Can I Be Honest for A Minute?

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S (Scripture): Lamentations 1
20 Pay attention, Lord, for I am in trouble. My stomach is churning; my heart is pounding inside me because I am so bitter. In the streets the sword kills; in the house it is like death.

21 People heard that I was groaning, that I had no comforter. All my enemies heard about my distress; they were thrilled that you had done this. Bring the day you have announced so they become like me!

22 Let all their evil come before you. Then injure them like you’ve injured me because of all my wrong acts; my groans are many, my heart is sick.

O (Observation):  A godly prayer would certainly include a plea for suffering to be removed from one’s self.  However, to ask God to visit that suffering on someone else??? Is that appropriate?   No, but is that real?   Yes!

Let’s be honest:  the people of God have seen their country literally and spiritually torn apart. The author wishes for God to bring hope to their country and their people – the promised hope.   And yet at the same time, they wish for their enemies to suffer the same the same things they suffered as God’s people.  

Not holy, but honest. 

The book of Lamentations is a real inside look at the hearts and minds of God’s people in the wake of the downfall of the Judah and Israel. Their bitterness shows through, especially in this verse.  

And even though today’s scripture uses a singular, personal pronoun “I,” this pronoun is being used as sort of a universal “I,” as in it functions more practically as a national suffering and bemoaning.

A (Application):  I am so thankful that the history of God’s people has not been sterilized / scrubbed clean.   The Bible includes the good, the bad, and the ugly.  

Our nation right now is in a really tough spot.  Protests, natural disasters, a President that speaks divisive words (rather than creating spaces so the protestors concerns can be addressed so we can all listen), systemic racism, a government all twisted inside itself so that nothing fruitful is coming from Congress, a church shooting in Antioch, and more.  

I have such a heavy heart this day from all of these issues I just mentioned.  Even though these issues don’t compare to the burden that people of color in this country have to deal with.  

But I still cry out this day: “God, where the heck are you?!?!?”   

Now…pause…breathe…take a few seconds to center yourself.    We don’t erase our cries to God, neither the cry of those of Lamentations, or even my own cry.   We let the cry, the yelling, the cursing, the suffering exist…and we lift it or shout it to God.   And we realize that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.   

Maybe…no, definitely, we will find a way forward.  

Crews will respond to nature disasters (as will many of you readers).  Just this Saturday I was driving back from Atlanta to Murfreesboro, and I saw a whole line of power company trucks waving Canadian flags.  I realized that this crew was sent from Ontario, Canada, to Florida to help with the recovery of power throughout that state, in the wake of Hurricane Irma!   This is awesome!

And Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR)…we have boots on the ground in Texas and Florida…and they will be there for quite some time.   LDR is also helping with recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which devastated much of Peurto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the US Virgin Islands, and other parts of the Caribbean. This recovery effort is awesome!

Last Tuesday, our congregation hosted another Theology on Tap session – this time regarding Race Relations.  We had a very constructive conversation!   And we will continue the conversation over the next several months.  This is awesome!

So…let us cry out to God when we suffer or those around us suffer.  Let us walk alongside those who wish to be heard, or those who have no voice.  God can handle our short-sighted cries and lamentations.  And God can also bring redemption and transformation directly and also through our hands. 

May we find hope in the midst of our lamentations.   

P (Prayer): Lord, give us hope.  Hear our cries.  Amen. 
Click here to learn more about Luther Disaster Response (including how to help directly with recovery efforts, or making donations).


How Does Grace Change Us? Seems Like the Weak Way Out…


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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 33:14 The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. 15 In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. 16 In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness. 17 The Lord proclaims: David will always have one of his descendants sit on the throne of the house of Israel.

O (Observation):  In the midst of their demise, God’s people hear (yet again) of God’s promise to restore Israel and Judah to a new glory.  King Nebuchadnezzar is on their borders, actively fighting and conquering.  Jeremiah is commissioned by God, yet again, to submit to this foreign king, on the promise that God’s people will be restored once again…    King Zedekiah need simply to trust that God will make good on God’s promises.  King Zedekiah need rely on God’s grace alone.

A (Application): God’s major promise to Judah and Israel (and to all of us today!) includes the fact that a king will come from the line of David…a righteous branch…who will do what is just and right.   Will we deserve this king?  Absolutely not.  But then, that’s the point, right?

In retrospect, Jesus is that descendant of David.  Jesus sits enthroned, meting out justice and righteousness in His own way…through love and mercy, through unconditional love.

A recent Richard Rohr devotion includes this quote, which sums up for me the hope of grace, forgiveness, and redemption (and describes the hope God gives to Jeremiah and God’s people):

The ego expects this pattern: sin > punishment > repentance > transformation.

Ezekiel recalibrates this process after experiencing YHWH’s purifying love for Israel. The pattern becomes: sin > unconditional love and forgiveness > transformation > repentance.

If this is indeed God’s pattern, as I believe it surely is, this is a very different universe that God is creating. Jesus called it “the Realm [or Kingdom] of God.”

I think this fundamental difference is what is causing Christians today to be at odds with one another.   I want transformation in people’s lives.  I want people to understand that they can stand before God because of God’s grace.   I want people to know that they are gifted for God’s work and that God wants to do great and wonderful things in them and through them (and me).

I think the best way to get this message across is to welcome and accept all people to join the fellowship of the saints…that we might come together to walk alongside one another with grace and mercy as the keys to our relationship.   This is what Jesus does in his ministry.

I want to see people’s lives changed, Christians and non-Christians alike.  How do we do this?   Through understanding the pattern set seen by Ezekiel in the Rohr quote above.   First, show people that our God is a God of unconditional love and forgiveness, then transformation ensues.  And finally, you realize that you stand before God, NOT because of what you have done (or avoided), but rather, you stand before God, simply by God’s grace…there you stand, a repentant sinner, wrapped in God’s love.

I want to see change in the world…the change that comes from knowing that God loves you/me.  From Richard Rohr’s same post, we get to the crux of how grace transforms:

God resists our evil and conquers it with good, or how could God ask the same of us? Think about that. God shocks and stuns us into love. God does not love us if we change; God loves us so that we can change. Only love—not duress, guilt, any form of shunning, or social pressure—effects true inner transformation.

P (Prayer):  God, show us the way of welcome and acceptance.  Show the world how your grace shocks us into transformation.  Amen.


Faith in Action

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 43:1 But now, says the Lord—
the one who created you, Jacob,
the one who formed you, Israel:
Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you won’t be scorched and flame won’t burn you.

4 Because you are precious in my eyes,
you are honored, and I love you.

5 Don’t fear, I am with you.
From the east I’ll bring your children;
from the west I’ll gather you.
6 I’ll say to the north, “Give them back!”
and to the south, “Don’t detain them.”
Bring my sons from far away,
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
7 everyone who is called by my name
and whom I created for my glory,
whom I have formed and made.

19 Look! I’m doing a new thing;
now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?
I’m making a way in the desert,
paths in the wilderness.
20 The beasts of the field,
the jackals and ostriches, will honor me,
because I have put water in the desert
and streams in the wilderness
to give water to my people,
my chosen ones,
21 this people whom I formed for myself,
who will recount my praise.

O (Observation):  God’s people – scattered, tattered, and torn – are given words of hope through the prophet Isaiah.   Faith is not just a set of beliefs or doctrines, but a living reality in which God reigns.   

God sees the people of Israel as a parent looks upon one’s precious children.   Even though they have been conquered and scattered over the generations, God is preparing to call them back, to redeem them, to restore them…from the ends of the earth.  

This new thing God is doing is a hoped-for future.  A future in which animals even give praise to God for the waters God provides in the wilderness / desert.  A future in which all creation will give praise to God.  

A (Application):  So what does this future look like?  Perhaps we’ve see a glimpse!   A foretaste of the feast to come…in the person of Jesus Christ!

Jesus calls us to a way of hope, even in the midst of dire circumstances.   Jesus calls us to live peacably with all, even to love our enemies.   Jesus grants us direct access to God, even though we stray.  

Jesus was never about getting even.  He was about change through love.   When we live out love in response to hate, we see lasting change.  If not in this week or month…at some point others will see the witness we give of responding to hate with love.    And this witness is the new thing that God is doing.  Streams of water in the desert; God calling together many strains of humanity to care for one another.  

Let us live out this faith.  More than doctrine.  More than just some set of beliefs.  But a way of life led by love for God and for neighbor.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, I hope for peace through the witness of love for you and for neighbor.  Amen.  

Justice and Restoration

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 42:1 But here is my servant, the one I uphold; my chosen, who brings me delight. I’ve put my spirit upon him;
he will bring justice to the nations.

3 He won’t break a bruised reed;
he won’t extinguish a faint wick,
but he will surely bring justice.

6 I, the Lord, have called you for a good reason.
I will grasp your hand and guard you, and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations,
7 to open blind eyes, to lead the prisoners from prison, and those who sit in darkness from the dungeon.
8 I am the Lord; that is my name;
I don’t hand out my glory to others or my praise to idols.
9 The things announced in the past—look—they’ve already happened, but I’m declaring new things.  Before they even appear, I tell you about them.

O (Observation):  As God’s people of Israel stand almost totally decimated, a word of hope comes from God.   God declares that people can recount history’s, but only God can look forward in time to tell us what may happen.  

God declares that His servant will one day come to bring justice throughout the earth.  The servant will not fight for justice…but would live out justice, and in a new way.   The Servant will bring justice by restoring folks into community: the blind will see, the prisoners and those sitting in dungeons will be freed. 

These indeed are words of good news when you are sitting in a dungeon or cannot see, and are thus separated from one’s loved ones and friends.   

God is the one who will do justice through God’s own servant.  God will rely on no one and no other thing.   

A (Application):  In the battles that rage in our nation’s government, in the discomfort around the dinner table, God provides a ray of hope: Jesus Christ.   

Jesus wishes neither to conquer anyone nor command our words and actions.   Jesus – God’s servant described in Isaiah? – is the new thing that God has done in the history of the world.  Jesus, the Suffering Servant, has entered our governmental proceedings and sits with us at the dinner table.  

Do we let Jesus speak in these places?   Is Jesus’ version of justice allowed to be heard?

How will we live as people of hope?  How will we be living out Jesus’ justice?  Will we use our hands and voices in God’s name?   

How will we bring about restoration in the name of God?  I think of an old picture, tattered, beat up, maybe even torn…and some skilled person can reassemble the pieces and bring forth what was originally intended for the picture.    This is what justice means: being restored to our original intention, as God sees us.  

Let us remember this as we speak and act in the name of Jesus in our day.  And let us remember that OUR version of justice should always give deference to Jesus’ version: restoring outsiders to the community.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, restoration comes through you and you alone; help us to be your hand and feet and voice  Amen.   

Can We (Christians) All Get Along?

S (Scripture): Philippians 1:27 Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel…29 God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. 30 You are having the same struggle that you saw me face and now hear that I’m still facing.

2:1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, 2 complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. 3 Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. 4 Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.

O (Observation):  Paul knows what it means to be persecuted because of following Jesus.  He has served Jesus ever since his Damascus Road experience.  And now, Paul is teaching his followers what it means to follow Jesus…that following Jesus brings joy, but also persecution.   The persecutions will not be experienced alone.  Jesus shares those persecutions with his followers.  

Getting along with other followers of Jesus will also be a challenge and will be a persecution in its own way, too.  Each will have to suffer his or her own ego to take a back seat to the needs of the other.    That means not only will they be called upon to experience joy with the world around them…they would have to figure out how to get along with other Christ followers!

A (Application): Following Jesus means suffering your wants and desires to have a lower priority than Jesus’ call to discipleship. This means thinking of yourself less (like CS Lewis’ famous quote), without thinking less of yourself.  

In our world, we have quite the scarcity mindset.  We think: “If someone else wins, I must be losing.”    If someone else’s needs are met before mine, then I am weak and the other is strong.    

This scarcity spills over into our spiritual beliefs.   Can someone else who follows Christ believe something different than me about, say…the end times…or what it means to be “saved”…or how to baptize (sprinkle or immersion)…or whether I can hang out and support those of other faiths…or the LGBTQ community?   To many, we cannot have different sets of standards and follow the same Christ.   This is why we have over 30,000 denominations.  We can’t get along!

I wonder what Paul would think?

I know what I think:  we let the good and bad mingle together, doing the best we can to listen to God and respond.  I hope this includes a wide variety of opinions about what it means to follow Christ, without making anyone feel like they can’t be in fellowship together.   Let us bring joy to the world, because Jesus brought us joy in the first place.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to see that winning and losing are not the goal…but instead, following you wherever you may lead us…and to do so with great joy.  Amen. 

Discerning God’s Will (kairos)

(Photo credit here)

S (Scripture): Isaiah 11:
1 A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse;
a branch will sprout from his roots.
2 The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him,
a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a spirit of planning and strength,
a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
3 He will delight in fearing the Lord.
He won’t judge by appearances, nor decide by hearsay.
4 He will judge the needy with righteousness,
and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land.
He will strike the violent with the rod of his mouth; by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be the belt around his hips,
and faithfulness the belt around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
the calf and the young lion will feed together,
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow and the bear will graze.
Their young will lie down together, and a lion will eat straw like an ox.
8 A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole;
toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den.
9 They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain.
The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, just as the water covers the sea.

(Photo credit here)

O (Observation):  God’s people, during the time of the prophet Isaiah, had little hope for themselves.  Neighboring forces were closing in on God’s people of Judah, and they felt abandoned by God.  Yet in this text, God reassures them that even though God was correcting them for their misdeeds, God was not abandoning them.  Much like children being scolded by their parents, God scolds Israel out of love and compassion for the people…that they might follow the path of mercy, grace, and justice.  That God’s people might follow God’s lead, and not simply serve their own base desires.  

So the image of the “stump of Jesse” is brought forth.   King David’s father, Jesse, was in a line of succession of God’s favor – not by anything Jesse had done, but by God’s divine blessing.  This blessing goes all the way back to Abraham, and God choosing to make a great people of Abraham’s lineage.  From Abraham to Jesse to David (Jesse’s son) to Jesus…God brings hope to God’s people.   

And in the end, even nature itself and all animals will become docile and plentiful.  Killing will be no more.   Danger will be no more.  And abundant life eternal will fill the earth.   

A (Application):  How badly do we wish to control our destiny?   We hold so tightly to our own worldviews that we would rather cause someone else harm, than let someone change our mind.   

What would this world like like if we would allow ourselves to follow God’s lead and not just our own?   Sounds good, but how do we do that?

I think God’s people in Isaiah’s time – just like us Christians today – have a hard time seeing God around us.   So what do we do?   

I like to use a tool called the “Circle” (pictured above).  The circle is a guide for us to use when we are discerning God’s  will for our lives.  This discernment is best done within a trusted group of fellow disciples.   Sometimes the words will be challenging; sometimes the words will be an invitation to listen more deeply to the grace God is already giving you.    You dwell on a moment in which you sense God knocking on the door and share that with the group – we call this a “kairos” moment.  You discuss this kairos together and share how the Scriptures or personal stories can further inform the kairos.

Once the kairos is discussed (which is basically discerning what God is saying to you) then you make a plan to act and be held accountable to the group (which is to discern what God wants you to do).   Again, this works best in the midst of a group of trusted disciples, where you can be vulnerable to sharing the kairos moments with others and trust that God is speaking through this group.   

Our tendency – like that of God’s people in the Isaiah text – is to move forward without fully contemplating what God was up to.  The prophet Isaiah was present to speak up on God’s behalf.  Now, we have the Spirit to help us discern.  And we can do this in groups that I have worked with called “huddles.”

I’ve been in groups like this and I’ve led them.  They work extremely well.   We cannot go this journey as disciples all alone.  Guidance and care from fellow disciples is critical.  Jesus gathered the 12 to lean on one another.  He led them so that they would lead others in figuring out how to respond to God’s calls.  

I see wisdom in discerning God’s will in groups, so that what guides us is not our own egos, but the Spirit of God.   

Let me know if you’d ever like to be in such a group.  I have led them online and in person.  Peace!

P (Prayer):  Lord, get us out of our own way, and let your will be done in our lives.  Amen.  

How Do We Speak to One Another???

(Photo credit here)

S (Scripture): Isaiah 9

1 Nonetheless, those who were in distress won’t be exhausted. At an earlier time, God cursed the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but later he glorified the way of the sea, the far side of the Jordan, and the Galilee of the nations.

2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.
3 You have made the nation great;
you have increased its joy.
They rejoiced before you as with joy at the harvest, as those who divide plunder rejoice.
4 As on the day of Midian, you’ve shattered the yoke that burdened them, the staff on their shoulders, and the rod of their oppressor.
5 Because every boot of the thundering warriors,
and every garment rolled in blood will be burned, fuel for the fire.
6 A child is born to us, a son is given to us,
and authority will be on his shoulders.
He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7 There will be vast authority and endless peace
for David’s throne and for his kingdom,
establishing and sustaining it with justice and righteousness now and forever.
The zeal of the Lord of heavenly forces will do this.

O (Observation): In Isaiah’s time, God was thought to be responsible for bringing blessings and consequences in the world.  Judah was the remnant of God’s people and God was going to find a way to bring hope for them.   Good news, indeed, with foreign powers closing in around them.   

The hope God provides is in the form of a child who is to come.  Isaiah speaks this promise for God, bringing good news to the people of God. This hope would take time to come to fulfillment,  but God’s promises would indeed come true for Christians as Jesus, descendant of David, would eventually be born in Bethlehem.  

A (Application):  We can have quite a hard time being a people of hope.   We can see political divides and social barriers all around us.   And when we hear of opinions the opposite of our own, we get defensive real quick.  

Why do we get so defensive?   Why do we feel like we have to teach other people what to think or how to think?   Instead, can’t we see a way forward that includes learning from one another, rather than forcing our opinion on another?   I’m not saying we shouldn’t all have thoughts and opinions.  Rather, we should continue to listen to one another and encourage discussion, rather trying to win every conversation.  

My hope lies in God, bringing us peace.  I lean not solely on my own understanding, but on what God has done, is doing , and will do in my life: namely, bring me grace and mercy.  May I entend that to others as we engage in potentially divisive conversations.  

P (Prayer): May we approach our conversations with grace and mercy this day. Amen.