Evangelism: a Joy not a Requirement

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S (Scripture): John 13:20 I assure you that whoever receives someone I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.

O (Observation): Jesus is in the midst of establishing the Last Supper. He is teaching them about humility and being sustained by God’s Grace by sharing a meal and serving his disciples as he washes their feet.

The sentence quoted above is in the midst of Judas’ betrayal. Jesus is not forcing Judas to believe. Rather, he states that those who receive Jesus, receive God.

A (Application): This approach to following Jesus is sort of a “positive-only” reinforcement. You follow Jesus? Good!

But what happens when we or others don’t?

Not punishment. Not in this sentiment. Jesus simply lays out the hope: that people follow Jesus, and thus, God.

We need not worry if people don’t follow Jesus. We need not worry about their “salvation.” Instead, we live in faith, and encourage others to do the same.

The hope is that they receive this peace, which has an impact on every single part of their lives and our lives.

So evangelism is truly an invitation, not a guilt-ridden admonishment. Evangelism is a joy, not a point of privilege.

The sooner we understand following Jesus as an invitation, the sooner we help others see God as grace-filled, and not just a distant judge.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, you invite all to become pilgrims on a journey with you. Help us to keep this pathway as a joy, and not just requirement. Amen.

Finding Life within God’s Guidance

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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): How God’s people crave structure and guidance in order to live freely! The commands from God, while not possible for us to follow in total, are life-giving. God’s ways call for order and boundaries, so that we can ensure life for one another. Not only life, but life abundantly!

The abundance comes NOT from our hands, but from the bounty that God has given us!

A (Application): In the midst of challenges and pandemic and what seems like a never-ending election cycle (and likely TWO US Senator run-off elections in GA), the way forward seems clouded and fogged. We turn to our base desires of survival and “win at all costs” mentality – for an election, for our households, for life.”

We devolve so quickly into hoarding and defense. According to the psalm for today, however, we see a different way forward.

We can embrace the challenge to live within the boundaries God has set up. Living within God’s commandments includes embracing our neighbors (especially those in need) and not looking at politics as always a win-lose situation. Instead, we can see a path forward that all of us can journey on.

May this time of divisiveness become one in which we can all see life. May we see the path forward as broad enough for us all. May we know God’s life-giving instruction that invites us all to journey together.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, may we find this common path together this day. Amen.

This Day Before the 2020 Presidential Election

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S (Scripture): John 11:38 Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb [of Lazarus]. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”

40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” 43 Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

O (Observation): Jesus was greatly disturbed. This can be interpreted in two ways: 1. He was saddened and upset over the death of Lazarus; 2. He was disturbed at the lack of faith from Lazarus’ loved ones.

Most can relate to the death of a loved one. Jesus certainly loved Lazarus and Mary and Martha. So there is that.

However, these folks who are so distraught have perhaps not learned of God’s pervasive presence, even in death. And not only this, but the fact the Jesus himself is with them and has been a witness to God’s eternal gift of presence and love may be disturbing Jesus.

Either way, Jesus is disturbed and stands to correct the lack of faith of those around him by resuscitating Lazarus. And in the end, Lazarus is unbound and set free.

A (Application): In what way does your faith and life need to be set free? Are you someone in whom the system of things around you is holding you back? Are you someone who is doing the binding?

Remember that we are called to live for one another and to know that God’s presence is with us. Especially on this day before the 2020 presidential election.

I’m not gonna say, “regardless of the outcome, we all just need to get along.” We do, for sure. We need to keep the peace…but when do face the racist systems around us? And at what point is the cost too great for black and indigenous peoples?

I am sensitive to people of color and indigenous people and immigrants who are trying to make a better way for themselves in America (or are fleeing violence).

I have heard their cry. Have you? Have you stood by and heard their stories? Are you simply telling them they are not welcome? Are you (white folks like me) taking for granted hundreds of years of legislation and prejudice in favor of people considered “white”?

I pray for a leader of this nation who will bind us together. Who will lead us in a common path for good.

May we seek God’s guidance today, tomorrow, and for always, for the betterment of our society…that we may face the wrongs done to people of color, indigenous peoples, and all who wish to make a better way for themselves in this country.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, give us courage to do the right things. Always. Unbind us and set us free – not for selfish gain, but for the sake of the other. Amen.

One With God, Our Sure Defense

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S (Scripture): John 8:56 (Jesus said to the “Jewish opposition”): “Your father Abraham was overjoyed that he would see my day. He saw it and was happy.”

57 “You aren’t even 50 years old!” the Jewish opposition replied. “How can you say that you have seen Abraham?”

58 “I assure you,” Jesus replied, “before Abraham was, I Am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and left the temple

O (Observation): Couple of things:

  1. Jewish authorities strictly thought of Abraham as in the past; Jesus saw Abraham – through God’s presence – as having a spirit of everlasting life…an ongoing presence, thanks to being one with God
  2. Jewish opposition think anyone claiming to be “I Am” is blaspheming; in being one with God, Jesus claims to be a part of the great “I Am.”
  3. Jewish opposition will resort to violence to defend their belief system; Jesus needs no defense…he ducks out, but needs not battle these authorities.

A (Application): What do we do to defend our thoughts and beliefs? Is our faith something we need to fight for?

So many Christians have been steered by the powers of this world, that they feel the need to defend themselves. The Church feels the need to defend itself.

I say let God defend the Church. I say let God purify the Church. God has and will work through prophets, who are hard truth-tellers.

May we have the wisdom to be the Church God has called us to be. Let us make disciples. Let us keep the Gospel in the forefront. Let us lead with grace and truth, so that others might also look in on the Church and be overjoyed or challenged, as the need arises.

And when fellow Christians show their disdain, let God be the one to speak to your mind and heart, so that healing may begin.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, this is your Church. Guide and direct the Church, and all of us as members of your one body. Amen.

Salvation in Christ – a Misconception

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S (Scripture): John 8:31 Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 They responded, “We are Abraham’s children; we’ve never been anyone’s slaves. How can you say that we will be set free?”

34 Jesus answered, “I assure you that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 A slave isn’t a permanent member of the household, but a son is. 36 Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free…”

O (Observation): The freedom that comes from the Law is a false freedom. God’s people figured they were handed an instruction manual, and they thought the best way to God was through the instruction manual (The Torah and the laws from scripture).

Only problem was they started to worship the Law, and sort of left God out of the picture. They clung to a name – Abraham – and used that name as a privilege.

Jesus reminded them that ALL people were on the same plane. All fall short of perfection.

Yet, all have access to seeing that God is the one to care for and protect all of us. God calls us to love and protect one another. God is the one to provide us true freedom. This freedom – which lasts – comes from the Gospel.

A (Application): Freedom through the Gospel is hard for both non-Christians and Christians to comprehend.

Lots of Christians base their salvation not on faith, but on how well they stick to the Christian lifestyle. This is hypocrisy at its clearest.

Many Christians will live one way in public, showing everyone how “Christian” they are, and then turnaround and make decisions that are selfish or self-serving. It’s the irony of all ironies. And is the reason many people choose NOT be considered a Christian.

Claiming Abraham is no way to salvation, to freedom. Claiming Abraham is a shortcut, and requires no faith.

Instead, we can lean on the Gospel to bring us safety. We can use the Law for guidance, but never for judging others. We can use the Law to remind us of what God seeks for us in terms of relationship to God and others, but the Law cannot save us.

Our freedom comes from serving and loving one another, not from claiming a position of privilege.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, free us from our own enslavement to the Law. Give us freedom to love you and one another, fully. Amen.

Jesus: the Gospel in Action

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S (Scripture): John 5:36 “I have a witness greater than John’s testimony. The Father has given me works to do so that I might complete them. These works I do testify about me that the Father sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me testifies about me. You have never even heard his voice or seen his form, 38 and you don’t have his word dwelling with you because you don’t believe the one whom he has sent. 39 Examine the scriptures, since you think that in them you have eternal life. They also testify about me, 40 yet you don’t want to come to me so that you can have life.”

O (Observation): So what has Jesus done to this point to live out God’s will? Turned ritual water into wine. Overturned tables (and traditions) in the Temple. Met with a Pharisee (Nicodemus) and invited him to be “born of the Spirit.” Met a Samaritan woman (an outsider) at the well and offered her living water (and who invited her loved ones to meet Jesus). He healed a man on the Sabbath (again, breaking tradition).

The religious tradition was missing the mark. Religion for God had become religion for the “church.” Those outside of the church…were effectively on their own. 

Jesus reminded them that Moses and the prophets stood for the Gospel being lived out in their own times, and for all people. Jesus encouraged them to study the scriptures to verify that God is always for all people. The relationship started with Israel, but was meant for the entire world.

A (Application): How often do we have to go through this struggle? How often do we have to speak into the world to remind people that God is FOR them? That God doesn’t ask us Christians to prove how right we are and how wrong others are, by using the Scriptures as a weapon.

Yes, read the Scriptures! And see how God is FOR the world. If anything, Jesus condemns us when we WITHHOLD grace, not when we dish it out lavishly.

Our ways are not God’s ways. God is surprising us with grace all of the time.

Yes, read the Bible. Jesus is the lens through which to read the Bible. All that came after Jesus and all that comes before Jesus is interpreted though the lens of Jesus’ actions.

Jesus acts. We listen. We appreciate. We live out Jesus’ grace in the world.

I invite you to look at what Jesus does in the beginning, in the middle, and in the end. For Jesus is our stronghold and our hope.

P (Prayer): Jesus, your example points us to grace. Help us to see how we can live out your grace in the world. Amen.

Our God Calls Us to Live Out the Gospel This Day

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S (Scripture): Psalm 115

Why do the nations say,

    “Where’s their God now?”

Our God is in heaven—

    he can do whatever he wants!

Their idols are just silver and gold—

    things made by human hands.

    They have mouths, but they can’t speak.

    They have eyes, but they can’t see.

    They have ears, but they can’t hear.

    They have noses, but they can’t smell.

O (Observation): The psalms were written over quite some period of time. Regardless of the exact date or context of this psalm, the point of the text is quiet timeless.

Humanity has taken great effort to give shape and form to their god(s). In this case, the psalmist points out that carvings and models of the gods of the religions of the world.

God’s people recognize that these gods are inanimate. These gods cannot perform action.

But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is alive and active in the world!

A (Application): So in what do we put our trust? Quite often it’s the car we drive, the size of our home, or the size of our paycheck. These are inanimate.

Our God calls us to life. Our God inspires us and moves us to action.

Staring at a cross and owning a Bible does not mean much, unless we are called to embody the spirit of the Word and the cross: Grace, Calling, Seeking Justice.

We do not sit idly by, waiting for the cross or Bible to do something. God works through our hands and eyes and mouths and feet.

We carry the Gospel message. We love the Gospel message. We have a living God who calls us to live.

How are you embodying the Gospel this day?

P (Prayer): Gracious God, inspire us to listen, to live, to engage the world this day.

Amen.

Seeing Jesus in Our Neighbor

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S (Scripture): John 2:18 Then the Jewish leaders asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things? What miraculous sign will you show us?”

19 Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.”

20 The Jewish leaders replied, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?” 21 But the temple Jesus was talking about was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered what he had said, and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

O (Observation): Jesus was at a wedding in Cana, where he turned ritual cleansing water into wine. Now, at the Temple for Passover, Jesus overturns tables, clearly upset that the Temple has been consumed by consumerism.

The Temple would no longer be what it was. Not if Jesus has anything to do with it.

Now, the Temple would be embodied in Jesus, though the Holy Spirit. Jesus would be the avenue to forgiveness. Jesus would be the pathway to love of God and neighbor.

No longer would God’s people lean on sacrifice and ritual cleansing in the way God’s people did before.

A (Application): So what saves us? What gives us hope? What assures us that we will be “okay” or even “thrive” in this life?

Sometimes we move about thinking we have total control over our lives. Sometimes we feel we determine our own destiny.

I’m not sure if these statements are true. I know we are each given a sense of calling in the world. I know living each day takes each of us contributing. Regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender identity, sexual orientation/expression, ethnicity, etc.

Our coming together as a worldwide community reminds us of the riches of God’s blessings and expressions.

We all contribute – as volunteers, paid employees, VP’s, and CEO’s – to church and secular life and work. It takes all of us, working together. No one is to be left out.

As we contribute, may we experience the beauty and wonder of the complexities of this life.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, we see your beauty in the faces of our neighbors, from whatever walk of life from which they come. Help us to see you in our neighbor. Please be with us when we cannot see your face in our neighbor. Amen.

Come and See – Thankful for the Invitation and Challenge

Photo credit here (this link will send you to a wonderful PBS special about Pr. Bob and Jean Graetz and his faithful witness to the Gospel)

S (Scripture): John 1:43 The next day Jesus wanted to go into Galilee, and he found Philip. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter.

45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.”

46 Nathanael responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?”

Philip said, “Come and see.”

O (Observation): Jesus is calling the disciples and is inviting them to follow him. Both an invitation and a challenged. In those two simple words, Jesus is promising them that he will be with them, that he is “for” them, that he will always lead them.

The challenge comes in leaving one’s life and following a new path. The disciples left behind their families and jobs. They left their homes and moved about. Quite the challenge.

A (Application): What does evangelism look like? What will it cost us? How will we be supported?

The normal model is “to go and make disciples…” – the Great Commission!

Here is another model: “Come and See.” I’m kind of preferential to this model. We see a thing. We follow. We invite others to be a part of that thing.

Of course, in the case of the gospel, we follow the life-giving Jesus. Following Jesus leads to the challenge of us needing to forsake the things that we might prefer (our own agenda, our own thoughts, our own preferences), instead of what is required in following Jesus.

Following Jesus means emulating his actions and leaving behind our own desires of living for ourselves. Instead of living for ourselves, we live for others.

And surprisingly, in living for others, we receive our reward: a full heart and sense of calling that nothing and no one in this life can take away from us.

P (Prayer): Lord God, you give us many who are good witnesses of the Gospel – those who follow you and welcome your grace. We pray especially today for someone who live for you – Pr. Bob Graetz. He served you faithfully in this life. May he be one with you now and forever. Amen.

Here is a Wikipedia article about Pr. Bob Graetz, to learn more about this honorable clergy person and his wife, Jean.

Hope Springs Eternal

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S (Scripture): Ruth 4:14 The women said to Naomi, “May the Lord be blessed, who today hasn’t left you without a redeemer. May his name be proclaimed in Israel. 15 He will restore your life and sustain you in your old age. Your daughter-in-law who loves you has given birth to him. She’s better for you than seven sons.” 16 Naomi took the child and held him to her breast, and she became his guardian. 17 The neighborhood women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They called his name Obed. He became Jesse’s father and David’s grandfather.

O (Observation): As you go through Naomi’s story, all seems lost for her: both of her children dead, she has no way to be supported, except to go to a city where she will receive support from fellow God-believers. Instead, Ruth, her daughter-in-law sticks with her. Through that relationship, God redeems what seems a hopeless situation.

Now, Ruth encounters and marries Boaz, who will help to provide for both Naomi and Boaz.

And most importantly, Boaz and Ruth will be the father of Jesse, who will be father of David.

David…yes, he is the ancestor of Jesus himself!

From hopeless to hopeful.

A (Application): You just never know how God will redeem you situation. Will things fall apart from time to time? Yes, they will.

I don’t think God makes those bad things happen. I just think God can (and does) redeem our situations from time to time to make things come together in a positive way that we cannot imagine.

Keep open the possibility of seeing or doing something great, or simply receiving an unexpected blessing. Don’t expect it. Just be ready of it comes.

P (Prayer): God, we can so easily leave behind hope. Help us to be a people of hope. Amen.