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.

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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.

Who Am I?

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S (Scripture): Romans 11:16 But if part of a batch of dough is offered to God as holy, the whole batch of dough is holy too. If a root is holy, the branches will be holy too. 17 If some of the branches were broken off, and you were a wild olive branch, and you were grafted in among the other branches and shared the root that produces the rich oil of the olive tree, 18 then don’t brag like you’re better than the other branches. If you do brag, be careful: it’s not you that sustains the root, but it’s the root that sustains you.

O (Observation): Paul speaks to Gentile Christians in a way that assured them that they, too (in addition to the Jewish Christians), received salvation in full. Any who believe in Christ are saved.

At the same time, they should not boast of their salvation as if they earned it for themselves. They are a branch grafted into salvation. The root sustains the branch.

A (Application): How many of us think we sustain ourselves? Don’t we just need to dig down deep inside ourselves to feel happy? To feel like we are enough?

I struggle with self-worth. To what is my identity tied?

Here are some suggestions of the “root” that Paul mentions…which point to my (and your) self-worth:

  • Child of God
  • Seal of the Holy Spirit on my forehead in my baptism.
  • Candle to remind me to shine God’s light before others
  • Luke 15 – the older brother (“everything I have is yours”)

In what ways do you sense your identity for the good?

P (Prayer): God, remind me that I am yours…and that is enough…for you are Good! Amen.

The Public Square

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S (Scripture): Acts 26:24 At this point in Paul’s defense, Festus declared with a loud voice, “You’ve lost your mind, Paul! Too much learning is driving you mad!”

25 But Paul replied, “I’m not mad, most honorable Festus! I’m speaking what is sound and true. 26 King Agrippa knows about these things, and I have been speaking openly to him. I’m certain that none of these things have escaped his attention. This didn’t happen secretly or in some out-of-the-way place. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you trying to convince me that, in such a short time, you’ve made me a Christian?”

29 Paul responded, “Whether it is a short or a long time, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today will become like me, except for these chains.”

O (Observation): The debate is quite interesting. Arguing a case for faith in front of a government judge is like explaining photosynthesis to a rock. It just doesn’t need to be. The courts and the religious leaders served two different purposes in Paul’s time. The religious leaders stuck to questions of faith and the political leaders were concerned with control of their people and lands.

So, in his attempt to defend himself, Paul takes the opportunity to explain that he has no beef with the state, except that he is currently in chains.

Paul then brings faith into the debate, because he is trying to appeal to the king’s faith. You believe in the prophets, right? They foretold of the one to come. Jesus!

King Agrippa won’t be pulled into a debate on faith, but I admire Paul’s struggle to make the king’s faith part of his decision regarding Paul’s possible incarceration.

A (Application): How often do we appeal to our own calling as Christians in the world when making decisions in the public square? We like to treat our faith lives separate from our everyday lives. In doing so, we miss the opportunity for God to shape us and to work with us through our everyday struggles.

When I see injustice, I consider my own self and how I am only where I am by the grace of God. Don’t others get to experience that same grace by God and the community?

When someone decides that they want to not sell a cake to someone or not marry someone because of a religious (Christian) conviction, I would suggest that their use of religion is one that looks to defend an ideology, rather than embrace the person and teachings of Christ.

First and foremost, we extend mercy, because we have first received mercy. So our following is made of worship and fellowship and service in which we can embrace this mercy and give it as we have received it.

Second, we extend mercy and lean on Christ’s teachings so as to connect with others through a shared sense of being broken. Our shared faith is not because we can confidently and boldly profess our faith, but rather we proclaim that we share a lack of perfection and wholeness. As we share our faith, we don’t just make a faith claim, but rather we speak as a people who knows they need Christ to bind them up in their woundedness.

May we be as bold as Paul to speak of our faith in the public square, and may we do so out of a response to the grace and mercy shown to us first by Christ.

P (Prayer): Lord, heal me, a sinner. Cause me to speak in your name always. Amen.

I Am My Own Harshest Critic

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S (Scripture): Psalm 25

Make your ways known to me, Lord;

    teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth—teach it to me—

    because you are the God who saves me.

        I put my hope in you all day long.

Lord, remember your compassion and faithful love—

    they are forever!

But don’t remember the sins of my youth or my wrongdoing.

    Remember me only according to your faithful love

        for the sake of your goodness, Lord.

O (Observation): What path to take? How will God see me? These are the questions the psalmist asks this morning.

How will God aide me in my daily walk?

How will God remember me?

May grace lead me home.

A (Application): How will I be remembered? How will I know if I’ve taken the right path?

I definitely resonate with this Psalm. I try to take stock of where I am and where I’ve been. I ponder my future as an individual and as a husband and as a father.

When I make decisions, I try to imagine my future self looking back at my present self and ask: is this act or decision praiseworthy?

And so I critique myself. And I’m pretty harsh.

So the Psalm reminds me of the way I hope God sees me and all of us:

But don’t remember the sins of my youth or my wrongdoing.

Remember me only according to your faithful love

Amen!

P (Prayer): Lord, give me strength to pursue the right path and the grace to forgive myself. Amen.

“Worthy of God’s Grace?” (Is that Even the Right Question???)

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S (Scripture): Acts 12:44 On the next Sabbath, almost everyone in the city [of Antioch] gathered to hear the Lord’s word. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were overcome with jealousy. They argued against what Paul was saying by slandering him. 46 Speaking courageously, Paul and Barnabas said, “We had to speak God’s word to you first. Since you reject it and show that you are unworthy to receive eternal life, we will turn to the Gentiles. 47 This is what the Lord commanded us:

I have made you a light for the Gentiles,

so that you could bring salvation to the end of the earth.”

O (Observation): Paul faces the Jews who doubt that Jesus is connected to God’s plan. They doubt that their rituals and customs should be overturned, because they cannot go along with this message that in Jesus all sins may be forgiven for those who believe. It just cannot be that simple! They have time-tested customs and Scripture to support their view.

So, Paul reminds them that Isaiah once told God’s people that they would be blinded by their own lack of acceptance for bringing Gentiles along. Thus, Israel would be a light for the Gentiles. If Jews didn’t accept God’s grace, perhaps the Gentiles would!

A (Application): God ALWAYS has in mind a welcome for people of the whole earth! Yet we continually find ways to push others out. We find ways to keep others from taking our God, as if there wasn’t enough room at the table for all of us.

Or maybe we have an idea of who God should accept, who God should (or shouldn’t) associate with. And when you see a situation going against your ideas…you get frustrated, or angry.

God doesn’t get even with you and I when we get angry at God’s grace for others. God simply points to you and I and says, “I’ve shown much grace to those folks. They may not deserve it, but I give it. Would you like to know my grace? Take up your cross and follow me. I’ll help you through it.”

May we be open to the Spirit’s movement in our lives and accept it as God’s grace for us all.

P (Prayer): Lord, soften our hearts for your will to be done in and through us this day. Amen.

A True Welcome

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S (Scripture): Psalm 9

But the Lord rules forever!

    He assumes his throne

    for the sake of justice.

He will establish justice in the world rightly;

    he will judge all people fairly.

The Lord is a safe place for the oppressed—

    a safe place in difficult times.

10 

Those who know your name trust you

    because you have not abandoned

    any who seek you, Lord.

O (Observation): The Lord is a safe place for the oppressed. The psalms were written at many different times throughout the history of God’s people. Some were written in times of peace. Some were written in times of great struggle and adversity. This Psalm reflects one of those times of great adversity.

But a ray of hope keeps God’s people from despair. They trust that all who are oppressed and seek the Lord will find a home with God.

A (Application): The oppressed of our day are many: LGBTQ+, immigrants, those who receive abuse, mentally and physically challenged people, and more. The Church was known as a place of refuge for a long, long time, choosing to aid the oppressed in all places.

My hope is that all churches can be places of refuge for the oppressed, once again. May churches be places where all are welcomed with a true sense of welcome, not a bait and switch type of welcome. Just welcoming folks for who they are is the first and vital step to help them know that God wishes to have a relationship with them.

The challenge to change (or not) may come later on when one understands that grace is what saves us, not our own acts of penitence.

May the Church be a place of welcome for all oppressed people. Just as they are.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see others as you see us. Help us to welcome all. Amen.