In Case of Rapture…

Photo credit here. 

S (Scripture): 1 Thessalonians 5:9 God didn’t intend for us to suffer his wrath but rather to possess salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 Jesus died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with him. 11 So continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already.

O (Observation):  Many in Paul’s time wondered when Jesus was coming back.  For many of that time, who believed that Jesus was the Son of God, Jesus’ return was thought to be imminent.  Like…tomorrow is Jesus’ likely time of return.   And because of this, many lived in fear.  They feared Jesus’ return, because they feared that they might be doing something “wrong” when Jesus comes back.  

So Paul reminds the people that Jesus was not about causing fear, but rather, salvation!   Jesus was about overcoming the gap in relationship between the people and God.  Death was the greatest gap between God and God’s people, and God overcame that gap by allowing Jesus to suffer and die, then be raised.   In being raised, Jesus overcame the power of sin and death.   

So, whether they are awake or asleep (that is, alive or dead) they are the Lord’s!  In other words, God is always with you.  So keep going about your work and stop worrying about your salvation being dependent upon the action you are engaging in at the exact moment Jesus comes back.   Instead, keep encouraging each other that God wishes for you to carry out your daily duties…and to do so with joy.   

A (Application):  I saw a bumper sticker once that said: “WARNING: In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.”   I’ve also seen some that say: “In case of rapture, can I have your car?”

Obviously, the second sticker is a humorous response to the first.   But the first sticker represents a whole concept that inspires fear in Christian believers.   And unfortunately, that fear creates a sub-culture within Christianity that revolves around “doing / looking good for Jesus.”   The problem with this line of thinking is that – if we’re being honest – we will falter, and thus, we will be stressed out over our eternal salvation. 

Paul reminded those in Thessalonica that Jesus’ return was a joy, not a fear!

To non-Christians, the whole rapture component looks like cleaning up the house real quick before the parents come home.  Can’t let them know we had that party!   Quick, sweep that junk under the rug.  Toss out the beer cans!   Spray the Lysol EVERYWHERE.   

Look…God is bigger than our faults and failures…and the times in Scripture when God is most disappointed with us is when we try to cover up our faults and pretend that we are faithful, when we are not.  God is angry with empty praise and empty worship.   

God can handle our faults.  God simply requires a repentant heart.    God takes care of the rest.  

So let us encourage others – Christians and non-Christians alike – to be honest with one another and to humbly seek God’s forgiveness and the wideness of God’s mercy.   

P (Prayer): Lord, give us hearts of joy, not fear.  Amen.  

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Why Being Wicked is So Enticing

(Photo of Matthew McConnaughey as “the man in black” in the upcoming film, The Dark Tower, adapted from the Stephen King book series by the same name.  Photo credit here.)

S (Scripture): Psalm 73

1 Truly God is good to the upright,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant;
I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 

4 For they have no pain;
their bodies are sound and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not plagued like other people.

O (Observation):  The psalmist acknowledges that God calls all to be righteous, but for some reason, the psalmist is jealous of the wicked!

This author is not jealous of the person’s wickedness, but rather, jealous of the apparent prosperity of the wicked…

A (Application):  The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…

We so easily can be manipulated by our own egos.   We can see someone who – through dishonest or wicked means – gains popularity and / or wealth – and we can become jealous.  We can start to think about putting ourselves into that person’s place.  If I can just ignore this bit of justice or ignore that neighbor’s need…I, too, can be rich or famous.   

Look! The wicked have no pain. They are sleek!

Yeah, right!   The wicked have pain…they just don’t show you…  The pain comes in lack of support…lack of guidance…lack of joy.   
We can all be tempted to allow wickedness to guide us, because it seems to pay off in worldly ways.  Yet, what is gained?   And what is lost? 

Instead of relying on wickedness, we can rely on the Lord to supply our needs (not our wants).   

Do not let evil lure you into its trap.   Sin is just death  masquerading as life.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, remind us that we are yours and that you supply our every need.  Amen.  

Wisdom Leads to Life… Pleasure…not so much. 

Eat

S (Scripture): Proverbs 9:1 Wisdom has built her house;
she has carved out its seven pillars.
9:2 She has prepared her meat, she has mixed her wine;
she also has arranged her table.
9:3 She has sent out her female servants;
she calls out on the highest places of the city.
9:4 “Whoever is naive, let him turn in here,”
she says to those who lack understanding.
9:5 “Come, eat some of my food,
and drink some of the wine I have mixed.
9:6 Abandon your foolish ways so that you may live,
and proceed  in the way of understanding.”

O (Observation): Net.Bible.org commentary will suffice for an observation for this post today: 

Chapter 9 forms the conclusion of the lengthy introduction to the book [of Proverbs]. Both wisdom and folly will make their final appeals; and both appeal to the simpletons. Wisdom offers life with no mention of pleasure; folly offers pleasure with no mention of death.

A (Application):  I love that wisdom and folly are described as they are in the commentary above.

Wisdom offers Life, with no mention of Pleasure.

Folly offers Pleasure, with no mention of Death.

This reminds me of a saying:  Sin is Death masquerading as Life.

We want the pleasurable in this world…and wisdom brings this…but without appeal to our simple understandings.   A simple understanding towards Pleasure is like wanting to fill your belly with dessert, without thinking about the stomachache that will come with it later.   The appeal is to Pleasure, but you don’t think about the Death (putting on extra weight, uncomfortable digestion).

We are simple and we often seek that which will please us.  But we must also think of the death that comes.  Choosing to spend money can be a short-term pleasure, but what dies when you do that?  The college fund for the kids?  The retirement fund?  Giving to God?

Folly offers pleasure, with no mention of Death.   We get sucked in…

But Wisdom offers Life, even though Pleasure is not mentioned.   The meal is set for us.  The food has been prepared.  We simply need to come and eat the free meal offered to us.

Come.  Worship.  Confess.  Receive forgiveness.  Pray.  Sing.   Eat the Bread.   Drink the wine.  Leave with Blessing.  Repeat about once a week.   Typically on Sundays.

Come.   We offer what God has first offered us.  Life, with no mention of Pleasure.   But you will be satisfied.

P (Prayer):  Lord, guide us into all wisdom.   Amen.

Slaves of Obedience to Righteousness 


(Top Left: Welcoming Refugees workshop; Top Right: “Family Promise” planning meeting; Bottom: Youth Sunday)

S (Scripture): Romans 6:13b …present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness?

O (Observation):  Paul was clearly defining the motivation in the life of a Jesus-follower.  No one should think about following Jesus as a way of “getting by with the least effort,” since grace covers sin.  Rather, the life of a Jesus follower is to be lived in such a way that you recognize that grace from God has made you who you are.  And as such, your allegiance (that is, your “slave / servant status) is to obedience to God, and not self-centered (sinful) actions.  

The term “slave” is troublesome, because of the history of slavery in America.  So to clarify a bit, many biblical experts have pointed to the type of slavery that Paul talks about.  Paul is NOT talking about slavery as a forced servitude.  Rather, the type of slavery Paul puts forth is more like a proud tie to Israelite heritage (that is, a servant attitude towards God and God’s chosen people).  The footnotes in NET Bible explain this much better than I:

Undoubtedly the background for the concept of being the Lord’s “slave” or “servant” is to be found in the Old Testament scriptures. For someone who was Jewish this concept did not connote drudgery, but honor and privilege. It was used of national Israel at times (Isa 43:10), but was especially associated with famous OT personalities, including such great men as Moses (Josh 14:7), David (Ps 89:3; cf. 2 Sam 7:5, 8) and Elijah (2 Kgs 10:10); all these men were “servants (or slaves) of the Lord.”

A (Application):  In the last 4 days, I experienced a whole bunch of God’s grace.   I attended a workshop on how we here in Murfreesboro, TN, can welcome refugees and serve the least of these.    We learned about what is being done already for these few refugees that have made their way to our city, as well as what we can do going forward.

Last Friday, I attended a workshop about an organization called Family Promise. They help homeless families to get back on their feet and get back into their own living situations as soon as possible, and in a constructive manner that will allow them to care for themselves going forward.

On Sunday, our youth led both of our worship services, as well as acted out the Gospel text.   They also interspersed their own kairos moments and shared how they applied the texts to their own lives.  

After worship, we had a meeting about re-aligning our ministry structure to better serve our vision and goals.  

After that, we had a great congregation council meeting, in which I think we spent more time looking at ministries OUTSIDE OF our congregation, rather than in.  That speaks highly of our opportunity to bear fruit in this community.  

How is all of this possible?   Because we are slaves to righteousness, rather than slaves to sin.  And this is none of our own doing, but rather what Jesus Christ does in us.  In our baptism, we are joining in Christ’s death, which is a death to sin. That means sin is no longer the all-enslaving power.  Instead, our servitude is towards God.  And we are proud of that service.  

What is your servant status bending you towards?   What types of outside ministries are you happy to be a part of?

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us mindful that we are free from the power of sin…free to serve you!   Amen!

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.  

Jesus Wept…but Why?


S (Scripture): John 11:35 Jesus wept.

O (Observation):  This line (the shortest verse in Scripture) comes up as Jesus stands before the tomb of Lazarus.  

Some people say that this episode brings some basic humanity to the person of Jesus.  “See how he loved Lazarus.”   That type of interpretation shows how Jesus, while God, is fully capable of human emotion – sadness, distress, etc.  

However, some say Jesus wept because he was so frustrated with the people for believing that death was the final end…whereas Jesus knew he could bring Lazarus back to life.  (Earlier he said Lazarus was only “sleeping.”)

And to add another wrinkle here, I leave a note from my commentary:

This word simply means “to shed tears” and has more the idea of quiet grief. But why did Jesus do this? Not out of grief for Lazarus, since he was about to be raised to life again. L. Morris (John [NICNT], 558) thinks it was grief over the misconception of those round about. But it seems that in the context the weeping is triggered by the thought of Lazarus in the tomb: This was not personal grief over the loss of a friend (since Lazarus was about to be restored to life) but grief over the effects of sin, death, and the realm of Satan. It was a natural complement to the previous emotional expression of anger (11:33). It is also possible that Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus because he knew there was also a tomb for himself ahead.

So…take it how you like.  

A (Application): This last week I had several family members in need of prayer.  Suffice it too say that I wept internally for them, but they ended up doing fairly well…all things considered.  

These episodes have me wondering what will happen to me at some point.  Who will weep?  Over how many others will I weep?

Weeping is okay.   It is part of the grief process.  But in the end, I hope that our weeping will have been in vain…because I believe all of us (saints and sinners), will be reunited once more in the resurrection to come. 

Over whom have you wept lately?  Was it out of grief?  Anger?  Frustration?

P (Prayer): Lord, we weep.  Help us to know that our weeping comes also with your promise to be present with us.  Amen. 

Stepping out in Faith

S (Scripture): John 11:11 After Jesus said this [to the disciples], he added, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. But I am going there to awaken him.” 12 Then the disciples replied, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 (Now Jesus had been talking about his death, but they thought he had been talking about real sleep.)

14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and I am glad for your sake that I was not there, so that you may believe…”

O (Observation):  Jesus is full of double-meanings in this Gospel text.   Lazarus has indeed died, but Jesus’ point is that he has only fallen asleep, because Jesus will resuscitate Lazarus’ body. 

What good will this do?  Isn’t it better for Jesus to just prevent Lazarus’ death?  Maybe…but perhaps  Jesus is going for something deeper, here.  Perhaps Jesus sees this opportunity to show folks that death is but for a little while…that we will all be raised one day. 

This course of action was not without danger.  Raising Lazarus from the dead scared enough of the Jewish leaders that it is likely the reason for Jesus’ eventual death … and resurrection.  

A (Application):  How many of us step outside of ourselves long enough to test our faith?   To test God?   I’m not saying I want to tempt God, but when God lays something on my heart, I try to follow through.  

In the past, I’ve reached out to the Muslim community of Murfreesboro, TN.   That has helped me to forge some great relationships across borders I hadn’t crossed before.  

My church and I have stepped out to be a part of the recognition and support of the gay and lesbian community in Murfreesboro by being present at the PrideFest a few months ago.  

And recently, God has spoken to me in terms of recognizing the difficulty of black and white race relations and to explore some conversations about recognizing personal and corporate sin and repentance and forgiveness. This has led to me engaging in conversations with a local politician in Murfreesboro about enacting change for the good of the community. 

This Christmas, our congregation will be working with a local after-school program to donate gifts and distribute them.   

Each of these steps takes time to develop the faith necessary to step out.  These steps take a community gathered together for a common mission and vision of caring for all people and sharing God’s love with them.   

These can be scary steps.  These steps can shake one’s faith…but God is already out there leading the way…and we are simply stepping in to be the hands of God.  

Let us boldly step out in faith… as reformers… as children of God. 

What is the scariest faith step you have ever taken?

P (Prayer): Lord, protect us as we wander into unchartered waters.  Amen.