Holy Work

Photo credit here. By the way, this is a video describing the ELCA’s program, Young Adults in Global Mission.

S (Scripture): Ephesians 2:8 You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith (or, through his faithfulness.). This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. 9 It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. 10 Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

O (Observation): Debate continues on the emphasis of the faith. Is it God’s faithfulness to us, or our faith that saves us? Either way, we have reconciled this by stating that “our” faith only comes to us as a gift of the Spirit. So, in the end, the onus is on God. God stirs up faith in us.

Is our level of faith in direct correlation to our kind acts (or perverse / sinful acts)? Certainly not!

God’s Grace is a gift – a gift we have in abundance!

We are created in Christ Jesus to do good! This is our purpose.

A (Application): How often do we cut ourselves short when it comes to our ability to serve others in the name of God? We have a perceived inability to do miracles and wonders in Christ!

Faith turns us from our selfish desires towards looking for the ultimate good in ourselves and others. Faith calls on us to look for the Christ in the other: the poor, the homeless, the outcast, the refugee, the immigrant. In doing so, we cannot help but to serve and to love our neighbor in need.

Where are you feeling called to serve? Whether in Christ’s name or just from the goodness of your heart. Do that work, and see a miracle!

P (Prayer): Lord, remind us of your presence in our lives! Stir our hearts towards the holy work to which you call us. Amen.

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God, Where Are You?

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Psalm 43

1

Establish justice for me, God!

Argue my case against ungodly people!

Rescue me from the dishonest and unjust!

2

Because you are my God, my protective fortress!

Why have you rejected me?

Why do I have to walk around,

sad, oppressed by enemies?

3

Send your light and truth—those will guide me!

Let them bring me to your holy mountain,

to your dwelling place.

4

Let me come to God’s altar—

let me come to God, my joy, my delight

O (Observation): Written in a time when God’s location on earth was likely The Temple, this person yearns for The Temple. This person has been struck down and seeks solace in God and God’s light / truth. The light and truth that will lead this person to God.

Living in a tumultuous time of foreign occupation, this individual (who likely represents all the Jewish people of that time) wants peace and nothing more than justice. Yet this justice eludes the author.

The hope to be found by this individual may not rest solely in The Temple. Perhaps the person of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, who came to overcome the power of sin and death – once and for all – is the new location of God on earth. And in the Pentecost event, God’s presence burst forth…fulfilling the hope of this psalmist: that Light and Truth might come and bring God’s people into God’s presence, after all.

A (Application): I’ve take a hiatus from the blog posts during the last week, which was Holy Week for me. As a Lutheran pastor, I and several staff and volunteer leaders are responsible for planning and coordinating several worship services: 10 services in 8 days, to be exact (2 on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. 1 on Holy Saturday – our Easter Vigil service. 3 on Easter.)

And while the focus seems to be on “Temple” worship all week, we see the sanctuary / worship space / Temple as a staging ground for mission. We see the vital importance of gathering for worship and to hear God’s ongoing work of salvation for all as encouragement for mission. We hear and see the Word preached, prayed, and lived out.

Most people these days are feeling rejected and oppressed – whether real or self-imposed. And we ask people to come and gather for worship and time together within community so that they can share one another’s burdens.

In the gathered community, we encounter God. The Easter story was from Mark this year. In Mark’s Gospel, we don’t see Jesus…just an empty tomb. But if we were paying attention to the pre-resurrected Jesus, we may have noticed what was promised in the risen Jesus. In other words, when we saw Jesus heal lepers and the blind and the crippled, we saw the risen Jesus. And when we hear Jesus, we see the Light and Truth the psalmist so desperately seeks.

May you know the risen Jesus. May you be the risen Jesus to others this day.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep sending us into communities of faith for an encounter with you and solace in sharing our burdens with others. Amen.

The Gold on the Altar

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Matthew 23:16 Jesus said to the legal experts and Pharisees, “How terrible it will be for you blind guides who say, ‘If people swear by the temple, it’s nothing. But if people swear by the gold in the temple, they are obligated to do what they swore.’ 17 You foolish and blind people! Which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold holy? 18 You say, ‘If people swear by the altar, it’s nothing. But if they swear by the gift on the altar, they are obligated to do what they swore.’ 19 You blind people! Which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift holy? 20 Therefore, those who swear by the altar swear by it and by everything that’s on it. 21 Those who swear by the temple swear by it and by everything that’s part of it. 22 Those who swear by heaven swear by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”

O (Observation): Jesus is caught up in straightening out the misguided thoughts of those who established and interpreted the laws for the Jewish people: the Pharisees. Many things the Pharisees do (and have done) frustrates Jesus, as he saw these legal experts contorting the laws of God towards selfish and self-serving means.

Jesus saw that the Pharisees were constantly navigating adventures in missing the point.

The gold in the Temple – as beautiful and attractive as it was – was not the point. The point was the reason for the special nature of the Temple and the altars upon which the gold resides: God promises to be present in the Temple around the altar.

If you make a solemn oath at the Temple, you don’t swear by the gold, but you swear to the one for whom the gold exists: God!

A (Application): What is the gold upon which we pledge loyalty in our congregations? Is it the carpet or the walls or the decorations or the lack of decorations? What do we get caught up in?

What is the most important part of our worship space? Font? Altar? Pews?

What makes our buildings holy? Is it the stone or marble floors or stained glass windows?

All of these things can help…but let us not infer that the “stuff” that makes up our worship spaces – as beautiful as it all is – ever takes the place of the fact that where we are when we worship and confess and receive forgiveness… is Holy Ground. And it is such, not because we wear the right stuff or hang the right pictures. That ground is Holy Ground, because when we gather in the name of the Lord, God promises to be present. And that is all we ever need.

P (Prayer): Lord, strip us of all pretense and make our gathering spaces holy. Amen.

May I See Some ID, Please 

Photo credit here. 

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. 

Exhortation or Salvation?


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S (Scripture): 1 Timothy 3:1 This saying is reliable: if anyone has a goal to be a supervisor in the church, they want a good thing. 2 So the church’s supervisor must be without fault. They should be faithful to their spouse, sober, modest, and honest. They should show hospitality and be skilled at teaching. 3 They shouldn’t be addicted to alcohol or be a bully. Instead, they should be gentle, peaceable, and not greedy. 4 They should manage their own household well—they should see that their children are obedient with complete respect, 5 because if they don’t know how to manage their own household, how can they take care of God’s church?

O (Observation): The author of this letter is encouraging the leaders of the churches to reflect on their actions and their home lives.   The work done at home is almost as important as the work one does as a public leader of the church.  

A (Application): Exhortation vs Salvation. Sometimes we get these two things confused.  We sometimes judge ourselves or others based on texts like the one I quoted for today.   

We would do well to discern which texts are helpful for discerning salvation, and which are useful for reproving, or becoming more faithful in one’s journey.  

Too often, we look at a text like this and judge ourselves too harshly.   My suggestion is that our repentance be a daily part of our journey.  And in daily repentance, we receive daily forgiveness.  

We confess to one another.   Or, at least, we should.   That’s exhortation.   Confession is not an issue of salvation, but it does a soul good!

Work on your faith in your home.  Work on forgiving one another in your home.  Doing this is part of working out your faith.   Your salvation is not based on how good you are at forgiving…but forgiving one another regularly is a good practical way to live out your faith, especially as a leader.  

Of what do you need to repent this day?  Who do you need to forgive?   

P (Prayer):   Lord, you have saved us.  Help us to act accordingly.  Amen.  

Holy Days

  

S (Scripture): Exodus 29:1 “Now this is what you are to do for them to consecrate them so that they may minister as my priests. Take a young bull and two rams without blemish; 2 and bread made without yeast, and perforated cakes without yeast mixed with oil, and wafers without yeast spread with oil – you are to make them using fine wheat flour. 3 You are to put them in one basket and present them in the basket, along with the bull and the two rams.

4 “You are to present10 Aaron and his sons at the entrance of the tent of meeting. You are to wash them with water 5 and take the garments and clothe Aaron with the tunic, the robe of the ephod, the ephod, and the breastpiece; you are to fasten the ephod on him by using the skillfully woven waistband. 6 You are to put the turban on his head and put the holy diadem on the turban. 7 You are to take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him. 8 You are to present his sons and clothe them with tunics 9 and wrap the sashes around Aaron and his sons and put headbands on them, and so the ministry of priesthood will belong to them by a perpetual ordinance. Thus you are to consecrate Aaron and his sons…

29 “The holy garments that belong to Aaron are to belong to his sons after him, so that they may be anointed in them and consecrated in them. 30 The priest who succeeds him from his sons, when he first comes to the tent of meeting to minister in the Holy Place, is to wear them for seven days.”

O (Observation): Sounds like a whole bunch of rigmarole for worship… Really?  Why go through all of that stuff to consecrate Aaron and the other priests. And the special clothes and all of that….can’t that money be spent more wisely?  Can’t that money go to feed the poor?

Sure…but what is being said about God and God’s people in this text from Exodus?

My commentary from Lumina Bible says this:  “Everyone who ministers, everyone who worships, and everything they use in the presence of Yahweh, must be set apart to God by the cleansing, enabling, and sanctifying work of God.”

So this is not so much a practice in personal piety as it is allowing God to make holy the people and things that we use in worship.  Making these things to be set apart.  

A (Application):  Ever seen worship done well?  If all is done well, the leaders of worship will not be the focus.  The sermon or the music will not be the focus of the worship. Instead, all of those things:  the sermon, the music, the liturgy, even the clothes the leaders wear…will all point to God.  

We want all the accoutrements of worship to point to God.  Sometimes that means “smells and bells” or weird looking clothes or movements.  

Come out to Advent Lutheran Church, Murfreesboro,  TN, TheAdventChurch.com, for the Triduum – Great Three Days (Maunday Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter) – and for any of our Easter Sunday worship Services (Sunrise, Contemporary, and Traditional).  See if we point, appropriately, to what God is doing, has done, and will be doing in us and through us and around us.  

Allow yourself to come and be set apart.  Allow God’s holiness to reside in you.  

Come. 

P (Prayer):  Lord, you set us apart as your people.  Make us holy.  Make us whole. Amen. 

Set Apart…Not Above 

  S (Scripture): Exodus 19:3 Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, “Thus you will tell the house of Jacob, and declare to the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I lifted you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, 6 and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites.”

O (Observation):  God has always claimed love for ALL nations and lordship over ALL nations, but in this interchange with Moses, God declares a covenant that will set the Israelites apart as a “special possession,” a “kingdom of priests,” and a “holy nation.”  

God’s people had found their identity in their enslavement to Egypt’s leaders.  Now, they are free.  God’s grace is to give them an identity – boundary markers – known as The 10 Commandments (Exodus 20).   

As God’s people are set apart, so, too, will they be corrected if they start looking too much like the rest of the world.    The Israelites are to be holy.  “Holy” really just means “different, set apart.”   If God’s people look like the rest of the nations, something is wrong…and they will have to be given a course correction : )

God is giving the Israelites special status, but also special power to be set apart.    NOT having to look and act like the surrounding nations is a power given to God’s people.  God will provide.  God will indicate direction.  God will bring grace.

A (Application):  What does it mean to be holy?  How is it that we are to be set apart?   Shouldn’t some of what we say and do look like we are just going about our day?   Do I have to dress different or speak different, because I’m a Christian?  

I think it’s always a matter of discernment, like asking yourself:   Is this thing that I’m saying or doing giving glory to God?  If yes, move on.  If not, change.  And always consult with fellow believers.  Who are we, if we can’t consult with one another on discerning God’s will?

The 10 Commandments are a fantastic guide for us, and should always remind us of how God has set us apart, and how God is guiding our words and deeds.  

With what do you struggle in being set apart?  Do you feel fake or elitist when you think about being set apart?

I think being set apart helps us to keep from gossiping.  Being set apart affects how we spend our money and our time.  

Tonight, I go off to serve The Lutheran Happening of the South retreat in Tullahoma, TN, as Spiritual Director.  Several youth and young adults will gather and discern how God loves them and sets them apart…to be in the world, but not of it.  

How is it for you?   What are you scared of?   What gives you hope?…as a people set apart?

P (Prayer):  Lord, remind us that we are set apart, not be lords over people, but humble servants one to another.  Amen.