Take Action, NOW!

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Psalm 49

10 

Everyone knows that the wise die too,

    just like foolish and stupid people do,

        all of them leaving their fortunes to others.

11 

Their graves are their eternal homes,

    the place they live for all generations,

        even if they had counties named after them!

12 

People won’t live any longer because of wealth;

    they’re just like the animals that pass away.

O (Observation): The psalmist is sick and tired of those with self-elevated status. Money and “wisdom” seem to be the hallmark for a great life. Money and wisdom are okay if used for mutual uplifting. But when money and wisdom are used to declare one’s self great…not so much.

What will one do with all wisdom and riches upon their death? Nothing!

Sure, you can leave a name and have a town or road named after you, but what can you enjoy in this life if you are not around to enjoy it?

A (Application): Why do we have the gifts of money and wisdom? If you could lay out the ideal response to having wealth and wisdom, what would that look like?

Ever thought of this?

Let’s make it simple: what do you do with the “wealth and wisdom” you have now? We like to dream about what we will do “when…”.

What if you stopped dreaming about when “that” time comes and started taking action TODAY!

You have gifts and you are a person who can do wondrous things. Money, wisdom…what are they for? As you wrestle with that question, ask yourself, “How can I serve others?”

You may advance your learning and training to make an impact. You may use wisdom to ask questions and listen, rather than just speak. You may bring peace to anxious situations. The possibilities are endless!

Use the gifts you have to help others in this world, and you will receive more than you have given.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us mindful that the gifts you’ve given are not just for us. Help us to leave a legacy for others to live into. To empower others and lift up the lowly. Amen.

Advertisements

Non-Violent Direct Action

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Acts 23:12 The next morning some Jewish leaders formulated a plot and solemnly promised that they wouldn’t eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13 More than forty people were involved in the conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have solemnly promised to eat nothing until we have killed Paul. 15 You and the council must explain to the commander that you need Paul brought down to you. Pretend that you want to examine his case more closely. We’re prepared to kill him before he arrives.”

O (Observation): Paul was nearing the end of his time. He sort of sensed it, but never gave up. He was smart and faithful.

Probably a bit scared, too, no? He was well connected, but the scary part of the story is the lengths to which these church leaders would go to silence Paul, and thereby crush his influence on others.

People of God thinking that killing the opposition is the right thing to do. We, unfortunately, have examples of this in the Old Testament. Oppose God? Die!

Well…

A (Application): I don’t pretend that suffering as a Christian in America is anywhere near suffering as a Christian in 1st century Israel or Rome, nor as a Christian today in certain countries run by dictators.

But American Christians can be rather hurtful and downright evil in their expression of the “defense” of their faith. These angry Christians believe that Christianity is in danger of being compromised. Like they have to come to God’s defense. Can’t God take care of Godself?

Not that we back down from our beliefs. We simply don’t need to defend God, other than in a non-violent direct action kind of way. We can stand up for causes and for equal rights, but not in a violent or vindictive way.

We seek God and others to discern our responses to evil in this world. If they include violence to make our point…we must return to prayer.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us wise and discerning hearts and minds. We go to the cross, not to weapons. Amen.

“What You Know” vs “Who You Are”

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Acts 15:22 The apostles and the elders, along with the entire church, agreed to send some delegates chosen from among themselves to Antioch, together with Paul and Barnabas. They selected Judas Barsabbas and Silas, who were leaders among the brothers and sisters. 23 They were to carry this letter:

The apostles and the elders, to the Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. Greetings! 24 We’ve heard that some of our number have disturbed you with unsettling words we didn’t authorize. 25 We reached a united decision to select some delegates and send them to you along with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul. 26 These people have devoted their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore, we are sending Judas and Silas. They will confirm what we have written. 28 The Holy Spirit has led us to the decision that no burden should be placed on you other than these essentials: 29 refuse food offered to idols, blood, the meat from strangled animals, and sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid such things. Farewell.

O (Observation): The Jerusalem Council has met, discussed, and decided that Gentiles need only to follow a few basic life rules to set them apart as God’s people. This decision was written as a letter to several churches and was carried and read aloud by some of Jesus’ followers.

The letter points to a significant change in “church policy.” The situation was that a male would need to be baptized in order to be a part of God’s Kingdom. The church – in Peter and Paul’s time – decided that forcing Gentiles who believe in God and Jesus to be circumcised was a tradition out of its time and context. The sign was important to the Jews and their customs for eons. However, to new believers without a connection to the Jewish customs, circumcision became a stumbling block to their faith.

So, it was decided, and the news spread: one does not need to be baptized to be a follower of Christ. Yet, some identity markers would still be in place: “refuse food offered to idols, blood, the meat from strangled animals, and sexual immorality.”

So the Jerusalem Council decided that what one knew was not as important as who one was. Circumcision is not the identification marker; rather, an upright life (“who you are”) is most important.

A (Application): My mantra over these last several years has become: “Being a Christian is much more about who you are, rather than what you believe.”

If I’m only concerned about what I believe, but don’t let that belief change me, what is the transformation in that? I can argue all day long about my beliefs, but if that doesn’t change my character into Jesus’ character, then my actions do little to reflect my belief in Jesus.

Rather, when we live from our Christian beliefs, and our beliefs causes us to change who we are, then you have a faithful life lived out. That is why the Jerusalem Council focused more on “who you are” rather than what you believe (circumcision is the only way).

And yet, even in listing out the rules in that letter could become a new “Law” to define Christians. As soon as we set down a new set of rules to live by, we make THAT LIST into the new law, when all along, we were trying simply to extend grace. Thus, the conclusion: being a follower of Christ is much more about who you are rather than what you believe.

How does your faith in Christ affect your beliefs and your actions?

P (Prayer): Lord, shape me, make me. Amen.

Theology of the Cross (Part 2)

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Psalm 10

17 

Lord, you listen to the desires of those who suffer.

    You steady their hearts;

you listen closely to them,

18 

    to establish justice

        for the orphan and the oppressed,

    so that people of the land

        will never again be terrified.

O (Observation): God’s presence in the midst of suffering is never in doubt. God hears the cries of those who suffer…of those who have no one else to listen.

God’s concern will be to bring justice…at least, that is the hope of those who follow God.

Jesus would one day find himself suffering, too. With no powerful people on earth to defend him. He would rely fully on God, and no one else. And God would see him through. And the Spirit would burst forth!

A (Application): Our hope rests not in commanding God to come to our aid or by outsmarting or out-resourcing our enemies. Rather, we will lean solely upon God’s version of justice.

For if we seek justice on our terms, and we get it wrong…then what? We can still act, but we do so humbly and with prayer. We submit to God getting things right. We submit to listening to God’s voice. We submit to taking action based on what God speaks to us. We submit to the Spirit’s guidance.

May our response be God’s will and not our own.

P (Prayer): Lord, hear us. You will. Amen.

Community Action: Murfreesboro Loves

S (Scripture): Psalm 44

1

We have heard it, God, with our own ears;

our ancestors told us about it:

about the deeds you did in their days,

in days long past.

2

You, by your own hand, removed all the nations,

but you planted our ancestors.

You crushed all the peoples,

but you set our ancestors free.

3

No, not by their own swords

did they take possession of the land—

their own arms didn’t save them.

No, it was your strong hand, your arm,

and the light of your face

because you were pleased with them.

4

It’s you, God! You who are my king,

the one who orders salvation for Jacob.

5

We’ve pushed our foes away by your help;

we’ve trampled our enemies by your name.

6

No, I won’t trust in my bow;

my sword won’t save me

7

because it’s you who saved us from our foes,

you who put those who hate us to shame.

8

So we glory in God at all times

and give thanks to your name forever.

O (Observation): Victory is declared for God’s people, here. The psalmist calls on the stories from the ancestors. Stories of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to God’s people.

One must read this Psalm closely to see that the author does not take the credit for the victory: this is God’s doing.

Perhaps this is a Psalm about the return of God’s people back to the Promised Land after exile in Babylon. Or, it could be a story about how God’s people were first settled into the Promised Land after returning for centuries of slavery in Egypt. Either way, God leads the action.

This last statement is paramount. God leads. The people are not relying on their swords or bows. God leads.

A (Application): Today, I speak as part of a 3-person panel at Middle TN State University regarding a community action in October 2017, in which several hundred folks gathered against the hateful ideology of white supremacists who wished to hold a demonstration in Murfreesboro. I was just one of many folks who wished to gather in the name of love to hold an alternative demonstration. Not to confront the whole supremacist group, but to get ahead of the narrative: white supremacist ideologies are not welcome.

Police were present on the square in downtown Murfreesboro, where the permit was granted for this group to speak and hold their demonstration. The white supremacists never showed up. Delayed by the security checkpoints down in Shelbyville, where they held their first demonstration of the day, they decided the effort was not going to come to fruition in Murfreesboro. Some folks still showed up on the Murfreesboro square…but way, way less than anticipated.

So…should we have just stayed home? I think not. I think God stirred up something in those of us who gathered. I think we came together as a people, as a city. And I think God caused each of us to be a bit more convicted about what role each of has to play in this city.

Many people from many faiths and backgrounds came out on October 17, 2017, under the umbrella of what we called “Murfreesboro Loves: a Community Action Against Hate.”

We sent a message: you can say what you want, but we will not welcome messages of white supremacy or bigotry in this town. Yes, they can choose to go elsewhere and share their messages, but we hope to be a beacon of light that shines far and wide.

I am humbled that my family and I were part of something so moving and terrifying and solidifying. I am most grateful that no one was hurt that day. I am also saddened that in 2017, we still had to gather against such hate.

I hope God continues to watch over us and grant peace as we beat our swords into plowshares.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us hopeful in you, in your ways. Keep us from relying on weapons and relying more on You. Amen.

#MurfreesboroLoves – Relationship and Challenge

S (Scripture): Matthew 10:16 [Jesus said to the disciples:] “Look, I’m sending you as sheep among wolves. Therefore, be wise as snakes and innocent as doves. 17 Watch out for people—because they will hand you over to councils and they will beat you in their synagogues. 18 They will haul you in front of governors and even kings because of me so that you may give your testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 Whenever they hand you over, don’t worry about how to speak or what you will say, because what you can say will be given to you at that moment. 20 You aren’t doing the talking, but the Spirit of my Father is doing the talking through you…”

O (Observation): Invitation and Challenge. This is the way of discipleship with Jesus. Jesus has invited his disciples to be in a very close relationship, in order to help them know that he is with them every step of the way. He also tells them of the challenges they will face. But what makes the challenges bearable is that Jesus is with them…in a close relationship.

Jesus not only sees these followers as friends, but as those who will carry on Jesus’ own work. And here, he doesn’t mix words. They will face difficult challenges. They will be beaten (in their place of worship, no less!).

And yet, even as they are called forth to speak to their actions and testimonies…they will be given the words to say…words supplied by the Spirit.

The Spirit comes to them in the midst of their challenge…borne out of an invitation to be with and follow Jesus.

A (Application): How do I share my thoughts and feelings on certain topics and still maintain the relationships I have? Who will keep me? Who will push me away? Would the pain be worth the pushing and pulling? Will I be better off in the long run?

Ever asked yourself these questions?

So often, we have ideas that conflict with others, but we are afraid to voice those concerns. We are afraid of what others might think, or be afraid of what consequences we might face.

Can we have differences and still be friends? Unfortunately, when it comes to religious beliefs, we feel we cannot have differences AND be friendly to one another.

I’m thankful that God has granted me many friendships in which we simply don’t see eye to eye in terms of religious understanding. One such example is the Murfreesboro Loves movement. We are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, B’ahi, atheist, agnostic, gay, straight, black, white, Hispanic, and so on. We are not defined by color, race, creed…we are defined by a shared communal value of love for our neighbor.

I believe God has given each of us the gifts to speak up and testify about why loving our neighbor is so important. To the point that we were recognized (as a communal group) by the Murfreesboro Branch of the NAACP at a recent MLK Jr Breakfast. Murfreesboro Loves received the Jerry Anderson Humanitarian Award for its work surrounding the planned visit by white supremacist groups who wished to come to Murfreesboro. Our message of love outshined any potential messages of hate that those groups could have brought to our town.

We were determined to be defined by love, not hate. And we did our job. For me, this was about trusting that God’s call in my life was to step out into a potentially risky situation…to speak up when called upon…to trust that God’s relationship with me would sustain me in challenging times…to physically protect me and my family.

I certainly think God kept God’s end of the bargain. And I think God is still at it.

What say you?

P (Prayer): Lord, you bless me. I am unworthy, but you pick me up, send me out, and give me the words anyway. I am blessed. Amen.

The Voice of Truth is Love

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): 1 John 3:18 Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. 19 This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence… 23 This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love each other as he commanded us.

O (Observation): The community to which this letter is written is encouraged to let their actions match their words. A set of doctrines and beliefs will not suffice for sharing faith. No, actions would need to follow up with the words spoken. This benefits not just the immediate community that considers itself followers of Jesus, but also those who witness the words and actions of this community.

Outsiders will hear the words of this community, and if the words don’t match the actions, the outsiders will see this as hypocrisy. Instead, the author encourages the community to be true to one another.

A (Application): When members of a church love each other and love those in their community with unconditional love, the truth will be experienced in its fullness. Sometimes we get this, sometimes we don’t.

But the grace is that we have this love to begin with! The Spirit gives us truth and we will know this when we love one another.

Our recent #MurfreesboroLoves movement in our town is a great expression of this love. Some think we are naive. I think we are living the truth.

When we have truth, we will show care for rape victims by believing them and (in appropriate ways) walking with them through difficult testimonies and trials. We will care for the perpetrator by not ridiculing them, yet still calling for justice to be done (which may mean getting released from their jobs or contracts, or engagements, etc.).

Love covers many wrongs. Anyone who has wronged someone can – in love – seek forgiveness. Our laws still hold true, as does our justice system, but our call is to love people through those challenging processes so that truth…love…prevails.

P (Prayer): Lord, take our frustrations, that love and light might shine through the darkness. Amen.