Ninevah? Say WHAT?!?!?!

Photo credit here

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 Can Serve???

Photo credit here.

S (Scripture): Joel 2

25 I will repay you for the years
that the cutting locust,
the swarming locust, the hopping locust, and the devouring locust have eaten—
my great army, which I sent against you.
26 You will eat abundantly and be satisfied,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has done wonders for you;
and my people will never again be put to shame.
27 You will know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the Lord your God—no other exists;
never again will my people be put to shame.
28 After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone;
your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
and your young men will see visions.
29 In those days, I will also pour out my
spirit on the male and female slaves.

O (Observation): God freely admits to having corrected God’s people when they needed correction. God sent locusts to eat their crops. Then more to eat the leftovers. Then more to eat the crumbs : ) No apologies. However, God now promises something fruitful. God promises a new vision revealed to God’s people.

The vision God reveals comes through God’s Spirit being poured out on everyone. That Spirit will inspire prophecies and dreams for God’s people.

And not only on God’s people…but even on the male AND female slaves!!!! Scandalous!

God ‘s mercy knows no bounds.

A (Application): The text today is quoted quite a bit in liturgies and messages, usually without the context around it. Joel is a prophet who speaks God’s judgment, but also God’s word of grace. Repentance is called for once again, and so is God’s unrelenting grace and mercy.

What strikes me today is the humility that comes with being a follower of Jesus. That’s sounds weird. I think others have to declare you humble…you can’t really call yourself humble : )

Anyway, humility is what strikes me today. The nature of our faith causes us to be humble. As a pastor serving a congregation in a suburban area, we can get quite frazzled over how things operate in the congregation. We can worry about how well a ministry is going by wondering how many members are involved. And what about non-members? What if they get involved? Is that okay? Can non-members be involved? OF COURSE!

OUR CALL IS TO MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS! Humility is a part of that. Inviting members and non-members alike to be a part of what God is calling us to do goes with the territory. We don’t have to “convert” everyone. We don’t have to ask people to give their hearts to Jesus. We simply serve. We simply share the same space. We simply invite. In the process of doing life together, we can encourage baptism or taking next steps in faith formation…but that comes after building a relationship with folks and not demanding they sign on the dotted line.

If they aren’t against us, and they are doing good…great! Regardless of who the “they” are.

A great example is our participation in the upcoming “Coldest Nights” program in Murfreesboro, TN. On nights below 32 degrees, our congregation (twice per month) will provide a meal for about 15 ladies seeking shelter for the night. Lots of folks are eager to help – some members, some non-members – and that is AWESOME! I couldn’t be more proud of our folks pulling the community together to serve or neighbors in need. God’s grace falls on us all.

Happy serving!

P (Prayer): God, make us all ready to serve. Amen.

Being “Nice”

Photo credit here.

S (Scripture): Jude 1:3 Dear friends, I wanted very much to write to you concerning the salvation we share. Instead, I must write to urge you to fight for the faith delivered once and for all to God’s holy people. 4 Godless people have slipped in among you. They turn the grace of our God into unrestrained immorality and deny our only master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Judgment was passed against them a long time ago…
7 Sodom and Gomorrah and neighboring towns practiced immoral sexual relations and pursued other sexual urges. By undergoing the punishment of eternal fire, they serve as a warning.

8 Yet, even knowing this, these dreamers in the same way pollute themselves, reject authority, and slander the angels.

O (Observation): Jude, a self-proclaimed slave to Christ, writes to fellow followers of Jesus. He writes about cheap grace. Jude wants his fellow believers not to fall into the trap of taking their salvation for granted by abusing the grace given to them. He felt it necessary to name some particular sins, such as rape and sexual abuse (as he references Sodom and Gomorrah). Some of his fellow believers think that because they have grace, that they can exert power over others, and still lean on grace for salvation.

Jude sees grace as something to be embraced and not taken for granted. Grace is something that changes us, not just something that gives us freedom to sin on purpose or without worry

A (Application): We are really nice in the south. We don’t like to name others’ faults. It’s not polite. Jude must not be from be south : )

Our nice-ness has a way of covering up the fact that we sometimes take grace for granted. Like we can be rude and get away with that, because no one will confront us…because everyone wants to be nice to each other.

So maybe we need Jude and others like Jude. Maybe we need to be reminded that grace changes us!

The danger can be that we take Jude’s warning as a personal attack. I would hope that we could distance ourselves from the attack response, and rather enter a time of reflection and communal discernment. Maybe go to someone you trust, someone who will speak the truth to you, even if it’s “not nice.”

We need challenge in our lives to be reminded that God’s grace and Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, actually matter and make a difference for us. That our lives do not need situations where we have to feel like we have to show power over others or dismiss the work of the angels around us.

Let God’s grace stand on its own. Let us be changed by God’s grace.

(Keep in mind that Jude is writing to fellow believers, so his words here are geared towards challenging fellow believers, and not just random people who are not Christ-followers. Being nice is part of living out the Gospel, but being nice also means helping folks to live into the grace they’ve been given.)

P (Prayer): God of grace, pour your heart into ours, that we might be made new, daily. Amen.

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.  

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. 

May I See Some ID, Please 

Photo credit here. 

S (Scripture): Psalm 103

6 The Lord works righteousness;
does justice for all who are oppressed.
7 God made his ways known to Moses;
made his deeds known to the Israelites.
8 The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
very patient, and full of faithful love.
9 God won’t always play the judge;
he won’t be angry forever.
10 He doesn’t deal with us according to our sin
or repay us according to our wrongdoing,
11 because as high as heaven is above the earth,
that’s how large God’s faithful love is for those who honor him.

O (Observation):  God’s promise of justice and mercy is not empty.  Moses is proof that God’s people will not be abandoned.  Jesus Christ crucified and risen is proof that God’s people will not be abandoned.  

A (Application): God’s justice and mercy are dealt with compassion. God’s desire is not to punish us. Our identity is not in our sinfulness, but rather in God who is holy and who redeems us.  We are God’s forgiven sinners.   That is our identity. 

P (Prayer):  God, remind us that we are yours!  Amen. 

Captivity…then, Freedom

Photo credit here. 

S (Scripture): Jeremiah 21:8 This is what you should tell this people: The Lord says: I’m setting before you the way of life and the way of death. 9 Whoever stays in the city will die by the sword, famine, and disease. But whoever leaves the city and surrenders to the Babylonians will live; yes, their lives will be spared. 10 I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good, declares the Lord; it will be delivered to the king of Babylon, who will set it on fire.

O (Observation):  God has finally allowed the people of God to be taken over.  Their lives are no longer dedicated to God, except when they are in a pinch.   God will be letting the people feel the pain of moving away from God’s grace.   

This pain, however, can possibly be assuaged.   God is giving life in the midst of the death and destruction to come.   If they stay in Israel, they will perish.  But if they go with the Babylonians – back to Babylon – they will live.   The people must decide.  

A note about “captivity” in the days of Jeremiah: neighboring countries that conquered a people and its land would take the people as captives back to their own homelands.   Some of the captors would stay in the place which they conquered, but mostly, folks whose land was captured would be taken to the land of their captors.  They would live, but in a foreign land. 

A (Application):  At times, we find ourselves in a pit that we have dug with our own hands.   We sort of wake up to the destruction we have created around our lives.   These moments of awakening can seem to be desparate times, indeed.  And yet…we are still people of hope.  

Our past does not define us.   Our errors are not what makes up our identities.  We are who are followers of Christ seek our identity in Him: forgiven sinners, sheep in the Great Shepherd’s flock, sons and daughters of The King.  

Who we are is shaped by God.  We err.  We repent to God.  We are made new.   

God’s people would be gathered once again, despite their captivity in Babylon.  The years would be many, but they would eventually be redeemed.  In Jesus Christ, who reconciles all of us to God.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, hear our cries of repentance.  Amen.