America, America

Photo credit here – and a great article that addresses the win-win scenario of citizenship in America.

S (Scripture): 2 Thessalonians 3:1 Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us so that the Lord’s message will spread quickly and be honored, just like it happened with you. 2 Pray too that we will be rescued from inappropriate and evil people since everyone that we meet won’t respond with faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful and will give you strength and protect you from the evil one. 4 We are confident about you in the Lord—that you are doing and will keep doing what we tell you to do. 5 May the Lord lead your hearts to express God’s love and Christ’s endurance.

O (Observation): Paul and crew are encouraging the people of God in Thessalonica to continue to seek God’s will and to do God’s will. Even though evil still abounds, Paul prays for protection from evil ones. Seems to be that even though God is present, that doesn’t stop evil ones from working against the people of God.

Paul’s message is clear: keep up the good work, people of God, for the Lord leads your heart and gives you Christ’s endurance. That endurance does not demand retribution nor fairness. That endurance is based on faith in God alone.

A (Application): So an article has come up recently regarding White House reps saying that the poem adorning the Statue of Liberty was for Europeans, originally. And a movement is afoot to vet folks so that only those who can “stand on their own two feet” should be allowed to seek citizenship in this country.

America was a place where people could go when people were oppressed or simply wanted freedom. The times change and I get that. But one thing that is a constant guiding light to this world is that we are a country that is full of promise.

That promise is eroding. We are becoming more and more selfish. We are looking to our own needs first, instead of helping others to succeed…like it’s a zero-sum game. Win-win scenarios exist! We just get lazy and think, “If you win, I’m gonna lose. So instead of helping anyone else, I’m gonna get mine.” How selfish is that?

Anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ looks not to one’s self , first, but last. Being nourished at the table in worship, confessing and receiving forgiveness, sharing the peace in worship…these rituals remind me that Christ is our center and sets us free from selfish desires in order to help us look to our neighbors in need.

May God help us to fight the evil that is around us and seeks to change our hearts for the worse. Help us to look outwards, that we might see that God already is taking care of our hearts and minds.

P (Prayer): Lord, help make Americans care again. Amen.

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Guide Me, Ever, Great Redeemer

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 48

17 

The Lord your redeemer,

    the holy one of Israel, proclaims:

    I am the Lord your God

        who teaches you for your own good,

        who leads you in the way you should go.

18 

If you would pay attention to my commands,

    your well-being would be like a river,

    and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

19 

Your offspring would be like the sand,

    and your descendants like its grains.

    Their name would never be eliminated,

        never wiped out from before me.

20 

Go out from Babylon;

    flee from the Chaldeans!

Report this with a loud shout, proclaim it;

    broadcast it out to the end of the earth.

    Say, “The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob!”

21 

They weren’t thirsty when he led them through the deserts.

    God made water flow from the rock for them;

    split the rock, and water flowed out.

22 

There is no well-being, says the Lord, for the wicked.

O (Observation): God’s ways promise blessing. Over time, this came to mean one must be obedient to receive blessing. Perhaps this means less about being obedient and more about the joy of receiving God’s direction.

The grace comes first: God provides a path. What flows from that grace is our well-being: righteousness, descendants in the faith, God always remembering God’s people.

Even in the midst of despair, with foreign groups essentially running the country, God reminds all of God’s people that hope still abounds.

A (Application): The pit of despair. We have all been there. As I laid a brother in Christ to rest yesterday, I am reminded of the pain and despair that families can feel when they lose (in this case) a husband, a father, a friend.

In death, we feel a hole in the soul that can never be filled in the same way again.

And yet, our struggle is to discern God’s voice in the midst of the pain struggle.

I thought God would never forget us? I thought God would provide water in the dessert?

Well, as we moved through our funeral service we were reminded that nothing – not even death – can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We were reminded that our communities that surround us (family, siblings in Christ, friends) are still with us and provide comfort like water in the dessert.

God remembers us. God provides a path forward, even in the most dire of circumstances.

P (Prayer): Guide me, ever, great Redeemer. Amen.

In God We Trust

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 46

1

Bel crouches down; Nebo cowers.

    Their idols sit on animals, on beasts.

The objects you once carried about

    are now borne as burdens by the weary animals.

They crouch down and cower together.

They aren’t able to rescue the burden,

    but they themselves go into captivity.

Listen to me, house of Jacob,

    all that remains from the house of Israel

    who have been borne by me since pregnancy,

    whom I carried from the womb

    until you grow old. I am the one,

    and until you turn gray I will support you.

I have done it, and I will continue to bear it;

    I will support and I will rescue.

To whom will you liken me and count me equal

    and compare me so that we are alike?

Those who pour out gold from a bag

    and weigh silver with a balance

    hire a metalworker; then he makes a god.

They bow down; they worship;

    they carry the idol on their shoulders and support it;

    they set it down, and it stands still,

    unable to move from its place.

If one cries out to it, it doesn’t answer.

    It can’t save people from their distress.

O (Observation): Isaiah – God’s prophet – speaks to God’s people who are struggling with influences of foreign gods – many of which are made of bronze, or wood, or other inanimate objects.

How can it move? Oh…it can’t. How can it save? Oh…it can’t.

Yet God’s people get fooled into thinking that these “gods” are salvation.

A (Application): We think, “Thank God we don’t do that! Of course we don’t worship other gods…”

So, what is a god? Luther says that anything in which we look to for hope and in which we put our trust. More exactly, it states:

“Thus you can easily understand what and how much this commandment requires, namely, that one’s entire heart and all one’s confidence be placed in God alone, and in no one else.”

How much do we trust in our money or ourselves or our intellect? How much do we depend on our identity as friends of powerful people or our position in our places of work?

We have lots of gods in this world.

May we look to the one true God who created heaven and earth and empowered those who follow this God to love and serve all people on this earth.

Whether in death or life, we trust in our God. Whether in times of stress or peace, we trust in our God.

And when we don’t, for we will stray, may we know that God is bigger than our brokenness and that God always leaves the door to grace wide open.

P (Prayer): Lord, we thank you for providing for us and empowering us to be your Kingdom workers here to share your love and mercy with all people. Amen.

Children!

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 44

1

But now hear, O Jacob my servant,

    Israel whom I have chosen!

Thus says the Lord who made you,

    who formed you in the womb and will help you:

Do not fear, O Jacob my servant,

    Jeshurun whom I have chosen.

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,

    and streams on the dry ground;

I will pour my spirit upon your descendants,

    and my blessing on your offspring.

They shall spring up like a green tamarisk,

    like willows by flowing streams.

This one will say, “I am the Lord’s,”

    another will be called by the name of Jacob,

yet another will write on the hand, “The Lord’s,”

    and adopt the name of Israel.

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,

    and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:

I am the first and I am the last;

    besides me there is no god.

Who is like me? Let them proclaim it,

    let them declare and set it forth before me.

Who has announced from of old the things to come?

    Let them tell us what is yet to be.

Do not fear, or be afraid;

    have I not told you from of old and declared it?

    You are my witnesses!

Is there any god besides me?

    There is no other rock; I know not one.

O (Observation): Today’s word proves once again that God has always been about loving the world, not just one nation. God identifies with Israel, and promised – in ages past – to see God’s people become numerous and to be a blessing to the world.

Some would be children of Israel already. Some will be identified through the name of Jacob – also a part of God’s family. And yet others will wish to have the name of “The Lord,” like one adopted by God.

Through adoption or through being raised in the faith, God’s love is open to all.

A (Application): So many people that I know are disenchanted with the Church. Too much hypocrisy. Too many scandals. Too much fake-ness. Too much judgment.

And who can blame them. They are right to lack faith in the Church. They are right to be upset.

Yet our faith resides not in the Church, but in the Lord. The Lord is our strength. The Lord is the one who adopts us and calls us “Children.”

Our hope is that as the Church, we can reclaim the goodness of our God who accepts us and loves us as we are…and continues to work on us our whole lives long.

May we see a reformation in the Church once again, that we might embrace the message of grace and justice for all the earth.

P (Prayer): Lord, move us to holy discontent with regard to the status quo. Help us to live into our identity as members of the body of Christ, gifted differently for the sake of serving this whole world. Amen.

In Due Season

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S (Scripture): Ecclesiastes 3:

1

There’s a season for everything

    and a time for every matter under the heavens:

    a time for giving birth and a time for dying,

    a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,

    a time for killing and a time for healing,

    a time for tearing down and a time for building up,

    a time for crying and a time for laughing,

    a time for mourning and a time for dancing,

    a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,

    a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,

    a time for searching and a time for losing,

    a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,

    a time for tearing and a time for repairing,

    a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,

    a time for loving and a time for hating,

    a time for war and a time for peace.

O (Observation): King Solomon (supposed author of Ecclesiastes) sought wisdom from God – above all else. God granted Solomon wisdom – a double-batch of it, since he didn’t request strength or riches.

Solomon seems almost morose. Like life isn’t worth living after all. What’s the point? You live, you die. And what is different? Almost like asking: “So, universe…now that Michael is gone…what’s different?” The universe says: “Um…who’s Michael?”

A (Application): Maybe Solomon’s take was different. Maybe Solomon’s main learning was this: don’t take yourself too seriously, and enjoy life!

All things will happen. We don’t know when or how. Just don’t think the world revolves around you. Good will come and good will go. Bad will come and bad will go. But God will remain. God will see us through it all. For God dwells with us.

In the meantime, be excellent to each other!

P (Prayer): Lord, remains with me / us. Amen.

Redemption and Renewal

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S (Scripture): Psalm 69

34 

Let heaven and earth praise God,

    the oceans too, and all that moves within them!

35 

God will most certainly save Zion

    and will rebuild Judah’s cities

    so that God’s servants can live there and possess it.

36 

The offspring of God’s servants will inherit Zion,

    and those who love God’s name will dwell there.


2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. 8 We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. 9 We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.

10 We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies. 11 We who are alive are always being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies that are dying. 12 So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

16 So we aren’t depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. 17 Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. 18 We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.

O (Observation): In the Old Testament and in the New…God is at the center of redemption and renewal. Life for the Israelites during the Babylonian captivity was full of despair and despondency. No one had hope of ever getting back to a state in which God was present and active. But the psalmist was that voice of hope for God’s people. A prophetic voice amidst the challenge. God’s people – the descendants of God’s people of the day – would know God’s power. This is the eternal promise of hope for every generation.

Paul also speaks specifically of a personal and yet collective hope. We are each experiencing the indwelling of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Even though our bodies and brains can only withstand so much in this world, our hope lies in what the body and brain cannot destroy: Christ’s dwelling within us.

A (Application): Though our bodies and brains may fail, our faith lives on. This gives us hope to carry on, no matter the challenges ahead.

As a pastor, I know I need this word today. I almost skipped the devotion today, because I had more of “God’s Work” to do this morning. But stopping and intentionally sitting today, digging into God’s word…this is precisely where I needed to be. (Yes, this is God’s Work, too ?And I hope this word inspires you today to figure out: What in me is dying? What is being reborn?

My confidence and effort were lacking of late. That is dying so that Christ might give me strength this day to do what is necessary to do the hard work of discipleship this day for me.

Happy digging!

P (Prayer): Lord, guide our efforts and sustain as we die a little each day, that Jesus might be born in us more this day and every day. Amen.

Christ in Us All

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S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 4:4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of those who don’t have faith so they couldn’t see the light of the gospel that reveals Christ’s glory. Christ is the image of God.

Proverbs 20:27 The breath of a person is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the inmost parts.

O (Observation): These two verses from very different times and situations bring forth the image of God dwelling in our very being. God is with us. God is in us. All have the ability to receive the Christ, who is already in us. The revealing of the Christ from within us makes sense as our very breath is like the lamp of the Lord. The lamp guides our way, from the inside out.

As Christ dwells within us, we cannot help but see the Christ in one another. As such, we start to treat one another as if we were interacting with the Divine Trinity itself.

A (Application): So what does all of this mean? It means that we get to see the Christ in one another. Seeing Christ in one another means seeing the hope of forgiveness in one another. The evil ones and the good ones. All are imbued with the Christ nature, for we are all one in Christ. We are all cut of the same cloth (as some like to say).

This means forgiveness is possible. This means that the chance of forgiveness and reconciliation is very high. This means that when we look on one another, we have hope to be forgiven or to forgive.

And when we cannot forgive, perhaps we hold on to the hope that the Christ dwelling in the other is still holding on strong. Even if we must let a relationship go.

Christ in us. Christ guiding us. This is my hope.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us always…from the inside out. Amen.