Baptism Changes Things

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S (Scripture): 2 Chronicles 6:24 If your people Israel are defeated by an enemy because they have sinned against you, but then they change their hearts, give thanks to your name, and ask for mercy in your presence at this temple, 25 then listen from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel. Return them to the land you gave to them and their ancestors.

26 When the sky holds back its rain because Israel has sinned against you, but they then pray concerning this place, give thanks to your name, and turn away from their sin because you have punished them for it, 27 then listen from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them the best way for them to follow, and send rain on your land that you gave to your people as an inheritance.

O (Observation): Solomon is dedicating the Temple to God. This is the temple David wished to build – for which he even had plans drawn up – but was told NOT to build it…that Solomon was to build it. And when Solomon was anointed king, he asked for one thing: wisdom. And in this prayer of dedication, Solomon shows wisdom.

Solomon knows that God’s people will err. He knows God’s people will drift away from the path. His wisdom is seeking not to excuse God’s people, but rather to make sure that God hears their cries of repentance. That God show mercy when God’s people need it the most.

And when they seek forgiveness, and they are sorry for what they’ve done…when land is returned and the rain comes…these will be signs of God’s mercy.

A (Application): The cycle: receive grace, live, sin, repent, receive grace…repeat. What makes us worthy of grace, if we are stuck in this pattern? Why even attempt to live a life of Christian freedom???

In a word: baptism. Our baptism starts into more than just the pattern listed above. Our baptism starts in us the gift of faith. From this faith we have opportunities to share faith with others, welcoming them into the Way.

Our faith also gives us hope. Even in the midst of our failings, we are all willing to do life without seeing ourselves as the central point around which life revolves. Instead, God dwells in the center of our being, and that drives us to serve God and our neighbor. By doing so, we instill hope and faith in other people.

We make stops along our journey to hear God, hear loved ones, and hear our own heartbeat. We give glory to God for bringing order out of chaos, for bringing peace to us in the midst of our tumultuous lives, for inviting us to live within the body of Christ.

May you reflect on your baptism today to see the many joys and struggles it brings. May you see that God enters those struggles with you. May you seek baptism, if the Christian faith is something new to you.

P (Prayer): Lord, we thank you for listening to us and forgiving us. Guide us. Heal us. Amen.

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Claimed

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S (Scripture): 1 Chronicles 17:1 When David was settled into his palace, he said to the prophet Nathan, “I’m living in a cedar palace while the chest containing the Lord’s covenant is under curtains.”

2 Nathan replied, “Go ahead and do whatever you are thinking, because God is with you.”

3 But that very night God’s word came to Nathan: 4 “Go to my servant David and tell him, This is what the Lord says: You are not the one to build the temple for me to live in…

10a “As for a dynasty, the Lord will build one for you! 11 When the time comes for you to die, I will raise up a descendant of yours after you, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingship. 12 He is the one who will build me a temple, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will become his father and he will become my son, and I’ll never withdraw my faithful love from him as I did from the one before you. 14 I’ll install him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne will be established forever.

O (Observation): God was up to something. God’s people had been wandering for over 40 years in the wilderness and have now settled in the Promised Land. God’s presence was in the tent / tabernacle inside the ark. The ark held the stone tablets (for the 10 Commandments). God’s place on earth was mobile.

David wanted to honor God, because he thought his house was better than God’s.

Yet, God promises David to build out of David a “house” of sorts…a dynasty. God will claim David’s offspring and claim him and call him God’s own. Through that particular descendant, God will establish that descendant’s throne forever.

A (Application): We are challenged with the brevity of life. We come and we go. We learn along the way. David’s life was committed to God, but he erred. God saw David though it all.

And in the end, God establishes David’s throne not because of what David did, or because of David’s character. God establishes David’s lineage to make sure that Jesus’ throne will be established.

God claimed David. God claimed Jesus. God claims me and you. We are adopted by a loving and caring God.

So the hardships we face, the guilt for worshipping or not, reading Scripture or not, is unfounded worry. For God carries us through, like God carried David and others through. Like God carried Jesus through death and resurrection.

New life awaits us in adoption. Life that still has ups and downs, but this is a life established by God forever. That security brings us peace this week and next.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us hope for today and tomorrow. Amen.

A House Divided

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S (Scripture):

2 Samuel 2:4 Then the people of Judah came to Hebron and anointed David king over the house of Judah…8 Meanwhile, Abner, Ner’s son, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, and brought him over to Mahanaim. 9 There he made him king over Gilead, the Geshurites, Jezreel, Ephraim, and Benjamin—over all Israel. 10 Saul’s son Ishbosheth was 40 years old when he became king over Israel, and he ruled for two years. The house of Judah, however, followed David. 11 The amount of time David ruled in Hebron over the house of Judah totaled seven and a half years.

John 6:63b Jesus continues: “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 Yet some of you don’t believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning who wouldn’t believe and the one who would betray him. 65 He said, “For this reason I said to you that none can come to me unless the Father enables them to do so.” 66 At this, many of his disciples turned away and no longer accompanied him.

67 Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

68 Simon Peter answered, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are God’s holy one.”

70 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I choose you twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He was speaking of Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

O (Observation): God is no stranger to adversity…to God’s own house divided.

In the case of 2 Samuel 2, Saul has been defeated and animosity has grown strong between Saul’s people and David’s people. The people wanted a king! They got one. In fact, when the first one (Saul) tried to rule apart from God, God dismissed him by anointing another king: David.

Both David and Saul were anointed. So, who should the people follow? Alliances formed and split the people of God. The northern kingdom, Israel, followed Saul. The southern kingdom (Judah) followed David. And thus, God’s people continued in their own “Civil War” in which God’s people continued to kill one another.

As for Jesus, one of his own hand-picked group of 12 will wish to have Jesus killed. At least, he will be willing to “sell out” Jesus to the thugs who wish to have him silenced / censored.

The result? More death…in fact, the death of Jesus himself. And in his wake would come the bursting forth of the Spirit.

Both of these stories remind us that God is no stranger to adversity and that we are sustained even in the midst of adversity and overwhelming odds.

A (Application): Today, I am struck not by own adversity, of which I have very little. I am struck by the adversity of those whom our American society places on the fringe.

People of color.

Women.

Disabled.

LGBTQIA+.

Indigenous People of America.

And so many more.

My friends of a more “conservative” bent think me ridiculous. How can I be so pathetic? How can I be so soft? “Everyone has equal rights.” “I’m not responsible for <insert group here> not getting that job / getting elected / getting that home loan / etc. What people did 50, 100, 250, or more years ago is not me.”

Instead of keeping our house divided, perhaps we could look to the ways that we can all contribute to make this world a better place. If that means using my white, male privilege to help others, then that is the course. I say this, because I have looked around and said, “God, why don’t you do something?” And God says, “I did. I created you!” Oh…dang…

What do I do with that???

What do you do with that???

P (Prayer): Lord, guide me and sustain me. Amen.

A Practical Atheist Am I

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S (Scripture): 1 Samuel 17:32 “Don’t let anyone lose courage because of this Philistine!” David told Saul. “I, your servant, will go out and fight him!”

33 “You can’t go out and fight this Philistine,” Saul answered David. “You are still a boy. But he’s been a warrior since he was a boy!”

34 “Your servant has kept his father’s sheep,” David replied to Saul, “and if ever a lion or a bear came and carried off one of the flock, 35 I would go after it, strike it, and rescue the animal from its mouth. If it turned on me, I would grab it at its jaw, strike it, and kill it. 36 Your servant has fought both lions and bears. This uncircumcised Philistine will be just like one of them because he has insulted the army of the living God.

37 “The Lord,” David added, “who rescued me from the power of both lions and bears, will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.”

“Go!” Saul replied to David. “And may the Lord be with you!”

O (Observation): So what moves David to take up his sling and face Goliath? He had seemingly no advantage. He was younger, smaller, ill-equipped, and had no combat training.

Yet two things stand out to me: 1.) Goliath insulted God; 2.) David acknowledges that the Lord was and is with David.

Those two things are all David needed to get going.

A (Application): So…what do you need to get going? What motivates you? God sustains us all in many and varied ways.

The evils I seem to face are not giant men wanting to kill me (though for some Christians around the globe that may be true). My enemies rarely have skin on them: depression, poor self-image for me or loved ones, consumerism, and more.

These are hard to overcome alone, nigh impossible!

So I pray. For some unknown reason, instead of starting there, I usually end up there. Kind of makes me a practical atheist. (I can handle this – kind of like David putting on Saul’s armor.)

Prayer is where this can all begin. Prayer – a reminder that God is listening and responding in ways I cannot fathom. I don’t face these struggles alone.

May we all know the transforming power of prayer to God, before, during, and after our struggles.

P (Prayer): Jesus, guide us into a relationship with God like only you can. Amen.

Anointing

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S (Scripture): 1 Samuel 16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long are you going to grieve over Saul? I have rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have found my next king among his sons.”…

5b Samuel made Jesse and his sons holy and invited them to the sacrifice as well.

6 When they arrived, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, That must be the Lord’s anointed right in front.

7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”

8 Next Jesse called for Abinadab, who presented himself to Samuel, but he said, “The Lord hasn’t chosen this one either.” 9 So Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said, “No, the Lord hasn’t chosen this one.” 10 Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord hasn’t picked any of these.” 11 Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Is that all of your boys?”

“There is still the youngest one,” Jesse answered, “but he’s out keeping the sheep.”

“Send for him,” Samuel told Jesse, “because we can’t proceed until he gets here.”

12 So Jesse sent and brought him in. He was reddish brown, had beautiful eyes, and was good-looking. The Lord said, “That’s the one. Go anoint him.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him right there in front of his brothers. The Lord’s spirit came over David from that point forward.

O (Observation): Anointing. That’s a really big deal in the Old Testament! That means you are selected by God to lead God’s people. The anointing with oil is an outward expression of God’s Spirit moving into someone’s heart, mind, and soul. It’s like a baptism. The Spirit “moves in,” so to speak.

And note that God looks upon the heart, not just outward appearance. To some, that inward look brings fear; to others, that bring hope : )

A (Application): So it’s no secret that I’m not the wisest or best looking or most charismatic member of the body of Christ. (Shocking revelation, I know.)

So to hear that God looks upon the heart is both a joy and a fear, with the joy WAY outweighing my fears.

As I discern my place in God’s Kingdom, I see lots of ways that I fail. Yet, the failures are a mix of things: failure to God, failure to self, failure to family, failure to congregation I serve. And yet, more often than not, those fears are unfounded. And as God’s Spirit dwells within me, and as I think back to the fact that I was once marked with oil on my head, I am given all the grace I need.

I know that in my baptism God started a calling in me to love God and neighbor. I will rest in that assurance, and do my best to let God take away my fears. I will lean into my anointing.

P (Prayer): Moving Spirit, guide me…point out the grade all around me. Amen.

Discerning God’s Will (kairos)

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 11:
1 A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse;
a branch will sprout from his roots.
2 The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him,
a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a spirit of planning and strength,
a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
3 He will delight in fearing the Lord.
He won’t judge by appearances, nor decide by hearsay.
4 He will judge the needy with righteousness,
and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land.
He will strike the violent with the rod of his mouth; by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be the belt around his hips,
and faithfulness the belt around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
the calf and the young lion will feed together,
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow and the bear will graze.
Their young will lie down together, and a lion will eat straw like an ox.
8 A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole;
toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den.
9 They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain.
The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, just as the water covers the sea.


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O (Observation):  God’s people, during the time of the prophet Isaiah, had little hope for themselves.  Neighboring forces were closing in on God’s people of Judah, and they felt abandoned by God.  Yet in this text, God reassures them that even though God was correcting them for their misdeeds, God was not abandoning them.  Much like children being scolded by their parents, God scolds Israel out of love and compassion for the people…that they might follow the path of mercy, grace, and justice.  That God’s people might follow God’s lead, and not simply serve their own base desires.  

So the image of the “stump of Jesse” is brought forth.   King David’s father, Jesse, was in a line of succession of God’s favor – not by anything Jesse had done, but by God’s divine blessing.  This blessing goes all the way back to Abraham, and God choosing to make a great people of Abraham’s lineage.  From Abraham to Jesse to David (Jesse’s son) to Jesus…God brings hope to God’s people.   

And in the end, even nature itself and all animals will become docile and plentiful.  Killing will be no more.   Danger will be no more.  And abundant life eternal will fill the earth.   

A (Application):  How badly do we wish to control our destiny?   We hold so tightly to our own worldviews that we would rather cause someone else harm, than let someone change our mind.   

What would this world like like if we would allow ourselves to follow God’s lead and not just our own?   Sounds good, but how do we do that?

I think God’s people in Isaiah’s time – just like us Christians today – have a hard time seeing God around us.   So what do we do?   

I like to use a tool called the “Circle” (pictured above).  The circle is a guide for us to use when we are discerning God’s  will for our lives.  This discernment is best done within a trusted group of fellow disciples.   Sometimes the words will be challenging; sometimes the words will be an invitation to listen more deeply to the grace God is already giving you.    You dwell on a moment in which you sense God knocking on the door and share that with the group – we call this a “kairos” moment.  You discuss this kairos together and share how the Scriptures or personal stories can further inform the kairos.

Once the kairos is discussed (which is basically discerning what God is saying to you) then you make a plan to act and be held accountable to the group (which is to discern what God wants you to do).   Again, this works best in the midst of a group of trusted disciples, where you can be vulnerable to sharing the kairos moments with others and trust that God is speaking through this group.   

Our tendency – like that of God’s people in the Isaiah text – is to move forward without fully contemplating what God was up to.  The prophet Isaiah was present to speak up on God’s behalf.  Now, we have the Spirit to help us discern.  And we can do this in groups that I have worked with called “huddles.”

I’ve been in groups like this and I’ve led them.  They work extremely well.   We cannot go this journey as disciples all alone.  Guidance and care from fellow disciples is critical.  Jesus gathered the 12 to lean on one another.  He led them so that they would lead others in figuring out how to respond to God’s calls.  

I see wisdom in discerning God’s will in groups, so that what guides us is not our own egos, but the Spirit of God.   

Let me know if you’d ever like to be in such a group.  I have led them online and in person.  Peace!

P (Prayer):  Lord, get us out of our own way, and let your will be done in our lives.  Amen.  

A Broken Heart


S (Scripture): Psalm 51

15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

O (Observation):  David confesses to God that out of all of the earthly riches he holds…none of that can be as pleasing to the Lord as David’s own broken and contrite heart – a heart broken by David’s own wrongdoing.  

I don’t think God wants brokenness, but in this psalm, we see that the divine mystery encourages us to approach God not with position or power…but with an empty heart.   

“Contrite” means “feeling or expressing remorse or penitence; affected by guilt.”

A (Application):  Lutherans talk a lot about guilt.   And rightly so.   

We don’t dare come to God with our “good deeds,” lest we start to think that our ways are good.  Now, that sounds pretty morbid…I know.  But the point here is that while we do indeed do good things, and we can celebrate them, when we come to God, we come with broken hearts, for God alone is good.  

Living out God’s grace and mercy are good things.  We are called to show God’s love to our neighbor, and do good deeds, for “faith without works is dead.”   

But what do we bring to God?   What is pleasing to God?   Is a heart full of pride something God wishes?  I think not.  

Here is a story from a recent Richard Rohr daily email that is helpful:  

An old story goes like this:  A proud young man was being interviewed by a potential master.  He bragged about his understandings of life and philosophies.  The master listens silently and begins to pour a cup of tea. He pours and pours, and when the cup is overflowing he keeps right on pouring. Eventually the student notices what’s going on and interrupts his monologue to say, “Stop pouring! The cup is full.”

The teacher says, “Yes, and so are you. How can I possibly teach you?”

The same holds true for our hearts.  Full of pride, we have no need for God.  Instead, let us empty our hearts in humility and brokenness and seeks God this day to fill our hearts once more with grace and mercy.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, may you fill my broken heart this day.  Amen.