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.


What Qualifies as “Bearing Fruit”?

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S (Scripture): Matthew 21:33 Jesus said to the chief priests and elders: “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a tower. Then he rented it to tenant farmers and took a trip. 34 When it was time for harvest, he sent his servants to the tenant farmers to collect his fruit. 35 But the tenant farmers grabbed his servants. They beat some of them, and some of them they killed. Some of them they stoned to death.

36 “Again he sent other servants, more than the first group. They treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come on, let’s kill him and we’ll have his inheritance.’ 39 They grabbed him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

40 “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenant farmers?”

41 They said, “He will totally destroy those wicked farmers and rent the vineyard to other tenant farmers who will give him the fruit when it’s ready.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the scriptures, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes? 43 Therefore, I tell you that God’s kingdom will be taken away from you and will be given to a people who produce its fruit. 44 Whoever falls on this stone will be crushed. And the stone will crush the person it falls on.”

O (Observation): Bearing fruit. This is the call of all who follow God. Clamoring for more, for ownership, for “rights” is pure evil. Those pursuits will not be tolerated.

A (Application): What are you doing to bear fruit for God’s Kingdom? Is prayer and financial support your main avenue for participation? Great! Is lugging kids to and from youth events your call? Great! Is showing up to lead worship or move around tables and chairs? Fantastic!

Whatever your calling is in Christ, follow that, and you will be bearing fruit for the Kingdom!

P (Prayer): Lord, thank you for equipping us to do your will. Amen.

May the Fruit We Bear be Christ

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S (Scripture): Titus 1:10 In fact, there are many who are rebellious people, loudmouths, and deceivers, especially some of those who are Jewish believers. 11 They must be silenced because they upset entire households. They teach what they shouldn’t to make money dishonestly…16 They claim to know God, but they deny God by the things that they do. They are detestable, disobedient, and disqualified to do anything good.

O (Observation):  “They” refers to a group of people from Crete who are using the label of “God’s people” for selfish reasons and financial gain.   Their actions speak louder than their words.  They claim to be God’s people, but the fruit they bear is not of God.  

A (Application):  How often do our words match the fruit we bear?  I hope they both fall in line in with one another…our words and our actions/fruit, that is.     

Our words must be clear about who we are and what we stand for…and yet, our actions must also follow.  

May the fruit we bear be Christ.

(Here’s a link to Lost and Found’s “Fruit“.)

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep us steadfast in our public witness.  Pick us up when we fall.  Amen.  

How’s That Working Out For You?

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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.

28 Where are the gods you have made for yourselves?
Let’s see if they will come through for you in your time of trouble.
You have as many gods, Judah, as you have towns.

3:6 During the rule of King Josiah, the Lord said to me: Have you noticed what unfaithful Israel has done? She’s gone about looking for lovers on top of every high hill and under every lush tree. 7 I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me, but she didn’t. Her disloyal sister Judah saw this. 8 She also saw that I sent unfaithful Israel away with divorce papers because of all her acts of unfaithfulness; yet disloyal sister Judah was not afraid but kept on playing the prostitute.

O (Observation): God sent prophets to the people of Judah and Israel, because they needed to hear from God regarding their actions and how they pleased or displeased God.   

In this case, Jeremiah – God’s prophet – warns God’s people that they are acting like a prostitute, giving themselves over to other gods, and dismissing the one, true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.    

God’s people invented other gods on every hill and under every tree, seeking their own will, dismissing God’s will.  

A (Application):  Dr. Phil – a day time talk show host – likes to hear people’s stories and offers suggestions for how to improve their lives.    When people explain their situation and how they are so sure of their course of action, Dr. Phil likes to ask: “So how’s that working out for you?”  Usually, the answer is that things are not going so well.  

Asking that question gives one pause – or at least it should give you pause.    Take stock of how things are so far.   Is this path working for you?   For others?  Who’s the author of this path?  You?  God / the Spirit?  

Is your path helping you to bear fruit for God’s Kingdom?  Are you growing in faith in God?  Are you welcoming others to join the path with you?  If you are not bearing fruit, perhaps you can take stock, listen for God, and see a clearer path forward.   

When you sense the Holy Spirit asking you, “How’s that working out for you?” maybe it’s time to step back into prayer and see what God has in store : )

P (Prayer):  God, remind us that you are our Savior, and will give us everything we need.   Amen.   

A Thankful Attitude 

S (Scripture): Luke 19:9 Then [Jesus] began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, leased it to tenant farmers, and went on a journey for a long time. 10 When harvest time came, he sent a slave to the tenants so that they would give him his portion of the crop. However, the tenants beat his slave and sent him away empty-handed. 11 So he sent another slave. They beat this one too, treated him outrageously, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 So he sent still a third. They even wounded this one, and threw him out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What should I do? I will send my one dear son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir; let’s kill him so the inheritance will be ours!’ 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When the people heard this, they said, “May this never happen!” 17 But Jesus looked straight at them and said, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18 Everyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and the one on whom it falls will be crushed.” 19 Then the experts in the law and the chief priests wanted to arrest him that very hour, because they realized he had told this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.

O (Observation):  Jesus is giving a judgment against Israel in this Parable of the Tenants, while also leaving grace for those normally seen outside of salvation.  

Jesus makes the tenants out to be Israel, and their actions show that they have been unfaithful to the Lord. How so?  They bear no fruit!  They send the servant of the landowner away empty-handed!  

Jesus being sent to Israel is like the son of the landowner being sent to collect the fruit from the harvest from the tenants tending the land.   But we see what happens here: the son is killed!  

Now comes judgment, but also hope!  Judgment comes to Israel for their failure to recognize and honor God’s son.   Hope comes, also, to the Gentiles.  

Luke 19: 15b What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.

The listeners all stood convicted and hoped the judgment would not befall them.  But the religious leaders present were less convicted and more angered…

Luke 19:19  the chief priests wanted to arrest him that very hour, because they realized he had told this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.

A (Application):  I often wonder if I am missing the point of what God is up to in my life.  I wonder if I’ve made the right call, moved the right direction, etc.  How can I even tell?

Today’s parable has a way helping me to gauge if I am being faithful.   The question is: Am I bearing fruit?   Am I helping someone else?  Am I engaging in the vocation God has called me into?  Am I taking care of what God has given to me?

Now, I will not ALWAYS bear fruit in the sense of accomplishing a task or helping to bring about a tangible result of working on something.   We all need time to ABIDE / rest.   But, in terms of sharing in the faith, we can ask ourselves, “Am I bearing fruit at all?”

My wife and I take the faith we’ve been given, and we pass it on to our children.  We do this with the help of others, which is why being a part of a faith community is so important.  We go on retreat and we also send our children on retreat.  

Humility, though, will remind us of the times when we don’t do this; when we model poor or unfaithful behavior.  Humility will also remind us that we often leave whole groups of people out of our understanding of those who are saved.   In these moments, I’m reminded that God has and does invite others along on the faith journey, too.  

P (Prayer): Lord, thank you for all you’ve given to us and for all the times you stretch my understanding of salvation.  Amen. 

Good Soil…Where Can We Find It?

S (Scripture): Luke 8:4 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from one town after another, he spoke to them in a parable: 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled on, and the wild birds devoured it. 6 Other seed fell on rock, and when it came up, it withered because it had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among the thorns, and they grew up with it and choked it. 8 But other seed fell on good soil and grew, and it produced a hundred times as much grain.” As he said this, he called out, “The one who has ears to hear had better listen!”

11 “Now the parable means this: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in a time of testing fall away. 14 As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the worries and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 But as for the seed that landed on good soil, these are the ones who, after hearing the word, cling to it with an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with steadfast endurance.”

O (Observation): Jesus gives the gift and privilege of explaining a parable to the disciples.  Jesus doesn’t do this often, so this is a special treat.  And of course, Jesus uses an image of seeds and earth and fruit, something with which the people of the time could relate.  

A (Application):  And yet…even as Jesus explains this one, questions still linger for me. 

My first instinct is to put myself with the seeds being dropped in good soil and bearing fruit.   However…I also have times and seasons in which I’m choked by thorns…or when my roots are not deep enough. 

So, while this one is explained, I still need help.  

Perhaps, we are to see ourselves as all of these seeds.   Maybe we all have times when our roots don’t set, when we are choked by thorns, when we actually do bear fruit.  We get too busy, too distracted, to selfish.  But then, by God’s grace, we also find ourselves in good soil, bearing fruit a hundred-fold.  

Where do you relate to this parable today?

P (Prayer):  Lord, may I be found in good soil, clinging to your Truth.  And my our nation be found  to be good soil, from which springs forth people willing to bring peace through love, not force.  

Please be with all victims (especially with the families and friends of the victims of the police shootings in Baton Rougue and St. Anthony, MN, and the family and friends of the police officers shot in Dallas).  May you bring forth, in this nation, wisdom and solidarity amongst our peoples.  


Fruit…or not?

S (Scripture): Mark 11:12  Now the next day, as they went out from Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 After noticing in the distance a fig tree with leaves, he went to see if he could find any fruit on it. When he came to it he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

O (Observation):  Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna!” by His followers.    They have lined the roads with palm branches, giving praises to Jesus.   

Now, as he becomes hungry, he goes to a fig tree to get a snack.  Yet the fig tree has not produced any fruit.  Jesus then curses the fig tree, so that it will never produce again. 

Scholars look at this little section of scripture as follows:

It appears that Mark records the incident as a portent of what is going to happen to the leadership in Jerusalem who were supposed to have borne spiritual fruit but have been found by Messiah at his coming to be barren. The fact that the nation as a whole is indicted is made explicit in chapter 13:1-37 where Jesus speaks of Jerusalem’s destruction and his second coming. (, Note for Mark 11:14.)

A (Application):  Yikes!   What fruit will I bare?  What fruit am I bearing today?   I’ll be honest: my biggest fear is that Jesus will come strolling along and will find my tree devoid of all fruit.   

Now…that is not reality…but that is the fear.   I believe that God does help me to bear fruit, but the devil convinces me that my tree is bare.  And because I fear that there is no fruit, I work harder or fall to despair.  

The word of grace for me today, and perhaps for yourself, is that fruit will come.   My job is not to directly bear fruit – rather, that is the outcome.  My job is to look and listen for the Spirit’s calling and to follow it.  (That’s called “processing a kairos”…)

How are we able to see God’s deeds of power, God’s work in the world?  Through the gift of the promised Holy Spirit, which comes to us at Pentecost. Our congregation, along with the majority of Christians in the world, celebrated the Day of Pentecost yesterday, May 15, 2016.  

How do you see your tree today?  Is your view through the eyes of the Spirit, or of the event? May your tree bear fruit…as I pray mine does.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep our hearts and minds focused on you and bearing fruit for your Kingdom. Amen.