One Nation, Underwood

S (Scripture): Proverbs 29

25 The fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.
26 Many seek the favor of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.
27 The unjust are an abomination to the righteous, but the upright are an abomination to the wicked.

O (Observation): Peace and security comes from the Lord, not from any earthly ruler or authority.   Trusting in God brings one justice and hope.  

And who is an abomination?   Depends on the viewpoint.   The unjust acquire wealth and status in ways that make the righteous jealous – though it shouldn’t.  The upright are an abomination to the wicked, because the upright are genuine and receive eternal favor without working lies or deceit.  

A (Application): The freakiest line from the latest House of Cards series is the title of this blog post.  President Francis Underwood pontificates on the future…and he says, “One nation.  Underwood.”  How creepy.  

How often does the “bad guy” win?   How do we allow this?   We do allow it, by the way, either because we stick our heads in the sand or because we are complicit with the system.  

…until we lift our heads…until we are no longer complicit…

We reach a true freedom when we begin to believe in and trust the Lord.   We can walk upright (repenting as we go) fearing no ruler.  We will do no battle.   Instead, our upright nature will drive the wicked ones crazy.   

Our trust will be in the Lord, and as we trust the Lord, we will see that our spirit is not captured.   Our will is set free in order that we live upright lives in the midst of an unjust world.  

Francis Underwood rules through wicked means.   Will you?  Or will you let genuine love for your neighbor guide your ways and your will?

P (Prayer):  Lord, lift up our heads to you!  Amen.  

Why Being Wicked is So Enticing

(Photo of Matthew McConnaughey as “the man in black” in the upcoming film, The Dark Tower, adapted from the Stephen King book series by the same name.  Photo credit here.)

S (Scripture): Psalm 73

1 Truly God is good to the upright,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant;
I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 

4 For they have no pain;
their bodies are sound and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not plagued like other people.

O (Observation):  The psalmist acknowledges that God calls all to be righteous, but for some reason, the psalmist is jealous of the wicked!

This author is not jealous of the person’s wickedness, but rather, jealous of the apparent prosperity of the wicked…

A (Application):  The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…

We so easily can be manipulated by our own egos.   We can see someone who – through dishonest or wicked means – gains popularity and / or wealth – and we can become jealous.  We can start to think about putting ourselves into that person’s place.  If I can just ignore this bit of justice or ignore that neighbor’s need…I, too, can be rich or famous.   

Look! The wicked have no pain. They are sleek!

Yeah, right!   The wicked have pain…they just don’t show you…  The pain comes in lack of support…lack of guidance…lack of joy.   
We can all be tempted to allow wickedness to guide us, because it seems to pay off in worldly ways.  Yet, what is gained?   And what is lost? 

Instead of relying on wickedness, we can rely on the Lord to supply our needs (not our wants).   

Do not let evil lure you into its trap.   Sin is just death  masquerading as life.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, remind us that we are yours and that you supply our every need.  Amen.  

Murfreesboro Cold Patrol – Justice for the poor


S (Scripture): Psalm 72

12 For [the King] delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight.

O (Observation):  The King is addressed in this psalm.  The ideal picture of a king is laid out in this psalm.  The king is praised for serving the needy, he defends the cause of the poor and crushes the oppressor.   The ideal king rules with righteousness and governs the poor with justice. 

A (Application):  The cause of the poor and needy is always with us.  Sometimes, we even do some good in the cause of justice for the poor amongst us.  

We Americans live in a nation where we believe we get what we deserve.   We believe that if we are in a challenging situation – especially a financial one – we must deserve to be where we are.   We must have screwed up along the way…and there is little mercy shown. 

Well, thankfully, I know a group of people who respond differently to poverty.   Whether they follow the God I believe in or not, they are living the call of the King from this psalm: they deliver the needy, the poor when they have no helper.  

The folks I speak of gather under the name of the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol.  (Click link to go to their website, or here for their Facebook page.)

I went to their open house last night.  They now have a space for the staff or volunteers or homeless folks to sit and gather for a brief respite.   They are located in the heart of the city, close to folks willing to serve and close to folks in need.  

When asked how the Cold Patrol is different than other service organizations in Murfreesboro, one of the board members said the difference boiled down to one word:  relationships.   She said that “we go out and get to know these folks.”   The other organizations in town do serve a HUGE need in terms of supplying clothing, food, housing, etc. to the homeless population.   But the unique element of the Cold Patrol, is that they are intentional about going out into the streets and the woods and getting to really know the homeless population and are working on ways to connect the homeless in Murfreesboro with assistance and to find them some ways to help themselves.  

They are also doing some much needed work in gathering data for research on homelessness issues, that we might better serve the community, or at least to better diagnose the problems for the homeless in Murfreesboro. 

Well done, good and faithful servants.  Thank you for bringing justice for the poor.  

If you would like to make a donation to the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, click here.   

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to walk with the poor and needy.  Might we be reminded that we are called to serve one another.  Amen. 

Giving – a Spiritual Gift


(Photo credit: PreachersInstitute.com)

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthinas 8:1 We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; 2 for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4 begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— 5 and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, 6 so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. 7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

O (Observation):   Paul urges good stewardship amongst ALL followers of Jesus.   He encourages all to take on the example of Christ:  to deny one’s self and riches for the sake of the other.   

The church in Macedonia has shown great generosity, EVEN IN THE MIDST OF THEIR “extreme poverty.”    The challenge wasn’t accepted until their bank accounts were filled, with some to spare.  No!  In the midst of their poverty, God saw fit to have the Macedonian church give DESPITE its general poverty.  And an abundance flowed forth…and all “voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means.”  This was God’s going, indeed.  

A (Application):  This kind of story strikes us as Americans.   We are a nation built on good, old-fashioned hard work.   And every penny saved is a penny earned.  Where we pull ourselves up by our own boot straps. 

Until – as individuals or families – we can’t…because of illness or old age or because we are alone and have no one by our side.  

I’m no advocate for laziness, I’m just an advocate for generosity.  Maybe you’ve been privileged enough to not need help…and if that is you, then that isolates you from about 99% of the world.  Good for you.  As for the 99%…we need help and assistance from time to time.   

I have received a LOT of help in my life – financially, and in other ways – and my wife and I are more and more incorporating into our budget ways to be generous to others.   We are not necessarily “paying back” those who have helped us.  Instead, we are paying forward to help others in need.  

Our generosity comes not from our own doing, though we have worked hard in our lives to contribute to society, but rather, our generosity comes as a gift of the Spirit.  

When our world tells us to look out for our own, we don’t stop there.  We look for our neighbor, as well.  

When our world says to hold back, we give.  

And with this generosity comes a deep satisfaction that is repaid not always in dollars, but in peace that surpasses understanding.  

P (Prayer): Lord, give us glad and generous hearts!  Amen.  I 

Paying It Forward

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 5:16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh; even though we once knew Christ according to the flesh, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

O (Observation): Paul brings an understanding of what it means to be transformed in Christ.   Paul points out that in Christ, we are reconciled to God.   This means that God looks upon us with favor, out of mercy.  

Jesus himself took on our nature, our flesh, and redeemed it, reconciled it to God.   In the cross, Jesus said, I am of the flesh…and God transformed Jesus through his death and resurrection.  

Jesus is no longer to be seen according to the flesh (just skin, blood, bones, etc.).  He is one with God.  Paul calls all believers to look upon one another as more than just flesh, but also, as God’s chosen…as one with God.   And so, we forgive one another, and acknowledge one another’s repentant hearts.  

A (Application): Jesus made us right with God. And now we are called to make others right with God and with one another. We received grace and mercy.  Now, we are to pass on this gift of grace and mercy.   We are to look upon others with grace and mercy, and be ready to forgive and re-build were brokenness exists.  

Let’s go and do this today.  Where can you help build relationships and bridges?

P (Prayer):  Lord, we cannot repay you for what you have done in reconciling us with God.  So, we pay it forward, looking at others not according to the flesh, but as God’s beloved, with grace and mercy. Amen. 

Helping One Another


S (Scripture): Psalm 70

4 Let all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
    say evermore, “God is great!”

5 But I am poor and needy;
    hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
    O Lord, do not delay!

O (Observation):  The psalmist seeks deliverance from enemies, but also something to run to: a place, destination, or a great comforter. God is that comforter.   And while the psalmist cannot run to the comforter physically, the spiritual comfort effects the physical, emotional, and social well-being of the psalmist.  

A (Application):  On a day like today, I’m frustrated and in need of a deliverer.   It’s hard to be a pastor when your own father is in the hospital.   

The approach is different.  The questions are different.  The weight on my shoulders is different.  

I say quietly, and in my own mind and heart, “Hasten to me, O God.  Let me know you are near.   You are my help and my deliverer.”  

A quiet prayer.  From a state away.   Confident.  Trusting in God.  Advocating for care from afar.  

Trying to embrace the saying, “God is great!” on a day like today.    Maybe you can help me with that, good friends.   For we are all in this together!   

I and my family will receive strength from you.   

P (Prayer): Lord, you are great.  We receive joy in you alone.   Amen. 

We Are Clay Jars – imperfect, yet living examples

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

O (Observation):  By “we” Paul may mean the group to which Paul belongs, that is, he and those disciples carrying the Gospel to Corinth and helping to settle new locations in which the Gospel can be read and heard and lived out.  I suggest this, because in v. 12, he suggests that this work causes a death in Paul and his disciples, FOR THE SAKE OF “you” (those in the church in Corinth).  

Paul makes clear that the carriers of the Gospel message are not the central factor.  Paul declares that he and his disciples are but clay jars – imperfect containers for that which is life-giving.  The nature of the Gospel is not tarnished, even though the carriers are.   

A (Application):  As one who supports making disciples who make disciples, I have to keep one very important thing in mind:  calling people to follow me is not about following me, but following the One, Jesus Christ himself.  

Have you ever made a copy of a copy of a copy, etc?   What happens to the content being copied?  Yes!  It diminishes in quality.  The letters and images become more and more fuzzy.  If you make copies from the original, you get a clearer picture.  

The same would happen if we called others to follow us for the sake of following US, and not following Jesus.  So the tricky part (really, the part of us that must die) is that when we share the Gospel and call people to follow, we point to the Gospel and to Jesus and NOT just to us.  

The hard part is that calling people to follow is a combination of the message and the messenger.   We who carry the Gospel (clay jars) are thus called to be living examples (not perfect examples).   We need to give folks something to imitate before they can innovate their own way of carrying the Gospel.   

The dying part of this imitation piece is that we have to let go of our way of being a clay jar when our followers (really Jesus’ followers) start to create their own way of being a clay jar.  

Remember: we are not in the clay jar-making business…we are about the work of carrying a life-giving Message.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to lead, and then to get out of the way.  Amen.