Guide Me, Ever, Great Redeemer

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 48


The Lord your redeemer,

    the holy one of Israel, proclaims:

    I am the Lord your God

        who teaches you for your own good,

        who leads you in the way you should go.


If you would pay attention to my commands,

    your well-being would be like a river,

    and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.


Your offspring would be like the sand,

    and your descendants like its grains.

    Their name would never be eliminated,

        never wiped out from before me.


Go out from Babylon;

    flee from the Chaldeans!

Report this with a loud shout, proclaim it;

    broadcast it out to the end of the earth.

    Say, “The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob!”


They weren’t thirsty when he led them through the deserts.

    God made water flow from the rock for them;

    split the rock, and water flowed out.


There is no well-being, says the Lord, for the wicked.

O (Observation): God’s ways promise blessing. Over time, this came to mean one must be obedient to receive blessing. Perhaps this means less about being obedient and more about the joy of receiving God’s direction.

The grace comes first: God provides a path. What flows from that grace is our well-being: righteousness, descendants in the faith, God always remembering God’s people.

Even in the midst of despair, with foreign groups essentially running the country, God reminds all of God’s people that hope still abounds.

A (Application): The pit of despair. We have all been there. As I laid a brother in Christ to rest yesterday, I am reminded of the pain and despair that families can feel when they lose (in this case) a husband, a father, a friend.

In death, we feel a hole in the soul that can never be filled in the same way again.

And yet, our struggle is to discern God’s voice in the midst of the pain struggle.

I thought God would never forget us? I thought God would provide water in the dessert?

Well, as we moved through our funeral service we were reminded that nothing – not even death – can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We were reminded that our communities that surround us (family, siblings in Christ, friends) are still with us and provide comfort like water in the dessert.

God remembers us. God provides a path forward, even in the most dire of circumstances.

P (Prayer): Guide me, ever, great Redeemer. Amen.

Take Action, NOW!

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S (Scripture): Psalm 49


Everyone knows that the wise die too,

    just like foolish and stupid people do,

        all of them leaving their fortunes to others.


Their graves are their eternal homes,

    the place they live for all generations,

        even if they had counties named after them!


People won’t live any longer because of wealth;

    they’re just like the animals that pass away.

O (Observation): The psalmist is sick and tired of those with self-elevated status. Money and “wisdom” seem to be the hallmark for a great life. Money and wisdom are okay if used for mutual uplifting. But when money and wisdom are used to declare one’s self great…not so much.

What will one do with all wisdom and riches upon their death? Nothing!

Sure, you can leave a name and have a town or road named after you, but what can you enjoy in this life if you are not around to enjoy it?

A (Application): Why do we have the gifts of money and wisdom? If you could lay out the ideal response to having wealth and wisdom, what would that look like?

Ever thought of this?

Let’s make it simple: what do you do with the “wealth and wisdom” you have now? We like to dream about what we will do “when…”.

What if you stopped dreaming about when “that” time comes and started taking action TODAY!

You have gifts and you are a person who can do wondrous things. Money, wisdom…what are they for? As you wrestle with that question, ask yourself, “How can I serve others?”

You may advance your learning and training to make an impact. You may use wisdom to ask questions and listen, rather than just speak. You may bring peace to anxious situations. The possibilities are endless!

Use the gifts you have to help others in this world, and you will receive more than you have given.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us mindful that the gifts you’ve given are not just for us. Help us to leave a legacy for others to live into. To empower others and lift up the lowly. Amen.

All Saints Day – The Feast Awaits

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 25:6

On this mountain,

the Lord of heavenly forces will prepare for all peoples

a rich feast, a feast of choice wines,

of select foods rich in flavor,

of choice wines well refined.


He will swallow up on this mountain the veil that is veiling all peoples,

the shroud enshrouding all nations.


He will swallow up death forever.

The Lord God will wipe tears from every face;

he will remove his people’s disgrace from off the whole earth,

for the Lord has spoken.


They will say on that day,

“Look! This is our God,

for whom we have waited—

and he has saved us!

This is the Lord, for whom we have waited;

let’s be glad and rejoice in his salvation!”

O (Observation): Mt. Zion is certainly noted as a place of God’s presence in the Old Testament. The startling revelation is that ALL PEOPLES / NATIONS will be welcomed into God’s celebratory feast!

This news of hospitality and welcome was always meant for all people, but this news is doubly shocking, since God’s people have shown tendencies to close off salvation for certain peoples.

And finally, this word of salvation is Good News, because life has not turned out so well for God’s people (in Isaiah’s time) as they were witnessing the destruction of their way of life, their homes, their religion.

Good News comes…it does.

A (Application): How often have you experienced death? Has a loved one died or maybe you have experienced a metaphorical death? Either way, you know despair.

In texts like these, we can find hope once again. Against the odds and against conventional wisdom, God bursts wide the gates to heaven to all peoples.

If you are with someone who might not be able to process this Good News (because they are experiencing a death) be the mountain for them. Be the Good News not so much by your words, so much as your presence. Be present. “Don’t just do something, stand there.” (Yes, you read that right.).

The mountain remains unmoved. God resides there. And as promised, God’s Torah is written on our very hearts (Jer 31). And through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have the Spirit to guide us and sustain us until we all gather in the end.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us and give us hope now and in the age to come. Amen.

You Can Do It!

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S (Scripture): Deuteronomy 30:6 Then the Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants so that you love the Lord your God with all your mind and with all your being in order that you may live… 11 This commandment that I’m giving you right now is definitely not too difficult for you. It isn’t unreachable. 12 It isn’t up in heaven somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will go up for us to heaven and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?” 13 Nor is it across the ocean somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the ocean for us and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?” 14 Not at all! The word is very close to you. It’s in your mouth and in your heart, waiting for you to do it.

O (Observation): Moses speaks to the crowd. They wonder at the command God gives: Love God! Yet they and their ancestors have not obeyed God for quite some time (hence, the 40 years of wandering).

Now, though, God’s mercy comes back into view. The physical circumcision that was required is now a circumcision of the heart. (A helpful move, so that both male and female would now both fully enter the covenant.)

Loving God with heart and mind and being is a commandment that is not too far off. God will take the step to make this faith possible with the cardiac circumcision.

A (Application): My faith originates in what God has done and still does. After wandering for forty years in the wilderness, I would have a tough time thinking that God wanted to reach out to me. And yet that is exactly what is promised and still promises. The Hebrew people have had lives filled with devastation and disaster. I want to how this promise works for them.

I’ve had a pretty easy life. No discrimination. No catastrophes. My faith is what it is because somehow the Spirit moved (and still moves) me.

And the challenge of faith is very simple: loving God is as near to you as your heart and your mouth. Living out the commandment to love God starts and ends with God coming close to us. Regardless of our past or current status. All are welcome to receive God’s grace.

P (Prayer): God, you are amazingly full of grace. For that, we thank you! Amen.

P.s. Any fans of the Christian band, “Lost and Found”? They wrote a song called “Cardiac Circumcision.” I remember singing this song in my living room on a cassette tape after a camp called AFFIRM. I had no idea what it meant technically…but I had an idea that it meant something about changing my heart : )

Guessing these verses inspired their song.

Welp…there Goes That Idea!

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S (Scripture): Mark 8:27 Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”

28 They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.”

29 He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” 30 Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

31 Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” 32 He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. 33 Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”

O (Observation):


Whoa! Hold up! Pump the brakes! What did you say, Jesus?!?!

You aren’t gonna die! Over my dead body…

Satan? You call me Satan? I’m just looking out for you! You are the Anointed One! The Christ! This can’t happen! I won’t let it happen!


This is how it’s gotta be.

Go. Suffer. Be Killed. Be Raised.

This is my Father’s mission for me.

Get on board or get behind me.

A (Application): At the softball field last night I witnessed some angry parents. They get so angry at each other. They almost fought.

Sometimes we make it all about us. My pride. My hope. My vision. My kid. My ego. And we just can’t let it go. We can’t give up. To give up is weakness, no? To stand strong is good, right?

Our world parades with winners and success stories. The humble and those who tend to make a positive impact (teachers, safety workers, church leaders) tend to be overlooked or dismissed. I don’t feel this way, but so often we take for granted the work of those who wish to make a positive difference in the world.

Yet the world is drawn mostly to “winners” and star athletes and pop icons. Is that the goal? Popularity? Success? Is life all about me?

Or is something greater waiting for us when we deny ourselves and follow Jesus?

P (Prayer): Lord, help me be a part of God’s mission in the world. Amen.

The Great Cover-up

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S (Scripture): Matthew 28:After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. 2 Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it. 3 Now his face was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow. 4 The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said…”

…11 Now as the women were on their way, some of the guards came into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 They met with the elders and decided to give a large sum of money to the soldiers. 13 They told them, “Say that Jesus’ disciples came at night and stole his body while you were sleeping. 14 And if the governor hears about this, we will take care of it with him so you will have nothing to worry about.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were told. And this report has spread throughout all Judea to this very day.

O (Observation): Ah, the great cover up. Make Jesus’ disappearance about anything other than a Resurrection.

If Jesus could actually be raised from the dead, what would that say about the power that the church authorities actually have over Jesus? What would the resurrection mean for the church leaders? For their message? For their power over the people? For their relationship with the government, which “allowed their little religion” as long as it didn’t make any waves?

Jesus was so inconsiderate in being raised. He took none of these questions into account.

No. No, He didn’t.

A (Application): What does the resurrection say to the world? What kind of an insurrectionist move is this?

People wear crosses as jewelry. Why? Isn’t it a symbol of death and destruction? Of oppression of the voice and actions of the One who condemned the haughty and raised the lowly?

Yes…it is all of this. And yet, to wear the cross as a piece of jewelry and to hang the cross in our places of worship stands as the ultimate contradiction of what the cross was actually used for: controlling the message of Jesus Christ.

Were we to hide all of the crosses as a way of hiding the shame of Jesus’ suffering and death, it would still hold power over us. But it doesn’t! Displaying the cross, wearing it as jewelry, and putting it on t-shirts and artwork is our way of saying:

“Look! The world / We have tried to control the voice and actions of Jesus! Look at the cross! Our selfish actions led to Jesus being put on the cross, and yet, not even the cross can hold God’s love back. Not even this ridiculous and embarrassing type of death could overcome God’s mercy and grace for humanity! So, yes…look at the cross. Death and shame and humiliation hold no power over us!”

Jesus was resurrected to show that our faults can not restrict God’s love.

Every time I look at the cross – as jewelry or artwork, or sing about it in a song – I think about how I’m responsible for Jesus’ death, and yet, how I’m forgiven.

This, in turn, causes me to look at others the way Jesus looks at me. Jesus has forgiven me. I will forgive others. (I won’t be perfect with that, but I will try.)

P (Prayer): Lord, help us share of how you have overcome shame and despair, through trust in God. Amen.

Scaffolding of our Faith

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S (Scripture): Exodus 25:10 Have them make an acacia-wood chest. It should be forty-five inches long, twenty-seven inches wide, and twenty-seven inches high. 11 Cover it with pure gold, inside and out, and make a gold molding all around it. 12 Cast four gold rings for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on one side and two rings on the other. 13 Make acacia-wood poles and cover them with gold. 14 Then put the poles into the rings on the chest’s sides and use them to carry the chest. 15 The poles should stay in the chest’s rings. They shouldn’t be taken out of them. 16 Put the covenant document that I will give you into the chest.

O (Observation): As God’s people are learning to make their way through the wilderness and to the Promise Land, they are given explicit instructions on how to build this ark – this location for God’s presence in their midst.

These instructions for the ark are extremely precise. Why such a big deal?

Well, God’s people are literally wandering in the desert / wilderness. They have spent generations as servants in a foreign country. Even though they kept their stories and traditions alive while enslaved, they were not prepared to worship God in a corporate way. Building this ark was a way to prepare for what God was going to give them: the 10 Commandments.

This guidance was important, because God’s people needed some direction and stability. They have been wandering and needed explicit instructions to follow, in order that they might be given a clear sense of purpose.

Build this. To these specifications. “Trust me,” says God.

A (Application): Yesterday, I preached a sermon about how we build “scaffolding” around the things we do as a church: customs, traditions, theology, etc. I mentioned that the scaffolding, while helpful at times, can be restrictive. We can start to focus more on the scaffolding and less on the gift of grace around which this scaffolding resides.

Yet, in times of great unrest, guidance and scaffolding are EXACTLY what we need. This scaffolding helped God’s people in their days following their emancipation from Egyptian rule.

After the death of a loved one, you need your family and work and structure around you to allow you some healthy paths forward, that you might be able to grieve without falling apart.

When adding a member of the family – through birth or adoption – you start living into new norms, and any structure you have around your time of growing together can be very reassuring and a relief.

The direction and scaffolding around you or your faith life can be helpful, indeed. I simply ask that you discern whether that structure is bringing new life or inhibiting new life.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us guidance and wisdom to know when to follow the script and when to improvise. Amen.

What is the Way of the Cross?

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S (Scripture): Matthew 16: 21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and legal experts, and that he had to be killed and raised on the third day. 22 Then Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him: “God forbid, Lord! This won’t happen to you.” 23 But he turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 25 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them. 26 Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives? 27 For the Human One is about to come with the majesty of his Father with his angels. And then he will repay each one for what that person has done. 28 I assure you that some standing here won’t die before they see the Human One coming in his kingdom.”

O (Observation): Following Jesus most certainly means difficulty and challenge. Peter will have none of that. Poor Peter…bless his little heart. He’s just trying to hold on to the thing that everyone wants to hold on to: God’s Son, in the flesh!

Peter wanted so much for Jesus to NOT suffer…or be killed…and yet, that is precisely the path for Jesus.

Only the way of suffering and death could lead to resurrection and new life!

Jesus is trying also to lift his disciples out of the dualistic view of the world: from “life OR death” to “death leading into new life.” Both go hand in hand, in God’s care. Death does not hold back what God can and will do in spite of death. New life is God’s way, even in the midst of tragedy.

A (Application): We have got so many things we want to hold on to in our world. Our money, our status, our stuff…our guns?


This “death leading into new life” stuff (which I firmly believe) is hard to face when thinking about school shootings and the abuse of guns in our country.

So, I won’t pull us down that road, other than to say this: I hope voices arise from the din of silence that envelopes a community when tragedy strikes; there is new life. I hope civil conversations occur everywhere regarding appropriate use of guns; there is new life. I hope potential terrorists are loved and cared for, so they don’t turn to drastic measures of death and gun abuse; there is new life.

Where will new life occur? In you? In someone who has experienced tragedy? In policy changes? In love shared with neighbor?

Seek God’s direction today…and don’t be surprised if that path leads to you letting go of something…so that something new can spring forth.

P (Prayer): Lord, you take up our suffering and our shame and turn us towards bringing new life and hope into your world. Be with all the families of the students who died in Parkland, FL, last week as they lay their sons and daughters to rest. Amen.

In Case of Rapture…

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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.  

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.