Disciples Bear Much Fruit

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S (Scripture): Acts 3:1 Peter and John were going up to the temple at three o’clock in the afternoon, the established prayer time. 2 Meanwhile, a man crippled since birth was being carried in. Every day, people would place him at the temple gate known as the Beautiful Gate so he could ask for money from those entering the temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he began to ask them for a gift. 4 Peter and John stared at him. Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gazed at them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 Peter said, “I don’t have any money, but I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, rise up and walk!” 7 Then he grasped the man’s right hand and raised him up. At once his feet and ankles became strong. 8 Jumping up, he began to walk around. He entered the temple with them, walking, leaping, and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God. 10 They recognized him as the same one who used to sit at the temple’s Beautiful Gate asking for money. They were filled with amazement and surprise at what had happened to him.

O (Observation): The Church. Not a building, but a people. Those early disciples were quite faithful, maybe even naive. Could their hands and mouths convey healing as Christ’s could?

In this instance, the answer is yes.

The blind man asked for money, daily. Yet Peter gave him his sight. In whose name? In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene. The disciples could heal!

A (Application): Being the church means producing disciples who make disciples. So many of us focus on Sunday morning and little else. The congregation I serve continues to dive into the many ways of connecting with the people in and around our community.

We connect through worship and Bible Study, service, fun, fellowship, and other ways. We are discerning how Jesus led his disciples and how to lead others down the same path as Jesus.

May we all learn this path and continue to follow Jesus and his way. That we might learn to preach, teach, and heal as Jesus did.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide our hearts through the right pathways. Amen.

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The Forgiveness Cycle

Photo from The Book of Forgiving

S (Scripture): Joshua 10:6 Then the Israelites again did things that the Lord saw as evil. They served the Baals and the Astartes, as well as the gods of Aram, Sidon, Moab, the Ammonites, and the Philistines. They went away from the Lord and didn’t serve him. 7 The Lord became angry with Israel and handed them over to the Philistines and the Ammonites. 8 Starting that year and for the next eighteen years, they beat and bullied the Israelites, especially all the Israelites who lived on the east side of Jordan in the territory of the Ammonites in Gilead. 9 The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to make raids into Judah, Benjamin, and the households of Ephraim. So Israel was greatly distressed.

10 Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord, “We’ve sinned against you, for we went away from our God and served the Baals.”

11 The Lord replied to the Israelites, “When the Egyptians, Amorites, Ammonites, Philistines, 12 Sidonians, Amalekites, and Maonites oppressed you and you cried out to me, didn’t I rescue you from their power? 13 But you have gone away from me and served other gods, so I won’t rescue you anymore! 14 Go cry out to the gods you’ve chosen. Let them rescue you in the time of your distress.”

15 The Israelites responded to the Lord, “We’ve sinned. Do to us whatever you see as right, but please save us this time.” 16 They put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord. And the Lord could no longer stand to see Israel suffer.

O (Observation): Once again, a classic example of a lack of humility, followed by a challenging experience apart from God, followed by cries for mercy by God’s people (to God), and God showing mercy.

A (Application): The Book of Forgiving, by Desmond Tutu and daughter Mpho Tutu, includes a great image of two directions one can choose after being a victim: choose to harm or to heal.

Choosing to Harm is a cycle: one rejects the shared humanity one has, works towards revenge and violence…then the victim becomes the perpetrator.

Choosing to Heal moves one towards forgiveness: tell the story, name the hurt, grant forgiveness, then either renew or release the relationship.

Now, this pathway is mostly about how we treat one another, but I want to consider laying this framework down over what God is doing in the Old Testament vs what God is doing through the person of Jesus Christ.

When God’s people see God as the one who “hands them over to the Amorites” I see this as a misinterpretation of what God is up to. In this case, God doesn’t hand anyone over…rather, God let’s God’s people call on their own gods.

God is choosing to be open to healing and forgiveness…moving towards the Forgiveness Cycle.

God’s people would rather see others as perpetrators and see themselves as victims…continuing down a Revenge Cycle.

Eventually God would choose to fulfill his promise to humanity by becoming one of us…putting on flesh, becoming the Incarnate One who would constantly represent and embody the Forgiveness Cycle.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to choose the Forgiveness Cycle. Amen.

Along the Way

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S (Scripture): Mark 10:46 Jesus and his followers came into Jericho. As Jesus was leaving Jericho, together with his disciples and a sizable crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, Timaeus’ son, was sitting beside the road. 47 When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was there, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy!” 48 Many scolded him, telling him to be quiet, but he shouted even louder, “Son of David, show me mercy!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him forward.”

They called the blind man, “Be encouraged! Get up! He’s calling you.”

50 Throwing his coat to the side, he jumped up and came to Jesus.

51 Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see.”

52 Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” At once he was able to see, and he began to follow Jesus on the way.

O (Observation): Jesus’ followers acknowledge a blind man, Bartimaeus, on the side of the road…calling out for the Son of David, Jesus Christ, to have mercy on him.

The crowd following Jesus, which included his disciples, tried to hush the man and dismiss him. They couldn’t be bothered. They were “on the way.”

Yet Jesus calls on Bartimaeus to be brought forward. Now the crowd encourages him.

Can’t they make up their mind? Discourage the blind man or encourage him. Either way, the man’s persistence pays off. And what is the result of Jesus healing the man? The man is now following Jesus along the way.

A (Application): How many times have you missed the opportunity to receive grace? Maybe you couldn’t find the strength to shout out to Jesus to help you.

How many times have others (from within the Church) silenced you or made you feel unworthy?

Somehow, through faith (made possible by the Holy Spirit dwelling in you) and through a supportive community of believers all around you, you can receive Jesus’ mercy.

You can be moved from sitting on the side of the road to becoming one who follows Jesus along the way. From the side of the road, to the journey with Jesus.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us faith and courage to cry out to Jesus. Surround us with a loving faith community. Amen.

The Leper

Content Warning: I make comments about self-harm and death by suicide in this blog post. If that is a negative trigger for you, please act accordingly. Maybe re-join me tomorrow, or simply prepare yourself. Peace!

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S (Scripture): Leviticus 13:45 Anyone with an infection of skin disease must wear torn clothes, dishevel their hair, cover their upper lip, and shout out, “Unclean! Unclean!” 46 They will be unclean as long as they are infected. They are unclean. They must live alone outside the camp.

O (Observation): I almost think that the ancient priests of the Hebrew people were to act like healthcare advocates. All of this stuff about skin disease…you wouldn’t believe it was in the Bible unless you read it for yourself!

It’s there though…in ink : )

The unclean persons – unclean with skin disease – were not only to separate themselves from the rest of the worshipping community, but then also – if someone was close to them in proximity – had to shout: “Unclean! Unclean!”

Imagine that…

Ritual cleanliness was this a way to keep diseases from spreading, but the social impact was much much worse than the physical.

A (Application): Social / Emotional health is a BIG concern these days. Kids cut their arms to show they are hurting. Kids take pills to put themselves out of their own misery. They feel so trapped. They don’t know what else to do.

Who is listening to them?

Who are they listening to to make them feel that way? Is it parents? Social media? Cohorts? Friends? Movies? Society as a whole?

To be an outcast – whether you perceive this in yourself, or if you have actually been pushed aside – is a terribly lonely state of being. Connection is very important for us to be healthy. Connection leads to understand and sympathy.

Jesus healed lepers. Not all appreciated it, but he did it nonetheless. He wants all to be in fellowship with one another. Jesus told the apostles they had the power to heal, and they did. But it soon stopped. We just couldn’t believe it was real.

Jesus believed it, though. And he lived it.

Are you the leper? Are you seeking healing? Are you seeking community?

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us in your care. Bring us together. Amen.

Point of Order

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S (Scripture): Mark 2:1 Jesus went back to Capernaum, and people heard that he was at home. 2 So many gathered that there was no longer space, not even near the door. Jesus was speaking the word to them. 3 Some people arrived, and four of them were bringing to him a man who was paralyzed. 4 They couldn’t carry him through the crowd, so they tore off part of the roof above where Jesus was. When they had made an opening, they lowered the mat on which the paralyzed man was lying. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven!”

6 Some legal experts were sitting there, muttering among themselves, 7 “Why does he speak this way? He’s insulting God. Only the one God can forgive sins.”

8 Jesus immediately recognized what they were discussing, and he said to them, “Why do you fill your minds with these questions? 9  Which is easier—to say to a paralyzed person, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk’? 10  But so you will know that the Human One has authority on the earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed, 11 “Get up, take your mat, and go home.”

12 Jesus raised him up, and right away he picked up his mat and walked out in front of everybody. They were all amazed and praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”

O (Observation): Jesus challenges the legal experts’ vision of God’s work. They saw God working through the legal system of the Law alone. They couldn’t fit this forgiveness of sins into their religious structure. (And thus, they couldn’t fit this man’s healing in, either.)

The physical healing of the man seems almost to be an afterthought for Jesus: he chose to forgive the man his sins, first. The physical healing of the man was almost nothing compared to the issue of forgiveness. However, Jesus does bring the man healing so that those witnessing Jesus in those moments might understand that in Jesus they can see that Jesus holds dominion over the physical and spiritual realms.

Jesus was ushering in a clarification of the understanding of God’s vision. He wasn’t bringing in a completely new system of belief, just bringing focus. The prophets of old were about bringing God’s people back in line with God’s vision. Jesus was doing the same here.

The legal experts thought that the way to forgiveness and holiness was through the legal system of purification and sacrifices. Not so, anymore. And this threatened the well-being and security of the legal experts. They thought that they had this all nailed down (sorry, pun intended).

Thankfully, the WorkingPreacher.org site has a commentary on this text that I found useful. Here is a quote:

Jesus subverts ritual boundaries not so much by introducing something completely new, but by drawing on parts of the tradition he thinks are much more in line with what God wants for and from humanity, and by implicitly — and later explicitly — accusing his opponents of maintaining the established boundaries at the expense of human need.

Jesus is lifting up human need above all…above ritual and adherence to the Law.

A (Application): What are we using our religion for? To hold dominion over people? To give us a feeling of superiority over people? To look down upon others to make ourselves feel better? To feel like we are in control?

What are we afraid of losing if our rituals or customs need to change so that we are reaching people?

The trick in discerning our way forward is figuring out what is Gospel and what is indifferent to the Gospel.

So many times we put in structures and traditions that are inconsequential to the delivery of the Gospel, and yet, we fight for these things.

Seminaries, congregations, pastors…what are we doing? Are we about living into the Gospel? Are we about being God’s hands and feet?

Do we have to run over people to deliver the Gospel? Or do we invite people to witness the Gospel in their everyday lives and report what they’ve found? Do we challenge our folks to discern where they’ve seen God? Do we coach our people in ways to see God?

The message has always been the same. And as the Church, we are good at covering up the Gospel and dressing it up in all sorts of forms and fashions. But the Gospel…the Good News is always…(wait for it…)…Good News! And the way to tell if the Good News is really Good News…is that it is ALWAYS Good News!

May you find the Kingdom breaking into your life this day with Good News…even if it comes in the midst of difficult circumstances.

P (Prayer): God, bring your Good News to us with great clarity. Amen.

The River of Life

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S (Scripture): Ezekiel 47:1 When he brought me back to the temple’s entrance, I noticed that water was flowing toward the east from under the temple’s threshold (the temple faced east). The water was going out from under the temple’s facade toward the south, south of the altar. 2 He led me out through the north gate and around the outside to the outer east gate, where the water flowed out under the facade on the south side. 3 With the line in his hand, the man went out toward the east…
6 He said to me, “Human one, do you see?” Then he led me back to the edge of the river. 7 When I went back, I saw very many trees on both banks of the river…
9 “Wherever the river flows, every living thing that moves will thrive. There will be great schools of fish, because when these waters enter the sea, it will be fresh. Wherever the river flows, everything will live…”
12 “…on both banks of the river will grow up all kinds of fruit-bearing trees. Their leaves won’t wither, and their fruitfulness won’t wane. They will produce fruit in every month, because their water comes from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for eating, their leaves for healing.”

O (Observation): The Temple was at times the locus of worship, the center of God’s presence on earth. Ezekiel is given an extremely detailed explanation for the Temple’s layout and function. In this particular text, he is shown a river that flows from the Temple, outward. And where that river flows, life springs forth! Abundant life, at that. Like trees that bear fruit every month! Like fish being plentiful!

And not only does life spring forth from the fruit of the trees, but also the leaves of those trees are for healing.   

A (Application):   Knowing that God provides life and healing is comfort that I need.  I try to muster up healing and actions on my part that will provide what God promises…and yet I fail.  

As life goes on, I realize more and more that I am simply NOT God.   We all know that, but if we’re honest, we try to prove to ourselves and to others that we can keep our sh!t together.  That we can provide life and sustenance on our own. That we can be on top of all things.  That we can handle this thing called life.

The thing is, we will never have our lives completely together.  We will have days where we drain life from others, rather than give life.  We will cause pain, instead of healing.   

So, our complete hope is in God. Not in our hands alone, but God working through our hands.  Not our voice alone, but God working through our voice.   Not our hearts alone, but God calling us together into one heart that is bent towards loving God and loving our neighbor.  

May we share in the hope of the river of life that brings true life to all!

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep us alongside your life-giving waters, always.  Amen.  

Is There a Balm in Charlottesville?

Photo credit here. 

S (Scripture): Jeremiah 8

19 Listen to the weeping of my people
all across the land:
“Isn’t the Lord in Zion?
Is her king no longer there?”
Why then did they anger me with their images,
with pointless foreign gods?
20 “The harvest is past,
the summer has ended,
yet we aren’t saved.”
21 Because my people are crushed,
I am crushed;
darkness and despair overwhelm me.

22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then have my people
not been restored to health?

O (Observation): Jeremiah sees the devastation of God’s people who have taken up their own idols as their gods.  And they weep.  And Jeremiah cries out: “Is there no balm in Gilead?!”

Jeremiah laments.  

A balm is a salve, an ointment used for healing, for bringing relief. Jeremiah didn’t see any relief coming anytime soon.  Not from a salve.  Not from a king.  Not even from God…at least, not yet.  

So at first, Jeremiah laments. 

A (Application):  Most of us probably don’t think of Scripture when we hear the word “balm.”   We think “lip balm.”   But that’s not what Jeremiah is talking about, now is it?

In light of the hatred shown by the white supremacists in Charlottesville this past weekend, the ugly underbelly of bigotry and prejudice in our society has been exposed once again.  The prejudice and bigotry by whites against blacks has always been there.   Sometimes we play nice enough to get by…but give a group of white supremacists a chance to wave Nazi flags and carry torches…and the truth comes out.  

We still have a segment of our society that truly sees itself as above the other…as whites being better than blacks, as “whatever they are” being above “Jews.”   Where in the world do they get this?  Well…for too long, we have let it slide.  We let racist comments go, because we don’t want to get our hands dirty, or we want folks to like us, so we laugh at their racist and bigoted jokes.  

We (as white folks) have no one to blame but ourselves when it comes to the existence of white supremacists.   

We lament, first, as Jeremiah did.  And just as Jeremiah cried out, “Is there no balm in Gilead?”, we cry out, “Is there no balm, in Charlottesville?”

I think there is a balm in Charlottesville.   The young UVA students who assisted a group of folks gathered for an interfaith prayer service on the UVA campus…they are a balm.   The clergy and leaders of various faith communities marching – arm in arm – through the streets of Charlottesville are a balm.   The folks I gathered with in Murfreesboro, TN, last Sunday night for a peaceful vigil are a balm.  

God would eventually send a balm in the person of Jesus Christ, but before that, God told Jeremiah that God would put The Law in their hearts.  That when the people of Judah and Israel were scattered…God would be with them. 

Sometimes we can’t sense the balm.  Sometimes we can.   Perhaps, God can work through folks like you and I to be that balm in our own home towns.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help me to serve you and my hurting neighbors.  Amen.