Redemption and Renewal

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S (Scripture): Psalm 69

34 

Let heaven and earth praise God,

    the oceans too, and all that moves within them!

35 

God will most certainly save Zion

    and will rebuild Judah’s cities

    so that God’s servants can live there and possess it.

36 

The offspring of God’s servants will inherit Zion,

    and those who love God’s name will dwell there.


2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. 8 We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. 9 We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.

10 We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies. 11 We who are alive are always being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies that are dying. 12 So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

16 So we aren’t depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. 17 Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. 18 We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.

O (Observation): In the Old Testament and in the New…God is at the center of redemption and renewal. Life for the Israelites during the Babylonian captivity was full of despair and despondency. No one had hope of ever getting back to a state in which God was present and active. But the psalmist was that voice of hope for God’s people. A prophetic voice amidst the challenge. God’s people – the descendants of God’s people of the day – would know God’s power. This is the eternal promise of hope for every generation.

Paul also speaks specifically of a personal and yet collective hope. We are each experiencing the indwelling of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Even though our bodies and brains can only withstand so much in this world, our hope lies in what the body and brain cannot destroy: Christ’s dwelling within us.

A (Application): Though our bodies and brains may fail, our faith lives on. This gives us hope to carry on, no matter the challenges ahead.

As a pastor, I know I need this word today. I almost skipped the devotion today, because I had more of “God’s Work” to do this morning. But stopping and intentionally sitting today, digging into God’s word…this is precisely where I needed to be. (Yes, this is God’s Work, too ?And I hope this word inspires you today to figure out: What in me is dying? What is being reborn?

My confidence and effort were lacking of late. That is dying so that Christ might give me strength this day to do what is necessary to do the hard work of discipleship this day for me.

Happy digging!

P (Prayer): Lord, guide our efforts and sustain as we die a little each day, that Jesus might be born in us more this day and every day. Amen.

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Christ in Us All

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S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 4:4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of those who don’t have faith so they couldn’t see the light of the gospel that reveals Christ’s glory. Christ is the image of God.

Proverbs 20:27 The breath of a person is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the inmost parts.

O (Observation): These two verses from very different times and situations bring forth the image of God dwelling in our very being. God is with us. God is in us. All have the ability to receive the Christ, who is already in us. The revealing of the Christ from within us makes sense as our very breath is like the lamp of the Lord. The lamp guides our way, from the inside out.

As Christ dwells within us, we cannot help but see the Christ in one another. As such, we start to treat one another as if we were interacting with the Divine Trinity itself.

A (Application): So what does all of this mean? It means that we get to see the Christ in one another. Seeing Christ in one another means seeing the hope of forgiveness in one another. The evil ones and the good ones. All are imbued with the Christ nature, for we are all one in Christ. We are all cut of the same cloth (as some like to say).

This means forgiveness is possible. This means that the chance of forgiveness and reconciliation is very high. This means that when we look on one another, we have hope to be forgiven or to forgive.

And when we cannot forgive, perhaps we hold on to the hope that the Christ dwelling in the other is still holding on strong. Even if we must let a relationship go.

Christ in us. Christ guiding us. This is my hope.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us always…from the inside out. Amen.

Stewardship: Faith and Science

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S (Scripture): Psalm 65

You visit the earth and make it abundant,

    enriching it greatly

        by God’s stream, full of water.

You provide people with grain

    because that is what you’ve decided.

10 

Drenching the earth’s furrows,

        leveling its ridges,

    you soften it with rain showers;

        you bless its growth.

11 

You crown the year with your goodness;

    your paths overflow with rich food.

12 

Even the desert pastures drip with it,

    and the hills are dressed in pure joy.

13 

The meadowlands are covered with flocks,

    the valleys decked out in grain—

        they shout for joy;

        they break out in song!

O (Observation): The psalmist sees God as the one responsible for watering the earth and bringing forth vegetation and life itself. And not just life, but ABUNDANT life!

God’s stream brings sustenance to the earth!

Waters flow – strong or gentle – as needed.

Result? Desert and hills get what they need. Meadows and valleys rejoice.

This is legend AND this is science to the ancient ones who wrote these psalms. Perhaps science and legend are one and the same for this author.

A (Application): We are truly children of the Enlightenment. I’m all for science, but I believe the pendulum has swung too far. We are forgetful of the stories that brought us this far along the way. We fail to see our interconnectedness with other cultures and races. We fail to see how we are one with people who look and speak different from “us.”

Now that we “know better,” we don’t tell stories of the earth crying out or the animals having stories to share.

J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis have both been influential for me and my family as they bring stories that don’t make sense : ). Odd creatures exist in their stories – both good and evil. Trees walk and talk. Portals to other worlds!

Now, it’s the Marvel Comic Universe that brings stories of far off worlds and odd creatures to light. (And yes, I’m a HUGE fan 🔷.)

But when it comes to our faith, we have very little imagination. We disconnect faith from the earth or the very things we use on a daily basis: soap, water, transportation, air, mountains, and so on.

God is revealed to us in more than just the person of Jesus. And we rejoice in this fact. And we rejoice in the abundant forms of life all around us.

One area I have found to be extremely challenging and equally rewarding: MONEY.

Science and logic tell us one thing. Faith, another. What if we joined these two together? What if we saw paying our bills and giving money away as equally important? What if we let loose of our desire to make it all work out for us, only? What if we gave our money a voice? What story would it tell us?

Would it tell us how we buy more of the same stuff for ourselves, while others go hungry? Would our money tell us we have plenty, but ignore that sentiment and use it more for ourselves?

Or would our money explain how it sustains our faith communities and homeless shelters and food pantries???

Let science and faith work together for the good of all.

P (Prayer): Lord, the stories of what we give to you are distant from our hearts and minds. Wake us up to the joy of giving once again. Amen.

Some Questions Don’t Need an Answer

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S (Scripture): Job 38:1 Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind:

Who is this darkening counsel

    with words lacking knowledge?

Prepare yourself like a man;

    I will interrogate you, and you will respond to me.

The establishing of order

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?

    Tell me if you know.

Who set its measurements? Surely you know.

    Who stretched a measuring tape on it?

32 

Can you guide the stars

at their proper times,

    lead the Bear with her cubs?

33 

Do you know heaven’s laws,

    or can you impose its rule on earth?

34 

Can you issue an order to the clouds

    so their abundant waters cover you?

O (Observation): WOW! God isn’t mixing words here. God has silently listened to Job’s complaints over what he’s lost and how righteous he is. God silently listened while Job’s “friends” try to convince Job that he must have done something wrong and God is punishing him for it.

In the end, here, God isn’t defensive…rather, God is angry that both Job and his friends are complaining like they have absolute wisdom and power. They don’t!

Who formed the earth and all that is in it!? God!

Who is all-knowing!? God!

Not Job. Not Job’s friends.

A (Application): How often do we think we have discipleship and being a follower of God all figured out? How often do we use logic to answer questions of faith and discipleship?

So much of what we go through in life, we feel like we need to label it as a result of something we or someone else or God “did.” Like we need an answer for everything.

In science, I can understand the desire and drive for answers. But for faith, we must sometimes let the reason “why?” sort of just remain unanswered and be content with our situation. Perhaps a reason or thought will come. Ok. But don’t try to tear down heaven and earth to find the answer.

Sometimes the silent mystery is just fine. Sometimes the answer to “why?” is a tension to be managed, rather than a problem to be solved.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to just let some questions remain unanswered. Amen.

The Use of Sacraments / Ritual

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S (Scripture): Romans 4

7 

Happy are those whose actions outside the Law are forgiven,

        and whose sins are covered.

Happy are those whose sin isn’t counted against them by the Lord.

9 Is this state of happiness only for the circumcised or is it also for those who aren’t circumcised? We say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 So how was it credited? When he was circumcised, or when he wasn’t circumcised? In fact, it was credited while he still wasn’t circumcised, not after he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that comes from the faith he had while he still wasn’t circumcised. It happened this way so that Abraham could be the ancestor of all those people who aren’t circumcised, who have faith in God, and so are counted as righteous. 12 He could also be the ancestor of those circumcised people, who aren’t only circumcised but who also walk in the path of faith, like our ancestor Abraham did while he wasn’t circumcised.

O (Observation): Paul dissects the point at which their spiritual father (Abraham) became righteous. Was it before or after he was circumcised.

Yes, Paul is still ranting about circumcision. Why? This issue was just the most prominent of MANY issues that divided Christians that were formerly Jewish from those Christians who had no Jewish background.

Paul points out that Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness BEFORE he became circumcised. In this way those who are circumcised AND those who are not have Abraham as their spiritual ancestor.

In making this point, Paul makes something else even more clear: our external responses (like circumcision) do not dictate whether or not a person can have faith in God.

Persons of faith need not throw away customs, nor do they have to adopt them, in order to respond in faith to God’s grace given to all people who wish to receive that grace.

A (Application): As Christians, we have certain external markers that declare grace to us: namely, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. I’m big fans of both. HUGE fans of both : )

These “means of grace” (as we call them in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) remind us of God’s gracious Spirit being poured out into our very beings. This Spirit joins us to the body of Christ, and gives us grace and forgiveness to live out our lives in hope.

These means of grace, however, remain external signs. Sort of like what circumcision meant for Abraham. Not exactly, but close.

Baptism remains our way of joining to Christ’s body. In baptism we are marked with the promised Holy Spirit. I wonder, though, what the non-Christian journeys through when they look at the Church? Are we using Baptism as a means of pushing others away? Or are we inviting them to consider – first – becoming a part of our community. Then, after a time of deliberation, continue to encourage these persons to consider being baptized…to show that on a particular day and time, in a faith community willing to love and support one another, that the Spirit has joined them to the body of Christ.

Personally, I see everything to gain in Baptism and Holy Communion. The old self being washed away for the new life in Christ to come forth. Yet our journeys are not all the same.

More can be said regarding Communion, but I digress.

Let us not use the Means of Grace as a means to divide us into classes (the Baptized OVER the non-Baptized; those who attend worship or commune weekly OVER those who attend worship and commune once or twice per month). Let us, instead, focus on the joy that comes from these means of grace, such that those who do not yet know of these gifts might be inspired by the Spirit to receive them gratefully. And if not, that we not disparage them, but instead, meet them where they are in their faith journey.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us grace, that we might share it bountifully with others. Amen.

The Law…The Rules

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S (Scripture): Romans 3:28b We consider that a person is treated as righteous by faith, apart from what is accomplished under the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Isn’t God the God of Gentiles also? Yes, God is also the God of Gentiles. 30 Since God is one, then the one who makes the circumcised righteous by faith will also make the one who isn’t circumcised righteous through faith. 31 Do we then cancel the Law through this faith? Absolutely not! Instead, we confirm the Law.

O (Observation): Paul is once again speaking to the Jewish Christians (those who were Jewish and now following Christ). He points out that their adherence to the Law (or lack there of) had nothing to do with their salvation.

When a Jew expresses the Law, this comes from faith in God. The mark of circumcision is the outward expression of an internal faith.

If that external marker was removed, what then? Could someone…say…a Gentile show faith in God? Yes! And if so, that person would not need the Law to become righteous…for God instills faith in both the circumcised and uncircumcised.

Anyone who believes in Christ has been joined to Christ’s righteousness. This is a free gift. The Law stands as a reminder of who we are called to be as God’s people. The Law was a guide and identity marker, not a path to salvation. Salvation is about faith in God.

So, should the Law be thrown out? Absolutely NOT!

A (Application): What barriers are we putting up as God’s people? What rules do we put in place for members and church leaders that make us stumble along the way? Shouldn’t we throw them all out? Well, not so fast : )

Just like we don’t throw out the Law, we don’t throw out everything that are good boundary markers in organized religion.

Healthy boundaries can be good, so that we can care for each other and build up healthy community. When we don’t trust one another and break down these barriers, we can lean on forgiveness and reconciliation, which we have first received from Christ.

Now, following the rules of the Church is not the goal…faith in Christ is the goal. As such, when the rules of the Church inhibit certain groups of people from access to faithful community, then perhaps the rules need to be updated.

The Law guides us and is an outward expression of what it means to have faith in God. Rules of the Church exist to guide us into community. But faith in God is what makes us righteous. And this righteousness comes through Christ, who gave himself for us. Believing in Christ – thanks to the Holy Spirit instilling faith in us – brings us to righteousness. The Law…the rules…don’t make us righteous. Christ does.

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

Where is Hope?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 27

Lord, listen to my voice when I cry out—

    have mercy on me and answer me!

Come, my heart says, seek God’s face.

    Lord, I do seek your face!

Please don’t hide it from me!

    Don’t push your servant aside angrily—

        you have been my help!

    God who saves me,

        don’t neglect me!

12 

Don’t give me over to the desires of my enemies,

    because false witnesses and violent accusers

    have taken their stand against me.

13 

But I have sure faith

    that I will experience the Lord’s goodness

    in the land of the living!

14 

Hope in the Lord!

    Be strong! Let your heart take courage!

        Hope in the Lord!

O (Observation): The hope that comes into play at the end of this Psalm is almost like from a friend speaking to another friend who has lost hope. The psalmist seeks out God in the pit of despair. The friendly voice in v. 14 is a reminder that God – the Lord – is still there beside the person.

Hope is possible, not because the individual can get back on track “without help.” Rather, because the psalmist cannot help himself/herself, hope exists. Because the psalmist lacks comfort, the LACK allows space for him / her to hope.

A (Application): We like to think hope is something that we can grasp in this life, as if hope is something to be reached through hard work and effort. Yet the nature of hope is that it is precisely something we cannot reach. For if it is something we can grasp on our own, then we don’t hope for it…we just create a plan to reach it.

If we can reach the thing(s) we hope for…then it’s not hope. We hope for money, a new car, control, power, and more. These things we “hope” for – if attained – is quite the opposite of good news. It means we think we can satisfy our drive or appetite and pushes us to acquire more of the same (if not material things, than power or control).

Let us, instead, focus on the idea that God never leaves us and can be our hope. In. Our brokenness, God enters in and helps us to be okay with our brokenness. For God does not need us to prove anything. Rather, God focuses our hearts and minds on being with others who are also broken…and together we lean on one another for consolation and hope. Hope in the Lord.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us filled with hope in You. Amen.