God Helps Those Who…

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S (Scripture): Psalm 109

28 Let them curse—but you, bless me!
If they rise up, let them be disgraced,
but let your servant celebrate!

29 Let my accusers be dressed in shame;
let them wear their disgrace like a coat.

30 But I will give great thanks to the Lord with my mouth;
among a great crowd I will praise God!

31 Because God stands right next to the needy,
to save them from any who would condemn them.

O (Observation): The psalmist knows the deep, deep needs of the helpless.  When others persecute the author, the author seeks God to sustain him or her.  This is the source of thepsalmist’s  hope: God stands right next to the needy. 

A (Application):  Re-read the title of this post.   How did finish this sentence:  “God Helps Those Who…”?  Did you automatically fill in “…those who help themselves”?   I did.  And yet…this psalm seems to point in another direction:   “God Helps Those Who are…needy / helpless.”

Doesn’t seem fair, does it?   God should reward those in control of their lives.  (Who is ever in control, really?  No one!)

Yet in the Scriptures (and many of us attest from personal experience) we see God helping those in need, too.   Standing next to those in need…protecting them…bringing resources around them…caring for them.  

I thank God today for standing next to the needy.  And in some way in all of our lives, we have a need:  forgiveness, humility, financial need, need of friendships, awareness of injustices around us, and more.   

May God stand with all experiencing devastation from natural disasters.  Today, we seek God’s guidance on how to react to the devastation in Peurto Rico.   A quote from a Vox article:

“The devastation in Puerto Rico has set us back nearly 20 to 30 years,” Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez told CBS News. “I can’t deny that the Puerto Rico of now is different from that of a week ago. The destruction of properties, of flattened structures, of families without homes, of debris everywhere. The island’s greenery is gone.”

Looking back, can you remember a time when a need arose in your life, and you realized God was standing with you?   I have numerous times through seminary and my family life and in my ministry.  Sometimes we can only see God’s presence looking backward in our lives.  Savor those memories.  This is a building block of our faith.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to know that you stand with us and others in our need.  Amen.  

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Where Do We Go From Here?


S (Scripture): Jeremiah 51:5 God, the Lord of heavenly forces, hasn’t abandoned Israel and Judah, even though they live in a land filled with guilt before the holy one of Israel.

O (Observation):  God’s people were oriented towards God after being rescued from Egypt.  Over time, they wandered away from God’s guidance.   They began to make their own paths without asking God about “where to next?”

As a result, God allowed them to wander and – eventually – be destroyed by the Babylonians.   The Babylonians came in, but God did not forget the people of Judah and Israel.  

One day, God’s people would be set free and come back into their homeland.  What comes first is not the people’s pleas, but God’s mercy – thus he verse above.   

God made a covenant that God will never forget…so God extends grace, and the people will eventually see this and respond with a new orientation: Hope in the midst of challenge. 

A (Application):  We are a people very much divided.  In an attempt to bridge some of the divide, our Theology on Tap group from Advent Lutheran Church gathered last night under the topic: “Race Relations in 2017 – Where do we go from here?”

25 of us gathered (21 white and 4 black) to discuss the issue of racism, of identity through skin color, and white supremacy.   Are there problems?  Yes!  Are we hopeless?  No!

We have seen progress, but like the crowd of God’s people that Jeremiah was addressing, we are a place steeped in sin, and the only way forward, is through the grace of God. 

I am hopeful.   We will start a mini-series of talks and conversations on race relations, and we will ask God to lead us.  Please say a prayer for us as we do the work of the Gospel, here in Murfreesboro, TN.   

P (Prayer):  Lord, guide us into the way of peace and unity, amidst our diversity.  Amen. 

The Priestly Role

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 4:14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

O (Observation):  The priests of the church were typically separated from the people in early times, so that they could properly observe liturgical rites (I.e. Worship).   The priest would be the “go-between” between the people and God.  

Of course, God has always been close to the people (never just far away).   Yet the priest helped God’s people see the connection between God and the people.  

With Jesus as the Great High Priest now, God’s people know a bit more fully that they can “approach the throne of grace with boldness” to receive mercy and grace.

A (Application):  The unfortunate outcome of having priests is the notion that one cannot speak directly to God, or that somehow the priest needs to be the elevated one who speaks to God on behalf of the people.  

For a time, this was something the Church took advantage of for selfish gain.  Think of it as “job security.”   

However, the Church has made it more clear over time that God is close to all, and has always been.  We have always had access to God through prayer and meditation.   And yet, most people say, “Oh, I’m not good at praying” or “I’m not good at meditations” or “I don’t have time to pray.”   Well, with that mindset, no, it will never work out for you.  

But let me ask you this:  Have you ever wanted something that someone else had (in terms of a peace or a spirituality that you admired, and wanted to make it your own)?   If so, have you approached that person?   If they didn’t respond, did you ask again?   

This is very important stuff.   Find someone who you think is someone God has put into your life to show you how to pray or meditate or give extranagavtly or build healthy friendships or serve selflessly.  Whatever the practice is that you are feeling God calling you to…go find someone who does that well.  

Then, once you’ve followed someone long enough, continue to adapt to your own style of prayer, service, meditation, giving, etc.  

The priest’s function – in my opinion – is to teach others how to pray, how to sense God’s closeness, how to pass on the gifts of grace in baptism and Commmnion, so that others can learn to do the same.   

So, what’s stopping you from taking the next step? From having that next conversation?  From seeing how close God and God’s mercy really are?

P (Prayer): Lord, you are close.  Show us.  Teach us how to connect.  Continue to send brace and patient leaders for your Church.  Amen.  

Everyone’s a Prophet

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 38:1b Jeremiah had been telling the people: 2 The Lord proclaims: Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine, and disease. But whoever surrenders to the Babylonians will live; yes, their lives will be spared. 3 The Lord proclaims: This city will certainly be handed over to the army of Babylon’s king, who will capture it.

4 Then the officials said to the king: “This man must be put to death! By saying such things, he is discouraging the few remaining troops left in the city, as well as all the people. This man doesn’t seek their welfare but their ruin!”

5 “He’s in your hands,” King Zedekiah said, “for the king can do nothing to stop you.” 6 So they seized Jeremiah, threw him into the cistern of the royal prince Malchiah, within the prison quarters, and lowered him down by ropes. Now there wasn’t any water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah began to sink into the mud.

O (Observation):  The message God continuously shared through Jeremiah, was that the Hebrew people would need to go with the Babylonians, if they wanted to live.  Not only would they live, but God’s promise is to bring God’s people back to their homeland one day.   

If they stay, they die. These are their choices: life or death.  

Jeremiah was called to stay and continue to prophecy to God’s people, so he was sort of exempt from the proclamation (he is after all, God’s mouthpiece to the people).   Several of God’s people chose life; they chose to give to Babylon. 

Yet the king and many of the king’s advisors and false prophets declared that God’s people would withstand another attack from the Babylonians.  They would be wrong.  And they were so adamant about their prophecies (Israel victorious in battle) that they had Jeremiah thrown into the cistern full of mud, just to shut him up.  

We see how things turn out.  God’s people defeated, and yet, God’s promises coming true:  God redeems the people of God.  God brings them back, but not before the prophetic witness of Jeremiah is heard and ignored.  

A (Application):  How many prophets exist today?  True prophets.    Does someone have to be famous to be a prophet?   Rich?  Poor?   Wear clothing of camel hair?

I think many of God’s people today have a gift of prophecy, in the sense that they receive feelings / visions / thoughts of what God is saying to them as individuals or about us as a community.  

How de we know which prophetic message to follow?   This takes discernment amongst the Christian community.   Once one receives a message, one would be most wise to share it with a trusted group such that the community (however large or small) may discern the vision together.   Then, move forward with sharing the vision with the people at large.  In this way, the community can discern the truth of the vision and move forward.  

We all can act like prophets behind our keyboards these days (even myself).   And we can make bold, prophetic statements.  My suggestion:  gather trusted folks together (or share with several individually) before we share the vision.   And then move forward humbly, and with a strong will.  Let God be your confidence. 

P (Prayer): Lord, give us the gift of discernment. Amen. 

Confession From a White Man & a (mostly) White Church


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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 13

17 If you are too proud to listen, I will go off alone and cry my eyes out.  I will weep uncontrollably because the Lord’s flock will be dragged off into exile.
18 Tell the king and the queen mother:Come down from your lofty place, because your glorious crowns will soon be removed from your heads.

19 The towns of the arid southern plain will be surrounded; no one will get in or out; all Judah will be taken into exile; everyone will be led away.

O (Observation):  Jeremiah mourns that God’s people are too proud, and as a result, they will be cast out.   God will not let go of them forever, but Jeremiah’s lament is that the people are so stubborn and arrogant that they are willing to be cast out into exile, rather than repent.

Perhaps Jeremiah’s tears come because he sees the disparity between the action of the people and God’s desires for God’s people.   And the people won’t listen.  So God will pull the old, “Ok.  You do life your way.   Let’s see how that works out for you.”

A (Application): Statues.   Confederate statues.  This is the talk of the town.   I’ll be listening in.   To those who want it removed.  To those who don’t.  (By the way, I’m okay with taking ours down in Murfreesboro…but I am one voice amongst many.)

I read something that woke me up, regarding the latest rise in awareness of racism.   One suggestion from a black writer to white folks wishing to be allies in the work of dismantling racism is not to act surprised.   The suggestion was this:   Don’t be surprised by acts of racism; it’s always been here.  The author wants folks to be aware of racism…the point is that the level of shock shows a lack of awareness on our (white people’s) part.   

Click here for the entire article from Sojourners. Here is the section that got me:

4. Please try not to, “I can’t believe that something like this would happen in this day and age!” your way into being an ally when atrocities like the events in Charleston, S.C., and Charlottesville, Va., happen. People of color have been aware of this kind of hatred and violence in America for centuries, and it belittles our experience for you to show up 300 years late to the oppression-party suddenly caring about the world. Don’t get me wrong, I welcome you. I want for you to come into a place of awareness. However, your shock and outrage at the existence of racism in America echoes the fact that you have lived an entire life with the luxury of indifference about the lives of marginalized/disenfranchised folks. Please take several seats.

I have had many moments of awareness, but let’s just say that I feel a bit more convicted now than I ever have.   

I invite you to discern your place in the system and to see how you might be both a part of the problem and solution.  I invite you (my white friends) to repent of your part in systemic racism.  Don’t look to others or their actions.  Look at yourself, repent, and then seek God’s direction in your life.  See how you can be a part of God’s glorious plan to bring about reparations and reconciliation in your town.   

Build relationships across racial lines.  In a workshop on racism, I explained to an African American friend that – even in a genuine show of neighborly love – that I might feel like I was trying to build a relationship artificially.  She assured me that if I was genuine, and she heard that I wanted to get to know her and befriend her, that that would not be as artificial as I am making it out to be.  She said, “I’d be happy to get to know you.”

So, you see…sometimes it just takes stepping out of the circle.  Just a step or two at a time.  

Step out.  Today.  

P (Prayer):  #SpiritLeadMe.  Amen.  

Paul Wrote a Letter to Me, Today (and Maybe to You, too!)

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S (Scripture): 2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we always must thank God for you, brothers and sisters who are loved by God. This is because he chose you from the beginning to be the first crop of the harvest. This brought salvation, through your dedication to God by the Spirit and through your belief in the truth. 14 God called all of you through our good news so you could possess the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions we taught you, whether we taught you in person or through our letter. 16 Our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and a good hope. 17 May he encourage your hearts and give you strength in every good thing you do or say.

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 gives encouragement to the church in Thessalonica, to keep on fighting the good fight of faith.  

A (Application):  I guess you can say that I feel as if Paul wrote this letter to me, today.   

Maybe you feel like this, as well?

#SpiritLeadMe

#NoSilenceNoViolence

P (Prayer): Spirit, lead me.  

Meditation: Trust in the Lord


S (Scripture): Psalm 94

16 Who will stand up for me against the wicked?
Who will help me against evildoers?
17 If the Lord hadn’t helped me,
I would live instantly in total silence.
18 Whenever I feel my foot slipping,
your faithful love steadies me, Lord.
19 When my anxieties multiply,
your comforting calms me down.

O (Observation):  A steady and reliable God is mentioned in today’s psalm, a sure and true presence in times of calm and in times of trouble.  

God’s faithful love steadies the psalmist, and all of God’s people, and comforts them in times of trouble. 

A (Application): Today’s application is more of an exercise than a written devotion.   

Take a deep breat in.  Hold for 3 seconds.  Breathe out for 3 seconds.  

Repeat this several times until you’ve reached a peaceful state.   

Read the psalm text above.   Let your mind focus on a phrase or even just a word.   Repeat this phrase or word slowly, several times, in your mind.  

What is God speaking to you through this phrase/word today?   Is God addressing a difficulty in your life?  Or a joy in your life?

Give thanks to God for being present with you.  Seek God’s guidance and lift up any concerns you might have for yourself and others.  

When you are done meditating on this phrase/word, and you are done giving thanks and lifting concerns, repeat the breathing exercise above.  

Be still for 5 minutes.   Concentrate on your breathing.  Slow.   Steady.  

Now, with God’s peace, set forth into the glory known as “this day”! 

P (Prayer): Lord, we are thankful for your presence.   Give us strength and courage to trust in you.  Amen.