The Temptation that is Actually Bitter, Not Sweet

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 12:14 Pursue the goal of peace along with everyone—and holiness as well, because no one will see the Lord without it. 15 Make sure that no one misses out on God’s grace. Make sure that no root of bitterness grows up that might cause trouble and pollute many people. 16 Make sure that no one becomes sexually immoral or ungodly like Esau. He sold his inheritance as the oldest son for one meal. 17 You know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected because he couldn’t find a way to change his heart and life, though he looked for it with tears.

O (Observation): God’s grace comes to all. Lead with it. End with it. Without leading in grace, people won’t see God’s grace for them. When others are leading with bitterness, people will not only receive bitterness, but they will then act bitter towards others.

A (Application): We are called to lead with joy, not grasping on to the nice shiny object in our faces, like Esau. He wanted that quick thing – a meal, forsaking his blessing.

We don’t need that quick fix. We have the grace of God to sustain us and fill us!!!

What is the shiny thing you are trying to get a hold of? Who around you is helping you to look at God’s grace, instead of the bitter reward of earthly gain?

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to look to you, not just to ourselves. Amen.

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Faith – Powerful and Scary

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 11:17 By faith Abraham offered Isaac when he was tested. The one who received the promises was offering his only son. 18 He had been told concerning him, Your legitimate descendants will come from Isaac.[Gen 21:12] 19 He figured that God could even raise him from the dead. So in a way he did receive him back from the dead.

O (Observation): The author of Hebrews lists many people of faith. Each had a different manifestation of God’s grace. For Abraham, he knew that the world would be blessed not only through him, but through his son, Isaac.

When God asked Abraham to trust God, he did. He may have been confused in trying to reconcile the death of his son with the legitimate descendants coming through Isaac’s lineage.

Yet Abraham had faith; he embraced God’s truth. Abraham figured his son would be dead, but that God’s plan was still viable…even if it meant bringing Isaac back from the dead.

Abraham had to let go and trust that God would carry them forward.

A (Application): Abraham had to let go. In letting go, he also began to trust that God would eventually step in at some point to make good on God’s promise to bring descendants of Isaac. Abraham thought God would bring him back.

That is a big kind of trust. How many of us can take God’s promises near that serious?

How do / can we let go? Through faith alone.

The problem is this: Faith looks like foolishness to the world. Faith gets you in trouble with the world. Faith is not logical.

Faith is God dwelling within you so that you are eternally in the moment and grateful for that moment.

Faith is God carrying you onward even though life seems bleak.

Faith is trusting that giving to God FIRST out of your paycheck will be a blessing to you.

Faith is knowing that things will work out, knowing you don’t have to dictate all the details of this life.

Faith is letting go in the confidence that God will see you through the best and the worst of times.

May your faith be strong. May God’s presence shine in you and through you, through faith.

P (Prayer): God, grant us faith. Amen.

God is ALIVE and ON THE MOVE

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S (Scripture): Psalm 115

1

Not to us, Lord, not to us—

    no, but to your own name give glory

        because of your loyal love and faithfulness!

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.

    They have hands, but they can’t feel.

    They have feet, but they can’t walk.

    They can’t even make a noise in their throats!

Let the people who made these idols

    and all who trust in them

    become just like them!

O (Observation): God’s people do something seemingly irresponsible. They believe in what they cannot see. They believe God lives and moves freely. No hand-made likeness is necessary. (Remember the first commandment’s qualifier – no graven image is to be made.)

The non-God-fearers just don’t get it. Oh well.

A (Application): How many of our people in our churches speak the language of faith? For so long, we have been concerned with measurements of “butts and bucks” (or attendance and offering) that we quite often fail to see how God is a part of any of that.

We fail to see and hear and tell the stories of what God is doing in our ministries.

Yesterday, I spoke with a pastor friend who gets it, who wants to help her churchgoers to see what the Spirit is up to.

And so, that changes now.

Answer theses questions:

  • Where have I seen God today?
  • How has God used someone else to bless me today?
  • How has God used me to bless someone else?
  • I didn’t come up with these questions, but they have been foundational to my ministries.
  • May you discover how God is with you and is alive and well.

    P (Prayer): Lord, show us your presence. Amen.

    Encouragement

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    S (Scripture): Hebrews 10:19 Brothers and sisters, we have confidence that we can enter the holy of holies by means of Jesus’ blood, 20 through a new and living way that he opened up for us through the curtain, which is his body, 21 and we have a great high priest over God’s house.

    22 Therefore, let’s draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us, since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water.

    23 Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable.

    24 And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. 25 Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.

    O (Observation): Gathering together to remember God’s activity and to remember what has been done. God frees us from the idea that we must save ourselves. God frees us from thinking we need to live individually, to make it in this world, independently from one another.

    God frees from the notion that we must work harder to be free – we are already free.

    And so, we have the capacity to do good and to hold on to hope – not because we make our own way, because a way has been made for us.

    A (Application): we are free. We always have been. We just blinded ourselves to freedom. We think we need to make it apart from God and apart from one another to prove something. We don’t.

    Now that we are free, let us be beholden to one another.

    Let us encourage one another out of joy and hope.

    How can you encourage others this day?

    P (Prayer): Lord, bring me folks today to encourage me. Amen.

    Jesus Changes Everything

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    S (Scripture): Hebrews 8:1 Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We have this kind of high priest. He sat down at the right side of the throne of the majesty in the heavens. 2 He’s serving as a priest in the holy place, which is the true meeting tent that God, not any human being, set up. 3 Every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices. So it’s necessary for this high priest also to have something to offer. 4 If he was located on earth, he wouldn’t be a priest because there are already others who offer gifts based on the Law. 5 They serve in a place that is a copy and shadow of the heavenly meeting tent. This is indicated when Moses was warned by God when he was about to set up the meeting tent: See that you follow the pattern that I showed you on the mountain in every detail. 6 But now, Jesus has received a superior priestly service just as he arranged a better covenant that is enacted with better promises.

    O (Observation): God’s people are trying to reconcile why God established multiple covenants. The author concludes that the covenant of placing the Law on our hearts has been good, but is imperfect…not because God is imperfect, but because we are. The covenant is placed on us in our broken world.

    In Jesus comes the better covenant because it has better promises with it.

    A (Application): We are broken and frail. Our political systems are based on win-lose scenarios, our economic systems are based on greed, our Christian religious systems are based on proving others wrong and damning them for it.

    How to be a Christian in the world today?

    With Jesus. Only with Jesus do we move forward.

    We move forward in ways that help us towards win-win solutions in politics, seeking the uplifting of our political enemy. We can see that our economy can help us sustain those most challenged, by helping us to be generous towards the least of these. We can begin our conversations about Christ with love and compassion and empathy FIRST, showing God’s love for all people.

    These are counter-cultural moves. The Hebrews author sees that God can and does work in and through the person of Jesus. And Jesus changes our practical everyday lives!!!!

    We seek to help others. We seek to give. We seek to uplift.

    This is the change of Jesus being my hope and salvation. My priest who intercedes for me.

    What changes your life?

    P (Prayer): Lord, guide me in all my ways. Amen.

    Doubt and Despair

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    S (Scripture):

    Lamentations 1:9 

    Zion’s gates sank into the ground; he broke and shattered her bars;

    her king and her officials are now among the nations. There is no Instruction![b]

    Even her prophets couldn’t find a vision from the Lord.

    10 

    Daughter Zion’s elders sit on the ground and mourn.

    They throw dust on their heads; they put on mourning clothes.

    Jerusalem’s young women bow their heads all the way to the ground.

    Hebrews 7:26 It’s appropriate for us to have this kind of high priest: holy, innocent, incorrupt, separate from sinners, and raised high above the heavens. 27 He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day like the other high priests, first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people. He did this once for all when he offered himself. 28 The Law appoints people who are prone to weakness as high priests, but the content of the solemn pledge, which came after the Law, appointed a Son who has been made perfect forever.

    O (Observation): Today’s texts remind us of two very different points in the revelation of God and God’s overall story. In Lamentations, God’s people sense that God – in the form of Instruction, or Torah – has “left the building” so to speak. Their understanding of God’s presence was wrapped up in the physical presence of God in the book of Instruction and in the Temple, neither of which were present any longer (at least not perceived to be present). God’s people begin their Babylonian exile.

    Fast forward to God’s story post-ascension of Jesus, post-Acts. Now we have a God being understood as a priest forever. But not just any priest. Jesus is now the priest forever. Nothing can separate God’s presence from God’s people now. For our priest is perfect, now and forever.

    God is always “in the building.”

    A (Application): In our heads, we get what the Hebrews text is speaking to. In our hearts, we can get mired down in the world of Lamentations.

    THIS IS TOTALLY NORMAL FOR US!!!

    No shame is found in doubt or despair. As we discover (and re-discover) the story of God’s people, we are constantly being reminded that God’s people have (and will) experience moments or even seasons of doubt or despair.

    How do we recall that our priest – Jesus – speaks to God for us, giving us freedom to act out of grace? We gather around the story as individuals and as community. We worship together. We serve together. We find ways to build relationships and ways to give to God and neighbor. Here, we rediscover God’s presence.

    The story of God includes you. You are made in God’s image. Remember that this day. Remember that Jesus intercedes for you and brings your prayers to God. Jesus encourages you and me and all that seek grace.

    Turn to God. Do so in community. See the grace flow.

    P (Prayer): Gracious Jesus, sing for us, speak for us, when we can do neither. Amen.

    Exile, Promises, and Hope

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    S (Scripture): Jeremiah 46:27 

    But don’t be afraid, my servant Judah;

        don’t lose heart, Israel.

    I will deliver you from a faraway place

        and your children from the land of their exile.

    My people Jacob will again be safe and sound,

        with no one harassing them.

    28 

    So don’t be afraid, my servant Jacob,

        declares the Lord.

    I’m with you;

        I will put an end to all the nations

            where I have scattered you.

    But I won’t put an end to you.

        I won’t let you avoid punishment;

        I will discipline you as you deserve.

    O (Observation): Some of God’s people experienced exile when the Babylonians were allowed to come in and take over Judah. Some of God’s people stayed in Judah to be servants to the Babylonians.

    Either way, an exile was happening. This was no longer their home. Temples destroyed. Protective city walls crushed. Foreigners occupying the territory of God’s people.

    God’s people erred and went out of their way to disobey God. And God’s response was to let the Babylonians come in and do their thing.

    Yet, God would not completely abandon the people whom God claimed. God’s people would be remembered by God. They would not be forsaken forever.

    The promise is made by God. Even though discipline awaits, God is still with God’s people.

    A (Application): Exile. I kind of feel an exile has come upon our family. We moved from Murfreesboro, TN, to Lilburn, GA. Our children are in new schools, our jobs have changed. Yet, this does not feel like punishment, but rather a call towards a new direction. This whole situation is not one of correction, but one of new orientation.

    We do sense God’s hand guiding and moving us in the right direction. We are to be patient and trust in the Lord. We are to “be” and not just “do.”

    That is hard. Simple, but hard.

    And so we go to work or school. We do our best to give God praise though our words and actions…knowing that God does not forget us.

    God is with us. For, even though we feel like are being worn away, this allows God’s presence to shine through even more.

    If you feel like you are in exile, explore the ways in which “less of you, more of God” comes about in your life.

    P (Prayer): Lord, guide us into the way of peace. Amen.