Southeastern Synod Meets in Assembly this Weekend – Our Annual Pilgrimage

Logo courtesy of Ms. Linda Few, Synod Assembly Committee

As most of you know, I serve as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.   I serve as the pastor of Advent Lutheran Church, in Murfreesboro, TN.  My wife (Kelly) and our three children embrace the annual pilgrimage known as the Synod Assembly.    

The ELCA is comprised of 65 synods (think of “synod” as a geographical area).   Every synod meets annually for mutual upbuilding, fellowship, worship, and to speak with one voice on issues related to the ELCA, social issues, and much, much more.  We study Scriptire together, attend various workshops, and learn how we are all doing our best to be stewards of the Gospel.  

I will post a picture or two throughout the weekend, updating this post at various times.  

I will post a new devotion again on Tuesday, May 31.  
Update:  in the plenary hall!!!

Do You Bring Life, or Take it Away?

S (Scripture): Romans 7:1 Or do you not know, brothers and sisters (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law is lord over a person as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of the marriage. 3 So then, if she is joined to another man while her husband is alive, she will be called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she is joined to another man, she is not an adulteress. 4 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you could be joined to another, to the one who was raised from the dead, to bear fruit to God. 5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful desires, aroused by the law, were active in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the law, because we have died to what controlled us, so that we may serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code.

O (Observation):  Paul uses a very practical image to help make a deep, theological point:  being joined to Christ’s death releases us from the enslavement to the law, just as a husband’s death releases the wife from her bond to her marriage.     (That’s from 2,000 years ago, folks…today’s example would likely be different.)

Before Christ’s death, we were bound to the enslavement of the law.   An external set of rules guided the lives of God’s people, and so they started seeking salvation within the laws and rules of the people.  That wasn’t working.  

So, God sends Jesus to free us from the human-made laws and to help us follow the Spirit in this new-found life.  Our joyful obligations now come from serving the Lord through the guidance of the Spirit. 

A (Application):  What are we to do with all of this news and division in our country?   We want to fight and fight and win for “our side.”   Yet this seems to be a struggle that does NOT bear fruit.  The text from Paul today makes this fairly clear: play by the rules of the law, unto death; play by the rules of the Spirit, unto life.   (OK, that’s archaic language…but a fair use of “unto,” yes? : )

Getting into arguments that are tit-for-tat gets us nowhere.  Responding to tweets and FB posts in anger or with emotion only doesn’t change anyone’s minds.   And it plays into the system set up for the old way of the “law.”   The law requires fairness, yet can also be manipulated for personal benefit.  The Spirit, however, seeks to bear fruit that is life.  

Life-giving actions and attitudes are what Christ gives us.  We are freed from the tit-for-tat world of tweet and FB battles.   I’m not saying we can’t have some open communication, but rather, let us seek to build up, rather than tear down.  

Don’t like the direction our country is going?   Don’t just blame the President or the national government…get out and make a difference in your community.   Go volunteer!   Show how God has released you from the law and how God works though you for good.   

Are there refugees in your city?  Find out how to help them get settled and familiarize them with how to pay bills and get groceries.  

Homeless people live in your community.  How can you help them with food and clothing?

The list is endless.  Make a difference.  Don’t just fight online battles that change nothing.  Instead, help your neighbor.  Give life, don’t just snuff it out.  Awaken to the life that the Spirit gives. And share that life with others.  

P (Prayer): Lord, helps us to give life to others, just as you have given us a new life. Amen. 

Preying on the powerless…

Some words on immigration from a good friend.

Fuel for the journey

0409-cmexico-immigrants-mexico-harvestScripture: Ezra 10:9 Then all the people of Judah and Benjamin (recently returned from exile in Babylon) assembled at Jerusalem within the three days; it was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month. All the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain. 10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. 11 Now make confession to the LORD the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” 12 Then all the assembly answered with a loud voice, “It is so; we must do as you have said”…44 All these had married foreign women, and they sent them away with their children.

Observation:God’s people had just returned from…

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Let God’s Judgment Stand, Not Ours!

S (Scripture): Romans 1:22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. 29 They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them.

Therefore you are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge someone else. For on whatever grounds you judge another, you condemn yourself, because you who judge practice the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment is in accordance with truth against those who practice such things. 3 And do you think, whoever you are, when you judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you have contempt for the wealth of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, and yet do not know that God’s kindness leads you to repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed! 6 He will reward each one according to his works. 

O (Observation):  Once again…a lot packed into a few verses.  Paul addresses the fact that swaths of people have ignored God as the Creator and ruler of all.   Paul addresses a group of people who have chosen to follow earthly gods, even though the majesty of God is clearly present.

Paul sees these folks as having deprived minds.  These non-God-fearers are quite a bunch.   They include folks who misuse and abuse one another for selfish gain (physically, economically, politically, socially, etc.).  

But!   Should it be the job of a God-fearer to condemn these people?  Certainly not!   For as soon as we start to judge, we become the gossipers and slanderers.   

Let God’s judgment stand, not ours!

A (Application):  The first place people go to in these texts are the verses surrounding same-sex attraction.    They say these few verses clearly condemn all same-sex attraction and relationships.    They do this without acknowledging 2 important items:  1.) the group being addressed by Paul is those who do not believe in God and are out for selfish gain; 2.) Paul immediately follows these condemnations with the fact that we are not to judge others.  These 2 points are quite the inconvenience for self-righteous Christians. 

Paul addresses his condemning words towards folks who are looking only for self-serving pleasure and advantage.   The same-sex relationships here are not grounded in Christ’s love for the neighbor.   For that matter, when opposite-sex relations are based on self-centered pleasure alone, that is also something not to be condoned.   However, when folks come together in love towards one another (same-sex or opposite-sex) this goes beyond self-centeredness, into selfless love for one another.    And if so, these relationships should be allowed without question.  

On the issue of condemning and judging others… Many Christians who openly condemn other Christians prefer to read the end of Romans 1 and skip what comes just before and after these verses.   Paul is setting a bit of a standard at the end of Romans 1, but he is letting us know that he is addresing behavior of those who have no regard for God. They are selfish.  Not only this, but indeed we become the condemned in condemning others!

What does this mean?  For me, this means we support those who seek God’s blessings on marriage (same-sex or opposite-sex).   This means we guard ourselves against condemning others.   This means we are called to love one another, especially when we are not sure about each other.  

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us steadfast in the faith…that we might find compassion in our hearts.  Amen.  

God Saves People.  Not Us.  

S (Scripture): Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.”

O (Observation): Paul is addressing his main concern:  the Gospel is for all of humankind.   And his order is interesting:   To the Jew first and also to the Greek (or, basically, any non-Jew).    

Paul acknowledges that – while most Jewish people do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah – the Jews are God’s people though whom God brought about salvation for the whole world.  The Jewish people are the ones through whom God made many promises (covenants), including the birth of Jesus, the Messiah.  

But the Jewish people are not the end of the lineage of God’s people.   In Jesus, the gift of salvation is opened to the whole world – even to the Greeks.

A (Application):  We (Christians) are so quick to judge other people these days – Christians and non-Christians, alike.  I’ve done it. Lots of times.  When I see fellow Christians giving passive-aggressive comments or making it clear how they are “saved” but others are not because those others don’t fit their “mold” of Christianity, I just wanna scream.   

Is it really up to us to tell others they are outside of salvation?   How about we take the approach of showing God’s love and sharing what we have?  And let God figure out the saving bit?   

Our purpose has NEVER been to save people.  Our purpose is to share the Gospel.

Sometimes that means preaching and leading worship.  

Sometimes that means standing up for injustices.  

Sometimes that means welcoming our neighbors from distant lands.  

Sometimes that means associating with members of society that are pushed to the side and sharing God’s love with them.  

I don’t mind folks being prophetic, but a bit of humility goes a long way.  We will need prophets to speak up, but let the Gospel be that which convicts us, not your personal “logical” opinions.    Just because you can connect dots of logic doesn’t mean you are “right.”   (Remember: the cross was NOT the logical way to any throne.)  The “right” thing is that which is measured against the Gospel (Jesus’ words and actions).   If what we do or what we say doesn’t hold muster against the words and actions of Jesus, we need to shut up and sit down and pray some more.   

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

Got Lent?

Today’s reflection is about the season of Lent and specifically uses the Gospel text that will be used at the Ash Wednesday worship service at Advent Lutheran Church, Murfreesboro, TN, on Wednesday, March 1, 2017.   I wanted to explore this text today in order to prepare my own heart and mind for the season of Lent.  

S (Scripture): Matthew 6:1 [Jesus said:] “Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. 2 Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 3 But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

5 “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you….”

16 “When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 17 When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

19 “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

O (Observation):  V. 1 of this text lays the foundation for these verses included above.   In particular, the word “righteousness” has significance.  Some translations use the word “piety” here.   Piety has a very individualistic connotation.  Yet the Greek word indicates “justice”‘or “righteousness” which thus has very communal connotations.   

Jesus warns the disciples not to focus their efforts of communal justice so that they give themselves the praise.  No.  Rather, Jesus wants his  disciples  to practice communal justice for the sake of the community – for God’s Kingdom!

Jesus is challenging the societal structures and norms in order to help his disciples live differently.  The disciple are to be motivated not by gaining favor with a human audience but the divine audience.  In the first century – not so unlike today – a person’s reputation helped them “get ahead” in the world, even if it meant showing off by how much you could give up in alms and possessions, and pray for others.  If the motivation was for favor of a human audience, you were missing the point.  

A (Application):  Ever had someone pray for you who was doing so only for public gain. It feels icky, doesn’t it?   The same goes for someone giving financially or giving up something for human favor.  Feels weird.  

Well, I think the practices of prayer, giving, and fasting, are great…we just need to keep in mind the goal: favor of the divine audience, not the  human audience.  

Having grown up in a tradition that recognizes Lent as a season in the church year, I have almost become numb to the idea of giving something up.   I want to resist the trend, so as not to be seen trying to favor a human audience.  Isn’t putting ashes on one’s head making a public statement?  Isn’t that being too public???

But then, maybe if the motivation is right – divine favor – then doing this public act of worship and imposition of ashes is important. Perhaps the divine favor comes from making this special day (and season) of worship an exercise in lifting up the communal nature of my faith walk, in opposition to my personal, selfish desires.   

I will help our congregation look into two special areas during this season of Lent: working with veterans in our community and working with those with special needs in our community.   This – I pray – is for communal good and for divine favor.   These new ministries in the congregation I serve will be a way for me to help look outside of myself and to bring hope and joy to these folks we will work with in these new ministries.  

P (Prayer): Lord, make me whole…turn me from selfish desire.  Clear my heart and mind for social good.  Amen.  

What Are You Up To Now, God? : )

S (Scripture): 2 Chronicles 6:7 Solomon said: “Now my father David had a strong desire to build a temple to honor the Lord God of Israel. 8 The Lord told my father David, ‘It is right for you to have a strong desire to build a temple to honor me. 9 But you will not build the temple; your very own son will build the temple for my honor.’ 10 The Lord has kept the promise he made. I have taken my father David’s place and have occupied the throne of Israel, as the Lord promised. I have built this temple for the honor of the Lord God of Israel 11 and set up in it a place for the ark containing the covenant the Lord made with the Israelites.”

O (Observation): God makes good on God’s promises.  We see this through the covenants God has made with creation and specifically through the Hebrew people…through Noah, Abraham, David, Jeremiah, fulfilled in the person of Jesus, the Christ, the anointed one.  

In this particular instance, Solomon is speaking – honored that God is working through him, David’s son.   Solomon acknowledges God’s covnenant with his father, and is honored to be a part of fulfilling this path to building a house of worship.    

A (Application):   What is your path?   Is today’s path part of God’s larger picture for your life?  

Sometimes, we can get bogged down in worry and fear that this path – today – is not good or right.   But I would beg you to take stock of what God is up to.  Is your path today an opportunity to meet someone?  To experience something that God can take and redeem?   Will your path reveal someone to you today, who will lead you into new revelations?

Last night I met several such people at the Rutherford County Interfaith Council panel discussion on “Building Bridges of Tolerance.”  We quickly learned that the word “tolerance” was in and of itself a poor choice of a word, for our goal is to embrace one another, not merely to tolerate one another.   

To anyone who is fearful of reaching across cultural or religious boundaries, talk to me or someone who has been about that work.  Let them go with you.  I will be happy to set up appointments to break the ice.  

In these interactions, we will see that God’s story is a part of all of us.  That we have a place in the big picture.   That we all matter.   

So, if you haven’t reached out, what’s holding you back?

P (Prayer):  Lord, give us bold brace spirits, willing to listen and follow you.  Amen.