Encouragement

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 10:19 Brothers and sisters, we have confidence that we can enter the holy of holies by means of Jesus’ blood, 20 through a new and living way that he opened up for us through the curtain, which is his body, 21 and we have a great high priest over God’s house.

22 Therefore, let’s draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us, since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water.

23 Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable.

24 And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. 25 Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.

O (Observation): Gathering together to remember God’s activity and to remember what has been done. God frees us from the idea that we must save ourselves. God frees us from thinking we need to live individually, to make it in this world, independently from one another.

God frees from the notion that we must work harder to be free – we are already free.

And so, we have the capacity to do good and to hold on to hope – not because we make our own way, because a way has been made for us.

A (Application): we are free. We always have been. We just blinded ourselves to freedom. We think we need to make it apart from God and apart from one another to prove something. We don’t.

Now that we are free, let us be beholden to one another.

Let us encourage one another out of joy and hope.

How can you encourage others this day?

P (Prayer): Lord, bring me folks today to encourage me. Amen.

Freedom!

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 2:

20 

Long ago I broke your yoke;

    I shattered your chains.

    But even then you said, “I won’t serve you.”

On every high hill and under every lush tree,

    you have acted like a prostitute.

21 

Yet it was I who planted you, a precious vine of fine quality;

    how could you turn into a wild vine

        and become good for nothing?

Jeremiah 3

12 Go proclaim these words to the north and say:

Return, unfaithful Israel,

        declares the Lord.

I won’t reject you,

    for I’m faithful,

        declares the Lord;

I won’t stay angry forever.

13 

Only acknowledge your wrongdoing:

    how you have rebelled against the Lord your God,

        and given yourself to strangers

            under every lush tree

        and haven’t obeyed me,

            declares the Lord.

14 

Return, rebellious children,

        declares the Lord,

    for I’m your husband.

I’ll gather you—

    one from a city and two from a tribe—

        and bring you back to Zion.

O (Observation): Jeremiah is God’s prophet, called upon to remind God’s people of the err of their ways. Not a fun job, but a necessary one.

Why necessary? To be reminded that God’s people were made for more than themselves. God’s people exist to give God praise and tell others of the freedom in the life of God.

You may not get what you want, but you will get what you need. Peace and security in God are the most reliable gifts one can have, even in the face of a warring world with shifting alliances.

The word of grace remains. God is faithful and stands ready to welcome back all who err.

A (Application): Every Sunday, we begin our liturgy with the Confession & Forgiveness. We are reminded of God’s presence and are humbled by our admittance of wrongs done, known and unknown. Words of grace and forgiveness accompany this liturgy, giving us hope for a new day.

As followers of our God, we are always welcomed back to a faithful and loving God. God never waivers in love for us. The love of God prompts us to respond in love to our neighbors in need, whether they be gay or straight, black, brown, or white, male, female, or transitioning.

We all can come back to God who wishes us to remain faithful and to use this grace to bring others to know God. And when we fail at this, God welcomes us back in anyway, encouraging us to embrace the freedom from the tyranny of gods in this world, and to live for God alone.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to be a follow the call to freedom in You! Amen.

A Slave to Righteousness

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S (Scripture): Romans 7:5 When we were self-centered, the sinful passions aroused through the Law were at work in all the parts of our body, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the Law. We have died with respect to the thing that controlled us, so that we can be slaves in the new life under the Spirit, not in the old life under the written Law.

O (Observation): Paul is still riffing about about the Law. Is one under the Law if also under Christ? No! How is this? The Law is for the living. In Christ, especially in baptism, we die and are re-born. Thus, we are released from the Law, and at the same time, are now slaves to righteousness, under the Spirit.

The Spirit’s calling compels us to respond…not just an obligation to pass or fail…but as an opening for doing God’s ministry.

A (Application): I see us constantly using the new Spirit in us as a new Law. We set up markers to see who is “really” doing God’s work. We measure public appearances, an abundance or a lack of social media presence, or popularity to decide who is being “faithful.”

The time that I spend in personal devotion and prayer helps me to remember that God is with me day in and day out, regardless of the standards I mentioned above. When I get away from this practice, I get out of focus.

The time I spend “digging daily” is a way of “mining for God’s presence.” I do this practice with several other folks. Something life-giving comes from doing this work with others. Is this devotion a new Law? Absolutely not! The practice of digging into God’s word daily is a great way to see the Spirit alive and well in my life and all around me…especially in troublesome times.

P (Prayer): Lord, sustain me in my journey as a space to righteousness. Amen.

What Do I Do Now?

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S (Scripture): John 6:26 Jesus replied, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. 27 Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”

28 They asked, “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?”

29 Jesus replied, “This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent.”

30 They asked, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

O (Observation): The crowd of 5,000 has had their fill of loaves and fish. Now they believe another sign is required for them to do God’s work.

The work, Jesus says, is much more simple than even that. Simply believe that Jesus (God’s Son) was sent by God. They don’t like that though. They feel the need to DO something.

A (Application): Why do we always feel the need to DO something to work towards salvation? Jesus says the work is simply starting with the belief that God is already at work.

Any work we do is based on the fact that God has already done the work of forgiveness and reconciling us to God. Jesus has taken the power of sin and has overcome it.

Now, we are free to move about the world following our callings for the sake of God’s work. We are set free from saving ourselves – Jesus does that for us. We are set free for meeting the needs of those around us.

In this, we have our freedom.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep me believing in your Son. Amen

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.

God Rules, but not like “that”

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S (Scripture): Psalm 66

1

Shout joyfully to God, all the earth!

Sing praises to the glory of God’s name!

Make glorious his praise!

Say to God:

“How awesome are your works!

Because of your great strength,

your enemies cringe before you.

All the earth worships you,

sings praises to you,

sings praises to your name!” Selah

Come and see God’s deeds;

his works for human beings are awesome:

He turned the sea into dry land

so they could cross the river on foot.

Right there we rejoiced in him!

God rules with power forever;

keeps a good eye on the nations.

So don’t let the rebellious exalt themselves.

O (Observation): This kind of psalm is a great way to celebrate God’s handiwork. God has rescued God’s people from slavery and this is most certainly to be celebrated. God’s work for humans is indeed glorious.

A (Application): And yet I can see how these kinds of words can be interpreted in our modern day context about how God MUST be obeyed by all nations and that all nations MUST submit to God. This is a very dangerous attitude, for God’s wisdom is beyond ours!

We think that we can capture God’s will with certainty, and start to apply these Scriptures in our country of America. We can start to assume that God is for “my” country. Did we actually corner the market on “God”?

I think we have a lot to learn, a lot of humility to express, and still need to spend a lot of time in prayer and conversation. If not, we will continue to harm many people in our country of America, and others across the globe.

God does rule, but not as a tyrant that disciplines lack of faith. God does rule, but not with weapons of destruction. God does set us free, not to prove we are the strongest, but so that we might spend our days having compassion on others and be about the work of lifting up others.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us wisdom to know our place and to discern your will. Amen.

Guilty AND Set Free

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S (Scripture): Micah 6:1 Hear what the Lord is saying:
Arise, lay out the lawsuit before the mountains;
let the hills hear your voice!
2 Hear, mountains, the lawsuit of the Lord!
Hear, eternal foundations of the earth!
The Lord has a lawsuit against his people;
with Israel he will argue.
3 “My people, what did I ever do to you?
How have I wearied you? Answer me!
4 I brought you up out of the land of Egypt;
I redeemed you from the house of slavery.
I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam before you…”

6 With what should I approach the Lord
and bow down before God on high?
Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings,
with year-old calves?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with many torrents of oil?
Should I give my oldest child for my crime;
the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit?

8 He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you:
to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.

7:8 Do not rejoice over me, my enemy,
because when I fall, I will rise;
if I sit in darkness, the Lord is my light.
9 I must bear the raging of the Lord,
for I have sinned against him,
until he decides my case and provides justice for me.
He will bring me out into the light;
I will see by means of his righteousness.
10 Then my enemy will see;
shame will cover her who said to me:
“Where is the Lord your God?”
My eyes will see her ruin…

15 As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt,
I will show Israel wonderful things.

18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity,
overlooking the sin of the few remaining for his inheritance?
He doesn’t hold on to his anger forever;
he delights in faithful love.
19 He will once again have compassion on us;
he will tread down our iniquities.
You will hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea.
20 You will provide faithfulness to Jacob, faithful love to Abraham,
as you swore to our ancestors a long time ago.

O (Observation): Hear, ye! Hear, ye! All rise for the Honorable Judge God, hearing the case of God vs. Israel. (Yes, God is Judge and Plaintiff.). The jury box is full of the mountains and the “foundations of the earth.” (Will they be impartial? I don’t know : )

So here is Micah standing before God, representing Israel, for past crimes. What is Micah to do? God’s people have been caught in the act of relying on their own strength and foreign powers…all to try to save their own skin.

Well, Micah knows the people have been caught red-handed…so what is his first move? Plea bargain!!!!

What would please the Lord? Let’s plea this thing down from a capital offense to a misdemeanor, shall we? How about entirely burned offerings, with year-old calves? How about thousands of rams, with many torrents of oil? Should I give my oldest child for my crime; the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit?

Wow! No innocence shown here. Guilty as charged. God’s people have relied on grace in an unhealthy way. They have taken for granted the grace God has bestowed upon God’s people.

And yet…God’s justice includes restoring God’s people. God doesn’t hold onto anger forever. God’s faithfulness to Abraham and Jacob will carry forward to the present and the future.

A (Application): How often do we stand accused before God and neighbor? How often have we suffered or caused others to suffer? Are we guilty? Yep. What does repentance look like? What does it feel like?

What shall we do in the face of our guilt? Please don’t run away from it. Take the stand. Plead your case before God, who judges with love and mercy. We don’t deserve to stand before God, but having been joined to Jesus in our baptism, having become one with Him and God and the Spirit, we have access to this unending grace. God will remember God’s promise. And we will be remembered by God.

Hope abounds as we wait for the Lord.

P (Prayer): Lord, we are guilty, and we are made whole in you. Amen.