Prepare the Way of the Lord: Love!

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 40

3

A voice cries out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,

    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up,

    and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

    and the rough places a plain.

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

    and all people shall see it together,

    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

O (Observation): God’s people, stick in the midst of foreign occupation and devastating circumstances, are reassured that God will see them through such a time as this.

God reminds the people of Israel that work is still to be done. A path is desired by God. And God will see to it that all obstructions are cleared away. God will make God’s self known to the world.

And God’s glory will be revealed.

A (Application): If you have not heard by now, on September 1, I will begin serving as Assistant to the Bishop for the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. That means my family and I will be moving to the Atlanta area (near Stone Mountain, GA), and away from Murfreesboro, TN, which has been our home for the past 7 &1/2 years.

This is a bittersweet time for us, as we have become deeply embedded in this community. We have see growth. We have seen challenge. God’s presence is obscured by the various ways we have interpreted what it means to be Christian in this part of the world. Some think it means being obedient to “The Bible” or to what some preacher says one must do. Being a Christian here can mean admonishing the neighbor in love.

These calls to obedience alone are mountains and valleys that obscure the nature of God. For to see Christianity merely as obedience is to go shallow. Or, as Richard Rohr puts it: “Mere obedience is far too often a detour around actual love. Obedience is usually about cleaning up, Love is about waking up.”

So, how do we clear the path? Love. In acts of love. In doing the most loving thing you can do in any moment, in any circumstance.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to prepare the way for you by sharing love with those we encounter. Amen.

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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.

God Is Near

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 49

14 But Zion says, “The Lord has abandoned me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”

15 Can a woman forget her nursing child, fail to pity the child of her womb?

Even these may forget, but I won’t forget you.

O (Observation): God's people – in Isaiah's time – experience despair and challenge. Their homeland is mostly unrecognizable and foreigners roam the land. Their wayward actions have caused them to distance themselves from God. And they sense that God has been kept at arm's length, as if God has abandoned or forgotten them. Yet Isaiah reminds them of something important.

Isaiah reminds God's people that God has never abandoned them. God says a mother who is still nursing her child is more likely to forget her child than God is to forget God's people.

A comforting image to a people so forlorn.

A (Application): God has a way of bringing correction and righteous anger…as well as comfort and hope. This is God's way: when we are complacent and sinful, God shakes us up. When we are downtrodden and in despair, God picks us up.

I have friends who are downtrodden and in despair. I pray that they know that God is near, trying to bring them hope.

In this season, I am feeling a bit complacent, so I sense God calling me to step up my game in certain areas, like building relationships with the various communities within Murfreesboro: with Muslims, with the black community, with the LGBTQ community.

Thankfully, processes are in place for me to take some steps forward with all 3 of these communities: "Love Your Neighbor" potluck picnic on July 30, with our Muslim neighbors; I have a friend who invited me to build relationships with a black UMC church in town; and Boro Pridefest in September, which our congregation is helping to sponsor. (Note: the goal is to walk alongside these communities to show neighborly care, not to "fix" these communities.)

While many of us are on the same path, we may be in different places on the path: some in despair, some motivated to action, and still others, wandering or wild with enthusiasm. In each case, God is near.

May we all know God's presence is near.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to know that you are near. Amen.

Faith in Action


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S (Scripture): Isaiah 43:1 But now, says the Lord—
the one who created you, Jacob,
the one who formed you, Israel:
Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you won’t be scorched and flame won’t burn you.

4 Because you are precious in my eyes,
you are honored, and I love you.

5 Don’t fear, I am with you.
From the east I’ll bring your children;
from the west I’ll gather you.
6 I’ll say to the north, “Give them back!”
and to the south, “Don’t detain them.”
Bring my sons from far away,
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
7 everyone who is called by my name
and whom I created for my glory,
whom I have formed and made.

19 Look! I’m doing a new thing;
now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?
I’m making a way in the desert,
paths in the wilderness.
20 The beasts of the field,
the jackals and ostriches, will honor me,
because I have put water in the desert
and streams in the wilderness
to give water to my people,
my chosen ones,
21 this people whom I formed for myself,
who will recount my praise.

O (Observation):  God’s people – scattered, tattered, and torn – are given words of hope through the prophet Isaiah.   Faith is not just a set of beliefs or doctrines, but a living reality in which God reigns.   

God sees the people of Israel as a parent looks upon one’s precious children.   Even though they have been conquered and scattered over the generations, God is preparing to call them back, to redeem them, to restore them…from the ends of the earth.  

This new thing God is doing is a hoped-for future.  A future in which animals even give praise to God for the waters God provides in the wilderness / desert.  A future in which all creation will give praise to God.  

A (Application):  So what does this future look like?  Perhaps we’ve see a glimpse!   A foretaste of the feast to come…in the person of Jesus Christ!

Jesus calls us to a way of hope, even in the midst of dire circumstances.   Jesus calls us to live peacably with all, even to love our enemies.   Jesus grants us direct access to God, even though we stray.  

Jesus was never about getting even.  He was about change through love.   When we live out love in response to hate, we see lasting change.  If not in this week or month…at some point others will see the witness we give of responding to hate with love.    And this witness is the new thing that God is doing.  Streams of water in the desert; God calling together many strains of humanity to care for one another.  

Let us live out this faith.  More than doctrine.  More than just some set of beliefs.  But a way of life led by love for God and for neighbor.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, I hope for peace through the witness of love for you and for neighbor.  Amen.  

Comfort for God’s People

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 40

1 Comfort, comfort my people!
says your God.
2 Speak compassionately to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her that her compulsory service has ended,
that her penalty has been paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins!
3 A voice is crying out:
“Clear the Lord’s way in the desert!
Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
4 Every valley will be raised up,
and every mountain and hill will be flattened.
Uneven ground will become level,
and rough terrain a valley plain.
5 The Lord’s glory will appear,
and all humanity will see it together;
the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.”

O (Observation): God’s people moved back and forth from faithfulness to unfaithfulness over and over again.   In the time of King Hezekiah, the king made many decisions that pleased the Lord.   The king sought the Lord’s guidance and protection from the Assyrians and the Babylonians.   

Now, on his deathbed, King Hezekiah – the king of Israel – listened to the prophet Isaiah once again.  And the king is rewarded.  God grants Hezekiah 15 more years of life!

And in the wake of his healing, God gives Israel some rest.    Things would still get worse before they got better, but God was not abandoning the people.  In fact, God calls the people of Israel to experience Comfort.  

Their long-term worries are over, though trouble would still come.  Isaiah prophecies that the rough ways would eventually become smooth.  Where there is mountainous terrain, a level and direct path.  (Remember, they didn’t have ATV’s back then : )

No more surprises.  No more arduous journeys back to the Lord.   God would find a way to give us direct access to grace and forgiveness.    

For us Christians, this prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  

A (Application):  I heard a song on the radio again this morning.  The song essentially said that once someone believes in Jesus…all sorrow and pain go away.  

Well…yes and no.  The idea that we suffer eternally goes away, yes.   But do we still feel the suffering of this broken world in both small and immense ways?  Absolutely, we do!   We don’t celebrate the pain, but we do experience it.  

What has changed for God’s people…the leveling of the hills and raising of the valleys…means that our access to God is now on a clear pathway.  God’s people didn’t know what that would look like in Hezekiah or Isaiah’s time…but today, we think this looks like Jesus.   

This leveling also means that in this life – as followers of Jesus – even though we will experience pain and suffering, we will do so under the yoke of Jesus, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.  

Maybe the author of the song wanted to convey that life in Jesus has no eternal sorrow…that our pain will be transformed into joy.   I just didn’t hear that transformative move in the song.   My worry is that people will hear a song like this and come into the Christian life thinking: “well, all my problems are solved now that I have Jesus!”  

My friend, if you come into a life in Jesus, your problems are just about to begin.  Life in Jesus is great, but it’s not always a walk in the park : )

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to know that you are with us, and that even though this life is full of fears and worries, that you walk through them with us…bringing us comfort in the end.  Amen.  

Discerning God’s Will (kairos)

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 11:
1 A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse;
a branch will sprout from his roots.
2 The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him,
a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a spirit of planning and strength,
a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
3 He will delight in fearing the Lord.
He won’t judge by appearances, nor decide by hearsay.
4 He will judge the needy with righteousness,
and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land.
He will strike the violent with the rod of his mouth; by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be the belt around his hips,
and faithfulness the belt around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
the calf and the young lion will feed together,
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow and the bear will graze.
Their young will lie down together, and a lion will eat straw like an ox.
8 A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole;
toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den.
9 They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain.
The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, just as the water covers the sea.


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O (Observation):  God’s people, during the time of the prophet Isaiah, had little hope for themselves.  Neighboring forces were closing in on God’s people of Judah, and they felt abandoned by God.  Yet in this text, God reassures them that even though God was correcting them for their misdeeds, God was not abandoning them.  Much like children being scolded by their parents, God scolds Israel out of love and compassion for the people…that they might follow the path of mercy, grace, and justice.  That God’s people might follow God’s lead, and not simply serve their own base desires.  

So the image of the “stump of Jesse” is brought forth.   King David’s father, Jesse, was in a line of succession of God’s favor – not by anything Jesse had done, but by God’s divine blessing.  This blessing goes all the way back to Abraham, and God choosing to make a great people of Abraham’s lineage.  From Abraham to Jesse to David (Jesse’s son) to Jesus…God brings hope to God’s people.   

And in the end, even nature itself and all animals will become docile and plentiful.  Killing will be no more.   Danger will be no more.  And abundant life eternal will fill the earth.   

A (Application):  How badly do we wish to control our destiny?   We hold so tightly to our own worldviews that we would rather cause someone else harm, than let someone change our mind.   

What would this world like like if we would allow ourselves to follow God’s lead and not just our own?   Sounds good, but how do we do that?

I think God’s people in Isaiah’s time – just like us Christians today – have a hard time seeing God around us.   So what do we do?   

I like to use a tool called the “Circle” (pictured above).  The circle is a guide for us to use when we are discerning God’s  will for our lives.  This discernment is best done within a trusted group of fellow disciples.   Sometimes the words will be challenging; sometimes the words will be an invitation to listen more deeply to the grace God is already giving you.    You dwell on a moment in which you sense God knocking on the door and share that with the group – we call this a “kairos” moment.  You discuss this kairos together and share how the Scriptures or personal stories can further inform the kairos.

Once the kairos is discussed (which is basically discerning what God is saying to you) then you make a plan to act and be held accountable to the group (which is to discern what God wants you to do).   Again, this works best in the midst of a group of trusted disciples, where you can be vulnerable to sharing the kairos moments with others and trust that God is speaking through this group.   

Our tendency – like that of God’s people in the Isaiah text – is to move forward without fully contemplating what God was up to.  The prophet Isaiah was present to speak up on God’s behalf.  Now, we have the Spirit to help us discern.  And we can do this in groups that I have worked with called “huddles.”

I’ve been in groups like this and I’ve led them.  They work extremely well.   We cannot go this journey as disciples all alone.  Guidance and care from fellow disciples is critical.  Jesus gathered the 12 to lean on one another.  He led them so that they would lead others in figuring out how to respond to God’s calls.  

I see wisdom in discerning God’s will in groups, so that what guides us is not our own egos, but the Spirit of God.   

Let me know if you’d ever like to be in such a group.  I have led them online and in person.  Peace!

P (Prayer):  Lord, get us out of our own way, and let your will be done in our lives.  Amen.  

Trust the Pregnant One: “God with us”


S (Scripture): Isaiah 7:10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: 11 “Ask a sign from the Lord your God. Make it as deep as the grave or as high as heaven.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I won’t ask; I won’t test the Lord.”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Listen, house of David! Isn’t it enough for you to be tiresome for people that you are also tiresome before my God? 14 Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign.  The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel [“God with us”].  15 He will eat butter and honey, and learn to reject evil and choose good. 16 Before the boy learns to reject evil and choose good, the land of the two kings you dread will be abandoned. 17 The Lord will bring upon you, upon your people, and upon your families days unlike any that have come since the day Ephraim broke away from Judah—the king of Assyria.”

O (Observation):  King Ahaz is the king of Judah, the remnant of God’s chosen people.  They are less than perfect, and God has called upon Isaiah (touching a burning coal to his lips, remember?) to speak truth to God’s people.   Isaiah called upon God’s people to trust God and believe that Judah is NOT beyond redemption.  

What will this redemption look like?  

The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel [“God with us”].

Sound familiar?   See Matthew 1:23 : )

In Isaiah’s time and in the time of Mary’s pregnancy, God’s people are in a time of difficulty.   They are in need of salvation and help from the Lord.   

God remains faithful.  God gives them hope. 

Isaiah reminds King Ahaz that Judah’s enemies – in the span of about 2-3 years (or, about the time it would take for the pregnant woman to give birth and teach the child right from wrong) – will be no more.  They can trust that God will provide for them.   

A (Application): So many things to do and so little time and motivation.  We all hit roadblocks.  We see obstacles and challenges and don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.  We feel trapped. 

We want to be smart enough to figure a way out. We want to work harder to make the work “ours” – to put our stamp on it.    We want to prove to God how worthy we are.   

And the sad thing is, we sometimes make it not realizing that it was God who gave us what we need to make things work.  We forget that God gave us the relationships and the skills we need to make things work out.   We forget that God called upon others to provide us guidance and wisdom.  

We claim for ourselves what God has done, is doing, and will continue to do.  

We forget that hope came through a pregnant woman – Mary – which was not our doing.  We forget that God is our protector, choosing instead to protect ourselves by shouting on social media about how we need to be stronger as Christians.  We shout about how we need to really step up and claim God for this nation and to push back all others.   

Instead, I call for unity, in the midst of diversity.  We come together, people of varied nations and tongues, seeking goodness and mercy and justice for all.  We do this, confident that the Lord will provide us with merciful and just leaders.  

This starts with you.   Where do you see a need for justice?  Where do you see a need for mercy?

Remember that you need others to be just and merciful for you, too.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, make us wise not in the ways of the world, but wise in your ways.  Amen.