How Many Gods are There?

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S (Scripture): Joshua 24:14 Joshua said: “So now, revere the Lord. Serve him honestly and faithfully. Put aside the gods that your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and serve the Lord. 15 But if it seems wrong in your opinion to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Choose the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But my family and I will serve the Lord.”

O (Observation): Commitment to God is always voluntary. This is the point Joshua makes:

God’s helped us this far…but if you see something more enticing…go for it. You see a local deity in this newly settled land of ours, and that seems right, go for it.

Just know this – declares Joshua – my family and I…we choose the Lord.

A (Application): The other day our 5 year old daughter asks us: “How many gods are there?” We said “one.” Then I thought back to Martin Luther’s explanation of the 10 Commandments in the Large Catechism and tried to explain that the thing we wish for the most is like a god to us. The thing we give our all for is our god.

Making the football team can become a god. Becoming a concert pianist can become a god. Getting everyone to like you can become your god. Having wealth can become your god. Being overly organized or overly organic can become your god. ANYTHING to which you give your allegiance can become your god.

Now, those items I listed are NOT all bad things. Having goals and contributing your gifts to the world are great. But at what level are you giving yourself to that thing / goal / desire?

Here’s the rub: I choose the Lord. Now, some days I’m great at faith and some days I suck at it. But the invitation my family and I have accepted is that we desire to be people of God, following in Jesus’ footsteps. We practice living into this invitation – as a family – as ELCA Lutherans as a part of the congregation of Advent Lutheran Church, Murfreesboro, TN. (TheAdventChurch.com).

You have another way of following God? Great! You want to choose another god, that’s up to you. Don’t hear me pressuring you.

I invite you to our faith community or to one of our worship services or events. Connect with us in some way to journey together with us, to practice applying faith together, to messing up and to being forgiven…TOGETHER!

P (Prayer): Lord, I believe, help my unbelief! Amen.

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Do Unto Others

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S (Scripture): Leviticus 23:9 The Lord said to Moses: 10 Speak to the Israelites and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you and harvest its produce, you must bring the first bundle of your harvest to the priest… 22 When you harvest your land’s produce, you must not harvest all the way to the edge of your field; and don’t gather every remaining bit of your harvest. Leave these items for the poor and the immigrant; I am the Lord your God.

O (Observation): As God instructs Moses and God’s people on how to worship God when they enter the Promised Land, God is ensuring a key point: All of the produce is from God and it’s for ALL people (not just those who follow God).

In the first verse above, God’s people are reminded that the first “fruits” belong to God. This is a sacrifice to God, and is to be considered an offering of thanksgiving. This stands as a reminder that God brought these folks to this land.

Finally, God reminds the people not to grab every square inch of produce. Some will need to be left to feed the poor and the immigrant.

These are reminders that being a follower of God is not “all about me.”

A (Application): Its all about me! This seems to be the mantra of America these days. How can I get the coolest eyebrows? How can I make a million dollars by age 40? How can my lawn look better than yours? How can my child score higher than yours / play better than yours / gain more wins than yours?

I’m disgusted with how self-centered that I have become. I think about how many people are starving and hurting in this world and yet I’m more worried about getting enough money saved up to by a new HVAC unit for the upstairs portion of my house!

So…does it make sense to give 10% of my income to the church I serve? I still have student loans to pay, and a mortgage, and we need to save up for a car for our son. So many things pull me inward and yet so many causes exist in the world. What can I do to help? Better yet, what can WE do to help?

First of all, the congregation I serve gives 8% of all regular offering to our larger church body of the ELCA, which we call the SouthEastern Synod (the ELCA congregations in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee). So, at this point, I’m comfortable giving almost exclusively through my congregation, knowing that a portion of that money goes to support world hunger efforts, seminaries, and more. That is something that we do together as a congregation: giving to the wider Church to make an impact in the world.

Second, I hope you will share your experiences of giving to the poor or immigrant. Or that you might feel inspired to give to an organization that you believe makes a difference in this world. Charity: Water is a great organization. ELCA World Hunger and ELCA Disaster Response are two other fascinating organizations bringing hope and stability to those in deepest need in our world. (FYI: all three of these groups move 100% of your donation directly to serve the communities with which they engage their services. Overhead administrative costs are covered by donors and institutional monies.)

Do something! Something not just for you, but for the community, for your neighbor…

P (Prayer): God, inspire us to give for others. Amen.

Give for Water

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S (Scripture): Psalm 49

5

Why should I be afraid in times of trouble,

when the wrongdoing of my bullies engulfs me—

6

those people who trust in their fortunes

and boast of their fantastic wealth?

7

Wealth? It can’t save a single person!

It can’t pay a life’s ransom-price to God.

8

The price to save someone’s life is too high—

wealth will never be enough—

9

no one can live forever

without experiencing the pit.

10

Everyone knows that the wise die too,

just like foolish and stupid people do,

all of them leaving their fortunes to others.

11

Their graves are their eternal homes,

the place they live for all generations,

even if they had counties named after them!

12

People won’t live any longer because of wealth;

they’re just like the animals that pass away.

O (Observation): The psalmist – a seemingly poor person – considers a rich person (who indulges in the lifestyles of the rich) to be an abomination. The psalmist points out that no amount of wealth actually makes them superior – after all, when they die, what will become of their wealth? It will go to their heirs. And what will be their eternal home? Their grave.

A (Application): We are so caught up in vanity these days. Latest cars. Biggest houses. Why?

Most folks living in these huge homes or latest model cars cannot afford them. So why do we go for them? Status? Power? Wanting to “fit in”?

I know this sounds judgmental, but I really struggle with vain wealth, when 663 million people are drinking dirty water…yet so many of us are wealthy…something is not right.

What can we do? How can we be about the ongoing work of Jesus?

Simple: give. Give and give and give some more.

For my 40th Birthday, I’m thinking of doing something big (big for me)…I’m going to seek funds to establish a simple water well through the ELCA Good Gifts program ($2,500). As I get closer in, I’ll advertise a link and invite as many people as possible into my campaign.

I hope that folks can help out as I put this effort together to support others whose basic need of water has escaped them to this point.

Maybe this is what the psalmist intended all along…that we might read this Psalm and wonder our place in it all.

P (Prayer): Lord, thank you for granting me the opportunity to give and encourage others to give, as well. Amen.

AFFIRM – ELCA Youth Camp

I haven’t posted this week because I’m helping to lead a youth camp called AFFIRM, a youth-event of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA.   

Here, we welcome people to come as they are as children of God, remind folks they are made in the image of God, embody forgiveness and grace, and make sure that ALL know that they have a God that loves them.  

I’ll be back to my regular devotional postings on Monday, June 26.  Peace!

Southeastern Synod Meets in Assembly this Weekend – Our Annual Pilgrimage

Logo courtesy of Ms. Linda Few, Synod Assembly Committee

As most of you know, I serve as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.   I serve as the pastor of Advent Lutheran Church, in Murfreesboro, TN.  My wife (Kelly) and our three children embrace the annual pilgrimage known as the Synod Assembly.    

The ELCA is comprised of 65 synods (think of “synod” as a geographical area).   Every synod meets annually for mutual upbuilding, fellowship, worship, and to speak with one voice on issues related to the ELCA, social issues, and much, much more.  We study Scriptire together, attend various workshops, and learn how we are all doing our best to be stewards of the Gospel.  

I will post a picture or two throughout the weekend, updating this post at various times.  

I will post a new devotion again on Tuesday, May 31.  
Update:  in the plenary hall!!!

What is Your Call?


S (Scripture): Romans 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, 2 so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.

3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, 4 and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives[d] who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

O (Observation):  One of the most underrated and unspoken benefits to Paul was the work of women in the Church throughout Paul’s ministry.    We hear plenty about the male disciples throughout his writings, but thankfully we hear Paul greeting his fellow female compatriots in the personal greetings.  

Phoebe is one; she is a “deacon.”   Prisca may actually be more of a “Priscilla.”  A Mary is mentioned.  And Junia may actually be “Julia.”   There are others, but some of these ancient names may be difficult for us to discern a gender.  

The point is that in a time when females were not considered strong or helpful, Paul relies on the Spirit to work through males and females alike.  Gender is not the main identity marker, rather, identity in Christ is the key.  

A (Application):  As a pastor in the ELCA, I’m proud to identify with a denomination that considers identity in Christ as the foremost attribute to one’s call.   Male, female, transgender, questioning…one in Christ, child of God.  

Through whom can God work?  Anyone. 

The power of the Spirit in one’s call is most significant.  That call will need to be discerned throughout one’s life, not because of one’s gender or social status, but because the call to serve God takes many forms.   

The official roster of the ELCA now has two major categories: Ministers of Word and Sacrament (“pastors”) and Ministers of Word and Service (“deacons”).  Paul and his compatriots would likely fit into one of these two rosters.   

Ministers of Word and Sacrament today serve mainly as pastors in congregations, but also as chaplains, professors, and in other specialized ministries.   Ministers of Word and Service also serve in congregations as musicians and faith formation leaders; they may serve as lawyers, advocates, community organizers and in so many other roles.  

The call is the central aspect.  

How and where is God giving you grace to serve the Kingdom?  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to heed your call. Amen. 

Sin and the Interpretation of Scripture.  (Oh, and Same-Sex Marriage)


S (Scripture): Romans 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! Certainly, I would not have known sin except through the law. For indeed I would not have known what it means to desire something belonging to someone else if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” … 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it I died. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good.

… 15 For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I do what I don’t want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me.

O (Observation):  Paul gives a somewhat exhaustive and complicated explanation to the purpose of the law.   The law is meant to bring life, ideally.  The Commandments from God – if lived out – bring about a world that submits to God and brings harmony between people.  So the Law (10 Commandments) and the law (the Jewish laws and interpretations of God’s will for God’s people) is NOT inherently bad or sinful.   Rather, the sin that resides in us is what causes us to do the wrong, which we hate. 

Paul is telling the Jewish Christians of Rome that the Law / law is neither the problem nor the solution.  Instead, sin is the problem!   The Law / law points out our brokenness, and thus, reminds us that no one of us (Jew or Gentile) is better than another.  

So, the Law / law is still meant for good…but is not the marker for salvation.   

A (Application):  Much of the battle between denominations is over the interpretation of Scripture.   Some read more literally (I.e. God created in 7 days), while some view the different parts of the Bible as a collection of different genres, thus interpreting different parts of the Bible based on the genre (I.e. Creation is a myth – story that tells an ultimate truth – and thus it matters not how many days – or eons – it took to create.  Point is: God created!)

This difference in interpretation then leads to major theological differences.  A hot topic is the issue of same-sex marriage.   Should this be allowed or not?   Different denominations come to different conclusions.   Should clergy be allowed to serve if they are in a same-sex marriage (or committed relationship)?   For the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) the answer is:  Yes!  They can be allowed, but the congregation has to decide for itself if they will allow this.  Again, the interpretation of scripture is important, because some will take a broader view of the arc of Scripture and some will look at strict interpretations of key verses to support or refute the decision of the interpretation.  

Why bring this up?  It comes back to the Law / law and sin.   No matter who interprets the Scriptures, some sin will exist in us.  The Scriptures, which are made for our good, can and will be twisted in various ways because of the sin that resides in us.   Anyone who interpreted the Law / law (or more broadly, Scripture) will have an interpretation tainted by sin.   Sin will take the life out of the good intention.  

So, we are all on equal footing.   We are all interpreting the Scriptures with some element of brokenness in our hearts and minds.  So, with the guidance of the Spirit we do the best we can to faithfully interpret Scripture.  As the ELCA, we recognize our shortcomings, and open up the Scriptures to multiple interpretations within our own denomination.  Does that open a can of worms?  Absolutely!  Does that mean we stop interpreting?  Certainly not!

We do the best we can to interpret scripture faithfully.  The main driving point then becomes how do we interpret scripture through the person of Jesus Christ?   That is our main driving point: Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection.   Only through that lens, do we feel like we can faithfully interpret the Scriptures. 

Not better or worse than anyone else…just differently.   And hopefully, with the help of the Spirit.  

P (Prayer): Lord, open our eyes to the Scriptures in ways that bear fruit for your kingdom.  Amen.