Bound Together for Ministry

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S (Scripture): Numbers 11:10 Moses heard the people crying throughout their clans, each at his tent’s entrance. The Lord was outraged, and Moses was upset. 11 Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? And why haven’t I found favor in your eyes, for you have placed the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give birth to them, that you would say to me, ‘Carry them at the breast, as a nurse carries an unweaned child,’ to the fertile land that you promised their ancestors? 13 Where am I to get meat for all these people? They are crying before me and saying, ‘Give us meat, so we can eat.’ 14 I can’t bear this people on my own. They’re too heavy for me. 15 If you’re going to treat me like this, please kill me. If I’ve found favor in your eyes, then don’t let me endure this wretched situation.”

16 The Lord said to Moses, “Gather before me seventy men from Israel’s elders, whom you know as elders and officers of the people. Take them to the meeting tent, and let them stand there with you. 17 Then I’ll descend and speak with you there. I’ll take some of the spirit that is on you and place it on them. Then they will carry the burden of the people with you so that you won’t bear it alone…”

O (Observation): Moses is fed up with God and the people, because he feels all the weight of the people’s complaints squarely on his own shoulders…and he only has God to blame! Moses complains to God: “Where am I gonna get meat for them to eat?! These are YOUR people, God, not mine! Just kill me now, if this is what leadership looks like!”

God encourages Moses and tells him to gather everyone in the worship space. There, God will share the burden on Moses with 70 of the leaders in the community. They will do ministry TOGETHER! And God will provide the meat.

A (Application): As a seminary student, I was challenged with finding a story or person from Scripture that shaped my call into ministry as an ordained minister (aka “pastor”). I chose Numbers 11.

I chose this passage because it reminds me that I as I venture into all sorts of ministries, God will make sure that I am surrounded by those who are called to share the burden along with me.

In each venture into ministry (whether as a pastor or in the community) I have felt alone and abandoned…only to have the Spirit remind me that I am part of the BODY of Christ in which others are being called to come together to work with me.

And as I grow in faith, God has brought others outside of the body of Christ to share burdens with me. Burdens of the poor and the marginalized in our society.

Christ is still my savior and inspiration…and this has moved me to seek God out for strength and sustenance as I venture into the varied callings God has set out for me.

I am blessed.

P (Prayer): Lord, bind us together in love. Amen.

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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.

Which is More Scary?

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S (Scripture): Mark 9:30 From there Jesus and his followers went through Galilee, but he didn’t want anyone to know it. 31 This was because he was teaching his disciples, “The Human One will be delivered into human hands. They will kill him. Three days after he is killed he will rise up.” 32 But they didn’t understand this kind of talk, and they were afraid to ask him.

O (Observation): They we’re afraid to ask. Sounds familiar.

But they were close, right? Why couldn’t they ask Jesus? Maybe because he mentioned something about being killed. Yeah. That’s probably it.

Were they afraid that he was gonna be wrong?

Maybe they were afraid he was gonna be right…

A (Application): Sometimes, I don’t know what God is saying. That can be scary.

But sometimes, I’m pretty sure I know exactly what God wants me to do.

Sometimes…I don’t know which scenario is scarier.

P (Prayer): Lord, I know that whatever I do will be tainted with sin…so please, guide me, and give me grace to do as You would have me do. Amen.

In Between

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S (Scripture): Psalm 55

16

But I call out to God,

and the Lord will rescue me.

17

At evening, morning, and midday

I complain and moan

so that God will hear my voice.

18

He saves me, unharmed, from my struggle,

though there are many who are out to get me.

19

God, who is enthroned from ancient days,

will hear and humble them Selah

because they don’t change

and they don’t worship God.

O (Observation): The psalmist is very confident in their faith in God. The psalmist confides in God, trusts in God, believes that God will see him or her through.

A (Application): What is the result of this? The idea that there is a God “out there” somewhere who will know to help this person out? Maybe.

Could the outcome be about an individual needing direction and solace in a time of trouble? Perhaps.

What if struggling through these words and beliefs (“God out there will help me over here”) could be the result of wrestling with reality vs a dream of what could be? Realistically, we don’t know if we will be healed or remain safe from all harm…and yet, we don’t lose all hope, either.

What if these words from today’s Psalm are about us trying to live with the tension of what is and what could be? As long as we don’t throw these words in the face of another, I am okay with these words. If these words from today’s psalmist are used to push someone to a belief in their notion of God…I’m not okay with that.

I use words like today’s psalm with a great deal of humility. I believe God is the source of my help and hope. However, I don’t make others think the same. And in fact, I kind of struggle with the notion that I won’t be harmed. I very well can be harmed even in the midst of my strong faith.

So, what does this all mean? I am okay with the fact that I can fully rely on God’s presence in my life and that I will still feel pain and suffering. My hope is that God will be with me in the good and bad, and abides with me…no matter what.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep me steadfast as you abide with me. Amen.

What Does God Require?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 50

7

“Listen, my people, I will now speak;

Israel, I will now testify against you.

I am God—your God!

8

I’m not punishing you for your sacrifices

or for your entirely burned offerings,

which are always before me.

9

I won’t accept bulls from your house

or goats from your corrals

10

because every forest animal already belongs to me,

as do the cattle on a thousand hills.

11

I know every mountain bird;

even the insects in the fields are mine.

12

Even if I were hungry, I wouldn’t tell you

because the whole world and everything in it already belong to me.

13

Do I eat bulls’ meat?

Do I drink goats’ blood?

14

Offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving!

Fulfill the promises you made to the Most High!

15

Cry out to me whenever you are in trouble;

I will deliver you, then you will honor me.”

O (Observation): What does God require? What is the list of things needed to please the Lord?

This one thing: give thanks to God.

Acknowledge that all we have and all that we are come from God. God is our protector through the joys and challenges of life.

A (Application): (See “Observation”)

P (Prayer): Lord, your requirements are good. Help us to follow them. Amen.

Point of Order

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S (Scripture): Mark 2:1 Jesus went back to Capernaum, and people heard that he was at home. 2 So many gathered that there was no longer space, not even near the door. Jesus was speaking the word to them. 3 Some people arrived, and four of them were bringing to him a man who was paralyzed. 4 They couldn’t carry him through the crowd, so they tore off part of the roof above where Jesus was. When they had made an opening, they lowered the mat on which the paralyzed man was lying. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven!”

6 Some legal experts were sitting there, muttering among themselves, 7 “Why does he speak this way? He’s insulting God. Only the one God can forgive sins.”

8 Jesus immediately recognized what they were discussing, and he said to them, “Why do you fill your minds with these questions? 9  Which is easier—to say to a paralyzed person, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk’? 10  But so you will know that the Human One has authority on the earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed, 11 “Get up, take your mat, and go home.”

12 Jesus raised him up, and right away he picked up his mat and walked out in front of everybody. They were all amazed and praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”

O (Observation): Jesus challenges the legal experts’ vision of God’s work. They saw God working through the legal system of the Law alone. They couldn’t fit this forgiveness of sins into their religious structure. (And thus, they couldn’t fit this man’s healing in, either.)

The physical healing of the man seems almost to be an afterthought for Jesus: he chose to forgive the man his sins, first. The physical healing of the man was almost nothing compared to the issue of forgiveness. However, Jesus does bring the man healing so that those witnessing Jesus in those moments might understand that in Jesus they can see that Jesus holds dominion over the physical and spiritual realms.

Jesus was ushering in a clarification of the understanding of God’s vision. He wasn’t bringing in a completely new system of belief, just bringing focus. The prophets of old were about bringing God’s people back in line with God’s vision. Jesus was doing the same here.

The legal experts thought that the way to forgiveness and holiness was through the legal system of purification and sacrifices. Not so, anymore. And this threatened the well-being and security of the legal experts. They thought that they had this all nailed down (sorry, pun intended).

Thankfully, the WorkingPreacher.org site has a commentary on this text that I found useful. Here is a quote:

Jesus subverts ritual boundaries not so much by introducing something completely new, but by drawing on parts of the tradition he thinks are much more in line with what God wants for and from humanity, and by implicitly — and later explicitly — accusing his opponents of maintaining the established boundaries at the expense of human need.

Jesus is lifting up human need above all…above ritual and adherence to the Law.

A (Application): What are we using our religion for? To hold dominion over people? To give us a feeling of superiority over people? To look down upon others to make ourselves feel better? To feel like we are in control?

What are we afraid of losing if our rituals or customs need to change so that we are reaching people?

The trick in discerning our way forward is figuring out what is Gospel and what is indifferent to the Gospel.

So many times we put in structures and traditions that are inconsequential to the delivery of the Gospel, and yet, we fight for these things.

Seminaries, congregations, pastors…what are we doing? Are we about living into the Gospel? Are we about being God’s hands and feet?

Do we have to run over people to deliver the Gospel? Or do we invite people to witness the Gospel in their everyday lives and report what they’ve found? Do we challenge our folks to discern where they’ve seen God? Do we coach our people in ways to see God?

The message has always been the same. And as the Church, we are good at covering up the Gospel and dressing it up in all sorts of forms and fashions. But the Gospel…the Good News is always…(wait for it…)…Good News! And the way to tell if the Good News is really Good News…is that it is ALWAYS Good News!

May you find the Kingdom breaking into your life this day with Good News…even if it comes in the midst of difficult circumstances.

P (Prayer): God, bring your Good News to us with great clarity. Amen.

A Time Apart

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S (Scripture): Mark 1:35 Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. 36 Simon and those with him tracked him down. 37 When they found him, they told him, “Everyone’s looking for you!”

38 He replied, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.” 39 He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons.

O (Observation): Jesus knew the value of connecting with God. Without his time away, how was Jesus to know the will of the Father?

After spending time with God, Jesus was expected to go back to the healing ministry he left the night before. But instead – assuming he got clarity from God – Jesus says it’s time to move on to the nearby villages.

Jesus received clarity of God’s mission after spending time apart.

A (Application): When was the last time you spent time apart? Did you experience this during worship? On a hike? In solitude?

Being intentional about time away – writing these devotions – is a way for me to get clarity from God about what God’s Word is saying to me today.

I invite you to follow this blog / subscribe to it, if you find it a helpful (or even a challenging) respite. How can you sense God’s presence? Through reading? Music? Quiet?

Find that time apart. Embrace it. Seek clarity for your role in God’s mission in the world.

P (Prayer): Lord, we pray that you might illumine our pathways. Amen.