Who Said That?

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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.

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Who Receives Revelations From God?

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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???

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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.

Rituals and Relationships

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S (Scripture): Hosea 6:4 Ephraim, what will I do with you?
Judah, what will I do with you?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that vanishes quickly.
5 Therefore, I have attacked them by the prophets,
I have killed them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth like a light.
6 I desire faithful love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God instead of entirely burned offerings.

O (Observation): God’s people are getting a heaping of The Law, they are being shown where they have fallen short of honoring God. In God’s address to the people who claim the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as their God, we hear God naming God’s people as a vanishing morning cloud. God’s people show up, but vanish. God’s people appear, then disappear. They claim to be faithful to God, but go away when they desire affirmation or healing.

Faithful love and knowledge of God. This is what God desires most – for people to know their God. Instead, God’s people find a way to focus on the rituals, with empty hearts. Seems God would rather have a relationship than a ritual. Or maybe, better yet, the relationship would be the focus of the ritual.

A (Application): Do you and your friends have a special greeting or handshake? I know that sounds very middle school, but do you have routines with friends or even family members? Like, do you take your shoes off when you go in their house? Do you go right to the kitchen to grab a snack or a water?

When you leave, do you honk your horn a certain number of times? Do you have a prayer or some other send off?

If any of the above apply, I hope you consider that your rituals likely occur, because you have a relationship with one another.

In the same way, God wishes for our worship rituals to be reflective of our relationship with God. God’s people of Old (in Hosea) still showed up for worship with burnt offerings, but they had very little stock in their relationship with God. When trouble came, or a need for healing, God’s people would quite often turn elsewhere for hope.

In Jesus, we have God re-establishing a relationship, and this time, the relationship is clearly with the whole cosmos! All people are invited to receive God’s mercy and be transformed by God’s grace.

Next time you worship, hear the words and focus on the relationship God wishes to have with you (or maybe you know that relationship is already there). For many of us, that relationship is made firm in our baptism. As a Lutheran, I have lived my whole life long knowing that God reached out to me to establish a relationship with me in my baptism, and has brought many others around me (friends, family, pastors, church leaders, etc.) to remind me of our relationship. And from this relationship comes the many rituals in which I am blessed to partake.

Peace!

P (Prayer): Lord, I thank you for establishing a relationship with me, and helping me to see that our relationship with you and one another on earth are central to who we are as your followers and your witnesses to all the earth. Amen.

Proactive or Reactive? Lord, Help Us

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S (Scripture): Psalm 119

156 Great is your mercy, O Lord; give me life according to your justice.
157 Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, yet I do not swerve from your decrees.

O (Observation):  The psalmist is looking to God to bring favor while he is being persecuted by those who choose not to follow God’s plans.   The justice the psalmist seeks is God’s justice, not the justice of the world.  When the world gets enough voices going in the same direction, the powers that be move justice towards the loudest voices.  If the just have no voice, they can seek only God’s justice.   Such may have been the case for the psalmist…very little voice…a lot of noise coming from the unjust.

A (Application):  I’m proud to have been (and continue to be) a part of the #MurfreesboroLoves movement, based in Murfreesboro, TN.  We called together people from all walks of life a few weeks ago to demonstrate that love will define our community, not white supremacists, who planned to hold a rally on our public square recently.    We had literally 100’s of folks come out to stand up against hate and for love of neighbor.

The Murfreesboro Loves movement gave the voiceless a voice, a rallying point around which many would gather to show mutual care and love for one another.

Instead of being only “against” a group of people, we also tried to convey a message of being “for” one another.

The truly hard work comes in trying to also show love towards those we rallied against.  We chose a particularly non-violent, separate stance.   We stayed away from their rally, and instead chose to greet them with messages of love and that hate was not welcome in our town.  We did this with demonstrations, posters, marches, and banners along Old Fort Parkway and Church Street – the 2 main thoroughfares through which the rally folks would have to drive through to get to the rally site.

They ended up cancelling the rally, but our message was heard loud and clear.   We did our best to stand for God’s decrees – decrees that call for us to do justice, to love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  A diverse group of people upheld God’s decrees:  atheists, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and people of other faiths, as well.

God works in many ways, through many people.  Today, I thank God for choosing me to be an instrument of peace.

And yet…no matter how hard we work to show love for neighbor…we still see random acts of violence, the devastating violence of mass shootings.  We wish to be proactive in our movement towards peace and love…and yet sometimes, all we can do is be reactive.  Such is the case in this shooting in Texas.  We see yet another mass shooting, this time in Sutherland Springs, TX, on November 5, 2017.

We react with mourning and grieving and questions…lots of questions…and anger…and hatred.  In God, we hope…  May we take this time to mourn and allow God to enter our suffering.

P (Prayer):  Lord, you guide us in many ways, sharing your message through many types of people.  Continue to show us your love and grace this day, and continue to surprise us by working in ways we have not foreseen.  We need you now, as always, to love us through these days ahead.  Amen.

 

500th Anniversary of the Reformation!!!


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Check out the Lutheran World Federation’s live streaming of commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the Refomation from around the globe!!!

S (Scripture): Ezekiel 36: 22 Therefore, say to the house of Israel, The Lord God proclaims: House of Israel, I’m not acting for your sake but for the sake of my holy name, which you degraded among the nations where you have gone. 23 I will make my great name holy, which was degraded among the nations when you dishonored it among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord. This is what the Lord God says.

When I make myself holy among you in their sight, 24 I will take you from the nations, I will gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you to your own fertile land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be cleansed of all your pollution. I will cleanse you of all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your stony heart from your body and replace it with a living one, 27 and I will give you my spirit so that you may walk according to my regulations and carefully observe my case laws. 28 Then you will live in the land that I gave to your ancestors, you will be my people, and I will be your God.

O (Observation): As a prophet, Ezekiel continues to share God’s word regarding the sinfulness of the people and God’s mercy and grace.    Notice what instigates God’s mercy:  God’s own desire to cleanse God’s people.  

This element of grace cannot be overstated!   God’s people are not doing a special act!  They are not even repentant until they are shown the distance between their actions and God’s grace.  They are to look at themselves in the mirror, and see what they truly are: a people who have taken their stature as God’s children for granted.  

God decides to sprinkle clean water on God’s people… and to put a new heart and a new spirit in them…God will even give back to God’s people the land they once were given…and it is promised to be like the Eden of old.   

God graces God’s people.  Not for what they’ve done, but because God desires it.  

A (Application):  To be sprinkled clean…to be given a new heart and spirit…this is the hope of a Christian baptism.  We retain our identity, and yet something has changed.   We are transformed. We say we “die with Christ” in baptism, so that we might be raised with Jesus and live a new life. 

The sprinkling of water in this text reminds us of baptism.   We are also reminded of the fact that baptism is SO MUCH what God does.  Then, we live our lives in response to that grace and mercy.  

As Lutheran Christians, we baptism at any age.  Baptizing adults is the norm from Scripture.  The believer makes promises to live into the covenant of baptism.   God promises to be present in, with, and under the water, effecting change in the believer.  Faith alone makes this sacrament possible.  

Martin Luther and cohorts – 500 years ago – reminded the Church that God’s grace was not for sale.  And not just this, but that God’s grace was comes to set us free to love and serve our neighbor.  This shift causes us to focus less on our own salvation, and more about serving others.  

The word from Ezekiel today (though not often used to help explain infant baptism), is yet another example of how far God’s grace reaches.    At no point in this text are God’s people repentant.  God makes it all pretty clear:  I’m doing this for my name, alone.  So we believe in infant baptism, as God’s grace – alone – is instilled in us.  Parents and baptismal sponors make known their desire to aid the infant or child in their rearing.  They promise to raise the child in the faith and to aid them in their faith development.  And these actions are all born out of what God has already granted to the child: namely, mercy and grace.  

Part of our weekly worship is a time of Confession & Forgiveness.  In this rite, we confess our sins, then we hear the words: “in the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven of all your sins.”   Why these words?  These are a reminder of God’s baptismal promise to cleanse us…to give us a new spirit and a new heart.  

May today – the 500th anniversary of the Reformation – be a reminder to you that you are forgiven, loved, and made new in Christ Jesus.  And may that forgiveness be what inspires you to examine your motives and actions every day.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, remind us that you are not an angry God, but a God of grace and mercy.  Amen. 

A Bold, Daring Faith

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S (Scripture): 1 Peter 1:3 May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 4 You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish—an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. 5 Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time.

6 You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials. 7 This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory, and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed.

O (Observation):  The early Christians are empowered by Peter to hold on to their faith in the midst of oppression.   Peter (our author) knows that earthly things (like gold) only last so long.   But one’s faith – a gift of the Spirit – lasts eternally.  

The encouragement Peter gives, then, is that followers of Christ are given a new birth, a living hope, and a pure and enduring inheritance.  

This is how Peter grounds his greetings: with thanksgiving!

A (Application):  We have a lot we can gripe about in this world.  White supremacists, government leaders with whom we disagree, the fact that the Church remains mostly silent when our neighbors are oppressed.  All of these things can drag us down.  And we can start to tell ourselves that our story is one of sadness and despair…

Or…we can remember Peter’s words today.  We have a living hope in Jesus Christ!   Our salvation is secure and thus we can live out our faith boldly, confidently!

When your faith is tried, and you stand out on the front line, the circumstances can seem overwheling.   But we are empowered by the Spirit to remember our story.  To remember that we have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish.  So no matter what happens in this life, we are secure.   

So go!  Act boldly, to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep us steadfast in the faith. Amen.