Finding Life within God’s Guidance

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S (Scripture): Psalm 119

169

Let my cry reach you, Lord;

    help me understand according to what you’ve said.

170 

Let my request for grace come before you;

    deliver me according to your promise!

171 

Let my lips overflow with praise

    because you’ve taught me your statutes.

172 

Let my tongue declare your word,

    because all your commandments are righteous.

173 

Let your power help me

    because I have chosen your precepts.

174 

Lord, I long for your saving help!

    Your Instruction is my joy!

175 

Let me live again so I can praise you!

    Let your rules help me!

176 

I’ve wandered off like a sheep, lost.

    Find your servant

        because I haven’t forgotten

        your commandments!

O (Observation): How God’s people crave structure and guidance in order to live freely! The commands from God, while not possible for us to follow in total, are life-giving. God’s ways call for order and boundaries, so that we can ensure life for one another. Not only life, but life abundantly!

The abundance comes NOT from our hands, but from the bounty that God has given us!

A (Application): In the midst of challenges and pandemic and what seems like a never-ending election cycle (and likely TWO US Senator run-off elections in GA), the way forward seems clouded and fogged. We turn to our base desires of survival and “win at all costs” mentality – for an election, for our households, for life.”

We devolve so quickly into hoarding and defense. According to the psalm for today, however, we see a different way forward.

We can embrace the challenge to live within the boundaries God has set up. Living within God’s commandments includes embracing our neighbors (especially those in need) and not looking at politics as always a win-lose situation. Instead, we can see a path forward that all of us can journey on.

May this time of divisiveness become one in which we can all see life. May we see the path forward as broad enough for us all. May we know God’s life-giving instruction that invites us all to journey together.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, may we find this common path together this day. Amen.

This Day Before the 2020 Presidential Election

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S (Scripture): John 11:38 Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb [of Lazarus]. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”

40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” 43 Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

O (Observation): Jesus was greatly disturbed. This can be interpreted in two ways: 1. He was saddened and upset over the death of Lazarus; 2. He was disturbed at the lack of faith from Lazarus’ loved ones.

Most can relate to the death of a loved one. Jesus certainly loved Lazarus and Mary and Martha. So there is that.

However, these folks who are so distraught have perhaps not learned of God’s pervasive presence, even in death. And not only this, but the fact the Jesus himself is with them and has been a witness to God’s eternal gift of presence and love may be disturbing Jesus.

Either way, Jesus is disturbed and stands to correct the lack of faith of those around him by resuscitating Lazarus. And in the end, Lazarus is unbound and set free.

A (Application): In what way does your faith and life need to be set free? Are you someone in whom the system of things around you is holding you back? Are you someone who is doing the binding?

Remember that we are called to live for one another and to know that God’s presence is with us. Especially on this day before the 2020 presidential election.

I’m not gonna say, “regardless of the outcome, we all just need to get along.” We do, for sure. We need to keep the peace…but when do face the racist systems around us? And at what point is the cost too great for black and indigenous peoples?

I am sensitive to people of color and indigenous people and immigrants who are trying to make a better way for themselves in America (or are fleeing violence).

I have heard their cry. Have you? Have you stood by and heard their stories? Are you simply telling them they are not welcome? Are you (white folks like me) taking for granted hundreds of years of legislation and prejudice in favor of people considered “white”?

I pray for a leader of this nation who will bind us together. Who will lead us in a common path for good.

May we seek God’s guidance today, tomorrow, and for always, for the betterment of our society…that we may face the wrongs done to people of color, indigenous peoples, and all who wish to make a better way for themselves in this country.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, give us courage to do the right things. Always. Unbind us and set us free – not for selfish gain, but for the sake of the other. Amen.

Decision-Making

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S (Scripture): John 6:16 When evening came, Jesus’ disciples went down to the lake. 17 They got into a boat and were crossing the lake to Capernaum. It was already getting dark and Jesus hadn’t come to them yet. 18 The water was getting rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When the wind had driven them out for about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the water. He was approaching the boat and they were afraid. 20 He said to them, “I Am. Don’t be afraid.”

O (Observation): What a phrase: “I Am.” Notice how the “am” is capitalized. Some speculation can go into this phrase. The Greek may be saying “It is me / It is I,” where Jesus is simply identifying himself. But now, with the great “I Am” declaration, Jesus clearly is linked to the God of Moses and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Jesus has been turning things upside down for the religion that claimed to have exclusive rights to God’s favor. Jesus is opening that up by showing that his ways are above and beyond our ways. His ways are of God. His ways bring peace.

In the midst of the awe and reverence – and quite possibly, fear – Jesus calls them to not be afraid. He brings comfort

A (Application): How can we be sure what we do has God’s blessings? The major decisions we make – like taking a new job, moving your family across town or region, or figuring out personal finances?

I don’t have a solution. I have some methods that have worked for me and my family, but we are always figuring things out.

My family and I moved across a region of the country for my job and we are figuring life out as we go.

I think that’s all we can do. We discern, we act, knowing that Christ is with us, even when we may not be looking for Christ. We turn and see Jesus, who is saying to us, “I Am. Do not be afraid.”

In your decisions that you make, this day and the next, look for Christ in the midst of your response. Are you acting out of fear and self-preservation? Or out of faith and love?

P (Prayer): Lord Jesus, help us in our decision making, that we might show love, not fear; abundance, not scarcity. Amen.

Our God Calls Us to Live Out the Gospel This Day

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S (Scripture): Psalm 115

Why do the nations say,

    “Where’s their God now?”

Our God is in heaven—

    he can do whatever he wants!

Their idols are just silver and gold—

    things made by human hands.

    They have mouths, but they can’t speak.

    They have eyes, but they can’t see.

    They have ears, but they can’t hear.

    They have noses, but they can’t smell.

O (Observation): The psalms were written over quite some period of time. Regardless of the exact date or context of this psalm, the point of the text is quiet timeless.

Humanity has taken great effort to give shape and form to their god(s). In this case, the psalmist points out that carvings and models of the gods of the religions of the world.

God’s people recognize that these gods are inanimate. These gods cannot perform action.

But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is alive and active in the world!

A (Application): So in what do we put our trust? Quite often it’s the car we drive, the size of our home, or the size of our paycheck. These are inanimate.

Our God calls us to life. Our God inspires us and moves us to action.

Staring at a cross and owning a Bible does not mean much, unless we are called to embody the spirit of the Word and the cross: Grace, Calling, Seeking Justice.

We do not sit idly by, waiting for the cross or Bible to do something. God works through our hands and eyes and mouths and feet.

We carry the Gospel message. We love the Gospel message. We have a living God who calls us to live.

How are you embodying the Gospel this day?

P (Prayer): Gracious God, inspire us to listen, to live, to engage the world this day.

Amen.

Water in a Dry Land

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S (Scripture): Psalm 107

33 God turns rivers into desert,
watery springs into thirsty ground,
34 fruitful land into unproductive dirt,
when its inhabitants are wicked.
35 But God can also turn the desert into watery pools,
thirsty ground into watery springs,
36 where he settles the hungry.
They even build a city and live there!
37 They plant fields and vineyards
and obtain a fruitful harvest.
38 God blesses them, and they become many.

O (Observation): God’s people experience the ups and downs of faith life. At times, God’s people sense that God is bringing them down when they are conceited and haughty; they feel uplifted and enlivened by God when they feel emptied and in despair.

Does God actually, physically change scenarios and situations? Perhaps?

But perhaps more importantly, the perspectives of God’s people changes over time. They see scarcity when scared; they see abundance when leaning on noting but faith.

Perhaps that’s what we all need.

A (Application): I have had my share of being knocked down and lifted up. I’ve been knocked down (emotionally) when I’ve seen myself as better than others. Especially in regards to my work in racial justice.

I’ve been scared, over the years, to admit to myself that I have been too complacent, too proud to admit my faults. My way of dealing with that has been to NOT engage in justice work, at times.

Over the years, I have tried to put myself in situations that seem like deserts, thirsty ground. And when I get into this situations, you know what happens? Water flows…I am nourished…I am sustained.

God is with me when I enter what “seems” like desert places. God is there already. God provides community for me when I enter those spaces. So when I think I’m taking the next step alone I trust that God will bring me new community to surround me and love me.

Really. This happens to me over and over again, and uncannily, God continues to provide people and respite for me over the years. It’s hard to describe…so I take it all on faith.

P (Prayer): God, thank you for keeping me in check, but also releasing me into abundance. Amen.

How Prayer Changes US – a 9/11 Reflection

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S (Scripture): 1 Samuel 1:12 As [Hannah] kept praying before the Lord, Eli watched her mouth. 13 Now Hannah was praying in her heart; her lips were moving, but her voice was silent, so Eli thought she was drunk.

14 “How long will you act like a drunk? Sober up!” Eli told her.

15 “No sir!” Hannah replied. “I’m just a very sad woman. I haven’t had any wine or beer but have been pouring out my heart to the Lord. 16 Don’t think your servant is some good-for-nothing woman. This whole time I’ve been praying out of my great worry and trouble!”

17 Eli responded, “Then go in peace. And may the God of Israel give you what you’ve asked from him.”

18 “Please think well of me, your servant,” Hannah said. Then the woman went on her way, ate some food, and wasn’t sad any longer.

O (Observation): Hannah has to stick up for herself as Eli rudely assumes Hannah is drunk while praying. Instead of starting with asking how Hannah is doing, he flat out assumes the worst.

Thankfully, Hannah – clearly upset over the lack of support from her husband – has the presence of mind to clarify her stance before the Lord. She is upset. And so she is praying to God.

In the end, her prayers don’t change what God will or won’t do. Instead, Hannah is assured that God will be present and listens to her prayers. That makes her calm. That soothes her.

Prayer changes Hannah’s disposition.

A (Application): So here we are, 19 years after the US was attacked by terrorists. Twin Towers, Pentagon, Flight 93. So tragic. Devastating.

This was a “you remembered where you were when this happened” kind of moment. I was working from home, having just graduated a few months earlier. My wife was at work, teaching. I had the news on, and the devastation began. I drove over to my parents house to be with my mom later that morning.

We couldn’t believe our eyes. We know people who worked in the Towers, having been born and raised in northern New Jersey.

How tragic.

And so in our devastation, we prayed. In our own ways, we all prayed. We all sought some solace from God, Jesus, the Spirit, or maybe we were silently contemplating. Some were taking action: clearing dangerous areas, rushing into burning buildings, planning an attack on the hijackers. But most of us were just praying.

Just praying. Mouths moving, but maybe no words. Were we drunk? Surely not. Just praying. In our own way. With words. Silently. With friends and family. Alone.

We were praying.

And the thing about praying is that it doesn’t change God. Praying changes US! Praying changed Hannah. She wasn’t relieved because she convinced Eli she wasn’t drunk or that she was praying for the right reasons. No. She was relieved, because she prayed.

Prayer changes us. Prayer is our way of relieving that which is too much for us to handle.

So this day, as remember those who died 19 years ago, may we spend more effort on prayer, rather hate; more time in prayer, less time on seeking retribution.

For the hate spurred on by revenge only wells up inside of us and destroys us from the inside out.

We are called – as Christians – to be a people of forgiveness. To empty ourselves. In doing so, in emptying ourselves of any sense of power and control, we find that nobody can take anything else away from us.

Let prayer be your effort this day, as we remember those we lost so long ago.

P (Prayer): God, you are the living God. Those who have died LIVE with you. Give us hope that our prayers to you this day can and will change us to be a people assured of hope and strength. Change us, Lord, as we pray to you. Amen.

God is in the Options

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S (Scripture): Ruth 1:5 But both of the sons, Mahlon and Chilion, also died. Only the woman [Naomi] was left, without her two children and without her husband.

6 Then [Naomi] arose along with her daughters-in-law to return from the field of Moab, because while in the territory of Moab she had heard that the Lord had paid attention to his people by providing food for them. 7 She left the place where she had been, and her two daughters-in-law went with her. They went along the road to return to the land of Judah.

8 Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go, turn back, each of you to the household of your mother. May the Lord deal faithfully with you, just as you have done with the dead and with me. 9 May the Lord provide for you so that you may find security, each woman in the household of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.

O (Observation): The story of Ruth stands out to us in the Old Testament.

First of all, in a time when women had little to no social standing, to dedicate a book of the Bible to this person, Ruth, is the first indicator that God is up to something.

Second, as we can see, Naomi’s husband and two sons die. At first, Naomi’s two daughters-in-law are not mentioned. One might think Naomi was totally alone. But alas, her two daughters-in-law are with her. Naomi wishes to send them to their homes. In their day, a woman needed to be connected to a man for social standing and because women were unable to hold property. Naomi didn’t want to keep them from their livelihood.

Third interesting point, when the gift of companionship is a possibility (her daughters-in-law were still with her), Naomi’s inclination is to refuse help. Instead, she wants to go to Moab, where God will provide for her. (Hmm, perhaps God was providing Ruth and Orpah as a gift???)

Finally, Naomi does what any one of us would likely do: say, essentially, “I’m fine. You can go.” When in reality, what she seems to need is community. Orpah leaves, but Ruth stays. Ruth vows to forsake all else. Ruth is Naomi’s support. Ruth is God’s Grace for Naomi (who changes her name to Mara).

Ruth commits to staying with Naomi / Mara.

A (Application): Living in a pandemic and being stretched thin are enough to set us all on edge. Needing medical attention in a time like this is extra difficult. Needing social interaction is helpful, but again, can prove challenging these days.

When we need attention – medically or socially – we tend to be very reticent. Something will work out. God will provide.

What if your doctors or medical professionals and friends are God’s way of helping?

Perhaps you wish to be more generous? You say, “God, how can I be more helpful?” Then you end up throwing away food or spending money on extra toys, when the opportunity to give has already come and gone.

I think a lot of our struggle with life and faith is simply being aware of what is going on around us. That being mindful of our surroundings and knowing what assets are at our fingertips is very important to seeing that God gives us options…even when God seems absent.

Sometimes we can see these options. Sometimes we need a friend to point the options out to us.

But the options are there. Take a look. Naomi eventually saw that Ruth was her option.

What are your options this day?

P (Prayer): O God of options, remind us that you work in big ways and small ways. You call us to look around and – even when you seem absent – you still provide. Amen.

Speak Out! The Absence of God

[Content Warning – rape]

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S (Scripture): Judges 19:22 While they were relaxing, suddenly the men of the city, a perverse bunch, surrounded the house and started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the owner of the house, “Send out the man who came to your house, so we can have sex with him!”

23 The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, please don’t commit such an evil act, given that this man has come to my home as a guest. Don’t do this disgraceful thing! 24 Here’s my daughter, the young woman, and his secondary wife. Let me send them out, and you can abuse them and do whatever you want to them. But don’t do such a disgraceful thing to this man!” 25 But the men refused to listen to him.

So the Levite grabbed his secondary wife and sent her outside to them. They raped her and abused her all night long until morning. They finally let her go as dawn was breaking.

O (Observation): A Levite – one of God’s people – traveled to bring his second wife home. (Yes, God’s people had multiple wives in the Old Testament.) As the Levite and his wife traveled home, they stayed in a town where God’s people resides – thinking it would be safe. Well, they were wrong.

A mob of men came to the home where the guest and his wife were staying. They demanded the man be given to them to rape. The homeowner refused. Eventually, the Levite have you his wife for them to rape. And so they did.

They left her – a broken and devastated person.

The Levite puts her on a donkey and they travel home. The women – now dead – is cut into 12 pieces and one piece is sent to each of the 12 tribes of Israel.

People start talking. They say “Tell of this!” And so, the word of what happened in that town spreads.

A (Application): Where to begin? How about with this: “The absence of God’s presence.”

This story does not point to God or God’s presence at all. Instead, the only redeeming point of this story is to tell of the women’s story.

Speak up! Speak out! Tell of the horrific and terrible deed of the men who raped. Of the husband who threw his wife to the crazed mob. To the indifference of onlookers.

Be the voice for the voiceless. Give the person who has been taken advantage of a space to speak their story, to tell their truth, to be heard, to exist.

As church leaders consider sharing this text from the pulpit or as a study, consider these words from Sarah Jobe, on WorkingPreacher.com (July 12, 2010; https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=1876):

We would do victims of sexual violence a world of good if we followed God’s lead–letting their statements of God’s absence rest heavily in our congregations instead of insisting that God works in mysterious ways or that God has a plan. Preaching this text of terror encourages those who have been scared to share their experiences of God’s neglect and invites them, with the truth of their past, to come into the church.

Please know that if you have been a victim of sexual violence, you are of worth and your story is valid.

Here are some groups whom you can call or with whom you can chat online:

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673); or, chat online at online.rainn.org.

Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor

P (Prayer): God of all Creation, when we cannot see the beauty of the world you created, help us to be beautiful to one another. Amen.

The Dead, too, Shall Live in God

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S (Scripture): Luke 20:37 [Jesus continued] “Even Moses demonstrated that the dead are raised—in the passage about the burning bush, when he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living. To him they are all alive.”

O (Observation): Now the Sadducees are trying to trap Jesus. They challenge him on the concept of the resurrection, and death and earthly marriage.

Jesus shares with them that though we die, we are still alive to God. Our earthly understanding will not be sufficient for what it means to be alive to God. Marriage is an earthly concept. In God, marriage is not what binds us together.

A (Application): Our concepts of life in God are woefully inadequate for thinking about the way we interact with one another in death in Christ. Faith is our hope.

For my loved ones who have passed away, I rest assured that we will meet again.

For when my time comes, I rest assured that God will embrace me and I will have nothing to fear.

I will not let fear drive my faith. I will, instead, lean on the hope that we will live in God, with one another, in the time to come.

P (Prayer): Lord, for those experiencing their end of this life, give them comfort and hope. For those challenged by Hurricane Laura, give them hope and comfort, as well. Amen.

Ultimate Allegiance

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S (Scripture): Luke 20:25 [Jesus] said to [to the spies sent by the legal experts and the chief priests], “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

O (Observation): The more Jesus uprooted the religious system of the Pharisees, chief priests, and legal experts, the more they became desperate to knock Jesus down, even if it meant using the government to shut him up.

They are trying to trick Jesus into telling folks they don’t have to pay taxes, since they are called to have allegiance to God alone. If Jesus agrees that God’s people don’t have to pay taxes, then Caesar (and the government) can come down on Jesus and arrest him.

Jesus’ response? Some worldly things will have worldly ramifications. But what matters to God will be given to God. 

Money? A matter for the world. Spirit, Hope, allegiance? Matters for God.

A (Application): A water pipe burst under my driveway about 2 months ago. County workers had to dig up the end of my driveway. It is a water pipe used by the county to deliver water up and down the street.

Gravel and dust was brought in to temporarily remedy the situation. They will soon come to pour concrete to repair the end of the driveway.

So, I pay taxes. My taxes will help when a water leak occurs. My taxes will help fix my driveway.

My taxes will also help pay those educators in my children’s schools, who have to navigate the particularities of COVID-19.

I gladly pay these. I see this as part of my call to love neighbor and self. What if the pipe burst under my neighbor’s drive way? Would I still be as happy that the work would be done there? I like to think so.

But sometimes my tax pays for those who are corrupt…for a broken system…for bigoted leaders. But sometimes those taxes go to the betterment of a system…for good, level-headed politicians (whether I agree or disagree with them).

Is this what Jesus was referring to? In part, yes. Our taxes we pay to to our government are not wholly used for good or efficient means. But we give them to show care for neighbor, and to support this experiment called America.

Ultimately, what does allegiance look like? What does allegiance mean, in regards to a country / leader vs God?

I think we can support our system of governance, AND give our allegiance to God.

This is what allows to serve the world and to act as part of a society.

I can give to God (and do, 10%), and I can give through my taxes.

I can love God and neighbor, by giving to God and paying taxes.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, see us through the challenges of allegiance to you and to our leaders / government.

We continue to keep a watchful eye on our siblings down in the Gulf Coast. May they be safe.

Amen.