Keep Your Eyes Open!

I am back in the saddle, folks. Around this time, I typically take a few weeks off from my publication of blog posts to focus on my family and my pastoral work. The blog centers me, but a break from the publications helps me to focus on other areas. Here we go…

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S (Scripture): Acts 10:44 While Peter was still speaking (to Cornelius, the God-fearing centurion), the Holy Spirit fell on everyone who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 They heard them speaking in other languages and praising God. Peter asked, 47 “These people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. Surely no one can stop them from being baptized with water, can they?” 48 He directed that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited Peter to stay for several days.

O (Observation): So a group of rule-following / circumcised Jews witness the Spirit coming upon a group of uncircumcised folks who believe in God. They see proof that these folks (who did not follow Jewish customs) are being welcomed into God’s body of believers.

And Peter questions his fellow believers: What is to stop us from baptizing these folks?

A (Application): While at Publix the other day, the young lady bringing the groceries out to my car noticed that I had made a tax-exempt purchase. As such, she inquired about our church. She asked me what was different about the Lutheran Church, what made it stand out from other churches.

Trusting that the Spirit would give me the right words, I said, “Well, we start with grace. And we follow up with grace. We want all to feel welcome to be a part of God’s family.” I know that sounds real “loosey-goosey” to some, but I believe we all have to start there. Help people to know that they belong. As people become a part of the body of Christ – through the movement of the spirit and in baptism – they will be challenged in many and various ways by God and by fellow disciples.

But we always start and end with grace.

Kind of like the message that Peter received from God (Acts 10:15): don’t consider anything unclean that God has made clean. If someone inquires about God’s grace, we give it and help them to see that they, too, have a role in God’s Kingdom. The centurion realized this. The crowd realized this. May we all realize that we all have a place.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep my eyes open to those who enter the path you have laid out for me. Amen.

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“Come and See” – Evangelism 101

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S (Scripture): John 1:35 The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus walking along he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus.

38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked, “What are you looking for?”

They said, “Rabbi (which is translated Teacher), where are you staying?”

39 He replied, “Come and see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.

40 One of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Christ). 42 He led him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

O (Observation): Come and See. This is the simple call of evangelism. Jesus simply invites. And with the invitation comes access to Jesus’ life. And, eventually, Jesus challenges those disciples to learn and grow from their experiences.

But it starts with the invitation: Come and See.

A (Application): How complicated and scary we make evangelism! We think that communicating God’s saving grace is so complicated, when, really, it comes down to 3 simple words: COME AND SEE!

Whatcha doing? Building a home with Habitat for Humanity…come and see.

Whatcha doing? Going to worship…come and see.

Whatcha doing? Knitting caps for babies…come and see.

Whatcha doing? Going to visit a friend in the hospital…come and see.

Whatcha doing? Going to Theology on Tap…come and see.

Haven’t subscribed to this blog, yet? Wanna know more about it? Come and see. Subscribe : )

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to be bold enough and brave enough to share your goodness with others. 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.

You are That (Wo)man!


S (Scripture): 2 Samuel 12:1 So the Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to David, Nathan said, “There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a great many flocks and herds. 3 But the poor man had nothing except for a little lamb he had acquired. He raised it, and it grew up alongside him and his children. It used to eat his food, drink from his cup, and sleep in his arms. It was just like a daughter to him.

4 “When a traveler arrived at the rich man’s home, he did not want to use one of his own sheep or cattle to feed the traveler who had come to visit him. Instead, he took the poor man’s lamb and cooked it for the man who had come to visit him.”

5 Then David became very angry at this man. He said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! 6 Because he committed this cold-hearted crime, he must pay for the lamb four times over!”

7 Nathan said to David, “You are that man!…”

O (Observation):  Nathan is confronting David regarding Bathsheba.  He’s trying to help put things into perspective for David.   David still thinks he’s kind of getting away with his sin with Bathsheba, and that of having Uriah put in harm’s way (and consequently, killed in action).  

So, Nathan tells David this story (copied above) and David is furious at the man who stole the lamb and cooked it for the traveller, rather than take from his own flock.   In fact, David’s judgment is to KILL this man. 

Oops.  Nathan reminds David that the man he dislikes so much in the parable is David himself.   

“You are that man!”

<Mic dropped>

(Technically, Nathan goes on to spell things out…but not much more needed to be said after that line, “You are that man!”)

A (Application):  Wow…powerful story.   Until someone holds up the mirror to my face, I am clueless as to the err of my ways.   This story is a perfect example of sin going unchecked.   David needs someone to be honest with him. Nathan has that job, as he is God’s mouthpiece for David.  

Is what Nathan did easy?  Absolutely not.  And for people to do this today, we would be very  reluctant.  Who wants to point out what someone did was wrong?

As I participated in a workshop on racism at last week’s leadership convocation for the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA, I realized the err of my ways as a white man silent to the issue of racism in our country.  

“You / we are that person!”

As a result, I’ve been starting to deal more with my own junk.   I’m praying about it.  I’m asking God to help me notice the times in my life when I have been a hero, and the times I’ve been silent regarding racism.  I’ve been wondering how I’ve colluded with racism over my 38 years on this earth…and even how our churches have colluded (and still do). 

And the thing is, a mirror held up to my face one time didn’t do it for me.  I’m a dope with a short memory.  I don’t need to be hounded, but I need to be reminded of my errors on a regular basis.  I need a Nathan to be honest with me.  (Thankfully, I do have a few of those in my life.)

But I also need my Nathan to give me hope…to remind me that my God would never abandon me.   

So hard to find ways to hope when we screw up so much…but then, that’s the importance of being a part of a faith community.  In a faith community, you will receive Invitation into a life in Jesus Christ, but you will also receive Challenge along the way.  

I hope you find your faith community.  I hope Nathan shows up to challenge you,  but also to give you hope.   

P (Prayer):  Lord, somehow your worthiness makes me whole, even though I am completely unworthy.   Your grace saves me from my despair…and when I feel that doesn’t happen, give me others around me to support me.  Amen.  

Kingdom-work

S (Scripture): Luke 9:57 As [Jesus and his disciples] were walking along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus said to him, “Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 59 Jesus said to another, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say goodbye to my family.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

O (Observation): In each of these cases, the person who is asked by Jesus to follow him has something else vying for his or her attention.  One will not be able to follow Jesus AND have a place to rest/call home.  One will not follow Jesus AND be allowed to bury their own dead.  One will not be allowed to follow Jesus AND say goodbye to family.  

Whatever the ancient social customs mean for each of these challenges, Jesus is pretty clear: Kingdom work needs undivided attention. 

A (Application):   Obviously, we all have difficulty facing these challenges Jesus lays out to these disciples.   We all have varied levels of attention we give to personal comforts, family ties, and social decorum.  

But amazingly, when God equips us for mission and ministry, we tend to do things we thought we’d be unable to do.   This is how God works.   We are given a challenge as we follow Jesus, and in some way, God works things out.   

Jesus doesn’t chastise those who don’t follow; rather, Jesus sets forth the challenge. He promises to be with them, but he also sets the bar pretty high. 

Heading off to seminary and following God’s call for my time as a pastor (Greeneville, TN, and now, Murfreesboro, TN) and living away from extended family has been a challenge for us. Our kids have been growing up in wholesome environments, but it’s different for them than it was for me, since they have moved around many more times than I did as a child.  That can be difficult for them.  But perhaps our blessing comes in being exposed to different people from different cultures…people we would not have met, otherwise.  

My family and I are on a journey with Jesus.  We are blessed.  We are imperfect.  We are loved, by God, and by the people around us. 

What is your difficulty in being a follower of Christ?

P (Prayer): Lord, keep setting forth the challenges that come with discipleship.   And keep on reminding us that you are with us.  Amen.  

Correcting One Another

  

S (Scripture): Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector.”

O (Observation):  This translation leaves off the phrase “against you” after the phrase “if your brother sins.”   Apparently, some of the original manuscripts leave off that phrase “against you.”  If this is the case, then this broadens the understanding of the application of this verse.   This isn’t just about someone sinning against you.   This is about someone sinning in general and about the responsibility of a fellow brother or sister in Christ reproving the other.  

Of course, this nugget is followed by this:  Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came to him and said, “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother who sins against me? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times!”

Jesus recognizes that we can call one another to account, but also calls us to be ever ready to forgive those who sin against us. 

Quite a conundrum, indeed. 

A (Application):  I’ve had people call me out:  family, friends, acquaintances.  They’ve done this for things I’ve said (or didn’t say) and done (or didn’t do).   

Sometimes I’ve acquiesced to their viewpoint, quietly, and with a repentant mind and heart. Sometimes I’ve been downright ticked off at their arrogance for what they think is “right” or “truth.”  Why is this?

When I think about times I’ve been corrected AND I’ve taken it well…that has come from people that have held a deep concern for me, born out of a healthy relationship.   That INVITATION into someone’s life has been paramount in taking on that ability to be corrected in a positive manner. 

When I haven’t taken it well is when the person comes from a position of arrogance.  Someone claims to hold the exclusive truth, and in a seemingly condescending way, decided to share it with me.   I do my best to give them the benefit of the doubt: they want to help.  With this approach, I can tolerate almost anything someone says…almost.  

But then, I recall, that I am to forgive my neighbor who sins against me…not 7 times, but 77 times! 

From whom have you willingly received correction?  From whom have you NOT received correction well?  

What caused your responses???  Ego?  A healthy relationship?  A bad relationship?

P (Prayer):  Lord, give us the mercy to invite people into our lives in a healthy way and give us a constructive way to guide one another.   Amen.  

Discipleship 101

  S (Scripture): Matthew 4:18 As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon (called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen).  19 He said to them, “Follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of people.” 20 They left their nets immediately and followed him.  21 Going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. Then he called them. 22 They immediately left the boat and their father and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of disease and sickness among the people.

O (Observation): Jesus’ first action was to call some followers.  He didn’t preach, teach, or heal WITHOUT followers to come alongside him.  Once he had a few followers, THEN he began his ministry.    

A (Application):  I have a tendency to go it alone and hope that others follow.   In Jesus’ way, the invitation happens FIRST.   The invitation is as much to a relationship, as it is to a mentoring of sorts.   This is not just about training, but about life itself…about working through the challenges that change you.  

Jesus has the disciples follow him, learn from him, and eventually challenges them to do what he does.  But he doesn’t challenge them until he SHOWS them the way. 

Will they get it right?  Not all the time.  Will they do it exactly as Jesus  does it?  No.  But that seems to be okay for Jesus and for God.   And that model works for me. 

At home, at church, in the community, I  hope to follow some and to lead others.  Who are you leading?   Who are you following?  Where does grace figure into those  relationships?

P (Prayer):  Lord, thank you for leading me and for giving me others to follow…and a few risk-prone folks to follow me.  Amen.