God Leads the Way

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Exodus 13:17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God didn’t lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, even though that was the shorter route. God thought, “If the people have to fight and face war, they will run back to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people by the roundabout way of the Reed Sea desert. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt ready for battle. 19 Moses took with him Joseph’s bones just as Joseph had made Israel’s sons promise when he said to them, “When God takes care of you, you must carry my bones out of here with you.” 20 They set out from Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. 21 The Lord went in front of them during the day in a column of cloud to guide them and at night in a column of lightning to give them light. This way they could travel during the day and at night. 22 The column of cloud during the day and the column of lightning at night never left its place in front of the people.

O (Observation): A reminder by Joseph – “When God takes care of you” – has multiple applications here. First, God has rescued God’s people from slavery in Egypt. Second, as they are set free, so too are they protected with a pillar of cloud by day and lightning by night (though I’ve always read “fire” at night… interesting to ponder).

Joseph knew of God’s promise of old. Moses knows God’s promise for the future.

A (Application): So, what is your pillar of cloud by day and pillar of lighting by night? Have you sensed God’s comfort in any way? God’s protection?

What do these things look like for you?

For me, the protection comes in the form of a caring family, trusted colleagues, and the plethora of continuing education options available to me. I am protected…and that also includes ways that I cannot yet see.

P (Prayer): Lord, we seek your protection. Help us to see it all around us. Amen.


Quit Arguing, Y’all!

Photo credit here (along with some other good quotes about arguing)

S (Scripture): Matthew 12:14 The Pharisees went out and met in order to find a way to destroy Jesus.

15 Jesus knew what they intended to do, so he went away from there. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them all. 16 But he ordered them not to spread the word about him, 17 so that what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled:

18 Look, my Servant whom I chose,
the one I love, in whom I find great pleasure.
I’ll put my Spirit upon him,
and he’ll announce judgment to the Gentiles.
19 He won’t argue or shout,
and nobody will hear his voice in the streets.
20 He won’t break a bent stalk,
and he won’t snuff out a smoldering wick,
until he makes justice win.
21 And the Gentiles will put their hope in his name.

O (Observation): Matthew is known as the Gospel that was most likely written to a Jewish audience. Matthew makes lots of references to the Hebrew Scriptures, helping to interpret the Scriptures to their rightful understanding.

Jesus was the hope for God’s people spoken of throughout the Scriptures of old, such as in the Isaiah text that Jesus quotes here. Jesus is trying to help the people make sense of why Jesus is going to the streets and not just the synagogues (though he goes there, too…it’s a both / and kinda thing). He is also trying to help them see that he is fulfilling the notion that he is not to be drawing by attention to himself by arguing and shouting in the streets.

In the end, Jesus is hope to the Gentiles. The Jews know their God and have salvation…but the Gentiles have nothing in which to hope. Jesus wants to change that. He believes God wants him to change that. So, Jesus brings healing…a foretaste of the feast to come.

A (Application): What strikes me today is the last couple of sentences I wrote in the section above. Obviously, the Scriptures are the beginning of that inspiration, but I believe those last few sentences I wrote help me to open up the purpose of Jesus’ life and ministry, and help me to know my part.

What is our mission? What was Jesus’ mission?

Jesus was not sent to argue or shout…he healed, he preached, he held dominion over demons…and he brought people to wholeness.

He is making justice win.

Jesus brings hope and inspires us to believe in God. For those who have nothing to believe in, consider Jesus as the way to know God. Consider that the Spirit (that love that exists between Jesus and God) is dwelling within us through faith, too! And with that indwelling Spirit, we, too, can heal and bring about peace and hope.

The insight for me today is that God doesn’t need us to argue about who is right (spiritually, theologically, etc.). We simply need to go and do the right things, bringing healing, hope, and forgiveness into the world.

P (Prayer): God, forgive me when I argue too much with you. Help me to be vulnerable to your gift of transforming love. Amen.

#MurfreesboroLoves – Relationship and Challenge

S (Scripture): Matthew 10:16 [Jesus said to the disciples:] “Look, I’m sending you as sheep among wolves. Therefore, be wise as snakes and innocent as doves. 17 Watch out for people—because they will hand you over to councils and they will beat you in their synagogues. 18 They will haul you in front of governors and even kings because of me so that you may give your testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 Whenever they hand you over, don’t worry about how to speak or what you will say, because what you can say will be given to you at that moment. 20 You aren’t doing the talking, but the Spirit of my Father is doing the talking through you…”

O (Observation): Invitation and Challenge. This is the way of discipleship with Jesus. Jesus has invited his disciples to be in a very close relationship, in order to help them know that he is with them every step of the way. He also tells them of the challenges they will face. But what makes the challenges bearable is that Jesus is with them…in a close relationship.

Jesus not only sees these followers as friends, but as those who will carry on Jesus’ own work. And here, he doesn’t mix words. They will face difficult challenges. They will be beaten (in their place of worship, no less!).

And yet, even as they are called forth to speak to their actions and testimonies…they will be given the words to say…words supplied by the Spirit.

The Spirit comes to them in the midst of their challenge…borne out of an invitation to be with and follow Jesus.

A (Application): How do I share my thoughts and feelings on certain topics and still maintain the relationships I have? Who will keep me? Who will push me away? Would the pain be worth the pushing and pulling? Will I be better off in the long run?

Ever asked yourself these questions?

So often, we have ideas that conflict with others, but we are afraid to voice those concerns. We are afraid of what others might think, or be afraid of what consequences we might face.

Can we have differences and still be friends? Unfortunately, when it comes to religious beliefs, we feel we cannot have differences AND be friendly to one another.

I’m thankful that God has granted me many friendships in which we simply don’t see eye to eye in terms of religious understanding. One such example is the Murfreesboro Loves movement. We are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, B’ahi, atheist, agnostic, gay, straight, black, white, Hispanic, and so on. We are not defined by color, race, creed…we are defined by a shared communal value of love for our neighbor.

I believe God has given each of us the gifts to speak up and testify about why loving our neighbor is so important. To the point that we were recognized (as a communal group) by the Murfreesboro Branch of the NAACP at a recent MLK Jr Breakfast. Murfreesboro Loves received the Jerry Anderson Humanitarian Award for its work surrounding the planned visit by white supremacist groups who wished to come to Murfreesboro. Our message of love outshined any potential messages of hate that those groups could have brought to our town.

We were determined to be defined by love, not hate. And we did our job. For me, this was about trusting that God’s call in my life was to step out into a potentially risky situation…to speak up when called upon…to trust that God’s relationship with me would sustain me in challenging times…to physically protect me and my family.

I certainly think God kept God’s end of the bargain. And I think God is still at it.

What say you?

P (Prayer): Lord, you bless me. I am unworthy, but you pick me up, send me out, and give me the words anyway. I am blessed. Amen.


How Do I Work the Harvest?

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Matthew 9:35 Jesus traveled among all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, announcing the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. 36 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The size of the harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. 38 Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest.”

O (Observation): Jesus’ ministry is often done “along the way.” He encounters many people on his travels from one place to another. He has compassion on them all. He helps those he can, but there are so many who need help.

So, Jesus turns to his disciples and calls on them to reach the masses. He looks to them to call on God to bring about those who would tend to the harvest – the people without hope. The “workers” have plenty of work to do. Now, they must engage. For the harvest is plenty, but the workers are few.

A (Application): How many folks are equipped to work with the harvest, I wonder? If I were to ask you to disciple a group of folks who are willing, would you know what to do? What steps would you take? What would guide your time with them? What would be your model?

For reaching out to the harvest is a good first step…but how will you engage those who engage with you?

I faced these same questions, yes, even as a pastor. What are the right steps? What model will I follow? Etc. I was willing, but I didn’t know what to do.

I ended up finding a group of folks who helped me to figure this out. It’s “a” model, not “THE” model. This model is based on the life and methods of Jesus. The 3DM group (http://3dmpublishing.com) taught me these methods, originally, but I am adapting these methods to work in my setting.

Following the ways of Jesus is not an exact science, nor will we always get it right. The relationship between us and God and us and each other are very important in discipleship. Our process for lifting up disciples who make disciples is an important element in harvest work. Dwelling in the God-moments is important as we discern what God is saying to us and what we will do about it. Understanding our individual callings is important to us, so we can see how God is calling us to live.

So many things to consider…but such a big harvest. Let us prepare for the harvest, by preparing one another for the path that Christ lays out for us.

P (Prayer): God, shape our hearts and minds around the life of Christ, that we, too, might be called to work the harvest and be humble in our approach to this work. Amen.


Who Said That?

Photo credit here.

S (Scripture): Amos 7: 8 The Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”

“A plumb line,” I said.
Then the Lord said,
“See, I am setting a plumb line
in the middle of my people Israel.
I will never again forgive them.
9 The shrines of Isaac will be made desolate,
and the holy places of Israel will be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, reported to Israel’s King Jeroboam, “Amos has plotted against you within the house of Israel. The land isn’t able to cope with everything that he is saying. 11 Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will be forced out of its land.’”

12 Amaziah said to Amos, “You who see things, go, run away to the land of Judah, eat your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s holy place and his royal house.”

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I am not a prophet, nor am I a prophet’s son; but I am a shepherd, and a trimmer of sycamore trees. 15 But the Lord took me from shepherding the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

16 “Now then hear the Lord’s word.
You say, ‘Don’t prophesy against Israel, and don’t preach
against the house of Isaac.’
17 “Therefore, the Lord proclaims:
‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and your daughters will fall by the sword,
and your land will be measured and divided up;
you yourself will die in an unclean land,
and Israel will surely be taken away from its land.’”

O (Observation): Prophetic words are not always meant to comfort. In fact, most prophetic words are mean to correct God’s people. The words of Amos are just such words.

The famous “plumb line” image is about helping God’s people to have a guideline, a boundary against which their actions will be judged. If they fall “out of plumb” they will know they are in need of repentance. Following up on that repentance will be critical for God’s people to be I good standing before God.

And no matter how much folks like to dismiss words from prophets, the words still stand…because those words come from God.

A (Application): To whom shall we listen? Politicians? Pastors? Church members? Atheists?

How about a shepherd? A mechanic? A CEO?

Prophets come in all forms, all shapes, all professions. Prophets are not limited to a particular place or job. As Amos says in v. 14, he is just a shepherd, a trimmer of sycamore trees. He also just happens to be called to share God’s prophetic words.

Perhaps this text can give us pause to consider from whom we are receiving a message that challenges us. Pause long enough to discern the truth coming from the statement, regardless of who is sharing that word. Don’t dismiss the words just because you don’t trust or relate to the carrier of the message. Discuss it with others you trust and discern together the purpose.

You may come to the conclusion that your initial sense is best…but at least you considered the message. And if you need to repent, do so.

And keep an eye on that plumb line.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word, your plumb line, your messages from your prophets. Amen.


Who Receives Revelations From God?

Photo credit here (This link references one of my former blog posts from 2015 : )

S (Scripture): Amos 3:7 Surely the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.

O (Observation): A bit of an oversimplification this day, a verse out of context. Yet equally true on its own, as in the context in which it exists.

Amos declares the suffering that is to come for God’s people. God’s people have erred by dismissing their hopes in God. Instead of direct retribution, God sends messages to the prophets to help God’s people get back on track.

Unfortunately, God’s people don’t listen very well. So God takes direct action through drying up water sources and such. And yet…a word of grace comes. God never forsakes the people that worship God.

The prophets speak God’s message of truth. God’s followers would do well to hear those words. These words of correction are a blessing, especially when God’s people have gone astray and DON’T KNOW they have gone astray.

A (Application): Prophets have an extremely important role to play, today. A good prophet will take the revelation they have received and bring it to the community (or communities) they trust. In that sharing, the people can discern – together – the meaning of the Word from God.

A prophet who acts alone (with no attempt to bring the revelation to others) will likely be dismissed or labeled a wacko. This is unfortunate, because very few folks have this gifting these days, and I wish to encourage them to embrace this calling.

Sharing this burden brings hope to our community. In Murfreesboro, I have seen many “prophets” seeking to do good in our community…friends like Brian, Toi, Jason, Cary, Tricia, Abdou, Hibba, Ali, Kevin, Joy, Chris, Keith, Richard, Tim, and many, many more. I don’t know that they are all prophets per se, but they do speak words of justice and hope into the systems that oppress other in these days.

May the words of the prophets move you into a deeper understand of your relationship with God. May you know God’s presence in the difficult situations you face. May you speak God’s truth as you join God’s Mission today. Amen.

P (Prayer): Lord, we seek your glory and your Word this day – even if it stings a bit. Amen.


Who Can Serve???

Photo credit here.

S (Scripture): Joel 2

25 I will repay you for the years
that the cutting locust,
the swarming locust, the hopping locust, and the devouring locust have eaten—
my great army, which I sent against you.
26 You will eat abundantly and be satisfied,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has done wonders for you;
and my people will never again be put to shame.
27 You will know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the Lord your God—no other exists;
never again will my people be put to shame.
28 After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone;
your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
and your young men will see visions.
29 In those days, I will also pour out my
spirit on the male and female slaves.

O (Observation): God freely admits to having corrected God’s people when they needed correction. God sent locusts to eat their crops. Then more to eat the leftovers. Then more to eat the crumbs : ) No apologies. However, God now promises something fruitful. God promises a new vision revealed to God’s people.

The vision God reveals comes through God’s Spirit being poured out on everyone. That Spirit will inspire prophecies and dreams for God’s people.

And not only on God’s people…but even on the male AND female slaves!!!! Scandalous!

God ‘s mercy knows no bounds.

A (Application): The text today is quoted quite a bit in liturgies and messages, usually without the context around it. Joel is a prophet who speaks God’s judgment, but also God’s word of grace. Repentance is called for once again, and so is God’s unrelenting grace and mercy.

What strikes me today is the humility that comes with being a follower of Jesus. That’s sounds weird. I think others have to declare you humble…you can’t really call yourself humble : )

Anyway, humility is what strikes me today. The nature of our faith causes us to be humble. As a pastor serving a congregation in a suburban area, we can get quite frazzled over how things operate in the congregation. We can worry about how well a ministry is going by wondering how many members are involved. And what about non-members? What if they get involved? Is that okay? Can non-members be involved? OF COURSE!

OUR CALL IS TO MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS! Humility is a part of that. Inviting members and non-members alike to be a part of what God is calling us to do goes with the territory. We don’t have to “convert” everyone. We don’t have to ask people to give their hearts to Jesus. We simply serve. We simply share the same space. We simply invite. In the process of doing life together, we can encourage baptism or taking next steps in faith formation…but that comes after building a relationship with folks and not demanding they sign on the dotted line.

If they aren’t against us, and they are doing good…great! Regardless of who the “they” are.

A great example is our participation in the upcoming “Coldest Nights” program in Murfreesboro, TN. On nights below 32 degrees, our congregation (twice per month) will provide a meal for about 15 ladies seeking shelter for the night. Lots of folks are eager to help – some members, some non-members – and that is AWESOME! I couldn’t be more proud of our folks pulling the community together to serve or neighbors in need. God’s grace falls on us all.

Happy serving!

P (Prayer): God, make us all ready to serve. Amen.