Close to God

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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. 

May I See Some ID, Please 

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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


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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. 

Confession From a White Man & a (mostly) White Church


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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 13

17 If you are too proud to listen, I will go off alone and cry my eyes out.  I will weep uncontrollably because the Lord’s flock will be dragged off into exile.
18 Tell the king and the queen mother:Come down from your lofty place, because your glorious crowns will soon be removed from your heads.

19 The towns of the arid southern plain will be surrounded; no one will get in or out; all Judah will be taken into exile; everyone will be led away.

O (Observation):  Jeremiah mourns that God’s people are too proud, and as a result, they will be cast out.   God will not let go of them forever, but Jeremiah’s lament is that the people are so stubborn and arrogant that they are willing to be cast out into exile, rather than repent.

Perhaps Jeremiah’s tears come because he sees the disparity between the action of the people and God’s desires for God’s people.   And the people won’t listen.  So God will pull the old, “Ok.  You do life your way.   Let’s see how that works out for you.”

A (Application): Statues.   Confederate statues.  This is the talk of the town.   I’ll be listening in.   To those who want it removed.  To those who don’t.  (By the way, I’m okay with taking ours down in Murfreesboro…but I am one voice amongst many.)

I read something that woke me up, regarding the latest rise in awareness of racism.   One suggestion from a black writer to white folks wishing to be allies in the work of dismantling racism is not to act surprised.   The suggestion was this:   Don’t be surprised by acts of racism; it’s always been here.  The author wants folks to be aware of racism…the point is that the level of shock shows a lack of awareness on our (white people’s) part.   

Click here for the entire article from Sojourners. Here is the section that got me:

4. Please try not to, “I can’t believe that something like this would happen in this day and age!” your way into being an ally when atrocities like the events in Charleston, S.C., and Charlottesville, Va., happen. People of color have been aware of this kind of hatred and violence in America for centuries, and it belittles our experience for you to show up 300 years late to the oppression-party suddenly caring about the world. Don’t get me wrong, I welcome you. I want for you to come into a place of awareness. However, your shock and outrage at the existence of racism in America echoes the fact that you have lived an entire life with the luxury of indifference about the lives of marginalized/disenfranchised folks. Please take several seats.

I have had many moments of awareness, but let’s just say that I feel a bit more convicted now than I ever have.   

I invite you to discern your place in the system and to see how you might be both a part of the problem and solution.  I invite you (my white friends) to repent of your part in systemic racism.  Don’t look to others or their actions.  Look at yourself, repent, and then seek God’s direction in your life.  See how you can be a part of God’s glorious plan to bring about reparations and reconciliation in your town.   

Build relationships across racial lines.  In a workshop on racism, I explained to an African American friend that – even in a genuine show of neighborly love – that I might feel like I was trying to build a relationship artificially.  She assured me that if I was genuine, and she heard that I wanted to get to know her and befriend her, that that would not be as artificial as I am making it out to be.  She said, “I’d be happy to get to know you.”

So, you see…sometimes it just takes stepping out of the circle.  Just a step or two at a time.  

Step out.  Today.  

P (Prayer):  #SpiritLeadMe.  Amen.  

Why Worship?


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S (Scripture): Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. 14 And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people. 16 The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.

O (Observation): Paul teaches a clear ethic of love and forgiveness.  Caring for one another is at the heart of Paul’s words.   Be kind to one another, not just for your sake or the sake of the one you interact with…but for the Lord’s sake, as well.    

The word of Christ must dwell in you, richly.   Not only Jesus himself, but also songs and scriptures.   Paul calls his people to constantly remind themselves of the forgiveness and mercy that God has shown to God’s people throughout history.   In recalling theses words through song and readings, Paul reminds his folks that they will be close to the heart of God…and doing God’s work. 

A (Application):  Every week during worship, in our liturgy, in our songs, in our readings, we recall God’s saving acts of forgiveness, love, and mercy.  Many don’t realize, but the liturgy in Lutheran worship is steeped in the words of scripture.   We know much more of the scriptures than we give ourselves credit for.   Folks might not be able to recall chapter and verse of some of the scriptures, but it does enter their hearts and minds.   And it enters the hearts and minds of our little ones, too!   This is why we love having our children in worship with us.  

We can learn a lot during worship, but for Lutherans, worship is not just a time for learning.  Worship is also a time for absorbing God’s dynamic presence: through symbols, through sacraments, through hearing and reading God’s word directly, through singing hymns and psalms, and though God’s word proclaimed and prayed.   

We sing and proclaim and share God’s peace with one another, all for God’s glory.  This practice is then carried out into the world.  We gather weekly to be reminded of who and whose we are.  We are then equipped and sent into the world to love and serve our neighbors. 

Worship shapes us.   Worship is not just for “me and Jesus.”   Worship transforms the rest of our lives…until we gather again, in God’s name, to be reminded of who and whose we are.   

May we capture this sense of grace and share it in the world today.  

P (Prayer): Lord, gather us in, equip us, send us forth to serve.  Amen.  

In the Face of the Bad, Practice the Better

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 12:Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.  8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

O (Observation):  Paul was said to have had a physical ailment that kept him from ever being fully healthy, physically.   I’d have to do more research on this, but regardless of the ailment, Paul makes a theological point.

Paul understands his physical ailment, or weakness, to be reminded that he is not whole…not without Christ.  Paul understands that even though he is weak, that simply makes room for Christ to show up and make him whole.  

What does it look like for Christ to make Paul whole?  Jesus’ grace, filling in where Paul is weak. 

A (Application):  When Christians throw around knowledge or Scripture to publicly condemn Christians or non-Christians, I get more than a little irked.   Maybe I get irked because I have a hard time with rebuttals.  I need time to think something through, and to consider all the angles before I respond.  When I respond too hastily, I find that I get too emotional in my responses, or too narrow-minded.   

We can all serve as Jesus did, sharing the Gospel, bringing healing and forgiveness, even bringing new life where there is none.   But when others criticize you for it, don’t feel like you need a rebuttal.   If you are doing something in Christ’s name that is giving life to something or someone else, fear not.  Embrace the apparent weakness, that Jesus’ grace might be sufficient to satisfy you.    

As we take the example of Jesus, we might simply turn from the negative attitudes around us, and do something GOOD in response.  Richard Rohr shares the core values of the Center for Action and Contemplation on their website.  One core principle is this:

“the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better”

As Christians and non-Christians alike try to knock you down when you serve or speak in the name of Jesus…let them…for in your weakness, Jesus’ grace will fill you.  Practice the better. Let this be Jesus’ way of filling you with grace.  

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us filled with your grace, that we might practice the better in the face of the bad.  Amen.