America, America

Photo credit here – and a great article that addresses the win-win scenario of citizenship in America.

S (Scripture): 2 Thessalonians 3:1 Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us so that the Lord’s message will spread quickly and be honored, just like it happened with you. 2 Pray too that we will be rescued from inappropriate and evil people since everyone that we meet won’t respond with faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful and will give you strength and protect you from the evil one. 4 We are confident about you in the Lord—that you are doing and will keep doing what we tell you to do. 5 May the Lord lead your hearts to express God’s love and Christ’s endurance.

O (Observation): Paul and crew are encouraging the people of God in Thessalonica to continue to seek God’s will and to do God’s will. Even though evil still abounds, Paul prays for protection from evil ones. Seems to be that even though God is present, that doesn’t stop evil ones from working against the people of God.

Paul’s message is clear: keep up the good work, people of God, for the Lord leads your heart and gives you Christ’s endurance. That endurance does not demand retribution nor fairness. That endurance is based on faith in God alone.

A (Application): So an article has come up recently regarding White House reps saying that the poem adorning the Statue of Liberty was for Europeans, originally. And a movement is afoot to vet folks so that only those who can “stand on their own two feet” should be allowed to seek citizenship in this country.

America was a place where people could go when people were oppressed or simply wanted freedom. The times change and I get that. But one thing that is a constant guiding light to this world is that we are a country that is full of promise.

That promise is eroding. We are becoming more and more selfish. We are looking to our own needs first, instead of helping others to succeed…like it’s a zero-sum game. Win-win scenarios exist! We just get lazy and think, “If you win, I’m gonna lose. So instead of helping anyone else, I’m gonna get mine.” How selfish is that?

Anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ looks not to one’s self , first, but last. Being nourished at the table in worship, confessing and receiving forgiveness, sharing the peace in worship…these rituals remind me that Christ is our center and sets us free from selfish desires in order to help us look to our neighbors in need.

May God help us to fight the evil that is around us and seeks to change our hearts for the worse. Help us to look outwards, that we might see that God already is taking care of our hearts and minds.

P (Prayer): Lord, help make Americans care again. Amen.

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Christ in Us All

Photo credit here

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.

Baptism Changes Things

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S (Scripture): 2 Chronicles 6:24 If your people Israel are defeated by an enemy because they have sinned against you, but then they change their hearts, give thanks to your name, and ask for mercy in your presence at this temple, 25 then listen from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel. Return them to the land you gave to them and their ancestors.

26 When the sky holds back its rain because Israel has sinned against you, but they then pray concerning this place, give thanks to your name, and turn away from their sin because you have punished them for it, 27 then listen from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them the best way for them to follow, and send rain on your land that you gave to your people as an inheritance.

O (Observation): Solomon is dedicating the Temple to God. This is the temple David wished to build – for which he even had plans drawn up – but was told NOT to build it…that Solomon was to build it. And when Solomon was anointed king, he asked for one thing: wisdom. And in this prayer of dedication, Solomon shows wisdom.

Solomon knows that God’s people will err. He knows God’s people will drift away from the path. His wisdom is seeking not to excuse God’s people, but rather to make sure that God hears their cries of repentance. That God show mercy when God’s people need it the most.

And when they seek forgiveness, and they are sorry for what they’ve done…when land is returned and the rain comes…these will be signs of God’s mercy.

A (Application): The cycle: receive grace, live, sin, repent, receive grace…repeat. What makes us worthy of grace, if we are stuck in this pattern? Why even attempt to live a life of Christian freedom???

In a word: baptism. Our baptism starts into more than just the pattern listed above. Our baptism starts in us the gift of faith. From this faith we have opportunities to share faith with others, welcoming them into the Way.

Our faith also gives us hope. Even in the midst of our failings, we are all willing to do life without seeing ourselves as the central point around which life revolves. Instead, God dwells in the center of our being, and that drives us to serve God and our neighbor. By doing so, we instill hope and faith in other people.

We make stops along our journey to hear God, hear loved ones, and hear our own heartbeat. We give glory to God for bringing order out of chaos, for bringing peace to us in the midst of our tumultuous lives, for inviting us to live within the body of Christ.

May you reflect on your baptism today to see the many joys and struggles it brings. May you see that God enters those struggles with you. May you seek baptism, if the Christian faith is something new to you.

P (Prayer): Lord, we thank you for listening to us and forgiving us. Guide us. Heal us. Amen.

Born From God

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): John 1:8 [John] himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light.

9

The true light that shines on all people

was coming into the world.

10

The light was in the world,

and the world came into being through the light,

but the world didn’t recognize the light.

11

The light came to his own people,

and his own people didn’t welcome him.

12

But those who did welcome him,

those who believed in his name,

he authorized to become God’s children,

13

born not from blood

nor from human desire or passion,

but born from God.

O (Observation): The age-old tradition of being born into the right circumstance / religion is now overturned in the coming of Jesus – the Word incarnate.

God had always tried to remind God’s people that being saved was never about just being a part of “Israel.” Rather, being saved was always about trusting God for daily sustenance, and loving and forgiving your neighbor.

This way of life comes only through being born from God…not from blood, nor from human desire or passion.

A (Application): So what does relying on God for sustenance look like?

I think I still have to take care of what God has given me to oversee and to be a good steward, but I also have to look at what God has given to me in terms of resources: a good mind, loving friends and family, and empathy for my neighbor. Using these gifts, I hope God will bless me. At the least, I will apply these gifts to the world and seek to meet others’ needs in this world.

Other people have other gifts. Hopefully, they will use these gifts for God’s glory.

In sharing the gifts I’ve been given, I am being a witness of God’s redeeming love for all the world. As I work with others in the world, they will see God’s compassion and desire for all to encounter God’s love. And that will be my invitation to others. Let them see God’s love through my presence and hands and heart.

That may seem arrogant, but I hope it doesn’t come from human desire. I hope that desire comes from God!

P (Prayer): Lord, make me a channel of your peace. Amen.

The Forgiveness Cycle

Photo from The Book of Forgiving

S (Scripture): Joshua 10:6 Then the Israelites again did things that the Lord saw as evil. They served the Baals and the Astartes, as well as the gods of Aram, Sidon, Moab, the Ammonites, and the Philistines. They went away from the Lord and didn’t serve him. 7 The Lord became angry with Israel and handed them over to the Philistines and the Ammonites. 8 Starting that year and for the next eighteen years, they beat and bullied the Israelites, especially all the Israelites who lived on the east side of Jordan in the territory of the Ammonites in Gilead. 9 The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to make raids into Judah, Benjamin, and the households of Ephraim. So Israel was greatly distressed.

10 Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord, “We’ve sinned against you, for we went away from our God and served the Baals.”

11 The Lord replied to the Israelites, “When the Egyptians, Amorites, Ammonites, Philistines, 12 Sidonians, Amalekites, and Maonites oppressed you and you cried out to me, didn’t I rescue you from their power? 13 But you have gone away from me and served other gods, so I won’t rescue you anymore! 14 Go cry out to the gods you’ve chosen. Let them rescue you in the time of your distress.”

15 The Israelites responded to the Lord, “We’ve sinned. Do to us whatever you see as right, but please save us this time.” 16 They put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord. And the Lord could no longer stand to see Israel suffer.

O (Observation): Once again, a classic example of a lack of humility, followed by a challenging experience apart from God, followed by cries for mercy by God’s people (to God), and God showing mercy.

A (Application): The Book of Forgiving, by Desmond Tutu and daughter Mpho Tutu, includes a great image of two directions one can choose after being a victim: choose to harm or to heal.

Choosing to Harm is a cycle: one rejects the shared humanity one has, works towards revenge and violence…then the victim becomes the perpetrator.

Choosing to Heal moves one towards forgiveness: tell the story, name the hurt, grant forgiveness, then either renew or release the relationship.

Now, this pathway is mostly about how we treat one another, but I want to consider laying this framework down over what God is doing in the Old Testament vs what God is doing through the person of Jesus Christ.

When God’s people see God as the one who “hands them over to the Amorites” I see this as a misinterpretation of what God is up to. In this case, God doesn’t hand anyone over…rather, God let’s God’s people call on their own gods.

God is choosing to be open to healing and forgiveness…moving towards the Forgiveness Cycle.

God’s people would rather see others as perpetrators and see themselves as victims…continuing down a Revenge Cycle.

Eventually God would choose to fulfill his promise to humanity by becoming one of us…putting on flesh, becoming the Incarnate One who would constantly represent and embody the Forgiveness Cycle.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to choose the Forgiveness Cycle. Amen.

TRUTH before Reconciliation

Photo credit: Toi Scott, Facebook

S (Scripture): Joshua 22:1 Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh. 2 He said to them, “You obeyed everything that Moses the Lord’s servant commanded you. You have also obeyed me in everything that I have commanded you. 3 During these many years, you never once deserted your fellow Israelites. You faithfully obeyed the command of the Lord your God. 4 The Lord your God has now given rest to your fellow Israelites, exactly as he promised them. So turn around and go back home. Go to the land where you hold property, which Moses the Lord’s servant gave you on the other side of the Jordan…”

9 So the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh went back. They left the Israelites at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan. They went to the land of Gilead, to the land that they owned. They had settled there at the Lord’s command given by Moses. 10 They came to the districts of the Jordan that are in the land of Canaan. The people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan, an altar that appeared to be immense. 11 Then the Israelites heard a report: “Look. The people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have built an altar at the far edge of the land of Canaan. It lies in the districts of the Jordan on the Israelite side!” 12 When the Israelites heard this, the entire Israelite community assembled at Shiloh to go up to war against them…

21 Then the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh answered the heads of the military units of Israel: 22 “The Lord is God of gods! The Lord is God of gods! He already knows, and now let Israel also know it! If we acted in rebellion or in disrespect against the Lord, don’t spare us today…

24 “No! The truth is we did this out of concern for what might happen. In the future your children might say to our children, ‘What have you got to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 The Lord has set the Jordan as a border between us and you people of Reuben and Gad. You have no portion in the Lord!’ So your children might make our children stop worshipping the Lord. 26 As a result we said, ‘Let’s protect ourselves by building an altar. It isn’t to be for an entirely burned offering or for sacrifice.’ 27 But it is to be a witness between us and you and between our descendants after us. It witnesses that we too perform the service of the Lord in his presence through our entirely burned offerings, sacrifices, and well-being offerings. So in the future your children could never say to our children, ‘You have no portion in the Lord.’

O (Observation): What a bit of holy confusion! Talk about jumping the gun (almost literally)!

A very smart decision made by Gad and crew to build an altar, since the next few generations might forget they are worshipping the same God as their fellow Israelites.

The Jordan River separated them, so it makes sense that they (as a whole people) might start to veer down down deferent pathways over the next few generations. They would see one another over the holidays…but that might be about it!

As for the majority apart from Gad and crew…they could have been a little less hasty, but then, they did just get done wandering 40 years for a lack of faith in God that looked similar to this. So…thankfully, they agreed to allow the altar – a public display of remembrance.

A (Application): What will our children and grandchildren remember of us? They will see headlines and new stories reminding them of division and war and consumerism. Yes.

But we have a way to combat this: with real, live, personal experiences with REAL people (and not just talking points).

My family and I took part in some of the leadership of “Murfreesboro Loves: a community action against hate,” in October 2017. A group of white supremacists were coming into Murfreesboro to spread their message of the supremacy of the white race. This did not sit well with me or my family.

So, instead of trying to just read the news to see what happened, we took a step out to show that our town is one in which ALL belong, regardless of race, creed, or nationality. Hundreds rallied together in a separate place that day, to celebrate unity.

Part of our ongoing concern in Murfreesboro is the lack of awareness of the history of racism in our town and Rutherford County.

A monument resides on the town square of Murfreesboro. It depicts a sentiment of sympathy for fallen soldiers. (Erected in the early 1900’s.)

Now, we have the chance to erect a new monument, thanks in large part to the Equal Justice Initiative’s fundraising efforts to establish “A National Memorial for Peace and Justice,” in Montgomery, AL.

This April 2018 article states that the memorial: “…features more than 800 steel monuments that bear the names of lynching victims throughout the country. In its creation, organizers discovered the names of 4,400 black people who were lynched or died in racial killings between 1877 and 1950.”

Those monuments were created in duplicates: one to remain in the memorial, the other, to be brought home to the counties in which the lynchings took place.

So, what if we talk to people? What if we recognize the fallen soldiers and the fallen slaves? Both monuments at the county seat of Rutherford County? We’ve already got one for the soldiers. How about one for the slaves who were tortured and killed?

Perhaps then, when a family takes a stroll around the square, or we gather on the square for the next Farmer’s Market, we might see both statues and explain to our children and their children that while our history contains pride and atrocities, we seek a way forward that unites us, rather than divides us.

Let us erect this new monument, as a reminder of where we’ve been. Let us be reminded that TRUTH always comes before reconciliation. (Hat tip to Bryan Stevenson for that last sentence.)

Let us be reminded that we can seek unity in the midst of diversity. Let us remain hopeful.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us humility and strength. Amen.

Photo credit: Jennifer Edwards, Facebook

“So How’s That Working Out for You?”

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Numbers 14:1 The entire community raised their voice and the people wept that night. 2 All the Israelites criticized Moses and Aaron. The entire community said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt or if only we had died in this desert! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our children will be taken by force. Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4 So they said to each other, “Let’s pick a leader and let’s go back to Egypt.”

10b Then the Lord’s glory appeared in the meeting tent to all the Israelites. 11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people disrespect me? And how long will they doubt me after all the signs that I performed among them? 12 I’ll strike them down with a plague and disown them. Then I’ll make you into a great nation, stronger than they.”

19 Please forgive the wrongs of these people because of your absolute loyalty, just as you’ve forgiven these people from their time in Egypt until now.”

20 Then the Lord said, “I will forgive as you requested. But,

25 Since the Amalekites and the Canaanites live in the valley, tomorrow turn and march into the desert by the route of the Reed Sea.”

26 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron: 27 How long will this wicked community complain against me? I’ve heard the Israelites’ dissent as they continue to complain against me. 28 Say to them, “As I live,” says the Lord, “just as I’ve heard you say, so I’ll do to you. 29 Your dead bodies will fall in this desert. None of you who were enlisted and were registered from 20 years old and above, who complained against me, 30 will enter the land in which I promised to settle you, with the exception of Caleb, Jephunneh’s son, and Joshua, Nun’s son. 31 But your children, whom you said would be taken by force, I’ll bring them in and they will know the land that you rejected. 32 Your bodies, however, will fall in this desert, 33 and your children will be shepherds in the desert for forty years. They will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies fall in the desert. 34 For as many days as you explored the land, that is, forty days, just as many years you’ll bear your guilt, that is, forty years. This is how you will understand my frustration.” 35 I the Lord have spoken. I will do this to the entire wicked community who gathered against me. They will die in this desert. There they’ll meet their end.

O (Observation): WOW! Some extremely harsh words from a God who is all-powerful and all-knowing. God gives the people a land…but they’d rather be back in Egypt…enslaved. So they complain to God…and God leaves them to their own devices. God is the one who saves and who lets people choose for themselves how they will live. Of course, choosing one’s own personal desires can cause harm to one’s self and the community.

But instead of focusing on missing the mark, perhaps we have a lesson on faith and trust in the Lord. Let us focus on this: when God provides vision, God also provides provision.

A (Application): I think Israel’s problem can be summed up by a question that Dr. Phil likes to ask: “So how’s that working out for you?”

This question comes when this television personality / counselor speaks to his guests and they share how they decided to heed their own advice, rather than seek wisdom from others. “So how’s that working out for you?”

You wanna provide for yourself? Go for it.

You wanna be enslaved? Let me know how that goes.

What are we doing that goes against God’s call in our lives?

Where is God leading us that we are too scared to follow?

Remember, where God provides VISION, God provides PROVISION! Go for it! Trust in the Lord! God will provide…whether we go straight into our call…or even if it takes “40 years” to get there.

P (Prayer): Lord, call us onward and provide. Amen.