To Be on Top (or Not)

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S (Scripture): Genesis 11:1 All people on the earth had one language and the same words. 2 When they traveled east, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them hard.” They used bricks for stones and asphalt for mortar. 4 They said, “Come, let’s build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and let’s make a name for ourselves so that we won’t be dispersed over all the earth.”

5 Then the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the humans built. 6 And the Lord said, “There is now one people and they all have one language. This is what they have begun to do, and now all that they plan to do will be possible for them. 7 Come, let’s go down and mix up their language there so they won’t understand each other’s language.” 8 Then the Lord dispersed them from there over all of the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 Therefore, it is named Babel, because there the Lord mixed up the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord dispersed them over all the earth.

O (Observation): Not a punishment, but a correction. What was the motive of the people building the tower? Was it a selfish move? Was it a move to say that they no longer needed God? We’re not quite sure.

I seem to think that the motive of the people must be that they desired to be free of any god…that would not be accountable to anyone but themselves.

God reminds the people that God is God and they are not.

A (Application): What is it like to be on top? (I don’t know, UGA lost the college football playoff last night.)

The lust for power…to be on top…it’s insatiable sometimes. You would do anything – almost anything- to be there. Kind of like building a tower to know God (or to strive to be like God – answering to no one but yourself).

This is not God’s plan for us. We have a God who’s wisdom is beyond our knowing, who desires peace above all, and seeks humility in us.

I’m not saying a losing team is arrogant and needs to be knocked down…I’m just connecting to the drive and desire to be # 1.

Jesus…he always deferred to God’s wisdom; he always deferred to God’s power; he was humble, even amongst his followers.

We have the one who saves us and gives us the example by which to live. Thank God for calling us to follow Jesus, our hope and our peace, our # 1.

P (Prayer): Lord, even as we struggle in our desire to be above the law or All-knowing, keep us humble and honoring you. Amen.


Occupied by Foreign Powers

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S (Scripture): Matthew 4:12 Now when Jesus heard that John was arrested, he went to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, which lies alongside the sea in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This fulfilled what Isaiah the prophet said:

15 Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
alongside the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles,
16 the people who lived in the dark have seen a great light,
and a light has come upon those who lived in the region and in shadow of death.

17 From that time Jesus began to announce, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”

O (Observation): Jesus has begun God’s Mission! Jesus is the light for those who live in darkness. Isaiah 9:1-2 is the quote in italics here.

In Isaiah’s time the Assyrian people had occupied Israel – God’s chosen people. To assuage the fears of the Israelites, God foretold of a time when Assyria would be removed from the people…how God’s people would be free of the foreign occupation. That time would be like a great light shining in their darkness.

The situation in Israel at the time of Jesus’ coming was also a time of occupation of a foreign power (this time, Rome) and God’s people – once again – needed a light to shine in the darkness. And this time, God sent a light that would never dim: Jesus, the light of the world.

With Jesus in their midst – the light in the darkness – Jesus calls upon God’s people to change their ways, for hope – is re-kindled. Hope for the kingdom of heaven is near!

A (Application): Well…I’m back at it in regards to devotions – and so many other things. We’ve mostly cleaned up our interior Christmas decorations (have to leave up the sports tree that has all of my wife’s UGA decorations for the College Football Playoff game tonight – “Go Dawgs” – that’s hard to say as a Georgia Tech alum : )

Most of the stuff is put away, but getting into the swing of things (routines for kids’ school, work, health) can be hard. Almost as if my life is “occupied” by foreign forces. So many things call for my attention, I can feel at times like someone else is in the driver’s seat of my life.

I’m not complaining (am I?). I’m simply naming the truth of life today for me and so many others. I’ve got a ton of great things going on in my life, and yet some days, the weight of it all seems heavy.

And in my baptismal calling, I’m also seeking justice for the poor and oppressed – a seemingly insurmountable task, and a daily plague.

And yet…the light shines in the darkness. Things are not as heavy as they seem, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. How does that work? For me, it means that I need to focus on one thing at a time, one issue at a time, and don’t let it all overwhelm me. Time for prayer and devotion helps me TREMENDOUSLY, because in that time, God helps me to be centered on the most important thing in that moment.

I put way more on myself than I ought. In devotion, I realize that God centers my life, not me, nor my own planning. Jesus is my light when times are dark. This devotion time reminds me that the Kingdom of Heaven is indeed near. Amen!

God will settle what needs to be settled in my life. I will thus focus on seeking justice, contributing to my family and personal health, and seek to do my part of God’s mission in the world. One step at a time.

P (Prayer): God, help me to know that you are near! Amen.

p.s. A Special event note to all of my Murfreesboro followers:

Thursday, January 11, 2018, 10:00am and 7:00pm – a Presentation and Conversation on Race Relations by Rev Ronald Bonner will happen at Advent Lutheran Church, 1700 Irby Lane, Murfreesboro. The same workshop will be presented twice. Click here for the Facebook Event link.

Abundance – Giving & Receiving

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S (Scripture): Psalm 144: 9 I will sing a new song to you, God.
I will sing praises to you on a ten-stringed harp,
10 to you—the one who gives saving help to rulers,
and who rescues his servant David from the evil sword.
11 Rescue me and deliver me from the power of strangers,
whose mouths speak lies,
and whose strong hand is a strong hand of deception,
12 so that our sons can grow up fully, in their youth, like plants;
so that our daughters can be like pillars carved to decorate a palace;
13 so that our barns can be full, providing all kinds of food;
so that our flocks can be in the thousands—
even tens of thousands—in our fields;
14 so that our cattle can be loaded with calves;
so that there won’t be any breach in the walls,
no exile, no outcries in our streets!

O (Observation): The abundance found in God is described here by the psalmist – an abundance beyond joy, beyond measure. Hope springs eternal for the follower of God.

A (Application): The hope and abundance found in God comes in many forms. We hope our sons and daughters bear fruit in their own special ways. We pray that our storehouses are filled and that our jobs bring abundance.

This is our hope. Reality sometimes does not match this hope, however. But this still remains our hope. That all will be fed and that all who have need will be satisfied.

In the meantime, we will feed the hungry, we will gather together and do our best to make sure all are fed and that none have need.

In my church setting, we work with the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, Roots for Refugees & Murfreesboro Muslim Youth, The Journey Home, Coldest Nights Women’s Shelter. These are some ways in which this psalm is coming to fruition for many people who have need in Murfreesboro. And this is also helping us to see our need to be humble, broken, and filled with the Spirit.

May we be God’s hands and feet this day.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to be another person’s abundance. And help them to be our abundance. Amen.

A Light in the Darkness

S (Scripture): Habakkuk 1:2 Lord, how long will I call for help and you not listen?
I cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you don’t deliver us.
3 Why do you show me injustice and look at anguish
so that devastation and violence are before me?

3:17 Though the fig tree doesn’t bloom,
and there’s no produce on the vine;
though the olive crop withers,
and the fields don’t provide food;
though the sheep are cut off from the pen,
and there are no cattle in the stalls;
18 I will rejoice in the Lord.
I will rejoice in the God of my deliverance.
19 The Lord God is my strength.
He will set my feet like the deer.
He will let me walk upon the heights.

O (Observation): Habakkuk – a prophet – cries out against the injustices against God’s people. He is so bold as to question God’s design regarding the suffering of God’s people. Habakkuk wants to know why the good people suffer.

By the end of the book, we see that God does indeed step in for God’s people. Habakkuk himself trembles in anticipation of what God will do against those against God’s people.

And even though all of the signs are fruitless (no olives, no fruits, sheep and cattle sparse) Habakkuk and God’s people will still rejoice.

A (Application): How hard is “rejoicing” when the “normal” signs around us (money, job, family, friends) are lacking or have caused us harm? Habakkuk points to a special kind of rejoicing: one in which one’s sole hope is in the Lord. Not the fruits we normally enjoy…simply God alone.

That kind of faith is challenging. That kind of anticipation is tough to withstand. When you do anticipate God’s action, perhaps we will tremble, like Habakkuk.

Perhaps we will trust in the Lord to guide us. Perhaps we will trust in the Lord to lead us home.

Yesterday afternoon, I led a version of The Longest Night worship service.

We practiced sharing our grief (silently), wrote down a representation of our grief on stones, then gave those griefs over to God. We released them – at least in part – knowing that God receives our griefs.

May you be able to hand your griefs over to God. May you know that God dwells with us in the dark and the light. May you see God in your midst in your difficult times.

P (Prayer): Lord of Light: shine in our darkness. Amen.

The “END” – but what about TODAY?


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S (Scripture): Revelation 14:6 Then I saw another angel flying high overhead with eternal good news to proclaim to those who live on earth, and to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come. Worship the one who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”
8 Another angel, a second one, followed and said, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She made all the nations drink the wine of her lustful passion.”
9 Then another angel, a third one, followed them and said in a loud voice, “If any worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or their hands, 10 they themselves will also drink the wine of God’s passionate anger, poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will suffer the pain of fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. 11 The smoke of their painful suffering goes up forever and always. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, and those who receive the mark of its name.”
12 This calls for the endurance of the saints, who keep God’s commandments and keep faith with Jesus.
13 And I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Favored are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “so they can rest from their labors, because their deeds follow them.”

O (Observation):  Amidst the devastation of the world, three angels appear to John of Patmos, and bring good news to all who follow the Lord.  These angels promise that God remains faithful to those who follow him.

The second angel declares that Babylon has fallen!   What good news!  Babylon (likely referring to the power of Rome and its many foreign gods) is destroyed!   The symbol of oppression and lustful passions has been destroyed.

And to those who die “in the Lord,” they are favored.   Even death cannot destroy the hope that one finds in Jesus Christ

A (Application):  I wonder if the hope that so many people cling to in Revelation worry about this scenario playing out in our lifetime?  I have heard many arguments for why we are living in the end times now – in 2017.   They name one-to-one correlations between the book of Revelation and current events.   I don’t subscribe to these theories.

I’m not trying to just dismiss or discredit these attempts at prophetic predictions, I just simply do not worry about these things.

My call is to gather folks together in the name of our Triune God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and lead our people to spend time with God, spend time together bearing one another’s burdens, and to go out into the world with a servant’s heart.   This is what keeps me going.   I rejoice that Jesus wins in the end of Revelation and all tears are wiped away – once and for all.

IN THE MEANTIME, we have hungry that need to be fed, immigrants that need hope that they can create a way of life in this country, and we need to be gathered – weekly – to be reminded that our God is with us in all of our endeavors.

God goes out ahead of us.  God is with us.   God stays behind when we leave.   God is doing all of this all of the time.    We simply show up.  We set dates, and we show up: to worship, to gather for fun, to serve.

P (Prayer):  Lord, take away the burden of knowing the time of your coming.  Instead, help us to focus on the here and now.  Amen.

Guilty AND Set Free

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S (Scripture): Micah 6:1 Hear what the Lord is saying:
Arise, lay out the lawsuit before the mountains;
let the hills hear your voice!
2 Hear, mountains, the lawsuit of the Lord!
Hear, eternal foundations of the earth!
The Lord has a lawsuit against his people;
with Israel he will argue.
3 “My people, what did I ever do to you?
How have I wearied you? Answer me!
4 I brought you up out of the land of Egypt;
I redeemed you from the house of slavery.
I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam before you…”

6 With what should I approach the Lord
and bow down before God on high?
Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings,
with year-old calves?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with many torrents of oil?
Should I give my oldest child for my crime;
the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit?

8 He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you:
to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.

7:8 Do not rejoice over me, my enemy,
because when I fall, I will rise;
if I sit in darkness, the Lord is my light.
9 I must bear the raging of the Lord,
for I have sinned against him,
until he decides my case and provides justice for me.
He will bring me out into the light;
I will see by means of his righteousness.
10 Then my enemy will see;
shame will cover her who said to me:
“Where is the Lord your God?”
My eyes will see her ruin…

15 As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt,
I will show Israel wonderful things.

18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity,
overlooking the sin of the few remaining for his inheritance?
He doesn’t hold on to his anger forever;
he delights in faithful love.
19 He will once again have compassion on us;
he will tread down our iniquities.
You will hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea.
20 You will provide faithfulness to Jacob, faithful love to Abraham,
as you swore to our ancestors a long time ago.

O (Observation): Hear, ye! Hear, ye! All rise for the Honorable Judge God, hearing the case of God vs. Israel. (Yes, God is Judge and Plaintiff.). The jury box is full of the mountains and the “foundations of the earth.” (Will they be impartial? I don’t know : )

So here is Micah standing before God, representing Israel, for past crimes. What is Micah to do? God’s people have been caught in the act of relying on their own strength and foreign powers…all to try to save their own skin.

Well, Micah knows the people have been caught red-handed…so what is his first move? Plea bargain!!!!

What would please the Lord? Let’s plea this thing down from a capital offense to a misdemeanor, shall we? How about entirely burned offerings, with year-old calves? How about thousands of rams, with many torrents of oil? Should I give my oldest child for my crime; the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit?

Wow! No innocence shown here. Guilty as charged. God’s people have relied on grace in an unhealthy way. They have taken for granted the grace God has bestowed upon God’s people.

And yet…God’s justice includes restoring God’s people. God doesn’t hold onto anger forever. God’s faithfulness to Abraham and Jacob will carry forward to the present and the future.

A (Application): How often do we stand accused before God and neighbor? How often have we suffered or caused others to suffer? Are we guilty? Yep. What does repentance look like? What does it feel like?

What shall we do in the face of our guilt? Please don’t run away from it. Take the stand. Plead your case before God, who judges with love and mercy. We don’t deserve to stand before God, but having been joined to Jesus in our baptism, having become one with Him and God and the Spirit, we have access to this unending grace. God will remember God’s promise. And we will be remembered by God.

Hope abounds as we wait for the Lord.

P (Prayer): Lord, we are guilty, and we are made whole in you. Amen.