God Works During this Sabath

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S (Scripture): Mark 3:1 Jesus returned to the synagogue. A man with a withered hand was there. 2 Wanting to bring charges against Jesus, they were watching Jesus closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. 3 He said to the man with the withered hand, “Step up where people can see you.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they said nothing. 5 Looking around at them with anger, deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he did, and his hand was made healthy. 6 At that, the Pharisees got together with the supporters of Herod to plan how to destroy Jesus.

O (Observation): By this time Jesus’ notoriety was building. He was healing people – and according to the church officials – without God’s or the church’s authority.

Jesus – extremely frustrated – asks the man with the withered hand to come up, front and center. Then Jesus puts the church leaders on the spot: “on this precious Sabbath…shall we do good or evil? Bring life or death?”

In other words, should we let this man suffer, still? When we know he could be healed?

Jesus doesn’t disrespect the Sabbath. He just wonders if the rules the church leaders have created for the Sabbath now promote their own agenda, rather allow the Sabbath to be a day for new life and renewal.

A (Application): How strange a time in which to be living. This is Easter Monday. Yesterday, we celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord (albeit online).

The 5 of us in my family (me, wife, our 3 children) had baskets of candy, watched a few worship opportunities online. Had a nice meal. Zoomed with 3 of our family groups.

It was the oddest Easter for us. It was the first time in over 12 years I did not rise early for a sunrise Easter service. I did not notice the small of eggs and sausages and bacon being cooked at church, like in my last call, where they made a huge Easter breakfast.

And as I sit this morning, I wonder about the point of worship and the gathering of God’s people.

Is this really a moment for me to feel the joy of the risen Lord? Don’t get me wrong, I am hopeful. I am not a pessimist. And I know this will all pass.

I guess I just mourn the loss of community this day.

I think of this quarantine time as a Sabbath, perhaps. A time for renewal and rest from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. And perhaps this time can better prepare me and my family to see that God can bring new life, even (and especially) while we are in this Sabbath time.

How is God stirring you this day? I sense my own frustration, but perhaps God can work all of this towards the good, eventually. Maybe God is doing the work in me/us already, but maybe I/we can’t see it yet.

I am not saying God brought this on us…just like I don’t think God made the man’s hand withered. I guess I’m saying that in the Sabbath, God can still work things for the good.

P (Prayer): Lord God, create in me a heart that is open to your will being done, in spite of this virus that keeps us apart from loved ones and strangers alike. Amen.

In Hot Pursuit!

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S (Scripture): Psalm 23

5

You set a table for me

    right in front of my enemies.

You bathe my head in oil;

    my cup is so full it spills over!

Yes, goodness and faithful love

    will pursue me all the days of my life,

    and I will live [a] in the Lord’s house

    as long as I live.

[a] – or, “return to”

O (Observation): This text is an iconic one. Maybe not in the version of the Common English Bible, like I have posted here. The King James version is more likely well known, overall, but this version picks up on two central factors: “pursue” and “live / return to”.

God is all about allowing us the space to worry and fear, and yet God is still present. Not that God wants us to fear…God simply gets the fact that we are still broken as of yet.

And so, God does two things: God’s justice (or goodness) and mercy (or faithful love) don’t just follow us for the rest of our days, like a little puppy on a leash. No! God’s goodness and faithful love PURSUE us for the rest of our days. This is different than simply following.

And we don’t just live in the House of the Lord. The footnote reminds us that we will come and go in this life. And throughout our days, we will wander, but we will always have the Lord’s House to return to.

A (Application): So many times, our faith comes of the rails. We panic. Anxiety kicks in. And we my have a true mental health issue wrapped up in this. But I also believe that this passage today could be part of our response to the pressure and anxiety we place upon ourselves.

Typically, when a deadline looms or we have to get the house cleaned up, we quickly realize that it’s not going to get done by itself, or we may not be able to do the exact best job we have ever done.

We forget that God’s faithfulness is PURSUING us in the midst of our challenge. We forget that we can return not just to the Lord’s house (like a church), but we can simply return to the Lord’s dwelling / presence. For whether or not we are thinking about God, God is certainly thinking about us…

P (Prayer): Gracious God, forgive us, redeem us, pursue us! Help us to know if your presence. Amen.

God in the Unexpected Places

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S (Scripture): Genesis 39:1When Joseph had been taken down to Egypt, Potiphar, Pharaoh’s chief officer, the commander of the royal guard and an Egyptian, purchased him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man and served in his Egyptian master’s household.

20 Joseph’s master took him and threw him in jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were held. While he was in jail, 21 the Lord was with Joseph and remained loyal to him. He caused the jail’s commander to think highly of Joseph.

O (Observation): The story of Joseph is quite intriguing. One must read all of this chapter and the preceding chapters to understand that Joseph – while being favored by his father – was the runt of the litter and was therefore expected to get the least favorable treatment. Instead, God continually looks with favor on this most unsuspecting of peoples.

Joseph is left for dead by his brothers, but ends up being put in charge of a rich person’s entire estate! He is falsely accused of dishonoring his boss’ wife, and is thrown into jail.

While in jail, God once again looks favorably upon Joseph.

God makes good on God’s promises. Even when the circumstances surrounding Jospeh seem bleak, God steps in.

A (Application): Even when things seem bleak, God has a way of lifting up the lowly. We don’t always see this as the case. Sometimes, we are down and can’t get back up.

Sometimes, we are down, and don’t see a way out.

Sometimes, we are down, and can’t see a way forward.

God has an uncanny way of being present when we least expect God to be present.

So, in your days, I pray you see God in the journey with you, through surgeries or treatments or therapy or tests or homework or struggles.

P (Prayer): Lord. Help me to know your presence. Amen.

An Offering – Paying It Forward

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S (Scripture): Genesis 28:16 When Jacob woke from his sleep, he thought to himself, The Lord is definitely in this place, but I didn’t know it. 17 He was terrified and thought, This sacred place is awesome. It’s none other than God’s house and the entrance to heaven. 18 After Jacob got up early in the morning, he took the stone that he had put near his head, set it up as a sacred pillar, and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He named that sacred place Bethel, [or, House of God] though Luz was the city’s original name. 20 Jacob made a solemn promise: “If God is with me and protects me on this trip I’m taking, and gives me bread to eat and clothes to wear, 21 and I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God. 22 This stone that I’ve set up as a sacred pillar will be God’s house, and of everything you give me I will give a tenth back to you.”

O (Observation): Jacob has fled Esau and is now in his way to a distant relative’s estate to lay low for a while. He was told to find a wife from his father’s homeland.

On the journey, God appears to Jacob in a dream, promising to remain with Jacob and to eventually bring him back to his homeland, so that God might keep good on God’s promise to make of Abraham many descendants.

Jacob’s response to God’s appearance is to set up a stone – an “Ebenezer – to tell the world and to remind himself that God was in that place. Jacob pours oil on it and promises to give 1/10 of all income to God as a result of God’s grace and mercy.

This offering is a way of giving back to God what God has given to Jacob.

A (Application): Why is giving an offering to God such a thing that is honored and expected of Jesus’ followers?

My family and I give 10% of all of our income. Even our kids give a tithe from their chore monies.

Jacob pours oil on a rock. What good is that?

Perhaps the acknowledgment of something that the world sees as precious – oil, a fine element in Jacob’s day, seen as a hearing salve amongst other things – can be poured out as if to say: “This expensive oil will not have such a hold over me that I dare not pour it out. No, I will pour out this oil, and show my thankfulness for my God.” (Remember the expensive nard poured out on Jesus’ feet, and how he said this was good and right???)

Today’s offerings are mostly financial, but donations of lands and estates are common, as well. We give out of a thankfulness, and not just out of obligation.

Today, we see more clearly how donating monies has an impact on the lives of those who receive assistance through these offerings.

The giving cycle is almost circular. A family or individual gives to the church. The church uses those funds to do God’s ministry to serve the community, train church leaders, and more. Those positively affected by the congregations serve their community and give back to the churches that once served them. And, we hope, new folks come along to know about our God of promises and mercy and grace.

How do you see God’s work helping us all to come full circle? What promises are you leaning on from our God? How are you giving? How do we respond to God’s faithfulness to us?

P (Prayer): Lord, you give so much. Help us to pay the gift of grace and mercy forward. Amen.

No Need to Look Over Your Shoulder

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S (Scripture): Matthew 9:18 While Jesus was speaking to them, a ruler came and knelt in front of him, saying, “My daughter has just died. But come and place your hand on her, and she’ll live.” 19 So Jesus and his disciples got up and went with him. 20 Then a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years came up behind Jesus and touched the hem of his clothes. 21 She thought, If I only touch his robe I’ll be healed.

22 When Jesus turned and saw her, he said, “Be encouraged, daughter. Your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that time on.

23 When Jesus went into the ruler’s house, he saw the flute players and the distressed crowd. 24 He said, “Go away, because the little girl isn’t dead but is asleep”; but they laughed at him. 25 After he had sent the crowd away, Jesus went in and touched her hand, and the little girl rose up. 26 News about this spread throughout that whole region.

O (Observation): Some scholars debate whether or not Jesus broke the religious purity codes in this episode. Most say he does not, but a fine line exists between being defiled and bring “in the clear” in this case.

Jesus is on his way to raise a young girl from the dead. Along the way, a woman who has been bleeding for some time – which makes her impure, by the way…according to the religious standards of the day – and Jesus receives this touch without condemning the woman. In fact, Jesus commends the faith of this woman.

This bleeding woman , not Jesus, proves that purity is more contagious than impurity. So she reached out to Jesus.

Jesus follows the call to raise a young woman from the dead. Again, a possible impurity awaits Jesus. Yet he engages and raises her.

New things are afoot…

A (Application): What does it mean to us to have the Gospel, but never use it? To have salvation, but no one with which to share it.

Many Christians think their call is to live better than others. I’m not saying we should all devolve into the worst people we can be; no! Rather I propose that we can all grow by sharing the Gospel more and more in the places most people won’t wish to go.

Sharing the Gospel means loving others as they are. Showing them that someone cares.

Sharing the Gospel means crossing boundaries that most take for granted, or that we assume should never be broached.

Yet in Jesus we have our hope and our example. With our salvation well in check, we can look to Jesus as our guide for making a way forward – living out the Gospel, without looking over our shoulder to see what others think. If we have shared the Good News, we have done our part.

P (Prayer): Lord, teach us to look forward to the work you have called us into, being not afraid to live out the Gospel truth. Amen.

Not Our Will, but Your’s, Lord

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S (Scripture): Psalm 10

1

Why do you stand so far away, Lord,

    hiding yourself in troubling times?

Meanwhile, the wicked are proudly

    in hot pursuit of those who suffer.

Let them get caught

    in the very same schemes they’ve thought up!

The wicked brag about their body’s cravings;

    the greedy reject the Lord, cursing.

At the peak of their wrath,

    the wicked don’t seek God:

    There’s no God—

    that’s what they are always thinking.

O (Observation): The palmist is frustrated are the Lord…or is it that the psalmist is frustrated that the Lord isn’t acting the way the psalmist wants the Lord to act??? Subtle difference, but an important one.

A (Application): What are our expectations of God? Do we expect God to be vindictive and petty, like us?

A friend of a friend is starting to gain some traction with the idea that the psalmists are never angry at God…but rather, angry with themselves! Sure, they throw accusations and such (towards God), but I get the sense that the authors of the psalms realize that their anger towards God may stem from their anger with their own expectations of God.

I never pray a certain outcome of a situation. I dare not dictate an outcome of anything. Rather, I seek God’s wisdom and care in my decisions and in the lives of those around me…that we might do the most faithful thing we can do in any given moment or situation.

So, does God care about us when people around us come at us or persecute us or lie in wait to strike at us? Absolutely! How God will care for us in those circumstances…, we never know, until we look back and can say, “Yes! God is there!”

P (Prayer): Lord, be with us all and guide us into the most faithful steps possible. Amen.

Committed

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S (Scripture): Hosea 2:16 On that day, says the Lord, you will call me, “My husband,” and no longer will you call me, “My Lord.” 17 I will take away the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they will not be mentioned by name anymore. 18 On that day, I will make a covenant for them with the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the creeping creatures of the fertile ground. I will do away with the bow, the sword, and war from the land; I will make you lie down in safety.

19 

I will take you for my wife forever;

    I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice,

        in devoted love, and in mercy.

20 

I will take you for my wife in faithfulness;

        and you will know the Lord.

21 

On that day I will answer, says the Lord.

        I will answer the heavens

        and they will answer the earth.

22 

The earth will answer the corn, the new wine, and the fresh oil,

        and they will answer Jezreel;

23 

I will sow him for myself in the land;

        and I will have compassion on No Compassion,

        and I will say to Not My People, “You are my people”;

        and he will say, “You are my God.”

O (Observation): As much as God is know. For correction and judgment on our wrongdoings, God is even more so working towards restoring us to wholeness. In Hosea, God compares God’s people to someone who marries a prostitute – a metaphor for someone who is not committed to God, but rather follows gods.

God is angered and tells the people they will be dismissed, but God is a faithful God and promises to bring God’s people back…to restore them to faithfulness.

God will say, “You are my people.”

And God’s people will say, “You are my God.”

A (Application): Staying committed to anything is hard: diets, saving money, staying out of debt, praying, worshipping weekly…even staying committed to God can be challenging.

That’s right. And yes, even for me…a pastor.

So many things call for my allegiance and my attention. I can be selfish. I can be idolatrous. I can forget how much God has done for me.

Yet that doesn’t make God any less loving and committed to me.

That is grace.

And my response? To live for God and for the sake of others out of a sense of deep gratitude, because God loves me – indeed, loves all of us – even when I am (and we are) not committed to God.

God’s commitment gives me a place to belong (the body of Christ), gives me purpose (my calling as a husband, father, and pastor), and helps me to know that I am somebody. And all of this so that I might live for others…lest I get selfish about all of this attention God has given me : )

P (Prayer): Lord, this day, I give you thanks for all that I am and all that I have. Amen.