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.  

From Spiritual To Material


S (Scripture): Romans 15:23 But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you 24 when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while. 25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; 26 for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things. 28 So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain…

O (Observation): Paul is always on the move.  He is graced with the blessing of being an apostle – always out on the frontier.   And loving it, since this is his calling for the most part.  

In his travels amongst places where he was establishing churches, he found that the churches in Macedonia and Achaia were eager to offer their resources to the churches in Rome. Paul was carrying this offering and wishing to go to Spain, but to visit the church in Rome and drop off this offering as part of what he hoped to be an epic journey to Spain. 

The spiritual impact in the faith communities started and helped by Paul has led to material offerings and support to other churches.   

A (Application):  As a pastor, I have the blessing of sharing God’s generous spirit with the congregation I serve and with the wider community.  Our spiritual blessing leads us to material generosity.   

We have found that money follows ministry.  We like to get caught up in scarcity, but our God is always surprising us in ways unimaginable.   Where will the money come from?  I don’t know.  Maybe it will, maybe it won’t and we have to shift plans.   But we are always discerning our way forward…always wondering what God is saying to us, and wondering what God wants us to do.   

As we continue to wonder, we see fruit coming from our times of discernment.  We have a Cub Scout group and a home school co-op using our building during the week.  We host a quilting ministry, Bible study, worship, a Zumba class, a free exchange program, called Weecycle, which meets in our parking lot twice a month.  We give to the wider church, at a rate of 8% of regular offerings, and we donate to various local ministries.  We partner with other organizations to show love to our neighbor (as I wrote about in yesterday’s post).   

We are blessed, and we want to share this blessing with others.   We are not worthy, but for what we have, we give thanks.   And in our discernment, we sense God calling us to pay forward the blessings we have received so that others might experience the same blessings.   Sometimes that blessing is money, sometimes it is time, sometimes it is sharing a promotion of an event or such.  

We move from spiritual to material.   How about you?

P (Prayer):  Lord, you are generous.  Help us to be generous, too.  Amen.  

Thinking of Yourself Less

S (Scripture): Romans 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith. 4 For just as in one body we have many members, and not all the members serve the same function, 5 so we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually we are members who belong to one another. 6 And we have different gifts according to the grace given to us. If the gift is prophecy, that individual must use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is service, he must serve; if it is teaching, he must teach; 8 if it is exhortation, he must exhort; if it is contributing, he must do so with sincerity; if it is leadership, he must do so with diligence; if it is showing mercy, he must do so with cheerfulness.

O (Observation):  Paul is nearing he end of his letter to the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome.   Neither the Greek nor the Jew is a “better” or “more faithful” follower of God.  Each has their own troubles and is made righteous by grace alone, apart from any good work.  

A (Application):  Humility, then, is the key to the Christian walk. And if humble, then one would think to serve others first.  Yes, we need to take care of ourselves, but I have been surprised by God at the “plenty” that I feel I have in response to being generous in my giving.  Not that we have had a windfall of money, but we have enough.  

The same goes for serving others with the gifts God has given us.  As we give, according to imhow we are gifted, we feel renewed, even if we wore ourselves out serving someone else.  

A good way to sum this up is in the quote I leave with you today…a quote (maybe from CS Lewis?) I read somewhere on my journey:

Humility is not thinking less of yourself…but thinking of yourself less.  

Blessings!

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to know I have all I need in your grace: enough for me and my family, and enough for us to serve others in this world.  Amen.  

Taking Grace for Granted


S (Scripture): Romans 4:9 Is this blessedness then for the circumcision or also for the uncircumcision? For we say, “faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 How then was it credited to him? Was he circumcised at the time, or not? No, he was not circumcised but uncircumcised! 11 And he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised, so that he would become the father of all those who believe but have never been circumcised, that they too could have righteousness credited to them. 12 And he is also the father of the circumcised, who are not only circumcised, but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham possessed when he was still uncircumcised.

O (Observation):  In chapter 4, Paul opens up a diatribe directed towards the Jews.  He makes references to Abraham and David, important figures to Jews, but who mean nothing to the Gentiles.  

Now, a big deal for the Jews was the outward sign of the covenant between God and God’s people.  God declared to Abraham that God would make out of Abraham a great people, and kings would come from his line of descendants.  The people of Abraham, in return, would then circumcise their male children as a sign that they are God’s people.  After all, God commanded that the people circumcise their male children as a sign of faithfulness on the people’s part.  

Over time, circumcision was seen as the work of the people to show their dedication to God.  But also, circumcision became this sort of entry into God’s covenant without any real impact on the life of God’s people.  They basically started taking God’s grace for granted.   They began to think that if one was circumcised, one basically had a free ticket to Abraham’s lineage and that one who was circumcised could do no wrong.   

And then, eventually, circimcision became the EXCLUSIVE way to God’s grace.   The Hebrew people took circumcision as the “be all, end all” sign of God’s grace.  They began to believe that the only way to God’s grace and inheritance was to be circumcised, to the exclusion of all other ways and people.  The prevailing mindset of the Hebrew people became this:  Gentiles were CERTAINLY not ever going to be a part of God’s family.  

So, when Jesus and Paul started challenging this idea of the exclusive availaiblity of God’s grace, this was a major challenge to the theology and customs of the Hebrew people. 

Paul is making the case that Abraham wasn’t circumcised when he was graced with God’s promises.  The circumcision was simply an outward sign of an inward grace.   Circumcision was the result of receiving God’s grace, not the cause of receiving it.  

Paul was calling on the Jews to humble themselves and to give some thought to the idea that grace and blessing are possible outside of circumcision.  

A (Application):  Churches these days have all kinds of odd customs to make people feel like they are part of the church (or NOT part of it).  Some are new customs, but even ancient rites seem to lose their impact.  

As sacred as it is for me, I wonder if those not of the Christian faith view baptism today just like Gentiles viewed circumcision back in Paul’s day?  I hope not!  But then, I wonder.  

Circumcision back in Paul’s day is not the same thing as baptism, but I can see how it might be viewed this way.  As if baptism was the exclusive way for God’s grace to work.   

I have spoke about this before, how we as Christians can start to use our baptism like Jews used circumcision:  as a tool of exclusion and as something we take for granted!

We practice making people feel welcome in our congregation, even though I’m sure we fall short.  But we really try to help people feel welcome, even if they have not been baptized.  We view becoming a part of our congregation as an exploratory journey towards baptism.  Some will be baptized and receive God’s Spirit in this way, but I have to believe that God can instill faith in other ways, too.   

God continues to surprise us all (as seen in Scripture and in my own personal experiences).    To narrow down God’s avenues of grace is dangerous territory for me (or anyone).

So, should we get rid of baptism?  Certainly not!  Is baptism still a good thing?  Absolutely!

So let us treat all people with respect.   Let us be diligent in not taking baptism for granted.   Let us be forgiving as God forgives and graces us. 

What “hang ups” do you have about the Christian Church these days?

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to be grateful for your grace.  Amen.