A Slave to Righteousness

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S (Scripture): Romans 7:5 When we were self-centered, the sinful passions aroused through the Law were at work in all the parts of our body, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the Law. We have died with respect to the thing that controlled us, so that we can be slaves in the new life under the Spirit, not in the old life under the written Law.

O (Observation): Paul is still riffing about about the Law. Is one under the Law if also under Christ? No! How is this? The Law is for the living. In Christ, especially in baptism, we die and are re-born. Thus, we are released from the Law, and at the same time, are now slaves to righteousness, under the Spirit.

The Spirit’s calling compels us to respond…not just an obligation to pass or fail…but as an opening for doing God’s ministry.

A (Application): I see us constantly using the new Spirit in us as a new Law. We set up markers to see who is “really” doing God’s work. We measure public appearances, an abundance or a lack of social media presence, or popularity to decide who is being “faithful.”

The time that I spend in personal devotion and prayer helps me to remember that God is with me day in and day out, regardless of the standards I mentioned above. When I get away from this practice, I get out of focus.

The time I spend “digging daily” is a way of “mining for God’s presence.” I do this practice with several other folks. Something life-giving comes from doing this work with others. Is this devotion a new Law? Absolutely not! The practice of digging into God’s word daily is a great way to see the Spirit alive and well in my life and all around me…especially in troublesome times.

P (Prayer): Lord, sustain me in my journey as a space to righteousness. Amen.

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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.

Fear Not, For I am With You

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S (Scripture): Acts 18:9 One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Don’t be afraid. Continue speaking. Don’t be silent. 10 I’m with you and no one who attacks you will harm you, for I have many people in this city.” 11 So he stayed there [in Corinth] for eighteen months, teaching God’s word among them.

O (Observation): Paul listened. God said, “Fear not, for I am with you.” Well, pretty close to that. These words gave Paul encouragement to stay. He dug in some roots, enough to really help develop a base of disciples equipped with the Good News, and how to share it.

Paul did this because God said God would be with him.

A (Application): When is the last time you listened for God? What did God sound like? A voice? A sign? Peaceful and purposeful silence? Did God come to you through support of a loved one – or even a stranger?

Our ventures are never solo adventures. God journeys with us. And gives us confidence.

Trust in God’s promise. Listen out for God.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me see my path. 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/)

The Written Word

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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): The close of this Psalm is found here in the text provided for you today. This Psalm is an acrostic. Every letter of the Hebrew alphabet begins a section. Each section begins with the coordinating letter of the alphabet. This is meant to show wholeness or completeness. The wholeness is how God’s followers are caught up in God’s being. The wholeness shows how the Torah shapes God’s people towards righteousness – that is, to be in good standing before God and neighbor.

God’s guidance is sought in all things. When afraid, angry, sorrowful, repentant, happy…in all things, God’s people remain grateful for God’s guidance and grace.

Even though “I” is used, I read it as a “collective ‘I’.” That is…imagine everyone who has ever read and prayed over this Psalm. Imagine all of God’s people reading it – aloud – together, in multiple languages. God’s people…with one one, heterogenous praise.

How beautiful…

A (Application): Reading this text today has caused me to pause. Quite often, when I think of someone “falling away” from God, I think of myself or others doing “bad things.” What a limited view of sin.

As I read this text today, I am ashamed. For these past few months, so much personal strife has entered my arena. We have not done “bad things” as much as circumstances around us have simply been difficult and challenging.

This Psalm reminds me that not trusting that God will lead me / us in times of strife has been my sin. My despair has been winning, but today’s reading brings me hope once again…and it reminds me of the importance of reading Scripture daily. (Or almost daily : )

God reaches out to us in friends and family and so many other ways…of this, I have no doubt. Yet…what lies in our power is to pick up the written Word and to trust that it will not return empty.

Pick it up.

Open it in your browser.

Just start reading.

In fact, read it with others. Ask questions. Struggle with how the Scripture applies to your life. (Kind of like what I struggle through every time I write!)

BibleGateway.com. Give them a whirl.

What scriptures to read? Do like I do:

Go to https://www.moravian.org/ and see what texts they suggest for the day!

What is your pain / strife today? In what ways do you feel like you’ve been drifting?

P (Prayer): Lord, continue to speak to me. Amen.