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.

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I’ve Got Everything I Need, Right?

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S (Scripture): 2 Kings 17:4b Hoshea (king of Israel) stopped paying tribute to the Assyrian king as he had in previous years, so the Assyrian king arrested him and put him in prison. 5 Then the Assyrian king invaded the whole country. He marched against Samaria and attacked it for three years. 6 In Hoshea’s ninth year, the Assyrian king captured Samaria. He sent Israel into exile to Assyria, resettling them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River, and in the cities of the Medes.

O (Observation): At this point in the history of the Hebrew people, we see a divided people of God: The northern kingdom (Israel) and the southern kingdom (Judah). Each kingdom had its own king.

Politics became the god of the people. They made decisions not based on what God spoke through the prophets, but rather what they felt was the best way to secure their own wants and needs. Sometimes, the needs were about protection from enemies (like Israel’s king paying the Assyrian king for protection). When this favor ends, so does the friendship. And Assyria conquered Israel, exiling (most of) the people of Israel through Assyria. (No better way of getting rid of a people than by making them become your people.)

A (Application): So, the more we rely on ourselves, the worse our predicament becomes. Yet, this is the battle we face. This is the temptation we succumb to time and time again.

To whom do we turn in difficult times? Ourselves? Our money to buy things to make us happy? Our work to help us feel like we are accomplishing something? Our chore list to make sure we get that done?

What makes us feel whole? None of the things I listed. We might get temporary satisfaction…but they don’t last.

Relying on God has been an “On again / off again” thing, if I’m honest. I do things from time to time just to show I can do them, like I’m proving my worth to God and others.

Yet, this is not what God requires of me. God simply calls on me to believe that Jesus came to show us that we have everything we need: gifting from the Spirit, a relationship with God, and disciples to journey alongside.

May you see your blessings this day.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us this day, as always. Amen.

TRUTH before Reconciliation

Photo credit: Toi Scott, Facebook

S (Scripture): Joshua 22:1 Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh. 2 He said to them, “You obeyed everything that Moses the Lord’s servant commanded you. You have also obeyed me in everything that I have commanded you. 3 During these many years, you never once deserted your fellow Israelites. You faithfully obeyed the command of the Lord your God. 4 The Lord your God has now given rest to your fellow Israelites, exactly as he promised them. So turn around and go back home. Go to the land where you hold property, which Moses the Lord’s servant gave you on the other side of the Jordan…”

9 So the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh went back. They left the Israelites at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan. They went to the land of Gilead, to the land that they owned. They had settled there at the Lord’s command given by Moses. 10 They came to the districts of the Jordan that are in the land of Canaan. The people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan, an altar that appeared to be immense. 11 Then the Israelites heard a report: “Look. The people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have built an altar at the far edge of the land of Canaan. It lies in the districts of the Jordan on the Israelite side!” 12 When the Israelites heard this, the entire Israelite community assembled at Shiloh to go up to war against them…

21 Then the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh answered the heads of the military units of Israel: 22 “The Lord is God of gods! The Lord is God of gods! He already knows, and now let Israel also know it! If we acted in rebellion or in disrespect against the Lord, don’t spare us today…

24 “No! The truth is we did this out of concern for what might happen. In the future your children might say to our children, ‘What have you got to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 The Lord has set the Jordan as a border between us and you people of Reuben and Gad. You have no portion in the Lord!’ So your children might make our children stop worshipping the Lord. 26 As a result we said, ‘Let’s protect ourselves by building an altar. It isn’t to be for an entirely burned offering or for sacrifice.’ 27 But it is to be a witness between us and you and between our descendants after us. It witnesses that we too perform the service of the Lord in his presence through our entirely burned offerings, sacrifices, and well-being offerings. So in the future your children could never say to our children, ‘You have no portion in the Lord.’

O (Observation): What a bit of holy confusion! Talk about jumping the gun (almost literally)!

A very smart decision made by Gad and crew to build an altar, since the next few generations might forget they are worshipping the same God as their fellow Israelites.

The Jordan River separated them, so it makes sense that they (as a whole people) might start to veer down down deferent pathways over the next few generations. They would see one another over the holidays…but that might be about it!

As for the majority apart from Gad and crew…they could have been a little less hasty, but then, they did just get done wandering 40 years for a lack of faith in God that looked similar to this. So…thankfully, they agreed to allow the altar – a public display of remembrance.

A (Application): What will our children and grandchildren remember of us? They will see headlines and new stories reminding them of division and war and consumerism. Yes.

But we have a way to combat this: with real, live, personal experiences with REAL people (and not just talking points).

My family and I took part in some of the leadership of “Murfreesboro Loves: a community action against hate,” in October 2017. A group of white supremacists were coming into Murfreesboro to spread their message of the supremacy of the white race. This did not sit well with me or my family.

So, instead of trying to just read the news to see what happened, we took a step out to show that our town is one in which ALL belong, regardless of race, creed, or nationality. Hundreds rallied together in a separate place that day, to celebrate unity.

Part of our ongoing concern in Murfreesboro is the lack of awareness of the history of racism in our town and Rutherford County.

A monument resides on the town square of Murfreesboro. It depicts a sentiment of sympathy for fallen soldiers. (Erected in the early 1900’s.)

Now, we have the chance to erect a new monument, thanks in large part to the Equal Justice Initiative’s fundraising efforts to establish “A National Memorial for Peace and Justice,” in Montgomery, AL.

This April 2018 article states that the memorial: “…features more than 800 steel monuments that bear the names of lynching victims throughout the country. In its creation, organizers discovered the names of 4,400 black people who were lynched or died in racial killings between 1877 and 1950.”

Those monuments were created in duplicates: one to remain in the memorial, the other, to be brought home to the counties in which the lynchings took place.

So, what if we talk to people? What if we recognize the fallen soldiers and the fallen slaves? Both monuments at the county seat of Rutherford County? We’ve already got one for the soldiers. How about one for the slaves who were tortured and killed?

Perhaps then, when a family takes a stroll around the square, or we gather on the square for the next Farmer’s Market, we might see both statues and explain to our children and their children that while our history contains pride and atrocities, we seek a way forward that unites us, rather than divides us.

Let us erect this new monument, as a reminder of where we’ve been. Let us be reminded that TRUTH always comes before reconciliation. (Hat tip to Bryan Stevenson for that last sentence.)

Let us be reminded that we can seek unity in the midst of diversity. Let us remain hopeful.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us humility and strength. Amen.

Photo credit: Jennifer Edwards, Facebook

Blessings and Curses

Photo credit here (I don’t always find a piece of art related directly to the text for the day, but today, we have found one! Read Deut 27:11-28:68)

S (Scripture): Deuteronomy 28:1 Now if you really obey the Lord your God’s voice, by carefully keeping all his commandments that I am giving you right now, then the Lord your God will set you high above all nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come upon you and find you if you obey the Lord your God’s voice…15 But if you don’t obey the Lord your God’s voice by carefully doing all his commandments and his regulations that I am commanding you right now, all these curses will come upon you and find you…

O (Observation): God’s people are established after having been slaves for so long…for generations! They have no understanding of healthy boundaries for a person or for property. So, God sets forth the boundaries and declares what types of things should be done and what types of things should be avoided.

They assume all good blessings and all bad curses come from God, so this only makes sense to God’s people. They need strong direction in their time of uncertainty. They got it!

A (Application): I think about my own children. When young, we set strict boundaries for them. “Eat all your food! No playing in the street! Follow directions and get a treat!”

In this way of looking at blessings and curses, God’s people needed what they got: treats and warnings. Yet, as God’s people became more and more established, the idea of blessings and curses became less and less about a strict way to live, and more a guide to healthy community.

In Jesus, we start to see the true intention behind blessings and curses: healthy community. And in Jesus, start to see that one’s blessings doesn’t necessarily coordinate with how “good” one has been and one’s curses don’t necessarily coordinate with how “bad” one has been.

Instead, filled with the Holy Spirit, and with Jesus as our Guide, we simply look to God to provide and we seek to serve others, first. May we all be strong in faith and humble in spirit.

P (Prayer): Lord, we look to you for guidance and love and mercy, whether we do good or bad – well…we do both…so…uh…have mercy on us, Lord. Amen.

Destiny???

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S (Scripture): Numbers 13:25 They returned from exploring the land after forty days. 26 They went directly to Moses, Aaron, and the entire Israelite community in the Paran desert at Kadesh. They brought back a report to them and to the entire community and showed them the land’s fruit. 27 Then they gave their report: “We entered the land to which you sent us. It’s actually full of milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 There are, however, powerful people who live in the land. The cities have huge fortifications. And we even saw the descendants of the Anakites there. 29 The Amalekites live in the land of the arid southern plain; the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the mountains; and the Canaanites live by the sea and along the Jordan.”

30 Now Caleb calmed the people before Moses and said, “We must go up and take possession of it, because we are more than able to do it.”

31 But the men who went up with him said, “We can’t go up against the people because they are stronger than we.” 32 They started a rumor about the land that they had explored, telling the Israelites, “The land that we crossed over to explore is a land that devours its residents. All the people we saw in it are huge men. 33 We saw there the Nephilim (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We saw ourselves as grasshoppers, and that’s how we appeared to them.”

O (Observation): So its time for God’s people to explore the land they thought God was giving to them. They figured someone lived there, so they were covert about this operation of scoping out the land. What the spies found was that the land was occupied and strongly fortified.

If that wasn’t bad enough, all of the spies (except Caleb) made up stories about how LARGE these people were.

The spies were intimidated, but they really resisted the idea that this was the land God set aside for them.

A (Application): Given our current climate of Israel vs. Palestine, I feel the need to be clear about something: modern-day Israel and the biblical Israel are two different things. Sure, the current day Israel descended from the people that helped to settle the area in which the country now resides, but they are separate in this: Israel as God’s people in Scripture is NOT the political entity and government known as Israel today.

One need only to look at the military means by which Biblical Israel took over. This comes later in the Scriptures, but Gideon blasts a trumpet, not a cannon from a tank.

Mercy and care for the orphan and widow were the main concern of God for the people, not where the border was.

I know this is more political, than biblical, but I need to struggle with this, because people are dying over the issue of Israel vs. Palestine. The hope is that the two can find common ground…I just don’t know how soon.

But then, Caleb found hope. He thought that those occupying the land were no match for God. Trust in God. Humility before God.

Perhaps we could be like Caleb…willing to face the challenges before us, and somehow remain humble enough to realize that if harm to others is part of the plan…that God would find another way.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to follow you, but never to use your name to support harming others. Amen.

Owning Our Junk

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S (Scripture): Genesis 32:22 Jacob got up during the night, took his two wives, his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed the Jabbok River’s shallow water. 23 He took them and everything that belonged to him, and he helped them cross the river. 24 But Jacob stayed apart by himself, and a man wrestled with him until dawn broke. 25 When the man saw that he couldn’t defeat Jacob, he grabbed Jacob’s thigh and tore a muscle in Jacob’s thigh as he wrestled with him. 26 The man said, “Let me go because the dawn is breaking.”

But Jacob said, “I won’t let you go until you bless me.”

27 He said to Jacob, “What’s your name?” and he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel, because you struggled with God and with men and won.”

29 Jacob also asked and said, “Tell me your name.”

But he said, “Why do you ask for my name?” and he blessed Jacob there.

O (Observation): Name changes in the Old Testament are very significant. Sometimes places are named or re-named. Sometimes people are given new names:

Abram->Abraham, Sarai->Sarah, Jacob->Israel, etc.

In every case, the name means something in the Hebrew language. Where Jacob wrestled with God, Jacob re-names that place Peniel (which translates to “face of God,” since Jacob “sort of saw God” there).

Jacob’s name has been the subject of much study and contemplation. A quick read through Genesis shows that Jacob sort of usurped the birthright and blessing from his older twin, Esau. Jacob’s name can be translated as “heel / trickster / overreacher / supplanter.” This indeed describes Jacob’s actions regarding Esau.

And as Jacob wrestled with God (or an angel of God?), God asks Jacob to let him go. Jacob will not, without a blessing. All of this wrestling is good and well, but finally, God asks Jacob to say his own name: JACOB.

In speaking his own name (usurper / supplanter) Jacob is almost confessing before God. Jacob is owning up to his name: usurper!

And instead of replying with a name, God simply blesses Jacob, and gives him a new name: ISRAEL. Traditionally, this is translated: “he struggles with God.” However, some suggest a better linguistic etymology results in the following: “God struggles” or “God rules.”

God rules. God struggles.

A (Application): Owning our own junk is the talk of the news stations: school shootings, affairs, politics. We all have junk we gotta own up to. As scary as this is, God wishes for us to wrestle with these things. Privately, publicly, depends on the situation. But a confession is sought after, especially when harm is done to another.

God continues to wrestle with us. To bring us back to loving one another. To bring us to a place in which compassion for our fellow human beings is paramount.

Instead, we draw up borders, pick up guns, and spend our time arguing how to keep people out. We think defense is the only priority. That if we don’t “defend ourselves” progress will halt. That we will revert back to colonial times or “have to start learning to speak Spanish or Arabic.”

In the meantime, shootings are happening almost daily…people are being beaten and killed because of their sexual orientation…parents are ripped away from their children, because we don’t have a good plan for immigration…DACA recipients who would contribute greatly with the resources here in America will be going “underground” and not be able to acquire or use a college degree…as others remain homeless, and the hungry remain hungry.

What are our priorities? God wrestles with us as we contemplate these things. And maybe before God blesses us…we will have to speak our name… that we might have to own up to our role as “usurper / supplanter.”

P (Prayer): God, help us to own our own junk. To confess to you, to receive forgiveness from you and to find a new identity in you. Amen.

Liberty and Justice for All

Martin Luther King Jr speaks at a 1961 Luther League rally. Click here for photo credit and to hear the audio of his address to this group.

S (Scripture): Psalm 10:17 Lord, you listen to the desires of those who suffer.
You steady their hearts;
you listen closely to them,
18 to establish justice
for the orphan and the oppressed,
so that people of the land
will never again be terrified.

O (Observation): Many of the Psalms are examples of God’s people crying out for help as foreign powers overtook Israel, God’s people overtaken and oppressed. Many of the psalms are examples of God’s people showing full dependence on God to help them through their current predicament, in order to be brought to safety. God’s people seek justice. God’s people seek to be made whole again.

A (Application): How appropriate for a text like this to come up on a day when we recognize a national leader who sought justice for all people, especially for equal rights for African-Americans in our nation.

A lot of people think we are a post-racial society. That we are beyond racism. That many folks fought for equal rights for blacks and that all is well now. Yet that is simply not the case.

Bryan Stevenson – author and lawyer – has spent years seeking justice for black men and women wrongly accused of crimes. He shared that truth and reconciliation are the two components necessary to bring about healing and health. Stevenson says that in America we have sought reconciliation without truth. That is an empty reconciliation.

As in the psalm for today, we seek out God to establish justice for the orphaned and the oppressed. Martin Luther King Jr, Bryan Stevenson, and so many others call upon their fellow Americans to seek out justice for all people. Without knowing the truth of our ugly history, how can we truly reconcile?

Here is some homework for you…some things for you to look up:

  • The 14 Words
  • Black Wall Street
  • National Lynching Memorial

This research you are about to do is part of the truth-telling that is needed to seek true reconciliation with those we have hurt in our own backyard.

Whether anecdotal or systemic, many truths must be reconciled for us to come together in harmony.

So take that first step. If you’re the praying type, pray. Then take the time to research these items I listed above. Then, get involved with MLK activities today. Learn more today. Participate in conversations (or host a conversation) on race relations. Find someone with whom you disagree (but love dearly) and try to figure this out together.

Whatever you do will be worthwhile. This endeavor will bring joy and frustration, hope and helplessness…my hope is that this process will break you down, but build you back up with a sense of purpose to seek liberty and justice for all.

P (Prayer): Lord, you guide us in the way of truth and justice. Don’t fail us now. Amen.