Close to God

Photo credit here. 

S (Scripture): Hebrews 10:1 The Law is a shadow of the good things that are coming, not the real things themselves. It never can perfect the ones who are trying to draw near to God through the same sacrifices that are offered continually every year.

O (Observation):  God’s Law stands as a corrective for God’s people, namely, the 10 Commandments.  The Law also stood as an identity marker for how God’s people were to love God and love neighbor.  The Law portrays a peaceful Kingdom, yet God’s people fall short of that ideal.  Even though God’s people fail, that doesn’t mean the Law was not effective.   The Law was a guiding light for a people who wandered time again.  

God’s grace is what pulled them back into relationship with God.  

Hebrews leans heavily on sacrifice as the scapegoat for error of God’s people.  I think this author transforms what was an important custom of making sacrifices to God into a final “sealed the deal” event in Jesus’ sacrifice.   

The emphasis is less on appeasing God, and turning towards how Jesus fulfills the Law…how Jesus brought us closer to God than any earthly sacrifice.   

A (Application):  Some days, feeling close to God can be a challenge.   Challenged by finances, relationships, social media wars, lack of joy, addictions…we face many challenges.  We try to follow God’s path for us, but are we on it?  What do we do to make up for our wandering?

And this is where the grace comes in.   God shows us mercy, welcomes us back on the path. In this grace our eyes are opened once again to the wideness of God’s mercy.   As we soak in this grace, we can’t help but be transformed.  We realize that while we still were sinning, God was loving us through those moments.  And that makes me want to get on my knees and pray for forgiveness even more.   

Grace, forgiveness, repentance, transformation.  Pretty much in that order.   No sacrifices necessary. 

P (Prayer):  Lord, we thank you for guiding us back into the path…always.  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. 

True Gospel Authotity


From Richard Rohr’s daily meditation for Friday, June 16, 2017.  (His full meditation can be found here.)

True Gospel authority, the authority to heal and renew, is not finally found in a hierarchical office, a theological argument, a perfect law, or a rational explanation. The Crucified revealed to the world that the real power that changes people and the world is an inner authority that comes from those who have lost, let go, and are re-found on a new level. Twelve-Step programs have come to the same conclusion in our time.
Both Francis and Clare had this kind of inner authority that is still part of their essential message for the world. They let go of all fear of suffering, all need for power, prestige, and possessions, and the need for their small self to be important. They came to know something essential—who they really were in God and thus who they really were. Their house was then built on “bedrock,” as Jesus says (Matthew 7:24).

We Are Clay Jars – imperfect, yet living examples

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

O (Observation):  By “we” Paul may mean the group to which Paul belongs, that is, he and those disciples carrying the Gospel to Corinth and helping to settle new locations in which the Gospel can be read and heard and lived out.  I suggest this, because in v. 12, he suggests that this work causes a death in Paul and his disciples, FOR THE SAKE OF “you” (those in the church in Corinth).  

Paul makes clear that the carriers of the Gospel message are not the central factor.  Paul declares that he and his disciples are but clay jars – imperfect containers for that which is life-giving.  The nature of the Gospel is not tarnished, even though the carriers are.   

A (Application):  As one who supports making disciples who make disciples, I have to keep one very important thing in mind:  calling people to follow me is not about following me, but following the One, Jesus Christ himself.  

Have you ever made a copy of a copy of a copy, etc?   What happens to the content being copied?  Yes!  It diminishes in quality.  The letters and images become more and more fuzzy.  If you make copies from the original, you get a clearer picture.  

The same would happen if we called others to follow us for the sake of following US, and not following Jesus.  So the tricky part (really, the part of us that must die) is that when we share the Gospel and call people to follow, we point to the Gospel and to Jesus and NOT just to us.  

The hard part is that calling people to follow is a combination of the message and the messenger.   We who carry the Gospel (clay jars) are thus called to be living examples (not perfect examples).   We need to give folks something to imitate before they can innovate their own way of carrying the Gospel.   

The dying part of this imitation piece is that we have to let go of our way of being a clay jar when our followers (really Jesus’ followers) start to create their own way of being a clay jar.  

Remember: we are not in the clay jar-making business…we are about the work of carrying a life-giving Message.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to lead, and then to get out of the way.  Amen. 

You’re Asking the Wrong Question (for the Right Reason)

The Ascension of Jesus
 

S (Scripture): Acts 1:6 So when the disciples had come together (after Jesus appeared to them after he was resurrected), they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

O (Observation): The disciples have now seen Jesus in his resurrected state.   They are bewildered by his presence, but they also want to know what else is to come.  They know that Jesus will come again to restore the kingdom of God to its fullness.  So they ask:  “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 

Jesus knows they mean right, because he knows that they wish for the Kingdom to be restored.  But Jesus also knows that if they know the time, they might well forget that they have Kingdom work to do in the meantime.  

Jesus wants as many people to know about the Gospel (God’s all-inclusive invitation to grace), and reminds those disciples that they will go into Jerusalem (their own backyard), in all Judea and Samaria (neighboring towns and villages), and to the ends of the earth.    

Jesus knows they have a lot of work ahead of them.   They are called to share this Gospel.  

They ask when the Kingdom will be restored.  They want to know for good reason (they can’t wait for it!).  Their hearts are in the right place…

A (Application):  How often do you want to know what others think about you?   How often do you want an answer NOW?!?!  Do you ever want to know how a decision might affect your future?  

Sometimes we can get so wrapped around an axle that we lose sight of the important issue: the journey, the call to trust the Spirit. 

We want to get to the finish line so quickly.   We don’t stop to smell the roses.  We don’t look around while we rush towards the end line.  We plow over people on our way to the end.  

Yet Jesus calls his disciples to remember:  the end game is not to know the time Jesus will come back…but rather, to be about the work of the Kingdom in the meantime.   To let folks know that they can stop putting up a front to impress their friends and family, that it’s okay to be vulnerable, that might doesn’t make right, that sacrifice brings glory to God, that love wins.   This is the Gospel…and we are to bring it to all the world. 

Perhaps the questions we should ask are: Lord, are you there?   Lord, am I hearing you right?  Lord, where shall I go?  

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to ask the right questions for the right reasons.  Amen. 

Executive Order: Love One Another

S (Scripture): Acts 17:4 Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large group of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. 5 But the Jews became jealous, and gathering together some worthless men from the rabble in the marketplace, they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar.

10 The brothers sent Paul and Silas off to Berea at once, during the night. When they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 These Jews were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they eagerly received the message, examining the scriptures carefully every day to see if these things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed, along with quite a few prominent Greek women and men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica heard that Paul had also proclaimed the word of God in Berea, they came there too, inciting and disturbing the crowds. 14 Then the brothers sent Paul away to the coast at once, but Silas and Timothy remained in Berea.

O (Observation):  Resistance to the Gospel message of “Jesus Christ as the Messiah” was widespread in the early years of the Church.   Even as people (both women and men, the Scripture points out) were drawn to Paul and the Gospel message, others were resistant.  And not only resistant, but violently so.   

Those who resisted Paul’s message gathered a mob to enhance this resistance in Thessolanica.   Then, Paul moved on to Berea, gaining many more believes, but those same hostile resistors back in Thessolanica  decided they needed to follow Paul to Berea.   In Berea, the resistors caused trouble for Paul, as well. 

Even in the midst of adversity, the seeds of the Gospel faith were sown.  Many heard the words of hope of the Gospel.  In Berea, Silas and Timothy stayed behind, presumably, to help further establish the Church there.   

A (Application):  Wherever we proclaim the Gospel, resistors will be present.  We will have victories and failures – in the world’s eyes.  Yet we measure not by the world’s standards.  Instead, we discern God’s Spirit constantly and pray that we have done God’s will. The Spirit has and always will direct us properly.  

Sometimes, God’s path for us will lead to dangerous mission.   Sometimes, we will be at peace.  Either way, we are still called. 

In this time of political upheaval, the Gospel message is hard to discern.  Many of my conservative Christian friends believe that supporting the Muslim community or LGBTQ community goes against God’s will, against Scripture, and is therefore dangerous territory.   

As I dig deep into my faith, leaning on Scripture and the Spirit, I cannot help but look at my fellow humans as fallible, just as I see myself as fallible.  And yet, we are all called to look upon one another in love, just as Christ looks on us with love.   This is the Gospel “with clothes on.”   Serving one another, loving one another.  This does not mean that “anything goes.”  Rather, we start with caring for our neighbor, instead of judging them.

Political actions of late by our President has caused considerable unrest.   The best I can do is support humanitarian efforts as a Gospel imperative.   To look upon others with love, not hate or suspicion.   

We will be carried forward by the Spirit.  The Spirit has led God’s people through the wilderness before.  Some forge new paths.  Some stay behind to help out as others move on.  God continues to lead us all through our own wilderness experiences today.  We will be okay.  And we will reach out in love to our neighbors in need.  Especially refugees seeking shelter.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, clear our hearts and minds of worry and suspicion.  Give us bold spirits to love and look on one another with the eyes of Christ – able to see the best in others, not just the worst.  Amen.  

It’s Mine! All Mine!


S (Scripture): Acts 13:44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city assembled together to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and they began to contradict what Paul was saying by reviling him. 46 Both Paul and Barnabas replied courageously, “It was necessary to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have appointed you to be a light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

O (Observation):  Jealousy takes over for the Jews gathered at the local synagogue in which Paul is preaching (in Antioch).  They don’t like all of the Gentiles hanging around “messing up their things.”  These Gentiles are being welcomed in because they are starting to believe this message of hope provided by Paul and Barnabas.

Paul’s words cut deep here. Not only is he claiming that these Jews are rejecting the word of God, he takes another step in claiming that the Jews simply don’t see themselves as worthy of eternal life. Because of this, Paul says he turns to the Gentiles. As he does this, he shares some words from Isaiah. Paul is acting on the prophetic words from that prophet years ago.

According to Isaiah, the Jews were responsible for being a light to the Gentiles…indeed to the whole world.  Doing so would bring salvation to the whole earth.  Yet God’s people got off track.  Even with the Law and Prophets, they couldn’t do it for themselves.  Instead, Jesus had come to fulfill the purpose of the Law and Prophets.  To remind the world that salvation was always meant for ALL people, lived out first in the Jews, then to the whole world.  

Paul and Barnabas were doing their part to live out this hoped-for future.  

A (Application):  Mine, Mine, Mine!  That’s the cry of a child who is jealous.    That’s the cry of an immature person who likes what he/she sees and craves it…to the exclusion of others.  This goes against the purpose God has for us.  

We think that the world is a zero-sum game.   The more I give away, the less I have.   But I have  found that when I actually accomplish living out the Gospel and give away my time, talent, treasures, I somehow feel enriched.  Like somehow, 2 + 2 = 5.   Like I receive, even though I’m giving.  That is NOT a zero-sum game.  

The Gospel message works this way, too – as we give, we receive.  When we share the message of Jesus, especially with those who don’t look or act like “us,” we receive blessing.  It’s hard to describe, but you know it when you do it.   

That’s my challenge for you today.  Share God’s love with someone, even if you don’t think they deserve it.  You just might be amazed…or disappointed.   I can’t guarantee your success rate.  Remember, Paul also received hateful responses from those with whom he shared the Gospel.  But many more received the message and took the hope he was sharing to heart.  

What shall you do today with what you have?   With your finances?  With your time?  With the Gospel message?

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to know you are a God of abundance.  Amen.