Abundance Now

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S (Scripture): Matthew 14:15 That evening Jesus’ disciples came and said to him, “This is an isolated place and it’s getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”

16 But Jesus said to them, “There’s no need to send them away. You give them something to eat.”

17 They replied, “We have nothing here except five loaves of bread and two fish.”

18 He said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves of bread and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them and broke the loaves apart and gave them to his disciples. Then the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 Everyone ate until they were full, and they filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. 21 About five thousand men plus women and children had eaten.

O (Observation): Scarcity. Too little. Not enough. Yet, miraculously, enough. How? Through Jesus’ blessing.

I love how Jesus turns the emphasis away from himself when told they would not have enough to feed the crowd. Jesus tells them, “You give them something to eat.”

So Jesus takes what is given – 5 loaves, 2 fish. Jesus blesses that. And that is enough. That is abundance.

A (Application): How often do we think: I don’t have enough time / money / power / influence?

Jesus tells us to bring to him what we have. Let Jesus bless what we do have, instead of bemoaning what we don’t.

Then go and make a difference in the world. Go and see to it that others know from where your abundance comes: through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lived and died, who defies the logic of this world and brings to bear the strange economics of grace and abundance in the midst of our world of scarcity and brokenness.

P (Prayer): Lord, open our eyes to the abundance of gifts set before us and in us. Amen.

We are all in this Together

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S (Scripture): Acts 20:3b When [Paul] came to Greece, 3 he stayed for three months. Because the Jews hatched a plot against Paul as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided instead to return through Macedonia. 4 He was accompanied by Sopater, Pyrrhus’ son from Beroea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. 5 They went on ahead and waited for us in Troas. 6 We sailed from Philippi after the Festival of Unleavened Bread and met them five days later in Troas, where we stayed for a week.

O (Observation): Paul did Church with other people. He didn’t travel alone, like some solo salesperson. He did life together with folks who travelled with him. They ate together, worshipped together, they did everything together.

This journey included disciples of Jesus following Paul and learning from one another.

Paul’s mission planted Gospel seeds and included workers for the garden. And when a certain amount of growth and fertilization had taken place, they moved on, leaving behind some to tend to the garden.

A (Application): How do we do Church in 2019? Are we like the early church? Like Paul? Do we tend to be more about individuals who are talented and show promise to create a free-standing, independent organization known as a local congregation? When new leaders are called to lead, who goes with them?

These questions start to reveal the nature of the organized Church of 2019. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m just curious about it’s sustainability. Many congregations, like the one I serve, is fairly stable and will continue on.

I make the most of building relationships where I am, so that on days when I am sick (like I was yesterday) I could rely on others to tend the garden God has asked me to oversee. And the results were wonderful…fruitful, you might say.

What are we doing to bring others along? Who is receptive to the ministry you are doing? Are you receptive to the ministry that others are doing? Are you leading others? Following others? Are you going it alone?

Please see how God’s abundance supplies for you and your loved ones. See that God gives you (time, talents, treasures) is enough to connect you with others with whom you can work to tend to God’s garden.

P (Prayer): Lord: gather us, feed us, send us. Together. Amen.

Measuring the Church

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S (Scripture): Psalm 20

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed one;

    God answers his anointed one

        from his heavenly sanctuary,

    answering with mighty acts of salvation

        achieved by his strong hand.

Some people trust in chariots, others in horses;

    but we praise the Lord’s name.

They will collapse and fall,

    but we will stand up straight and strong.

Lord, save the king!

    Let him answer us when we cry out!

O (Observation): The anointed one is the king of God’s people. This psalm may have been written before God’s people were conquered by the Babylonians, thus representing a general orientation towards giving thanks to God for blessing the people with a ruler to govern God’s people.

And in what do God’s people trust? They trust in the Lord’s name, not chariots and horses. Chariots and horses represented a country’s might – both politically and militarily.

The psalmist is reminding God’s people that – as illogical as it seems – strength comes not from our might, but from the Lord.

A (Application): The Church is in a precarious state. Our “horses and chariots” for years have been dollars in the offering plate and attendance. With high numbers for both, we say: “Look! God is good, because we have high attendance and lots of offering!” Is that the right metric, though?

What is the State of the Church? Are we counting the right things? How about counting how many people come to faith? Return to the faith? How about we count the numerous ways our church members impact their families and neighborhoods? How about we measure our disciple-making process? How about we measure the fruitfulness of the conversations between our adult members and our youth? How about we measure the inspiration level that some members have on others?

Some of these things we can measure…some, not so much. So what do we do? We keep on telling the story of God at work in our world. We talk about how God shows up in our lives, our politics, our homes. We show faith in God, who shows up every time.

Question is: Can we discern God’s presence? Or are we too busy counting our chariots and horses?

P (Prayer): Lord, hear us as we call out to you. Help us to count the right things. Amen.

Disciples Bear Much Fruit

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S (Scripture): Acts 3:1 Peter and John were going up to the temple at three o’clock in the afternoon, the established prayer time. 2 Meanwhile, a man crippled since birth was being carried in. Every day, people would place him at the temple gate known as the Beautiful Gate so he could ask for money from those entering the temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he began to ask them for a gift. 4 Peter and John stared at him. Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gazed at them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 Peter said, “I don’t have any money, but I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, rise up and walk!” 7 Then he grasped the man’s right hand and raised him up. At once his feet and ankles became strong. 8 Jumping up, he began to walk around. He entered the temple with them, walking, leaping, and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God. 10 They recognized him as the same one who used to sit at the temple’s Beautiful Gate asking for money. They were filled with amazement and surprise at what had happened to him.

O (Observation): The Church. Not a building, but a people. Those early disciples were quite faithful, maybe even naive. Could their hands and mouths convey healing as Christ’s could?

In this instance, the answer is yes.

The blind man asked for money, daily. Yet Peter gave him his sight. In whose name? In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene. The disciples could heal!

A (Application): Being the church means producing disciples who make disciples. So many of us focus on Sunday morning and little else. The congregation I serve continues to dive into the many ways of connecting with the people in and around our community.

We connect through worship and Bible Study, service, fun, fellowship, and other ways. We are discerning how Jesus led his disciples and how to lead others down the same path as Jesus.

May we all learn this path and continue to follow Jesus and his way. That we might learn to preach, teach, and heal as Jesus did.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide our hearts through the right pathways. Amen.

Come, Lord Jesus

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S (Scripture): John 20:29 Jesus replied [to Thomas], “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.

O (Observation): The resurrected Jesus appears before the disciples a second time. This time, Thomas was in the room. He witnessed the piercings of Jesus’ hands and side. Now he believed that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead.

Why was this important?

So that people would believe Jesus is Christ – God’s anointed, God’s Son. This belief brings life now and for eternity.

A (Application): Belief in Jesus Christ as God’s Son brings Application for today and for eternity. We hold those two ends of the spectrum – now and eternity – loosely within our grasp.

We deeply appreciate the impact that this belief has upon us in our lifetime. We can learn to be kind to others. We can learn to sacrifice for others. We can learn to share God’s love with others.

We also deeply appreciate the idea that this life is not the end. That we will all be reunited with loved ones as we, too, pass away. That we will be with God and we will have good and holy work to do.

Jesus coming into this world is a blessing we are reminded of each year at this time, in the season of Advent. We await the Lord’s coming once again. And when that day comes, we will lift our heads and be of good courage!

P (Prayer): Lord, encourage us now and always. Amen.

Rhythm: Abiding and Bearing Fruit

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S (Scripture): John 15:1 [Jesus said to the disciples:] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. 2 He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. 3 You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. 6 If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.

O (Observation): What is the point of being a disciple? That one produces fruit for God and God’s Kingdom. How does one bear fruit? By being a branch connected to the vine – Jesus. How can one stay connected to the vine (and this bear fruit)? By remaining / abiding in Jesus, the vine!

So we are supposed to bear fruit and stay connected to Jesus.

Seems simple, but can be very hard.

A (Application): Over my studies of discipleship, I’ve come across a great illustration of remaining connected to the vine and also of producing fruit for God’s Kingdom.

First, a disclaimer: only because Christ makes it possible, can we produce fruit for the Kingdom. This devotion leans towards what we can do with salvation, and is not about how we earn salvation!

Second, the key to abiding and bearing fruit is to know that these two elements that seem like opposites belong on either sides of a pendulum swinging back and forth. On one side “Abide.” On the other side: “Bear Fruit.” (Annalternstive is Rest / Work.

An illustration: when I began serving the congregation I’m serving now, I drew the picture included in this devotion (see above). I asked them where the congregation felt they were on this pendulum. They mark the spot towards the work / bearing fruit side. The sentiment was: “we’ve got a pastor, so let’s get moving!”

Then I asked them: “When you make a new friend, or add a family member through marriage or birth, what do you typically do?” They all responded with remarks that belong to more of the abide/rest side of the pendulum swing. They realized that having a new pastor on board would mean that we would want to get to know one another and become one, before we started getting very active toward the bearing fruit side. We needed time to dwell together and be together.

Jesus knew when working with the disciples that they would experience times and seasons when they would need to simply remain in Christ and be one with Christ in order to be strengthened for the times when they would have to go and bear fruit.

This same sentiment holds true for you and me today.

If you are all work and no rest, you will burn out. If you are all rest and no work, you will not produce fruit. Imagine the pendulum swinging back-and-forth causing you to find rhythms of rest and work of abiding and bearing fruit.

How are those rhythms working for you these days? What is your daily rhythm? Your weekly rhythm? Your monthly or annual rhythms?

P (Prayer): Lord, you sustain by inviting us to abide in you. Help us also to bear fruit for you and your kingdom! Amen.

P.s. this concept and image comes from elements taught by 3D Ministries (3DM; https://3dmovements.com/)

Walking through the Drudgery

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S (Scripture): John 14:15 [Jesus speaks to the disciples] “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. 17 This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.”

O (Observation): A table of friends gathered. They have just shared a meal and watched their leader – the The Word made Flesh – bend low to wash their feet. They heard their leader speak to them about how he would soon be gone, and how terrible circumstances would become.

And so, in this moment of uncertainty, Jesus provides a ray of hope: the Comforter will come. The Spirit. The Advocate. The Comforter.

This Spirit would guide them after Jesus’ departure from this earth.

A (Application): I very much needed this word of hope today. Sort of down and out kind of day for me. The cold and damp weather has gotten me down. I’m a person of deep empathy, so the wildfires and mass shootings have got me down.

But with this devotion I’m reminded to put one foot in front of the other today. To plan now for future happenings and joys.

In the meantime, I will remember that the Comforter is with me and will be with me.

May this Comforter be with you this day, too!

P (Prayer): Lord, you bring to me hope and happiness. Lift me this day to know that you always walk with me. 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.

How’d That Happen?

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S (Scripture): John 6:16 When evening came, Jesus’ disciples went down to the lake. 17 They got into a boat and were crossing the lake to Capernaum. It was already getting dark and Jesus hadn’t come to them yet. 18 The water was getting rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When the wind had driven them out for about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the water. He was approaching the boat and they were afraid. 20 He said to them, “I Am. Don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and just then the boat reached the land where they had been heading.

O (Observation): Jesus just got done feeding the 5,000 and they wanted to make him king. So Jesus got out of there. They didn’t get it.

The disciples were hanging out in their boat, waiting on Jesus. But a storm came up and drove them off the shore – without Jesus! (Oops! Sorry, Jesus…the rope broke : )

That didn’t stop Jesus. He just walked on the water to go out to where the boat was – in the middle of the lake!

Night time. Storm. Wind. Chaos. The makings of quite the scary story – not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually, as well.

The disciples still don’t know what to make of Jesus, yet…

And to top it all off, as things settle down in the boat, and they are ready to head to the shore – Voila! – there they are…on the shore of their destination.

How’d he do that?

A (Application): How’d that happen? What went right? Where did we go wrong? Every church leader I know asks these questions, hoping to make an impact for God’s Kingdom.

We reverse engineer things to try to figure out the right formula. And then we replicate over and over again. But the only constant I see is “change.”

We are never the same people in more than any one instant. So that means whatever we lead has to be lean and flexible, so that the vision and mission can exist without too much structure. Yet, some structure is helpful along the way.

The Holy Spirit works in many and various ways. In meetings, while you’re driving to work, while you (individually or collectively) are at your wit’s end. The Spirit works in our midst.

Just ask the disciples in the midst of their spiritual turmoil. How did Jesus do that thing with the walking on water and the boat being at the shore? Only God knows.

How do we do the Church on earth? Just do it! Let God Lead! Enjoy the ride!

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us and make us wise to your commands. Amen.

The Jesus Way

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S (Scripture): (A little more verses than I normally use, but important for the point that strikes me today.)

Mark 11:27 Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem again. As Jesus was walking around the temple, the chief priests, legal experts, and elders came to him. 28 They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?”

29 Jesus said to them, “I have a question for you. Give me an answer, then I’ll tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things. 30  Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin? Answer me.”

31 They argued among themselves, “If we say, ‘It’s of heavenly origin,’ he’ll say, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But we can’t say, ‘It’s of earthly origin.’” They said this because they were afraid of the crowd, because they all thought John was a prophet. 33 They answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.”

12:1 Jesus spoke to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the winepress, and built a tower. Then he rented it to tenant farmers and took a trip. 2 When it was time, he sent a servant to collect from the tenants his share of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they grabbed the servant, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again the landowner sent another servant to them, but they struck him on the head and treated him disgracefully. 5 He sent another one; that one they killed. The landlord sent many other servants, but the tenants beat some and killed others. 6 Now the landowner had one son whom he loved dearly. He sent him last, thinking, They will respect my son. 7 But those tenant farmers said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 They grabbed him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

9 “So what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10  Haven’t you read this scripture, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 11 The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes?”

12 They wanted to arrest Jesus because they knew that he had told the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.

O (Observation): Normally, when we read scripture, the chapter numbers take on more meaning than they should. Notice that the transition from chapter 11 to 12 is not a change of setting or audience. The leaders of the church are trying to trap Jesus into an answer regarding his authority: if he says this is on God’s authority, perhaps Jesus will expose himself to criticism or if he does this ministry on his own authority, they can dismiss him.

Point is, they don’t see Jesus as being in line with God’s mission for the world.

But Jesus’ way is not to directly respond to the questions of those in authority. Instead, he turns the tables and asks the church leaders a question about authority. He makes them think. He exposes their desires. They just want to stay in power. So they are concerned with their own worldly authority gained by their position…not by the influence that God has on people through faith.

The parable Jesus shares seems to place Jesus in a long line of messengers, of which he is the Son, and John is one of the many prophets whom God has sent to God’s people. The prophets of old came before John. Jesus’ authority comes as one who is sent from God. God has been sending messengers to God’s people for a loooong, long time. And God’s worldly leaders have missed the messages time and time again.

Jesus never got defensive. Jesus didn’t attack his enemy. He simply bounced questions back and made people think…rather than just follow a doctrine or theology. Jesus asked people to discern their role in God’s mission in the world.

This is Jesus’ Way.

A (Application): How often do you find yourself following a theology…”just because”?

Probably quite a bit.

We all do it. We all fight off the landowner’s messengers and offspring coming back to collect and see how things are going. We fight off those with prophetic voices, because we don’t want to have our theology challenged. We’ve worked hard to get where we are. We are settled on lots of issues that have come to our attention. We don’t need to dust things up.

But as each day passes, we are called to reassess who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do. How? Through prayer, meditation, studying Scripture. By bouncing ideas off of close friends and loved ones. By going out into the world to walk with your neighbors of all differing identities. In this way, you will receive the Spirit’s guidance.

The authority will be God’s.

This is Jesus’ Way.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us and help us to bear fruit for your Kingdom. Amen.