Leading with Love

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S (Scripture): Romans 13:8 Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law. 9 The commandments, Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t desire what others have, and any other commandments, are all summed up in one word: You must love your neighbor as yourself.10 Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law.

O (Observation): Paul encourages all followers of Christ to do the best they can to cooperate with governmental authorities and with one another. Here, Paul shows them the way forward, which was taught by Jesus: Love your neighbor as yourself.

In this simple (yet somehow extremely complicated and difficult) command, we find a way forward. Love is what fulfills the Law. Leading with love can guide one’s relationship with authorities and with one’s neighbor.

A (Application): Leading with Love is the key to relationships with authorities, with family, with strangers.

Yet leading with love can be quite challenging. For our emotions and feelings and desire for retribution can get in the way. If we think someone has wronged us, do we forget that? No…but we can work though that. Love allows us the space to work through the wrongs done to us.

So sometimes leading with love is simply about extending the grace first shown to you in Christ Jesus, so that others can receive the same grace you’ve received. You are not digging up grace on your own…you are simply giving to others what you have already received.

Lead with love. At the coffee shop, the gas station, your office, your classroom, the lunchroom, the park. Lead with love, and see if it becomes contagious. And don’t be surprised when someone asks you where you became a person that leads with love. Be ready to share your response : )

(Seriously. Literally rehearse what you are going to say. Sometimes we have to verbalize or write down our faith story to put it in perspective. It’s a good practice.)

P (Prayer): Lord, we receive your grace, unworthy as we are. You find a way to love each of us, for we are your creation. Thank you. Amen.

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Where is God in the Good & Bad?

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S (Scripture): Job 4:4 

Your words have raised up the falling;

    you’ve steadied failing knees.

But now it comes to you, and you are dismayed;

    it has struck you, and you are frightened.

Isn’t your religion the source of your confidence;

    the integrity of your conduct, the source of your hope?

Think! What innocent person has ever perished?

    When have those who do the right thing been destroyed?

As I’ve observed, those who plow sin

    and sow trouble will harvest it.

When God breathes deeply, they perish;

    by a breath of his nostril they are annihilated.

O (Observation): Eliphaz is one of Job’s friends. He is trying to speak from a perspective of logic to help explain to Job the reason for what is going on. At this point, Job’s livestock and family have been killed. Job himself has had boils / lesions all over his body. Job is in mourning.

Eliphaz reminds Job that Job’s faith has been a witness to many who have suffered loss. And yet, Eliphaz is confused to see that Job has not taken on his own council for himself.

To explain things, Eliphaz conflates some ideas in a less than helpful manner. He thinks bad things only happen to sinners. He can’t see bad things happening to good people. Job is good. But bad things around him have happened. Therefore (according to Eliphaz) something bad must have been going on.

A (Application): Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. We see it all the time. And we get upset or jealous.

We think God should reward us for the good we do, and correct us when we do bad. This is kind of how most of us raise our kids. Reward the good. Punish the bad.

Perhaps we can think in this way: God doesn’t tempt or taunt or expose us. God meets us where we are and doesn’t control us or our actions. Instead, God gives us grace and the space to do what we will with that grace.

Sometimes that grace is exactly what we will need when our world comes crashing down around us. And when we have something go right in our lives, we can rejoice in that moment.

P (Prayer): God, help us to sense your presence in our lives in the good and the bad. Amen.

God’s Math

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S (Scripture): Romans 8:5 People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit. 6 The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace.

O (Observation): Paul relates how the Spirit brings new life to folks, and how selfishness leads to death. The Law alone didn’t satisfy the desire God has for new life in people, because we are selfish! When we think mostly for our own good, we fail.

Yet in Christ, the Spirit is now our guide. The Spirit is in us, yet beyond the reach of sin. How? Christ’s death and resurrection, in bodily form, has overcome the power of sin.

A (Application): God is good. God wishes only life and peace for us, but we find ways to mess that up. Our selfishness pokes its ugly head up and snatches away life-giving actions and words for others.

We like to think that the world is made up of only so much good, and that if we give enough away, we won’t have any for ourselves.

I think new life in the Spirit actually creates more goodness! How do I know? Well, when I give my time to a service project, I feel “full.” I may be exhausted physically or mentally, but spiritual, I’m overjoyed.

God’s math just works differently.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us generous hearts! Amen.

The Law…The Rules

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S (Scripture): Romans 3:28b We consider that a person is treated as righteous by faith, apart from what is accomplished under the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Isn’t God the God of Gentiles also? Yes, God is also the God of Gentiles. 30 Since God is one, then the one who makes the circumcised righteous by faith will also make the one who isn’t circumcised righteous through faith. 31 Do we then cancel the Law through this faith? Absolutely not! Instead, we confirm the Law.

O (Observation): Paul is once again speaking to the Jewish Christians (those who were Jewish and now following Christ). He points out that their adherence to the Law (or lack there of) had nothing to do with their salvation.

When a Jew expresses the Law, this comes from faith in God. The mark of circumcision is the outward expression of an internal faith.

If that external marker was removed, what then? Could someone…say…a Gentile show faith in God? Yes! And if so, that person would not need the Law to become righteous…for God instills faith in both the circumcised and uncircumcised.

Anyone who believes in Christ has been joined to Christ’s righteousness. This is a free gift. The Law stands as a reminder of who we are called to be as God’s people. The Law was a guide and identity marker, not a path to salvation. Salvation is about faith in God.

So, should the Law be thrown out? Absolutely NOT!

A (Application): What barriers are we putting up as God’s people? What rules do we put in place for members and church leaders that make us stumble along the way? Shouldn’t we throw them all out? Well, not so fast : )

Just like we don’t throw out the Law, we don’t throw out everything that are good boundary markers in organized religion.

Healthy boundaries can be good, so that we can care for each other and build up healthy community. When we don’t trust one another and break down these barriers, we can lean on forgiveness and reconciliation, which we have first received from Christ.

Now, following the rules of the Church is not the goal…faith in Christ is the goal. As such, when the rules of the Church inhibit certain groups of people from access to faithful community, then perhaps the rules need to be updated.

The Law guides us and is an outward expression of what it means to have faith in God. Rules of the Church exist to guide us into community. But faith in God is what makes us righteous. And this righteousness comes through Christ, who gave himself for us. Believing in Christ – thanks to the Holy Spirit instilling faith in us – brings us to righteousness. The Law…the rules…don’t make us righteous. Christ does.

P (Prayer): Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief. Amen.

Good News in Disguise

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S (Scripture): Acts 28:23b …many people came to the place where [Paul] was staying. From morning until evening, he explained and testified concerning God’s kingdom and tried to convince them about Jesus through appealing to the Law from Moses and the Prophets. 24 Some were persuaded by what he said, but others refused to believe. 25 They disagreed with each other and were starting to leave when Paul made one more statement:

“The Holy Spirit spoke correctly when he said to your ancestors through Isaiah the prophet,

26 

Go to this people and say:

You will hear, to be sure, but never understand;

    and you will certainly see but never recognize what you are seeing.

27 

This people’s senses have become calloused,

    and they’ve become hard of hearing,

    and they’ve shut their eyes

        so that they won’t see with their eyes

        or hear with their ears

        or understand with their minds,

            and change their hearts and lives that I may heal them.

28 “Therefore, be certain of this: God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles. They will listen!”

O (Observation): Paul stands trial in Rome. He does not try to escape this trial. He welcomes it, that he might share God’s Good News to all people.

Paul continues God’s direction: to the Jews first, but also to the Gentiles! That desire to reach ALL people (even the Gentiles) is blasphemous to the Jews…but God never intends to exclude. God chose Abram, and blessed him and Sarai, and so they had been the first recipients of God’s love and mercy.

That love to the people who would become the Hebrew people (the Jews) was simply the first people to receive the gift. Through these people, God would show the world what steadfast love looks like: mercy and love is extended to God’s covenant people. And God wishes for more to become part of that covenant.

Paul reminds folks using Isaiah’s words that all people who wish to receive God’s covenant love are welcome to receive it. And if the Jews don’t want it, God also gives it to the Gentiles. See if they want it : )

A (Application): When you get a gift, do you fuss if it isn’t what you wanted? Aren’t you glad you got a gift? I know I can be picky sometimes, but receiving a gift you don’t want can be tough to handle. Of course, when relating to this text, God gives us what we need, not something that will be bad for us.

Sometimes the gift we get from God, while not bad for us, may not be what we want, nor what we expect! Sometimes what God gives us goes against every fiber of our being. We reject it at times, because we don’t want to face the reality that what God gives us will inconvenience us.

God wants to give me the gift of helping to be a part of a start-up ministry to serve homeless or poor folks? Won’t that cut into my family time or free time? But aren’t I thankful for what I do have? Can’t the ministry opportunity involve my family along with me, thereby strengthening our bond as a family unit AND inspire us in our faith as a family? Is this gift really Good News or bad news?

Facing the gifts from God can look like pure joy when we are facing difficulty. Facing the same gifts from God when we are arrogant and boastful may trouble us deeply. Either way, the Good News shows up at our doorstep.

May we be humble enough to receive the gift of the Good News and see how it guides us in times of plenty and in times of want.

[Disclaimer: sometimes, bad news is just bad news. Sometimes crap just happens and we can’t explain it. So, check yourself and check with others. If we all agree there is not Good News in that gift…then it’s not Good News. Plain and simple. The point is this: not all things that seem bad that show up on our doorstep are necessarily bad. But sometimes it just is bad. Never assume. Get friend and loved ones together to help you through it.]

P (Prayer): Lord, give us wisdom to accept the Good News freely given to us all. Amen.

Stumbling Blocks and a Promise

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S (Scripture): Ezra 4:1 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the families and said to them, “Let’s build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we’ve been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Assyria’s King Esarhaddon, who brought us here.”

3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of the families in Israel replied, “You’ll have no part with us in building a house for our God. We alone will build because the Lord, the God of Israel, and Persia’s King Cyrus commanded us.”

4 The neighboring peoples discouraged the people of Judah, made them afraid to build, 5 and bribed officials to frustrate their plan. They did this throughout the rule of Persia’s King Cyrus until the rule of Persia’s King Darius.

O (Observation): God’s people returned to Jerusalem thanks to God’s ability to persuade Babylonian King Cyrus to not only allow God’s people to return, but also to give them their stuff back (and more!).

So they begin to rebuild. They are elated!

But a neighboring group comes over and they want part of the action. When they are told “No!” they go tattle-tailing to the king, until a new king shows up back in Persia: King Artaxerxes. This new king doesn’t like what God’s people are up to…so he tells his people to stop the rebuilding.

Ugh!

A (Application): Just when we think we have a clear path for ministry, something likes to get in our way. God worked on King Cyrus to get him to support the people of God. Now, it’s all turned upside-down.

Lots of times I think I have a great idea for ministry or life, and things get in the way. Stumbling blocks.

Is it my fault? What did I do wrong? Why is this so hard?

Doubts and challenges creep up on us all the time. Does that mean we are headed down the wrong path? Or just tired? Or unclear?

I don’t think I can answer that question. Instead, we turn to Christ. Jesus is ready to take on our frustrations and concerns and the Spirit will guide us.

If I can assure you of anything, it is this: God is with us every step of the way. We are constantly reminded in the scriptures of God’s command and promise: Fear not, for I am with you.

P (Prayer): God, release us from frustration. Guide us forward. Amen.

Wait For the Lord

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S (Scripture): Psalm 31

21 

Bless the Lord,

    because he has wondrously revealed

    his faithful love to me

    when I was like a city under siege!

22 

When I was panicked, I said,

    “I’m cut off from your eyes!”

But you heard my request for mercy

    when I cried out to you for help.

23 

All you who are faithful, love the Lord!

    The Lord protects those who are loyal,

        but he pays the proud back to the fullest degree.

24 

All you who wait for the Lord,

be strong and let your heart take courage.

O (Observation): Being courageous in the face of adversity, this psalmist finds hope. Hope not from within, but hope from The Lord.

Knowing the love of God, especially in a time of great turmoil, brings hope. No outside circumstance can imprison one’s hopes and dreams.

I can only imagine what it must be like to be one of God’s people of Israel, cast out into Babylonian captivity. Perhaps the hope of this psalmist was forged in the heart of one of God’s people forced to live in a Babylonian bungalow.

Waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

A (Application): What are you waiting for? Do you feel alone? Do you sense hope? Hopelessness?

The range of emotions is endless when waiting. A family waits over 6 hours while a loved one is undergoing serious surgery. A young family awaits word on whether or not they are approved for their home loan. An expectant mother awaits word on whether she will need to have a c-section or be able to give birth naturally. Waiting. Waiting.

The counsel I have (coming from today’s Scripture, not from me) is this:

Wait for the Lord. Be strong. Take heart. For the Lord will carry you through whatever may come.

(Here is a link to a meditative song based on Psalm 31:24. Take a moment. Be still. Listen.)

P (Prayer): Lord, make us know of your steadfast love. We cannot wait alone or be strong alone or take heart alone. Give us your Spirit and surround us with loving community. Amen.