Carry the Light

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S (Scripture): Acts 26:20b [Paul said to King Agrippa:] “My message was that they should change their hearts and lives and turn to God, and that they should demonstrate this change in their behavior. 21 Because of this, some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to murder me. 22 God has helped me up to this very day. Therefore, I stand here and bear witness to the lowly and the great. I’m saying nothing more than what the Prophets and Moses declared would happen: 23 that the Christ would suffer and that, as the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to my people and to the Gentiles.”

O (Observation): Paul stands accused by the Jews of inciting unrest and they make Paul stand trial. The Roman authorities don’t care much for these problems, but when the skirmishes become unrest for a large part of the population, they listen in.

King Agrippa listens to Paul’s claims.

But maybe these words are more for God’s followers.

Paul lays it out: Jesus was always part of God’s plan. As told through Moses and the Prophets, Jesus – the Suffering One for All – was not a backup plan when people “messed up.” People were never perfect, and thus wandering in the dark, fighting for self-preservation and self-interest.

Jesus is the light to all people, a true revelation of God’s glory.

And now, Paul simply witnesses to the light for all who would hear. He bears God’s redeeming word for all the heat.

A (Application): Quite often we feel like we have to defend Jesus and defend our faith in a preemptive way. Like anything we do could rightly defend our God.

I’m not saying we don’t stand up for peace and justice, but we first struggle with the idea that we are first and foremost seeking the light for ourselves. Sounds selfish, but this is the starting point for all of us. To stumble in the dark until the light is revealed to us in the person of Jesus.

In receiving the light, we are then compelled to share our story to any who would listen.

And as we share the light, as Paul does, we also remain humble, because the light is never ours to own. We simply carry the light for God. We give thank to God that we can carry that light that never diminishes.

We humbly, with broken hearts and minds, carry this light into our homes, work places and schools.

May we be the light…humbly thanking our God for brining the light to us in the first place.

P (Prayer): Lord, shine your light on this poor sinner. Amen.

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Light in the Dark

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S (Scripture): Psalm 118

22

The stone rejected by the builders

is now the main foundation stone!

23

This has happened because of the Lord;

it is astounding in our sight!

24

This is the day the Lord acted;

we will rejoice and celebrate in it!

25

Lord, please save us!

Lord, please let us succeed!

26

The one who enters in the Lord’s name is blessed;

we bless all of you from the Lord’s house.

27

The Lord is God!

He has shined a light on us!

So lead the festival offering with ropes

all the way to the horns of the altar.[d]

28

You are my God—I will give thanks to you!

You are my God—I will lift you up high!

29

Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,

because his faithful love lasts forever.

O (Observation): The concept of new life from drastic or difficult circumstances was not a concept started in Jesus. No…this concept has always been present amongst God and God’s people.

Moses and The Pharaoh. David and Goliath. Elijah and the Baal priests. Ruth and Naomi sticking together. Esther and Mordecai facing the evil king, Ahasuerus. All the other prophets. And, in the end, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah…fallen.

Yet God’s faithful love remains forever.

And hope remains.

“The stone rejected by the builders is now the main foundation stone.”

A (Application): How many times do things seem hopeless for you? Are you beaten down? Mentally exhausted? Does it look like there is no end in sight to your suffering? Have you been rejected one too many times?

I invite you to consider faith in Jesus Christ, to allow the Holy Spirit to do a work in you. Jesus knows our sufferings, because he has walked the path of pain and suffering. He has taken on these burdens, to show us what God’s faithful and unending love can look like: like new life in the midst of suffering and death.

God seeks life, not death. If your suffering is a death to you, allow God to help you rise from the depths. See God giving you a new outlook. See God helping you take the next first step towards light and life.

Today, now, allow God’s unending love for you wrap you in the loving arms of God’s safety. Trust that God has given you the gifts you need to thrive in this life. Trust that God is surrounding you with those you need to make it this day. Trust that God will see you through this dark time, and will bring light and life in unimaginable ways.

P (Prayer): Lord, clear our pathway to you! Amen.

Murfreesboro Loves 2018 – a Commemoration

S (Scripture): John 3:16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.

19 “This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil. 20 All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. 21 Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.”

O (Observation): Jesus converses with a Pharisee who wants so badly to believe. But the stumbling blocks keep getting in the way. Jesus encourages him to let the light shine on all we say and do. In that, we will the encounter the death of our old self, and experience a new beginning.

A (Application): Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. ”

On Sunday, October 28, 2018, Reformation Sunday for my tribe of Lutherans, the community of Murfreesboro will gather on the square for a commemoration of the day – one year ago – when our community lifted up love rather than hate. We displayed this unity on a day known as Murfreesboro Loves.

May we be born anew. May we see hope in the midst of despair, patience in the face of evil. God, sustain me; sustain us.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us your light always. 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.

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.

A Lamp Shining In a Dark Place

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S (Scripture): 2 Peter 1:19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
O (Observation):  Peter reminds his followers (and readers) that they have a special advantage of having been witnesses (or at least heard it second-hand) that Jesus Christ is the glory of God incarnate – God in the flesh.  

This advantage will give them more cause to be hopeful, to be as a lamp shining in a dark place.  

Recalling this truth of God in flesh, Jesus Christ, bringing about salvation and overcoming the power of sin and death, is something to be reminded of time and time again.   

Recall this truth, Peter reminds us.  And in remembering, the light will shine in the darkness    

A (Application):   “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”  We sang that today at the ELCA Youth Gathering training event in Houston, TX, this morning.  This is a reminder that we are the light and that we are called to carry the light into the darkness of our communities and into the darkness of our own lives.  

As a participant and one of the many leaders for the ELCA Youth Gathering, I have been reminded time and again, that God is our light and our life, and in God we love and move and have our being.  One can’t help but recall all of this when surrounded by 30,000 fellow church members.  

And from that pilgrimage experience of the ELCA Youth Gathering, we see that we are called to shine the light of Christ in the dark places: by caring for others, by listening to our neighbors, by coming together to worship on a regular basis.  

Who has been the light in your life?

When have you been a light -bearer to others?

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to let your light shine through us at the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston next summer, and every day.  Amen.  

Epiphany – a Cosmic Night Light


S (Scripture): Matthew 2:9 After listening to King Herod the wise men left, and once again the star they saw when it rose led them until it stopped above the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star they shouted joyfully. 11 As they came into the house and saw the child with Mary his mother, they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their treasure boxes and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Isaiah 60:1 Arise! Shine! For your light arrives! The splendor of the Lord shines on you!

2 For, look, darkness covers the earth and deep darkness covers the nations, but the Lord shines on you; his splendor appears over you.

3 Nations come to your light, kings to your bright light.

4 Look all around you! They all gather and come to you – your sons come from far away and your daughters are escorted by guardians.

5 Then you will look and smile, you will be excited and your heart will swell with pride.

For the riches of distant lands will belong to you and the wealth of nations will come to you.

O (Observation): The wise men bring gifts from afar, a great symbol of people responding to a light shining in the dark.  The wise men were certainly not God-fearers, but were compelled to follow the light that shines in the darkness – Jesus himself. 

Light shines in the darkness!  Isaiah shared the promise revealed to him: they will gather from afar, all of God’s children.  They will follow the light.   They followed the star.  

This is the Epiphany of our Lord!

A (Application):  What is it about a light in the dark that draws us in?   As a kid, and to this day, I’m all about night lights throughout the house.  Pitch black brings sleep, but the comfort and safety of the small light brings clarity and a path.   

Epiphany is all about a light shining in the dark.   Kind of like the night light in the hallway…but on a cosmic scale : )

What is the purpose of the light…of Jesus, himself?   Like the nightlight, Jesus provides clarity and a path.  That path is full of hope and mercy.   And that path (paths?) is for ALL people.   All are welcome to journey this path.   

I hope you or someone you know sees this light and embraces it.  I hope you will allow God’s light on earth, Jesus, to bring you clarity and a path to peace and hope.  

P (Prayer): Lord, keep on shining your beautiful light.  Trust me…we still need it!  Amen.