We are the Lord’s

S (Scripture): Acts 11:15 Peter said, “Then as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as he did on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, as he used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 Therefore if God gave them the same gift as he also gave us after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, the apostles and brothers ceased their objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted the repentance that leads to life even to the Gentiles.”

O (Observation):  Repentance that leads to life.   What a powerful sentiment.  What a powerful truth.    God makes it possible for ALL people to repent and be given new life.   

Peter was called to reform the church of his day.  He was helping Jewish Christians to accept the fact that Gentiles could become Christians, even though they had no compulsion to follow the Jewish laws of cleanliness.  All have the opportunity at any point to follow Jesus…to believe in him…to repent.  

A (Application):  We all deserve death.   We all deserve punishment.  (Thought I’d start on a cheery note : )

Yet our Lord Jesus has overcome the power of sin and death and calls us to new life.  Through faith instilled in me by the Holy Spirit – marked by the waters of baptism as an infant – I choose to believe that God ushered me into the Christian community – the body of Christ.  
As an infant, I did nothing to deserve this salvation.   When baptized as teens or adults, we do nothing to earn this salvation.   All rests upon God’s mercy, regardless of our beliefs.  For our beliefs will falter.  Our doubts will rise.  Our acts of mercy will be less than complete, or non-existent.  We will fail to stand up to those who abuse power.  Some will struggle in this life so much, they will succumb to the temptation to end their own lives.  

We fall short, but our story is not just our own.  We are part of a larger story…God’s story.   And the hope I have is that whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:8).

P (Prayer): Lord, you know what weighs on my heart this day.  Console me and those who mourn – whatever the cause.  Amen.  

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Go Set a Watchman and Affirmation of Baptism

  

S (Scripture): Ezekiel 33:7 “As for you, son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them on my behalf. 8 When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you must certainly die,’ and you do not warn the wicked about his behavior, the wicked man will die for his iniquity, but I will hold you accountable for his death. 9 But if you warn the wicked man to change his behavior, and he refuses to change, he will die for his iniquity, but you have saved your own life.

10 “And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what you have said: “Our rebellious acts and our sins have caught up with us, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?”’ 11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but prefer that the wicked change his behavior and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil deeds! Why should you die, O house of Israel?’

O (Observation): Ezekiel is called upon to point out Israel’s waywardness, lest they get too comfortable in their salvation and begin to take it for granted.  

The concept of the watchman is introduced as the person who warns others of pending danger.   God tells Ezekiel that the watchman, if he sees danger approaching, is to warn his people so that they can prepare for the danger to come.  If he does this, and the people still don’t prepare, at least he has done his duty as watchman.   If he chooses not to warn the people, then any possible death of the people is on the watchman’s  shoulders… precisely because he did NOT warn the people to give them a chance to prepare.

That physical example of a watchman is tied to a spiritual example.   If the people of God are warned, then perhaps they will turn back to God for protection and righteousness.  

Here, righteousness does not come through the collective or through affiliation as God’s people…but one’s own behavior and acknowledgment of the Lord as savior is what saves.

A (Application): The book club at our church recently read “Go Set a Watchman,” by Harper Lee. This book is said to have been the first draft of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  Whereas “Mockingbird” is from Scout’s perspective as a child, “Watchman” is from Scout’s perspective as an adult.   

Personally, I LOVE the brilliance of hearing these stories from the same person’s perspective, separated by decades of life experience.   As a child, Scout idolizes her father.  As an adult, she is faced with difficult realities that change her perspective on who her father is.  

Even as an adult, her consciousness was tied in directly with that of her father’s. She was not her own person, but sort of an extension of her father.  Decades of living away from her home town, having moved to “the city”, she has gained new perspectives.  She realizes she is no longer an extension of her father, but is her own person.  And that is like a death that she must grieve.  

Scout is told to go set a watchman.   She realizes that her conscience will be her watchman.  She cannot rely on her father’s prior actions or anyone else’s.   She must come of age.  She must decide things for herself. 

In an extension of this concept, I think of Affirmation of Baptism in the Lutheran denomination.  Young people must learn to make their own faith claims, rather than relying solely on the faith of the parents.   Yes, baptism is a communal thing and we are watchmen for one another; we will always be dependent upon one another.  

But we all must make that step from milk to meat, each at his own pace.  We can take what we have learned about faith from our ancestors and from the ancient stories, and struggle with what that means for us today.  A righteous action 2,000 years ago in a foreign context will mean one thing, whereas a righteous act today, in a first world country, might look very different.  

We are called to set a watchmen… To interpret what God is saying… To discern what we are called to do about what God is saying to us.  And we do that as the body of Christ…together.  

When have you been called upon to be a watchman? Who are some of the watchmen in your life?  

P (Prayer): Lord, be our watchman and call us to these same duties for one another.  Amen. 

Bearing One Another’s Burdens

 S (Scripture): Psalm 88:13 As for me, I cry out to you, O Lord; in the morning my prayer confronts you.

88:14 O Lord, why do you reject me,
and pay no attention to me?
88:15 I am oppressed and have been on the verge of death since my youth. I have been subjected to your horrors and am numb with pain.

O (Observation): Wow!  This author lets out all the stops and opens up!   This level of anger and frustration TOWARDS GOD is rarely heard these days. But then, maybe this text is a witness to us that we can get frustrated towards God, and maybe even doubt God, and still, God loves us and sees us through.  

God is bigger than our anger.  God is bigger than our frustrations. 

A (Application):  I’ve visited with church members recently who are having a tough time with physical health.  I see how we can all reach points of frustration and doubt.   These members I’ve visited have a solid faith.   But sometimes, the struggles can be overwhelming.  

With this psalm today, I think we are given permission to be ticked off at God, even though God didn’t cause the illness.  I think we are given permission to waver in our faith.   

And what makes up for that anger and doubt?  God’s grace poured out through the body of Christ. 

We cannot hold our own selves up at times.  We doubt at times.  We get frustrated at times.  And yet, God is bigger than our frustrations and doubts and fears.   And God gives us one another to lean on.   

I’m so glad Jesus lifts you and me, but  on the days we don’t feel lifted, raise a fist in frustration and lean on your brothers and sisters in Christ who will walk through the valley with you.  Perhaps sharing your burden will give you hope.   

What burdens are you bearing?   Can you come alongside someone who is suffering, and bear their burdens with them?

P (Prayer):  Lord, we give you thanks for being able to bear our frustrations and still pour out grace on us all.  Amen. 

From Disorientation…into a New Orientation

  S (Scripture): Psalm 80:14 O God, invincible warrior, come back!
Look down from heaven and take notice!
Take care of this vine,
80:15 the root your right hand planted,
the shoot you made to grow!
80:16 It is burned and cut down.
They die because you are displeased with them.
80:17 May you give support to the one you have chosen,
to the one whom you raised up for yourself!
80:18 Then we will not turn away from you.
Revive us and we will pray to you!
80:19 O Lord God, invincible warrior, restore us!
Smile on us! Then we will be delivered!

O (Observation): God’s people are experiencing a deep sense of disorientation and are pleading for the Lord to set things right again.  

A (Application):  A good friend of mine experienced some difficult news today.  This has thrown her into a downward spiral.  And I totally hear sense of disorientation in this psalm.  

Anger and frustration and challenge happen to all of us, and when we are in the midst of it, we think there is no way out, no hope, no reason to go on. 

Yet, if the Scriptures point to nothing else, they point to this: God brings us hope…God is hope.   

When I’m in the midst of the struggle, I may not want to hear these words.  So, until my friend can receive these words…we sit with her.  We wait.  

We hope FOR her, when she cannot hope. We pray FOR her, when she cannot pray for herself.  We, the church, do this.  

Being the body of Christ means that we are not alone.  We may be disoriented, but we are not alone!  Being part of the body of Christ is much bigger than just “having Jesus in my heart.”   

What are you struggling with?   Who is walking alongside you?   Let them care for you, even though you may see no purpose in it…let them love you, please. 

P (Prayer):  Lord, sometimes life seems too much to handle, too much to bear.  Give us a new orientation.  Carry us trough the valley of the shadow of death, and give us a new birth into a new day with a new orientation. Amen. 

redeemed – in body, mind, and soul 

  S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 15:20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 15:21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. 15:22 For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

O (Observation):  Christ’s humanity will NOT be denied by Paul.   Paul is very clear here that Christ was human.  Not just a spirit.   A human (Adam) brought all to sin and death, and (absolutely) a human (Christ Jesus) brought about the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting, to the glory of God the Father. 

In this text, Paul also points out that we all fall short of the glory of God, and owe everything to Christ for the redemption of our body, mind, and soul.  This reminder keeps us humble, knowing that our salvation comes through Christ  alone. 

The resurrection of the FLESH was a controversial topic of the time, especially because the Greek culture cared more about getting rid of the flesh, not redeeming it.  Spirit was better, flesh was weakness.  

The resurrection of the flesh also ties into the inherent goodness with which God created – God created us in the flesh we embody, and indeed, it was good.   God is redeeming what we tainted…even though we don’t deserve it. 

A (Application):  The resurrection of the dead is a strange thing indeed.  And yet, this clarity that Paul brings is crucial for our salvation.   We have done nothing to redeem ourselves.  Redemption rests in Christ alone.  Of that, I have no doubt.  

With this in mind, I turn to two issues:

  1. Other faiths
  2. Good works

1. Other faiths:  I believe in the Triune God (the Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.   I also respect the wish of others to worship in their own way.  I don’t think they’re right, but I also approach my stance with humility.  I don’t presume to “lord it over others.” If that is viewed as weakness, oh well.  That’s not my concern. 

2.  Good Works:  our passage today reminds me that good works do not cause our salvation, but rather, are an overflow of grace through our salvation.   I think God loves our efforts in this world.  I believe Dallas Willard is credited with saying: “God is not opposed to effort, just earning.”  I 100% agree.  Our efforts in this world can be focused on God making us holy in our individual and communal journeys.  

Knowing your salvation is secure, what does that free you to pursue?  

P (Prayer):  Lord, you are my saving grace.   Guide me.  Remind me that I am redeemed.  Remind me that I’m to love God and love neighbor.  Amen. 

Jesus Bandwagon

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S (Scripture): John 6:61 When Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining about this (eating his body, drinking his blood), he said to them, “Does this cause you to be offended (read: stumble)? 6:62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? 6:63 The Spirit is the one who gives life; human nature is of no help! The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.

O (Observation): Jesus is wrapping up a conversation regarding his body and blood as a life-giving meal. This is a stumbling block for many of those disciples who were following Jesus. This is where many of the disciples got off the “Jesus bandwagon.” They weren’t willing to go there.

And Jesus was effective in his goal: shed those don’t believe. Not that Jesus didn’t want people to believe…perhaps Jesus just wanted that group which the Spirit had already taken hold – that group who ALREADY believed, because of the Spirit.

Why would this be important? Why just have a group that totally believed? Perhaps because Jesus was not to be on this earth forever. Perhaps Jesus needed those who the Spirit moved, because he would need their witness/testimony when he departed.

For if they wouldn’t believe that his body and blood where a life-giving meal, they certainly wouldn’t believe he would die, then be resurrected, then ascend.

A (Application): What gets in my way? On what items of faith do I stumble? Oh…let me count the ways : )

One example of a stumbling block for me is inactivity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m busy with family and pastoral duties, but I’m afraid to take the next step on large projects. This is ironic, because God has always been made known to me when I step out in faith to move on a big project (whether with family or work or friends).

The grace that comes with moving out into unknown waters is always so refreshing. Sometimes when I venture out, I’m disappointed. Sometimes, I’m elated. We can never predict how it will turn out, but we can be reassured that the Spirit will give life, new life, transformed life…even from the dead or despairing.

Trust. Believe. Let the Spirit guide you.

What makes you stumble? What does grace look like when you do?

P (Prayer): Lord, You cover us with grace trough the gift of the Spirit. Make us strong believers. Amen.