One Nation, Underwood

S (Scripture): Proverbs 29

25 The fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.
26 Many seek the favor of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.
27 The unjust are an abomination to the righteous, but the upright are an abomination to the wicked.

O (Observation): Peace and security comes from the Lord, not from any earthly ruler or authority.   Trusting in God brings one justice and hope.  

And who is an abomination?   Depends on the viewpoint.   The unjust acquire wealth and status in ways that make the righteous jealous – though it shouldn’t.  The upright are an abomination to the wicked, because the upright are genuine and receive eternal favor without working lies or deceit.  

A (Application): The freakiest line from the latest House of Cards series is the title of this blog post.  President Francis Underwood pontificates on the future…and he says, “One nation.  Underwood.”  How creepy.  

How often does the “bad guy” win?   How do we allow this?   We do allow it, by the way, either because we stick our heads in the sand or because we are complicit with the system.  

…until we lift our heads…until we are no longer complicit…

We reach a true freedom when we begin to believe in and trust the Lord.   We can walk upright (repenting as we go) fearing no ruler.  We will do no battle.   Instead, our upright nature will drive the wicked ones crazy.   

Our trust will be in the Lord, and as we trust the Lord, we will see that our spirit is not captured.   Our will is set free in order that we live upright lives in the midst of an unjust world.  

Francis Underwood rules through wicked means.   Will you?  Or will you let genuine love for your neighbor guide your ways and your will?

P (Prayer):  Lord, lift up our heads to you!  Amen.  

Vocation: Your Calling Here and Now

vocation1S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 7:21 Were you called as a slave? Do not worry about it. But if indeed you are able to be free, make the most of the opportunity. 22 For the one who was called in the Lord as a slave is the Lord’s freedman. In the same way, the one who was called as a free person is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought with a price. Do not become slaves of men. 24 In whatever situation someone was called, brothers and sisters, let him remain in it with God.

O (Observation): Paul sometimes jumps around when writing these letters to the churches.   He was just talking about appropriateness of marrying or staying single (or widowed).   Now he addresses this section on the circumstances in which one is called.   Then, after this section, back to marriage.

One thing we might surmise is that because this section is sandwiched in between two discussions on marriage, perhaps Paul was highlighting this point:  The circumstances in which you find yourself being called to the Lord do not define your call…rather, the call itself transforms your view of your circumstances.

Paul recognizes that slavery in his time was not ideal, but that one could be a slave and yet be “free” in the Lord.  Their earthly bodies may be restrained, but they can be set free in their hears and minds…unafraid and unashamed of their worldly status.  In the same way, though, neither is a free person to see themselves as any higher than their enslaved neighbor.   Paul reminds Christ’s followers that they are all equal in the Kingdom.

Both of these points (enslaved are free in Christ; free are slaves to Christ) lead to Paul’s main point:  Do not be slaves to human powers!  Metaphorically or literally, one’s spirit is NOT to succumb to the world’s standards or leaders.

A (Application):  How are you using your position for God’s sake?  (I mean that in a nice way…not in a yelling tone : )

Where you are…stay-at-home parent, executive, police officer, grandparent, child, teacher, cook…how do you see God working through you in your current position?

Part of Paul’s point is that in whatever position you find yourself, don’t feel like your circumstances have to change in order for God to work through you.  Right where you are…God calls you.  That doesn’t mean that your earthly position won’t change…just that God calls you right where you are and can and will work through you TODAY!

Martin Luther thought vocation was extremely important.  Vocation is our calling in the world, our calling lived out in service of the neighbor.   We do what we do not for our own sake, but to serve God by serving others.  Whether that is parenting, making shoes, sweeping, teaching, being a pastor, or whatever it is one does…one does it rightly for the glory of God and in service to the neighbor.

Where are you?  How is God calling you and working through you?

P (Prayer):  Lord, make me a vessel for your grace…lived out here on earth.   Amen.

Undercover Boss – Faith Edition

  S (Scripture): Exodus 14:10 When Pharaoh got closer, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians marching after them, and they were terrified. The Israelites cried out to the Lord, 11 and they said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the desert? What in the world have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Isn’t this what we told you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone so that we can serve the Egyptians, because it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’”

13 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord that he will provide for you today; for the Egyptians that you see today you will never, ever see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you can be still.”

15 The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 And as for you, lift up your staff and extend your hand toward the sea and divide it, so that the Israelites may go through the middle of the sea on dry ground. 17 And as for me, I am going to harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will come after them, that I may be honored because of Pharaoh and his army and his chariots and his horsemen. 18 And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I have gained my honor because of Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”

O (Observation):  God’s people…complaining.  Imagine that.  

Well, they had good reason to trust the Lord, and maybe good reason to doubt.   As they left Egypt (and their slavery) behind, they thought they were finally done (once and for all) with those Egyptians.    Imagine their surprise when they looked out and saw the Pharaoh’s army coming towards them…and in chariots!  A frightening scene, indeed. 

And even though the Israelites had good reason to doubt, they had more reason to believe in God.  God just got through giving the 10 signs (plagues) to compel the Pharaoh to let God’s people go!  

But God will provide yet another sign – the parting of the Red Sea.  

A (Application):  We have so much to see in this world.  What we are mostly drawn to is negative.   That makes for better headlines and drives revenue.   Not only that, but we like to sit around and complain about things over which we have no control, and gossip.   And as our lives are filled with these nonsensical conversations, we forget about the goodness of God.  

When times are tough, we forget what God is up to.   We forget that God gives us what we need, and some to share.   We forget that God is constantly forgiving us, making us new…releasing us from our spiritual bonds to sin…  

This renewal happens most clearly for us in our baptism.   We are corrected and loved our whole life long.   Kind of like in the show Undercover Boss : )

In Undercover Boss, the CEO of a corporation visits employees while in a disguise.  The boss sees what is going on at various levels throughout the organization.   Sometimes the employees are really good…and sometimes not so good.   But in both cases, whether the employees are praised or corrected, grace and mercy are shown to the employees.  When they need correction, the truth comes out…and the boss typically wants to help the employee, personally.  When the employee simply needs a pat on the back, it usually comes in he form of a cash bonus.  

We can hang on to the negative, or we can accentuate the positive – like in the Undercover Boss.  We don’t have to gloss over the bad stuff, we can let God redeem the bad stuff through our brothers and sisters in Christ challenging us to see the good.  And let God create the new Adam and Eve in us as part of our being made new, daily.  

What is it that God needs to redeem in you?  What parts of your life would God look at and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”

P (Prayer):  Lord, encourage me in my strengths and make me whole in my areas of growth.  Amen. 

Why Our Holy Communion Bread is Not Leavened

  

S (Scripture): Exodus 12:11 This is how you are to eat [the lamb] – dressed to travel, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. You are to eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.

12 I will pass through the land of Egypt in the same night, and I will attack all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both of humans and of animals, and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment.  I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, so that when I see the blood I will pass over you, and this plague will not fall on you to destroy you when I attack the land of Egypt.

14 This day will become a memorial for you, and you will celebrate it as a festival to the Lord – you will celebrate it perpetually as a lasting ordinance. 15 For seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. Surely on the first day you must put away yeast from your houses because anyone who eats bread made with yeast from the first day to the seventh day will be cut off from Israel.

O (Observation):  God’s people have witnessed God’s plagues to this point and were protected the whole time.  Egypt, however, has not fared so well.   The Pharaoh would not let God’s people go. As a result, the Egyptians experienced nine plagues.  Now, God is preparing the Israelites to leave Egypt.  The tenth plague is on its way.  

God’s command for the people is to eat only unleavened bread – bread without yeast.   The reasons for it being unleavened are somewhat uncertain, except for the fact that God commanded it.  

And God not only commanded the lamb to be sacrificed and its blood to be put on the door posts, but also that unleavened bread is to be prepared and eaten as part of a perpetual commemoration of what God has done in setting the Israelites free.   

The tradition continues to this day by Jews and, in a sense, Christians.  

A (Application):  When I think of unleavened bread, I think of Holy Communion.   The congregation in which I serve has a recipe for bread that includes no yeast.   We are not beholden to this, and have used leavened bread before, but I am reminded of the original Passover every time I lift the unleavened bread above the altar in celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection.    

The meal that Christ had with his disciples when he instituted Holy Communion was a Passover celebration itself.    As good Jews, they were remembering God setting God’s people free from being enslaved by Egypt.  And in that meal, Jesus is connected as the new Passover Lamb, to set us free from the bondage of our sins.   

Christians are not required to observe the Jewish festivals, but when we do see a connection, we are reminded of God’s ongoing work throughout history.  God’s saving grace, setting us free. 

What are some ways that you are reminded of God’s work throughout time?  Creation itself can be a reminder…  Holy Communion can be a reminder… Baptism… Song…

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep on reminding us of what you are doing, have done, and promise to do.  Amen.  

Hearts of Flesh

  

S (Scripture): Ezekiel 36:24 “‘I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries; then I will bring you to your land. 25 I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave to your fathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and multiply it; I will not bring a famine on you. 30 I will multiply the fruit of the trees and the produce of the fields, so that you will never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31 Then you will remember your evil behavior and your deeds which were not good; you will loathe yourselves on account of your sins and your abominable deeds. 32 Understand that it is not for your sake I am about to act, declares the sovereign Lord. Be ashamed and embarrassed by your behavior, O house of Israel…

36 Then the nations which remain around you will know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruins and replanted what was desolate. I, the Lord, have spoken – and I will do it!’”

O (Observation): God witnessed His people wandering from their faith.   They seemed to have forgotten all that God commanded.  And yet, for God’s own sake, God redeems His people.   

The shift God makes allows for the Spirit to enter the hearts of each believer.   Not only this, but God wants to take their hearts of stone (callous, unresponsive) and replace them with hearts of flesh (not a bad thing here, most likely referring to hearts that will absorb God’s direction and respond appropriately).   

Overall, God is acting NOT because the people deserve it, but because God wants to restore God’s own reputation amongst the nations. God will not give up on Israel, because God, full of benvolence, will stick to the covenant He made with God’s people.  

God will do whatever it takes to bring God’s people back.  Maybe even dying in a cross to cover even our deepest sins and to overcome our separation from God. 

A (Application):  The discipline of reading through the Old Testament via the Daily Moravian Texts has proven a worthy endeavor for me.   Even having gone through seminary, and studying through Old Testament theology, I still find God freshly amazing and surprising. 

I hear people talk about how we are a post-Christian society now…about how prayer is not allowed in schools, about how our neighbors don’t really care if people go to church or not…about the wars in the world…and all of this pointing to “the end times.”

I can’t help but read stories like Ezekiel’s and be filled with a renewed sense of hope…not because our situation is like that of God’s people in Ezekiel’s time.   Rather, I’m hopeful because I see the lengths to which God will go to redeem us from our own selfishness and sinfulness.  

Hell does not worry me…suffering I can endure…because our God is bigger than all of that, and will never let me go.  I am free of the worries of salvation.  Now, with that freedom, I can give and serve like no one else…for God’s glory.  (Yes, I know…I’ll goof it up along the way…but of that, too, I have already been set free.)

P (Prayer): Lord, give me the courage to endure.  Remind me of your actions with our ancestors in the faith.  Amen. 

Jesus, Our High Priest

  S (Scripture): Hebrews 6:17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast, which reaches inside behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf, since he became a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.

O (Observation): In the Temple, a curtain separated the holy of holies space from the rest of the worship space.  God was thought to be most fully present in this holy of holies space – the sanctuary.   Priests were the only ones allowed to enter the sanctuary space.  The priests carried prayers to God, seeking forgiveness for those the priest represented. 

The author of Hebrews now considers Jesus Christ the priest above all other priests.  He has access behind the curtain covering our hearts, the curtain that protects the holy of holies from the rest of the world. 

Why was this done?  Why was Jesus made the high priest forever?  

Hebrews 6:18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us

A (Application): So many nasty, negative things happen to us, in us, and around us.  Racism is rearing its ugly head, joined by its cousin Bigotry.   Political debates divide us – Red vs Blue.  Tony Romo has a broken clavicle.  (Sorry, I’m a Cowboys fan.   Just ignore that last statement : )

Kidding aside, we see terrible things going on.  What in the world is happening in Syria?  What’s Russia up to?  

Holy cow!  The world is full of some crazy stuff. 

So what keeps us straight?  What keeps pulling us forward?  What keeps enticing us to use our gifts and callings?

The answer is not a “what?”, but a “who?”  And that person is Jesus Christ.   My sins and the sins of all people are able to be taken by our priest, Jesus Christ, who can take those sins to God to bring us forgiveness. 

And that brings me hope.  And if I have hope for me, I have hope for the rest of the body of Christ. And thus, I am free to serve my neighbor and bring hope to my neighbor. If I don’t have hope, how can I bring that hope to my neighbor?   I can’t give what I don’t have!

So being forgiven, and being a part of the body of Christ, we have hope and can bring hope to others.  But we have to be with the “other” to bring that hope to the other. 

Who is your neighbor?  How are you able to walk with your neighbor?

P (Prayer): Lord, we give thanks that you forgive us and set us free to help our neighbors.  Amen. 

Law and Gospel and Non-Believers

  S (Scripture): 1 Timothy 1:8 But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately, 9 realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners,…

O (Observation):  The Law handed on to Moses, and subsequently observed by God’s people throughout the ages, is called upon here in a peculiar way.   The Law is for those who are outside of righteousness.  

That’s a difficult concept to grasp.  Aren’t we all sinners?  Yes.  But maybe Paul reminds us that the Law is a set of boundary markers that helps us to understand where to draw a line regarding our actions in the world.  

And another complication is this: if we are part of the community of faith, don’t we still have some accountability to the law?  Yes, we do.  

Perhaps Paul is stating that the Christians that Timothy hangs with can point to the law in order to help those outside of the faith – to give them a plumb line, to borrow an OT image.  And in doing so, God’s people will see that they are set free from the worries of the law (they have salvation already), in order to serve God and their neighbor (and worry about their own salvation less and less and more about the salvation of non-believers).

A (Application): I get so uptight bringing up my faith when talking to non-Christians.  I don’t want to judge, but I know some things we do in this are wrong – they don’t give God glory.  My comfort zone is to share about my story and why I do what I do.  I don’t throw that on others, just myself. 

We have to be careful here.  I think it’s almost too bold for Paul to call others “ungodly and sinners”.  That’s not because I just want everyone to feel nice.  I just don’t think it’s my place to call them out.   

I do use the phrase “non-believers” as a way to talk about people who do not subscribe to the Christian faith.  But my stance is that I’m still called to witness to them through my words and actions.  

And perhaps that’s my takeaway this morning.  God is calling me to live the life of a disciple, and as God calls people to me, I can work with them in ways of discipleship.  I can help people transition from only knowing the law, to becoming a gospel-oriented person.   The transition from law to law & gospel is indeed freeing…but at the same time, keeps us in check.  

P (Prayer): Lord, see us through a transition from law to law & gospel. Help us to know that you call us to be responsible and yet free in this world.  Helps us to see the clarity of being a servant of all and yet free. Amen.