Missional Communities

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 16:19 The churches in the province of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you warmly in the Lord, together with the church that meets in their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters greet you. You in turn should greet each other with a holy kiss. 21 Here is my greeting in my own handwriting—Paul.

O (Observation): Paul’s letters – making up a large portion of the New Testament – are a treasure for us. These letters help us to catch a glimpse of the goodness of God. God’s Spirit flows through Paul, who goes on mission. God’s Spirit flows through Prisca and Aquila (and their whole household).

The household was the setting for the early church. Followers of Jesus were not worshipping in cathedrals or pews or temples. Instead, God was with them on their journeys and in their homes. The home would host 30-50 people. They would read what Scriptures they had. They would all share food and eat together…including bread and a cup of wine.

A (Application): More congregations are extending the Sunday conversations by having people meet in one another’s homes. There, they share personal stories, read Scripture, and rally around a mission (volunteer at a local school, work with a homeless shelter, connect with Muslim folks in our community).

The mission is the core identity marker, as God’s people serve in the community. Having the mission as the identity marker allows us to ensure that the group does NOT become just a club. Instead, the mission drives the community and the worship this community does.

And it can all be done from someone’s home.

Where relationships can be built, and hopefully, thrive.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us into mission work we can be proud of. Amen.

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Suffering With One Another

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 12:22 …the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary. 23 The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. The private parts of our body that aren’t presentable are the ones that are given the most dignity. 24 The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor 25 so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it.

O (Observation): As I have been sharing recently, Paul is talking to a church community he established, in which different members of the body of Christ are lifting themselves up over one another. Some are being given raised or lower status…which is NOT what Paul (or Jesus) stood for. Paul reminds his folks that if we compare the people who follow Jesus to a body, the lesser known parts are given raised status, not because they are better, but because they are unknown and hidden. Thus, we do elevate certain parts that need to be elevated. Not because they are better, but because we cannot tell their story without aiding them in their status.

The goal is that all would be recognized as important and of worth to God.

I see a parallel here to the Prodigal Son story. The elder son thought it unfair to have a feast for the prodigal son upon his return. But the feast wasn’t about the prodigal son deserving anything. Rather, that story is a story of God’s abundant grace. Paul also focuses on the grace for those who need it most. For the parts of the body that are visible and recognized, much like the elder son, are given recognition and a bountiful gift.

A (Application): Our society – in some parts – seems it more responsible to give aid to those who already have it and to ignore the plight of those who “don’t.” When it come to providing care for the downtrodden in our society, we would rather stand by the belief that our hard work and efforts are what should get us by. We don’t like “entitlements.”

Of course that word is a loaded word. It ends a conversation before it can get started.

I believe hard work is good for the soul : )

I also believe that every story matters. The stories of the downtrodden are hardly the same between any two people.

One person is a young adult, in college, who is gay. That person’s parents kick them out, but that person doesn’t have health coverage.

One person became gravely ill and had to use their retirement savings to pay medical bills. He is only 65 years old, but is now healthy and is expected to live another 20 years now.

One person is born with a physical disability, and needs continual care for the whole life long. Her parents do everything for her, but it drains them financially.

Who do you know that needs lifting up? Who do you know that could use the care that our society – as a whole – can help provide?

These folks don’t “deserve” the lack they have.

If we extend the care we give to one another as the body of Christ – lifting up the soft-spoken and hidden folks – should we not also help those who love all around us? That is our witness.

Let us lift up one another. Out of love and care of our neighbor.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, you lift me up, so I can help others to be lifted up. Let me be your hands and feet. Amen.

Gifted by the Spirit

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 12:4 There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 and there are different ministries and the same Lord; 6 and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7 A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good. 8 A word of wisdom is given by the Spirit to one person, a word of knowledge to another according to the same Spirit, 9 faith to still another by the same Spirit, gifts of healing to another in the one Spirit, 10 performance of miracles to another, prophecy to another, the ability to tell spirits apart to another, different kinds of tongues to another, and the interpretation of the tongues to another. 11 All these things are produced by the one and same Spirit who gives what he wants to each person.

O (Observation): Paul’s famous words here echo through the ages. We – who are in Christ – are gifted. (Yet we cannot forget that others can be gifted, too!)

Paul is hearing that the followers of Christ in the churches he’s established are competing with each other or are showing disdain for those with gifts that different from their own.

A (Application): These verses are typically used when we install officers, council members, or other volunteers at church. We all share our gifts together for the good of all. The same Spirit leads us. The same Spirit equips us.

Are you finding yourself grateful for the gifts you’ve been given, yet also showing disdain for those with other gifts? Are you jealous?

Or are you in a place to appreciate the breadth and depth of how God has equipped you and those around you to build one another up to love God and neighbor.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to know you are equipping is all. Amen.

Moments of Growth

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 8:7 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

O (Observation): Paul is continuing to attempt to build up community amongst the body of Christ located in Corinth. Some folks have reached a point in their faith in which eating food dedicated to idols is not an issue, since they are mature enough to understand that the idols don’t exist, so it’s not really eating to an idol, thus not an issue of wrongdoing.

Yet for those for whom eating food to idols still seems sinful or wrong, because it is dedicated to an idol, Paul suggests avoiding that behavior – don’t eat the food!

…at least, don’t eat the food in the temple of the idol. Just order it “to-go.”

A (Application): As a pastor, I feel like Paul is talking directly to me. I am constantly wondering what other people might think of my actions. Do they know I’m a pastor? Do they think I should be avoiding something? Or I should be showing up somewhere else?

I used to ask myself these questions a lot more a decade ago. I have found over time that my actions do have an impact on those I hope to lead. And in my life, I have done well and I have erred.

I engage in multiple communities: family, friends, church, retreat groups, colleague groups, and more. As I gather together for worship or fellowship or just hangout time, I have come to be more and more true to myself, checking in with my groups as I live my life.

If I have found that I have caused others to fall into doubt, I explain why I was doing what I was doing. In cases where I caused others to trip, I humbly seek forgiveness. I try not to live looking over my shoulder, but I do wish for those who might stumble to be safe, as well. Perhaps those moments of others’ tripping (or mine) are actually moments in which we dive deeper into a relationship of mutual upbuilding.

P (Prayer): Lord, help my actions (and faults) to be moments of growth. Amen.

The Use of Sacraments / Ritual

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S (Scripture): Romans 4

7 

Happy are those whose actions outside the Law are forgiven,

        and whose sins are covered.

Happy are those whose sin isn’t counted against them by the Lord.

9 Is this state of happiness only for the circumcised or is it also for those who aren’t circumcised? We say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 So how was it credited? When he was circumcised, or when he wasn’t circumcised? In fact, it was credited while he still wasn’t circumcised, not after he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that comes from the faith he had while he still wasn’t circumcised. It happened this way so that Abraham could be the ancestor of all those people who aren’t circumcised, who have faith in God, and so are counted as righteous. 12 He could also be the ancestor of those circumcised people, who aren’t only circumcised but who also walk in the path of faith, like our ancestor Abraham did while he wasn’t circumcised.

O (Observation): Paul dissects the point at which their spiritual father (Abraham) became righteous. Was it before or after he was circumcised.

Yes, Paul is still ranting about circumcision. Why? This issue was just the most prominent of MANY issues that divided Christians that were formerly Jewish from those Christians who had no Jewish background.

Paul points out that Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness BEFORE he became circumcised. In this way those who are circumcised AND those who are not have Abraham as their spiritual ancestor.

In making this point, Paul makes something else even more clear: our external responses (like circumcision) do not dictate whether or not a person can have faith in God.

Persons of faith need not throw away customs, nor do they have to adopt them, in order to respond in faith to God’s grace given to all people who wish to receive that grace.

A (Application): As Christians, we have certain external markers that declare grace to us: namely, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. I’m big fans of both. HUGE fans of both : )

These “means of grace” (as we call them in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) remind us of God’s gracious Spirit being poured out into our very beings. This Spirit joins us to the body of Christ, and gives us grace and forgiveness to live out our lives in hope.

These means of grace, however, remain external signs. Sort of like what circumcision meant for Abraham. Not exactly, but close.

Baptism remains our way of joining to Christ’s body. In baptism we are marked with the promised Holy Spirit. I wonder, though, what the non-Christian journeys through when they look at the Church? Are we using Baptism as a means of pushing others away? Or are we inviting them to consider – first – becoming a part of our community. Then, after a time of deliberation, continue to encourage these persons to consider being baptized…to show that on a particular day and time, in a faith community willing to love and support one another, that the Spirit has joined them to the body of Christ.

Personally, I see everything to gain in Baptism and Holy Communion. The old self being washed away for the new life in Christ to come forth. Yet our journeys are not all the same.

More can be said regarding Communion, but I digress.

Let us not use the Means of Grace as a means to divide us into classes (the Baptized OVER the non-Baptized; those who attend worship or commune weekly OVER those who attend worship and commune once or twice per month). Let us, instead, focus on the joy that comes from these means of grace, such that those who do not yet know of these gifts might be inspired by the Spirit to receive them gratefully. And if not, that we not disparage them, but instead, meet them where they are in their faith journey.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us grace, that we might share it bountifully with others. Amen.

Battle of the Wills

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S (Scripture): 2 Chronicles 18:5 Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, four hundred of them, and said to them, “Shall we go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” They said, “Go up; for God will give it into the hand of the king.” 6 But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no other prophet of the Lord here of whom we may inquire?” 7 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is still one other by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster.” Jehoshaphat said, “Let the king not say such a thing.”…

12 The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king; let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.” 13 But Micaiah said, “As the Lord lives, whatever my God says, that I will speak.”

O (Observation): Micaiah is the lone prophet able to speak the truth to the kings of Judah and Israel. Seeking a prophet’s wisdom is always a good choice. King Jehoshaphat (of Judah) hears the 400 or so prophets saying, “Yes! Ride into battle!” But he wants a dissenting voice from the Lord. He wants to make sure that he has unanimity amongst the prophets.

This proves a wise move, because later on Micaiah reveals that God allowed an evil spirit to enter the ears of the 400 prophets. The Lord did not want a battle to take place. If they truly listened to the Lord – through Micaiah – they would have heard God’s true message: stand down, no battle today.

The pressure to want God’s word to match King Ahab’s word was tremendous. Micaiah allowed the pressure to sway his words, at first…but perhaps he did this simply to let God’s people fall on their faces. Or perhaps he did this because he was too intimidated.

The truth comes out, though. God does not desire battle. God’s will is laid bare. And still, God’s people choose their own will over God’s.

They have chosen poorly.

A (Application): But how much better are we? We know the things we shouldn’t do, yet we do them anyway. We know the things we should do, but do we do them? Not likely.

This battle of the wills (ours vs God’s) is an eternal struggle. The hope I see in this scenario is that Jesus Christ is our salvation, and that is not something we choose, but is something God has already done for us.

God choosing to redeem us is salvation. We still discern God’s will for us, and we gather in community to make decisions about our direction as faith communities. Our direction is something we prayerfully discern. We can fast and pray and talk.

We do this discernment not out of obligation to our God, but as a joyful response to the grace God has shown each and every one of us.

What is God’s will for you? Do you sense it is restrictive? Is it a release?

How about for your faith community? Where is God leading you?

P (Prayer): Lord, give us discerning hearts and minds. Amen.

Do I Have to Go???

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S (Scripture): Acts 16:11 We (I.e. Paul and crew) sailed from Troas straight for Samothrace and came to Neapolis the following day. 12 From there we went to Philippi, a city of Macedonia’s first district and a Roman colony. We stayed in that city several days. 13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the riverbank, where we thought there might be a place for prayer. We sat down and began to talk with the women who had gathered. 14 One of those women was Lydia, a Gentile God-worshipper from the city of Thyatira, a dealer in purple cloth. As she listened, the Lord enabled her to embrace Paul’s message. 15 Once she and her household were baptized, she urged, “Now that you have decided that I am a believer in the Lord, come and stay in my house.” And she persuaded us.

O (Observation): What a great coincidence. Or was it a hunch? Or was it divinely ordained? The meeting between Paul and Lydia is a great reflection on getting out there and making connections…the results of which one would never know if one didn’t explore.

Lydia is just barely mentioned in this text, but if you keep on reading, you will see that she is a Person of Peace for Paul and his group of disciples.

They go to the water – outside the city gate – because that could be a place of prayer. Paul goes there, to that specific place, and he meets a fellow God-worshipper. Likely Jewish and likely rich (a good business person dealing with expensive purple cloth and a person of faith), Lydia happens to be connected to lots of folks.

Who knows if this was divinely ordained or God happened to be working in their midst…either way, God sparked a great friendship that would connect Paul to a wider community.

A (Application): When we do ministry out in the world, in our every day lives, or during a specially planned ministry event, we never know what the outcome will be. We pray that God would put people into our paths or that God would give us courage.

Then we do the “thing.” We do what we set out to do.

And afterwards, we reflect. Where was God in that activity / event? Who was revealed to be someone who would receive me? Who did I chat with that accepts my life testimony?

We never know going in, but almost always, we learn what God was up to coming out of it.

The problem is in the “not going.” If we don’t go, we won’t know if God was there. We won’t know if God was opening others’ hearts and minds to receive us and our testimony.

So…go! Do it! Send that card! Plan that event! Go and visit those people! And just see what God has been working on.

P (Prayer): Lord, remind us that you are with us, always. Amen.