Responding to the Call

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 5:4 No one takes this honor for themselves but takes it only when they are called by God, just like Aaron.

5 In the same way Christ also didn’t promote himself to become high priest. Instead, it was the one who said to him,

You are my Son.

        Today I have become your Father

O (Observation): The call to serve the people of God comes from God…even for Jesus. Aaron served God’s people by communicating with God and bringing the people’s joys and concerns to God. Also, for the sake of order, priests throughout the ages have spoken to God on behalf of God’s people. They offer contrite hearts to God.

Eventually, we have seen God’s desire more clearly. We no longer need sacrifices – Jesus made sure of that. God never needed sacrifices, just a people willing to admit their brokenness.

A (Application): Instead of sacrifices, we bring our collective broken heart to God. And priests help us to do that.

Who are our priests? These are people of God who sense that called has called them to carry these broken hearts and help them to connect to God. These people who are called by God to be priests are also acknowledged and accepted by the surrounding community. In other words, that call is both internal (sensed by the individual) and external (verified by the God-follower community).

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church In America, that process of discernment is aided by what we call the “Candidacy Process.” If you are sensing that your baptismal call is leading you into service of the Church, check out our resources on the ELCA website.

And if you do sense God’s call, let me know…I’d love to help you process that a bit.

Here’s my number: 615-617-9697.

P (Prayer): Lord, in our baptism, you call us. Help us to respond to your call. Amen.

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Exile, Promises, and Hope

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 46:27 

But don’t be afraid, my servant Judah;

    don’t lose heart, Israel.

I will deliver you from a faraway place

    and your children from the land of their exile.

My people Jacob will again be safe and sound,

    with no one harassing them.

28 

So don’t be afraid, my servant Jacob,

    declares the Lord.

I’m with you;

    I will put an end to all the nations

        where I have scattered you.

But I won’t put an end to you.

    I won’t let you avoid punishment;

    I will discipline you as you deserve.

O (Observation): Some of God’s people experienced exile when the Babylonians were allowed to come in and take over Judah. Some of God’s people stayed in Judah to be servants to the Babylonians.

Either way, an exile was happening. This was no longer their home. Temples destroyed. Protective city walls crushed. Foreigners occupying the territory of God’s people.

God’s people erred and went out of their way to disobey God. And God’s response was to let the Babylonians come in and do their thing.

Yet, God would not completely abandon the people whom God claimed. God’s people would be remembered by God. They would not be forsaken forever.

The promise is made by God. Even though discipline awaits, God is still with God’s people.

A (Application): Exile. I kind of feel an exile has come upon our family. We moved from Murfreesboro, TN, to Lilburn, GA. Our children are in new schools, our jobs have changed. Yet, this does not feel like punishment, but rather a call towards a new direction. This whole situation is not one of correction, but one of new orientation.

We do sense God’s hand guiding and moving us in the right direction. We are to be patient and trust in the Lord. We are to “be” and not just “do.”

That is hard. Simple, but hard.

And so we go to work or school. We do our best to give God praise though our words and actions…knowing that God does not forget us.

God is with us. For, even though we feel like are being worn away, this allows God’s presence to shine through even more.

If you feel like you are in exile, explore the ways in which “less of you, more of God” comes about in your life.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us into the way of peace. Amen.

What are Your Values?

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S (Scripture): Ephesians 4:29 Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say. 30 Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy—you were sealed by him for the day of redemption. 31 Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. 32 Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.

5:1 Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children. 2 Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. He was a sacrificial offering that smelled sweet to God.

O (Observation): Paul instructs the Christian community he established to honor God with their lips and lives. They have been forgiven and set free from the standards of the world – pride, envy, anger – and have been given something else to live for: love, kindness, compassion.

A (Application): I wonder if we as a Christian community can find ways to speak in support of our refugee brothers and sisters AND find ways to do it without assuming other people share our values. This is the crux of Christian engagement in the world.

How do we show Christian love when others don’t share our values? What do we do about other Christians who don’t share our values?

I have a hard time dealing with people who don’t share values of love, kindness, and compassion. They say they are being compassionate, but typically that means being compassionate towards their own self / community.

We are good at looking at others and saying that THOSE people have something screwed up internally, but when WE are at fault, it is usually something beyond our control. Or we just deny fault of any kind.

May we find that all of us receive forgiveness from the faults we possess. May we find grace and compassion are the ways forward.

P (Prayer): Lord, helps us to see that you are our source of grace, and that all of us need it to be sustained. Amen.

Holy Work

Photo credit here. By the way, this is a video describing the ELCA’s program, Young Adults in Global Mission.

S (Scripture): Ephesians 2:8 You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith (or, through his faithfulness.). This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. 9 It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. 10 Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

O (Observation): Debate continues on the emphasis of the faith. Is it God’s faithfulness to us, or our faith that saves us? Either way, we have reconciled this by stating that “our” faith only comes to us as a gift of the Spirit. So, in the end, the onus is on God. God stirs up faith in us.

Is our level of faith in direct correlation to our kind acts (or perverse / sinful acts)? Certainly not!

God’s Grace is a gift – a gift we have in abundance!

We are created in Christ Jesus to do good! This is our purpose.

A (Application): How often do we cut ourselves short when it comes to our ability to serve others in the name of God? We have a perceived inability to do miracles and wonders in Christ!

Faith turns us from our selfish desires towards looking for the ultimate good in ourselves and others. Faith calls on us to look for the Christ in the other: the poor, the homeless, the outcast, the refugee, the immigrant. In doing so, we cannot help but to serve and to love our neighbor in need.

Where are you feeling called to serve? Whether in Christ’s name or just from the goodness of your heart. Do that work, and see a miracle!

P (Prayer): Lord, remind us of your presence in our lives! Stir our hearts towards the holy work to which you call us. Amen.

Temptation and Advice

One Bread, One Body

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 10:14 So then, my dear friends, run away from the worship of false gods! 15 I’m talking to you like you are sensible people. Think about what I’m saying. 16 Isn’t the cup of blessing that we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Isn’t the loaf of bread that we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one loaf of bread, we who are many are one body, because we all share the one loaf of bread. 18 Look at the people of Israel. Don’t those who eat the sacrifices share from the altar? 19 What am I saying then? That food sacrificed to a false god is anything, or that a false god is anything? 20 No, but this kind of sacrifice is sacrificed to demons and not to God. I don’t want you to be sharing in demons. 21 You can’t drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you can’t participate in the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

O (Observation): Paul has a lot to say about a lot of things. He usually has a theological point, followed by a very practical application of what the people are facing.

One bread, one cup, one body. That’s the main thing.

So, if you eat bread or drink when it was blessed to a demon??? What does that say about your intentions? The demon means nothing to us as believers, but what is the statement you’re siblings in Christ will receive?

Are you divided in loyalty? Will that temptation be resisted by you? Likely not.

No need to be playing in dangerous territory. Not that we believe demons or other powers are stronger than the Lord. But know this…dancing in that dangerous territory can be quite taxing.

A (Application): Paul likes to give advice to his followers. He built a rapport with them. They knew him. And he could be quite challenging to them. And what he addresses are sometimes universal issues and are sometimes unique issues to a place and time.

So, where do we place Paul’s prohibition? In the realm of salvation? Or in the realm of advice for followers of Jesus? In this case, I choose “advice.” Paul knows that demons are no match for Jesus. He just wants us to know what we are getting into. We can easily let demons and other temptations cloud our hearts and minds and therefore bend our allegiance away from God and neighbor (and towards evil).

Our good news is that whether or not we succumb to the temptations of this life, we always have a God who wishes for us to know unity with God and with our neighbor. Whatever challenges or temptations awaiting us (and we will succumb to them from time to time) we rest assured that our one-ness with God can never be shattered.

P (Prayer): Lord, make us one…give us strength and grace. Amen.

Leading with Love

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S (Scripture): Romans 13:8 Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law. 9 The commandments, Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t desire what others have, and any other commandments, are all summed up in one word: You must love your neighbor as yourself.10 Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law.

O (Observation): Paul encourages all followers of Christ to do the best they can to cooperate with governmental authorities and with one another. Here, Paul shows them the way forward, which was taught by Jesus: Love your neighbor as yourself.

In this simple (yet somehow extremely complicated and difficult) command, we find a way forward. Love is what fulfills the Law. Leading with love can guide one’s relationship with authorities and with one’s neighbor.

A (Application): Leading with Love is the key to relationships with authorities, with family, with strangers.

Yet leading with love can be quite challenging. For our emotions and feelings and desire for retribution can get in the way. If we think someone has wronged us, do we forget that? No…but we can work though that. Love allows us the space to work through the wrongs done to us.

So sometimes leading with love is simply about extending the grace first shown to you in Christ Jesus, so that others can receive the same grace you’ve received. You are not digging up grace on your own…you are simply giving to others what you have already received.

Lead with love. At the coffee shop, the gas station, your office, your classroom, the lunchroom, the park. Lead with love, and see if it becomes contagious. And don’t be surprised when someone asks you where you became a person that leads with love. Be ready to share your response : )

(Seriously. Literally rehearse what you are going to say. Sometimes we have to verbalize or write down our faith story to put it in perspective. It’s a good practice.)

P (Prayer): Lord, we receive your grace, unworthy as we are. You find a way to love each of us, for we are your creation. Thank you. Amen.

Where is God in the Good & Bad?

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S (Scripture): Job 4:4 

Your words have raised up the falling;

    you’ve steadied failing knees.

But now it comes to you, and you are dismayed;

    it has struck you, and you are frightened.

Isn’t your religion the source of your confidence;

    the integrity of your conduct, the source of your hope?

Think! What innocent person has ever perished?

    When have those who do the right thing been destroyed?

As I’ve observed, those who plow sin

    and sow trouble will harvest it.

When God breathes deeply, they perish;

    by a breath of his nostril they are annihilated.

O (Observation): Eliphaz is one of Job’s friends. He is trying to speak from a perspective of logic to help explain to Job the reason for what is going on. At this point, Job’s livestock and family have been killed. Job himself has had boils / lesions all over his body. Job is in mourning.

Eliphaz reminds Job that Job’s faith has been a witness to many who have suffered loss. And yet, Eliphaz is confused to see that Job has not taken on his own council for himself.

To explain things, Eliphaz conflates some ideas in a less than helpful manner. He thinks bad things only happen to sinners. He can’t see bad things happening to good people. Job is good. But bad things around him have happened. Therefore (according to Eliphaz) something bad must have been going on.

A (Application): Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. We see it all the time. And we get upset or jealous.

We think God should reward us for the good we do, and correct us when we do bad. This is kind of how most of us raise our kids. Reward the good. Punish the bad.

Perhaps we can think in this way: God doesn’t tempt or taunt or expose us. God meets us where we are and doesn’t control us or our actions. Instead, God gives us grace and the space to do what we will with that grace.

Sometimes that grace is exactly what we will need when our world comes crashing down around us. And when we have something go right in our lives, we can rejoice in that moment.

P (Prayer): God, help us to sense your presence in our lives in the good and the bad. Amen.