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

Photo credit here

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.

Advertisements

A True Welcome

Photo credit here

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.

Keep Your Eyes Open!

I am back in the saddle, folks. Around this time, I typically take a few weeks off from my publication of blog posts to focus on my family and my pastoral work. The blog centers me, but a break from the publications helps me to focus on other areas. Here we go…

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Acts 10:44 While Peter was still speaking (to Cornelius, the God-fearing centurion), the Holy Spirit fell on everyone who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 They heard them speaking in other languages and praising God. Peter asked, 47 “These people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. Surely no one can stop them from being baptized with water, can they?” 48 He directed that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited Peter to stay for several days.

O (Observation): So a group of rule-following / circumcised Jews witness the Spirit coming upon a group of uncircumcised folks who believe in God. They see proof that these folks (who did not follow Jewish customs) are being welcomed into God’s body of believers.

And Peter questions his fellow believers: What is to stop us from baptizing these folks?

A (Application): While at Publix the other day, the young lady bringing the groceries out to my car noticed that I had made a tax-exempt purchase. As such, she inquired about our church. She asked me what was different about the Lutheran Church, what made it stand out from other churches.

Trusting that the Spirit would give me the right words, I said, “Well, we start with grace. And we follow up with grace. We want all to feel welcome to be a part of God’s family.” I know that sounds real “loosey-goosey” to some, but I believe we all have to start there. Help people to know that they belong. As people become a part of the body of Christ – through the movement of the spirit and in baptism – they will be challenged in many and various ways by God and by fellow disciples.

But we always start and end with grace.

Kind of like the message that Peter received from God (Acts 10:15): don’t consider anything unclean that God has made clean. If someone inquires about God’s grace, we give it and help them to see that they, too, have a role in God’s Kingdom. The centurion realized this. The crowd realized this. May we all realize that we all have a place.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep my eyes open to those who enter the path you have laid out for me. Amen.

A Thin, Quiet Place

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): 1 Kings 19:11 The Lord said [to Elijah], “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”

O (Observation): Elijah is being pursued by those who wish to kill him, those who worship Baal. He goes into hiding, out in the desert/wilderness. He finds a cave. God speaks. God invites Elijah to the cave entrance. God will pass by.

God manifests in many forms. This time, God manifests in silence.

Why silence? Perhaps the stillness eludes Elijah. Perhaps God wishes to remind Elijah that nothing can move God, perhaps to encourage Elijah to be still. And therefore, nothing need be feared by any God-follower on this earth.

In the stillness, God reigns.

A (Application): My Apple Watch dings about once every hour to remind me to breathe. The watch emphasizes the importance of pausing long enough to engage in a one minute exercise of focused, meditative breathing.

Our spiritual life can use the same reminder. To pause…long enough…to allow God’s reign to sink in for you and for me.

Are you feeling like you’re hiding in a cave? Do you sense a lack of support? Do you feel like thugs are slowly (or quickly) unraveling?

God is here. God reminds us that we are cared for and loved.

May you know that God is waiting for you today…in a place of closeness…where the space between us is imperceptibly thin…quiet.

P (Prayer): Lord, be our steady guide, as always. Amen.

Can We See the Fruit?

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): 1 Kings 18:20 Ahab sent the message to all the Israelites. He gathered the prophets at Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you hobble back and forth between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow God. If Baal is God, follow Baal.” The people gave no answer.

22 Elijah said to the people, “I am the last of the Lord’s prophets, but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. 23 Give us two bulls. Let Baal’s prophets choose one. Let them cut it apart and set it on the wood, but don’t add fire. I’ll prepare the other bull, put it on the wood, but won’t add fire. 24 Then all of you will call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers with fire—that’s the real God!”

36 At the time of the evening offering, the prophet Elijah drew near and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. I have done all these things at your instructions. 37 Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, Lord, are the real God and that you can change their hearts.” 38 Then the Lord’s fire fell; it consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up the water in the trench!

O (Observation): Israel’s kingship began to have a high turnover ratio. King Ahab settles in for 22 years, but he “did evil in the sight of the Lord.” He ushered in more Baal worship , forsaking the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

As such, the prophets of the Lord went into hiding, including Elijah. But the time came for Elijah to listen to God’s call to confront King Ahab.

Elijah announced that a test would be in order. Sacrifice a bull, and the god who consumes the sacrifice with fire is the one true God. (And for good measure, Elijah has the servants pour water over the wood around his sacrifice.)

Sure enough, Baal’s god does not show up, but Elijah’s God does!!!

And Ahab was on the run…fearful for his life…and quite possibly, afraid of the God he had forsaken.

A (Application): Why can I not be more clear in my faith? I am too often finding myself worshipping either Baal or God when the moment strikes. If we are all honest, we all do this: we find times when we trust God (like Elijah), and we find times when we trust only ourselves (like Baal prophets).

If I had to choose only one, I’d choose to be like Elijah. So that is what I strive for.

Yet many Christians look at my stances as being strictly that of Baal. As being “against God’s will,” or “going against ‘God’s Word’.” I admit I can err like anyone, but that is never my intention.

To these detractors, I say this: “Look to the fruit.” Is fruit for God’s Kingdom being produced? If so, then what of it? Just because my decisions and teachings don’t square with a traditional point-of-view, why shoot them down as if I am simply one of Baal’s prophets?

Perhaps we should call upon God to decide, instead of other Christians playing the part of God. Is what I do worshipful to God? I pray so. And when my actions detract from following God, I pray for forgiveness.

P (Prayer): God, continue to show us that you are God and can be trusted implicitly! Amen.

The Written Word

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Psalm 119

169

Let my cry reach you, Lord;

help me understand according to what you’ve said.

170

Let my request for grace come before you;

deliver me according to your promise!

171

Let my lips overflow with praise

because you’ve taught me your statutes.

172

Let my tongue declare your word,

because all your commandments are righteous.

173

Let your power help me

because I have chosen your precepts.

174

Lord, I long for your saving help!

Your Instruction is my joy!

175

Let me live again so I can praise you!

Let your rules help me!

176

I’ve wandered off like a sheep, lost.

Find your servant

because I haven’t forgotten

your commandments!

O (Observation): The close of this Psalm is found here in the text provided for you today. This Psalm is an acrostic. Every letter of the Hebrew alphabet begins a section. Each section begins with the coordinating letter of the alphabet. This is meant to show wholeness or completeness. The wholeness is how God’s followers are caught up in God’s being. The wholeness shows how the Torah shapes God’s people towards righteousness – that is, to be in good standing before God and neighbor.

God’s guidance is sought in all things. When afraid, angry, sorrowful, repentant, happy…in all things, God’s people remain grateful for God’s guidance and grace.

Even though “I” is used, I read it as a “collective ‘I’.” That is…imagine everyone who has ever read and prayed over this Psalm. Imagine all of God’s people reading it – aloud – together, in multiple languages. God’s people…with one one, heterogenous praise.

How beautiful…

A (Application): Reading this text today has caused me to pause. Quite often, when I think of someone “falling away” from God, I think of myself or others doing “bad things.” What a limited view of sin.

As I read this text today, I am ashamed. For these past few months, so much personal strife has entered my arena. We have not done “bad things” as much as circumstances around us have simply been difficult and challenging.

This Psalm reminds me that not trusting that God will lead me / us in times of strife has been my sin. My despair has been winning, but today’s reading brings me hope once again…and it reminds me of the importance of reading Scripture daily. (Or almost daily : )

God reaches out to us in friends and family and so many other ways…of this, I have no doubt. Yet…what lies in our power is to pick up the written Word and to trust that it will not return empty.

Pick it up.

Open it in your browser.

Just start reading.

In fact, read it with others. Ask questions. Struggle with how the Scripture applies to your life. (Kind of like what I struggle through every time I write!)

BibleGateway.com. Give them a whirl.

What scriptures to read? Do like I do:

Go to https://www.moravian.org/ and see what texts they suggest for the day!

What is your pain / strife today? In what ways do you feel like you’ve been drifting?

P (Prayer): Lord, continue to speak to me. Amen.

Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Stride

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): John 6:47 Jesus responds to the Jewish opposition: “I assure you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that whoever eats from it will never die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

O (Observation): The Bread of Life. Living Bread. What vivid images are brought to mind. The bread is “living” insofar as it brings life to those who partake of it. Eternal life!

Jesus was surely disturbing those of the faith with this new teaching. Jesus was trying to help them see that the Law (doing what is righteous) drives one to the Gospel (salvation, forgiveness). Eating bread sustains for a time. Eating the Bread of Life lasts forever. And this is a free gift!

A (Application): So why do we – as Christians – make such a fuss over how we understand the Bread of Life to work? Why does one style of Communion distribution work better than another?

Or, why does one type of baptism “count” while others don’t? Is that not a stumbling block?

Why does one group of Christians – doing God’s work – feel it necessary to condemn another group of Christ-followers who are also doing God’s work?

Perhaps our call as Christians is to focus a bit more outward, instead of inward.

This outward focus is embedded in our vision statement at the congregation I serve: “We are called to walk closely with God, discover the gifts God has given us, and welcome and accept all people.” As that last part states, we strive to welcome and accept all people. That’s a wide range of folks, so we narrow it down to make real from time to time. Whether this be LGBTQ+ community, those with disabilities, the homeless, etc. we find ways to live out our vision in our community.

We may receive condemnation, but as long as we receive the Bread of Life, nothing stands in our way of doing God’s work here in this place.

P (Prayer): Lord, sustain us for you are the Bread of Life. Amen.