we need to make it through these challenging days.

We give time, money, and our very lives to God, so that God might direct our path.

David thought the best thing would be to honor God. God thought best to establish a relationship with David and his ancestors.

What do we think is best? What is God up to?

Who’s in charge here, anyway?

P (Prayer): God, as we plan, we know you chuckle. But it’s all in good spirit. We hope. Well, maybe we don’t know ourselves as well as you know us. Umm…let’s just turn this over to you, and we will look for your guidance and spirit along the way. Amen.

Decision-Making

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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.”

O (Observation): What a phrase: “I Am.” Notice how the “am” is capitalized. Some speculation can go into this phrase. The Greek may be saying “It is me / It is I,” where Jesus is simply identifying himself. But now, with the great “I Am” declaration, Jesus clearly is linked to the God of Moses and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Jesus has been turning things upside down for the religion that claimed to have exclusive rights to God’s favor. Jesus is opening that up by showing that his ways are above and beyond our ways. His ways are of God. His ways bring peace.

In the midst of the awe and reverence – and quite possibly, fear – Jesus calls them to not be afraid. He brings comfort

A (Application): How can we be sure what we do has God’s blessings? The major decisions we make – like taking a new job, moving your family across town or region, or figuring out personal finances?

I don’t have a solution. I have some methods that have worked for me and my family, but we are always figuring things out.

My family and I moved across a region of the country for my job and we are figuring life out as we go.

I think that’s all we can do. We discern, we act, knowing that Christ is with us, even when we may not be looking for Christ. We turn and see Jesus, who is saying to us, “I Am. Do not be afraid.”

In your decisions that you make, this day and the next, look for Christ in the midst of your response. Are you acting out of fear and self-preservation? Or out of faith and love?

P (Prayer): Lord Jesus, help us in our decision making, that we might show love, not fear; abundance, not scarcity. Amen.

Jesus: the Gospel in Action

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S (Scripture): John 5:36 “I have a witness greater than John’s testimony. The Father has given me works to do so that I might complete them. These works I do testify about me that the Father sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me testifies about me. You have never even heard his voice or seen his form, 38 and you don’t have his word dwelling with you because you don’t believe the one whom he has sent. 39 Examine the scriptures, since you think that in them you have eternal life. They also testify about me, 40 yet you don’t want to come to me so that you can have life.”

O (Observation): So what has Jesus done to this point to live out God’s will? Turned ritual water into wine. Overturned tables (and traditions) in the Temple. Met with a Pharisee (Nicodemus) and invited him to be “born of the Spirit.” Met a Samaritan woman (an outsider) at the well and offered her living water (and who invited her loved ones to meet Jesus). He healed a man on the Sabbath (again, breaking tradition).

The religious tradition was missing the mark. Religion for God had become religion for the “church.” Those outside of the church…were effectively on their own. 

Jesus reminded them that Moses and the prophets stood for the Gospel being lived out in their own times, and for all people. Jesus encouraged them to study the scriptures to verify that God is always for all people. The relationship started with Israel, but was meant for the entire world.

A (Application): How often do we have to go through this struggle? How often do we have to speak into the world to remind people that God is FOR them? That God doesn’t ask us Christians to prove how right we are and how wrong others are, by using the Scriptures as a weapon.

Yes, read the Scriptures! And see how God is FOR the world. If anything, Jesus condemns us when we WITHHOLD grace, not when we dish it out lavishly.

Our ways are not God’s ways. God is surprising us with grace all of the time.

Yes, read the Bible. Jesus is the lens through which to read the Bible. All that came after Jesus and all that comes before Jesus is interpreted though the lens of Jesus’ actions.

Jesus acts. We listen. We appreciate. We live out Jesus’ grace in the world.

I invite you to look at what Jesus does in the beginning, in the middle, and in the end. For Jesus is our stronghold and our hope.

P (Prayer): Jesus, your example points us to grace. Help us to see how we can live out your grace in the world. Amen.