Ninevah? Say WHAT?!?!?!

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S (Scripture): Jonah 1:1 The Lord’s word came to Jonah, Amittai’s son: 2 “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their evil has come to my attention.”

3 So Jonah got up—to flee to Tarshish from the Lord! He went down to Joppa and found a ship headed for Tarshish. He paid the fare and went aboard to go with them to Tarshish, away from the Lord.

O (Observation): Jonah responded to the Lord. He responded alright – in the opposite direction! Later on, Jonah admits that he never liked the Ninevites. He just knew God would have mercy on them. He wouldn’t be able to stand to see mercy on them, if that is how things were going to turn out.

Jonah was so reluctant to follow the Lord’s word that he takes off in the opposite direction!

A (Application): We all have had our Jonah experiences: You want me to do what, Lord? In my life, that means donating 10% of our income, praying in the home, singing hymns sometimes, worshipping every week, spending part of our Thanksgiving morning serving others in our community, and on and on.

We all have our “Ninevah’s” too, don’t we? Folks or movements that we don’t think deserve God’s mercy, yet God is calling us to extend that mercy, anyway.

Where is your Tarshish – that place you run to to flee God’s calling? Is it your home? The office? The internet?

See what beauty God has in store for you. Follow God’s call. See what that mercy looks like. I can’t promise you that you’ll love it, or even like it…but maybe you’ll learn something about our God.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us the strength to face the Ninevah’s in our world, to bear your Gospel message wherever we go. Amen.


Who Said That?

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S (Scripture): Amos 7: 8 The Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”

“A plumb line,” I said.
Then the Lord said,
“See, I am setting a plumb line
in the middle of my people Israel.
I will never again forgive them.
9 The shrines of Isaac will be made desolate,
and the holy places of Israel will be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, reported to Israel’s King Jeroboam, “Amos has plotted against you within the house of Israel. The land isn’t able to cope with everything that he is saying. 11 Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will be forced out of its land.’”

12 Amaziah said to Amos, “You who see things, go, run away to the land of Judah, eat your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s holy place and his royal house.”

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I am not a prophet, nor am I a prophet’s son; but I am a shepherd, and a trimmer of sycamore trees. 15 But the Lord took me from shepherding the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

16 “Now then hear the Lord’s word.
You say, ‘Don’t prophesy against Israel, and don’t preach
against the house of Isaac.’
17 “Therefore, the Lord proclaims:
‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and your daughters will fall by the sword,
and your land will be measured and divided up;
you yourself will die in an unclean land,
and Israel will surely be taken away from its land.’”

O (Observation): Prophetic words are not always meant to comfort. In fact, most prophetic words are mean to correct God’s people. The words of Amos are just such words.

The famous “plumb line” image is about helping God’s people to have a guideline, a boundary against which their actions will be judged. If they fall “out of plumb” they will know they are in need of repentance. Following up on that repentance will be critical for God’s people to be I good standing before God.

And no matter how much folks like to dismiss words from prophets, the words still stand…because those words come from God.

A (Application): To whom shall we listen? Politicians? Pastors? Church members? Atheists?

How about a shepherd? A mechanic? A CEO?

Prophets come in all forms, all shapes, all professions. Prophets are not limited to a particular place or job. As Amos says in v. 14, he is just a shepherd, a trimmer of sycamore trees. He also just happens to be called to share God’s prophetic words.

Perhaps this text can give us pause to consider from whom we are receiving a message that challenges us. Pause long enough to discern the truth coming from the statement, regardless of who is sharing that word. Don’t dismiss the words just because you don’t trust or relate to the carrier of the message. Discuss it with others you trust and discern together the purpose.

You may come to the conclusion that your initial sense is best…but at least you considered the message. And if you need to repent, do so.

And keep an eye on that plumb line.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word, your plumb line, your messages from your prophets. Amen.

Are You In Balance?

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S (Scripture): Amos 5:21 I hate, I reject your festivals; I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies.
22 If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food—
I won’t be pleased;
I won’t even look at your offerings of well-fed animals.
23 Take away the noise of your songs;
I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
25 Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
during the forty years in the wilderness, house of Israel?

O (Observation): God – through the prophet Amos – speaks words of correction to God’s people. They thought if they fulfilled their obligations of giving up offerings to the Lord that they would be in the clear with God. Yet God seeks more than just offerings and sweet songs. God wants justice to roll down, not just burnt offerings at an altar for God. What good is a burnt offering to God to someone without food to eat or a roof over their heads?

Amos 5:11 lays out a clear accusation against God’s people: “you crush the weak…you tax their grain.” God’s people have ignored the pleas of the weak and powerless. God will then show correction to God’s followers. God will also call forth justice to flow.

A (Application): I’m always feeling a bit guilty about not doing enough of the right stuff. I’ve got it so good. And the more I read Scripture and write out these devotions, the more I sense that God is pulling me in the right direction.

I’m one who very much “senses” God’s presence. That needs to well up inside of me, before I start taking action. That’s a good thing. That activity of the Spirit, stirring my heart, motivates me to take action and to bring others with me.

Yet I also must recognize that sometimes the actions are what will stir me. Sometimes the Spirit will simply be in the actions: serving the homeless, giving to a charity, getting to know others in my neighborhood.

In all, what I find is best for the Christian journey is to spend time with God, with fellow followers of Jesus, and with those not in my regular circles. Doing these 3 things (think: triangle) helps me to see a bit more clearly when I am lacking in one area (or more) and maybe I’m spending too much time in one area (while neglecting other areas).

May this be a helpful tool for you to discern where you are being called to spend your time and may justice flow from this exercise.

P (Prayer): Gracious Lord, you call us to spend time with you, with fellow Jesus-followers, and with those we do not know. Help us also to follow your call to be a part of the justice that flows down like streams. Amen.

Who Receives Revelations From God?

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S (Scripture): Amos 3:7 Surely the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.

O (Observation): A bit of an oversimplification this day, a verse out of context. Yet equally true on its own, as in the context in which it exists.

Amos declares the suffering that is to come for God’s people. God’s people have erred by dismissing their hopes in God. Instead of direct retribution, God sends messages to the prophets to help God’s people get back on track.

Unfortunately, God’s people don’t listen very well. So God takes direct action through drying up water sources and such. And yet…a word of grace comes. God never forsakes the people that worship God.

The prophets speak God’s message of truth. God’s followers would do well to hear those words. These words of correction are a blessing, especially when God’s people have gone astray and DON’T KNOW they have gone astray.

A (Application): Prophets have an extremely important role to play, today. A good prophet will take the revelation they have received and bring it to the community (or communities) they trust. In that sharing, the people can discern – together – the meaning of the Word from God.

A prophet who acts alone (with no attempt to bring the revelation to others) will likely be dismissed or labeled a wacko. This is unfortunate, because very few folks have this gifting these days, and I wish to encourage them to embrace this calling.

Sharing this burden brings hope to our community. In Murfreesboro, I have seen many “prophets” seeking to do good in our community…friends like Brian, Toi, Jason, Cary, Tricia, Abdou, Hibba, Ali, Kevin, Joy, Chris, Keith, Richard, Tim, and many, many more. I don’t know that they are all prophets per se, but they do speak words of justice and hope into the systems that oppress other in these days.

May the words of the prophets move you into a deeper understand of your relationship with God. May you know God’s presence in the difficult situations you face. May you speak God’s truth as you join God’s Mission today. Amen.

P (Prayer): Lord, we seek your glory and your Word this day – even if it stings a bit. Amen.

“What If…?” (The Family Man)

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S (Scripture): Revelation 3:14 “Write this to the angel of the church in Laodicea:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your works. You are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I’m about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 After all, you say, ‘I’m rich, and I’ve grown wealthy, and I don’t need a thing.’ You don’t realize that you are miserable, pathetic, poor, blind, and naked. 18 My advice is that you buy gold from me that has been purified by fire so that you may be rich, and white clothing to wear so that your nakedness won’t be shamefully exposed, and ointment to put on your eyes so that you may see…”

O (Observation): Revelation – a story about the struggles between God’s people and evil in the world, told in an apocalyptic tale – reveals that the church in Laodicea is full of followers of Jesus who are “lukewarm.”

Many of these inhabitants are rich (well-off”) and don’t sense a need for anything from God. Yet God reveals that they are actually miserable in their existence.

The only wealth they need is the gold that God offers – refined by fire. This gold brings true richness.

The ointment for the eyes will help the rich ones to see clearly – through God’s eyes, rather than the eyes of wealth. Through God’s eyes, they will see that their earthly wealth amounts to nothing.

A (Application): I remember (years ago) seeing a Christmas movie called “The Family Man.” Nicolas Cage plays the main character. He’s a rich executive who cares very little for anyone other than himself. He has no sympathy for those who wish to take vacation during the Christmas holiday. He is very rich, and very alone…though he doesn’t realize that his “alone-ness” is bothering him. He can’t quite put his finger on it.

Then, heading out to the store, he encounters an angel of sorts, who helps him to see his life if he lived differently – if he stayed with his young love from years ago, pursued a life with her and had a family, etc. Then, one day, he wakes up – sees the world differently – and he realizes how alone he is…but that he can also change things.

Think “It’s a Wonderful Life” meets “A Christmas Carol,” but in the year 2000. That’s “The Family Man.”

Now, I know that this alternative reality doesn’t exist, but the appealing part about this movie is that the dream world he’s in isn’t perfect. Having kids is messy and exhausting, having a spouse and loving that spouse can be a challenging balance of self-giving, listening and sacrifice.

And I especially love the end, when Cage’s character tracks down this former mate and has coffee with her. And you don’t know what happens. The credits roll before you know the end!!!! I was so…melancholic afterwards, and I remain that way after seeing the movie to this day.

The question of “what could have been” rings loud and clear after watching this movie. And that resonates with me in my life as a follower of Jesus. This story in Revelation should move us from our thrones of complacency towards lives full of responses to God’s grace.

God wishes us to see our lives as they truly are, and how we draw closer to our purpose as the ointment is applied to our eyes…as we let go of the things in this world that promise hope, and purchase the gold that God has to offer: true life, everlasting and full of selfless purpose.

P (Prayer): God, help us to see beyond our own lukewarm feelings and station in this world. Give us eyes to see your glory in living service to those around us. Amen.

Puny god

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S (Scripture): Hosea 4: 12 My people take advice from a piece of wood,
and their divining rod gives them predictions.
A spirit of prostitution has led them astray;
they have left God to follow other gods.

O (Observation): In the book of Hosea, God encourages Hosea (a prophet for God) to go and marry a prostitute as an object lesson. Hosea obeys, but does not have sex. The point is not that Hosea should “sleep around,” but to make the point: engaging with a prostitute is akin to Israel being “married” to God, yet thinking that other gods hold sway, too.

God is upset with Israel, because so many of God’s people have turned to other gods to satisfy their needs. And those who do turn to God do so for all the wrong reasons (like simply to get what they want, or to get out of trouble without repenting).

A (Application): Good thing that kind of stuff doesn’t happen anymore : )

Yeah…following other gods…that’s a big one. In the Large Catechism, in his explanation of the First Commandment, Martin Luther writes that anything in which we trust is a god.

I love the Avenger movies. In the Avenger movie in which Loki is the main villain and considers himself a “god,” The Hulk beats up Lokey and as he walks away, The Hulk says, “Puny god.”

So, in what do we trust? Money? Power? Status? Salvation in Baptism? The Eucharist? Faith? The Avengers? (Sorry…had to throw that one in there : )

So many things to choose from…so confusing…because everything promises life and abundance. And that is the basis on which the makers of ads / commercials appeal to us: hope.

Get this brand-new lease… Buy this ring for your loved one… Get that new watch…

Will they provide everlasting hope? Nope. Not one bit. Yet we go for it, anyway. Where is God in the picture? Can you be faithful to God AND make big purchases? I think so…yet danger lies in the purchasing of goods for hope.

Think on Matthew 25…Jesus let folks know they fed / clothed / visited him (or didn’t). That makes a big impact on what you do with your money and time.

God is our hope. The Spirit causing us to believe is our hope. Jesus, the one who endured all things is our hope.

May we recognize this hope, and not pimp ourselves out to other gods. And when we do, may we be truly repentant. For God’s grace is always there…ready to be received.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me know how to avoid the dangers of slipping away to other gods and focus on how you call me to interact with these other gods in the world. Amen.

True Fellowship

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S (Scripture): 1 John 1:1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life– 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us– 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

O (Observation):  The community from which the author of 1 John is writing feels very strongly that they have a message to pass on to the recipients of this letter.  The author – and the community from which the author writes – is full of an overflowing excitement and spirit based on having had true life revealed to them. 

The desire of the author is an extraordinary fellowship, based not solely upon “common interests,” but upon true life revealed to them by being in fellowship with Jesus Christ and God.   

(I’ll assume that the Holy Spirit is the vehicle for this fellowship and this revelation.)  

A (Application):  The excitement that comes from a revelation of the Spirit is unexplainable.  I can think back to several times in my life when I FIRST sensed the Spirit joining me to a larger fellowship:

  • Becoming a part of All Saints Lutheran Church, in Lilburn, GA, after we moved to Lilburn from Lodi, NJ
  • Going to church camps in my middle school years
  • Seeking forgiveness from a friend in high school 
  • When I began dating Kelly (who is now my wife)
  • Entering seminary

So many times…some big moments and some smaller moments…I was acknowledging that God was up to something greater than just making me feel comfortable.  God was showing me what true fellowship can be like, what it can look like.  

Why did God do this?  Perhaps so that I can help create a welcoming environment for others, wherever I go (like those who were a part of the fellowship established in 1 John).  The most holy thing I know is true fellowship.  True fellowship makes room for those who have open hearts and minds to work together, to share our God-given gifts, and to welcome the new kid from New Jersey (the kid with the funny accent)…or to welcome anyone else.  : ) 

Can you name a time when you were welcomed in?

Can you name a time when you welcomed others in to your fellowship?

P (Prayer): Lord, you gather us together into one Spirit. Help us to know that oneness with you and with our neighbor. Amen.