Let Your Light Shine, God

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 29:10 The Lord proclaims: When Babylon’s seventy years are up, I will come and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. 12 When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. 13 When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. 14 I will be present for you, declares the Lord, and I will end your captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have scattered you, and I will bring you home after your long exile, declares the Lord.

O (Observation): God has been disappointed with the people who claim to follow God. So, God has allowed Babylon and it’s king – King Nebuchadnezzar- to conquer Judah, settle there, and send some of God’s people (in exile) to Babylon. While in Babylon, God instructs (through Jeremiah’s voice) that God’s people are to ignore false prophets telling them that this exile is just for a year or two. Instead, God is telling the people to settle into their new “home,” get married, have kids, and be a good citizen. That will ensure their future. For God will return the people to their homeland in due season.

So, even in the midst of exile, God is still providing a way for God’s people to be saved.

A (Application): The voices all around us claim to be “right.” Stay or go? This choice or that choice? And quite often, we base our response on logic or selfish desire.

How often do we base our response on faith that God will see us through? Sometimes we make the choice that seems less logical or outright destructive. But what if we are making the choice, while leaning into God’s grace?

What if our choice is just a choice? What if our choice is put into God’s hands? What if we listen and don’t hear what God is saying? What if our fears win? What if the other voices drown out God’s voice?

Make time this day to hear what God is saying. Quiet your mind. Let God’s light shine into your life this day. God is there. That is the grace.

You might be in exile. You might be full of fear or discomfort. Don’t let the knee-jerk reaction be the only “voice” you hear. Let God speak. Ask God to hear you. See what shakes out.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, listen. Gracious God, speak. Amen.

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Seeking Refuge

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 9:23 

The Lord proclaims:

    the learned should not boast of their knowledge,

        nor warriors boast of their might,

        nor the rich boast of their wealth.

24 

No, those who boast should boast in this:

    that they understand and know me.

I am the Lord who acts with kindness,

    justice, and righteousness in the world,

        and I delight in these things,

            declares the Lord.

25 The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will deal with everyone who is physically circumcised: 26 whether they are Egyptians or Judeans, Edomites or Ammonites, Moabites or the desert dwellers who cut the hair on their foreheads. All these nations are really uncircumcised; even the people of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.

O (Observation): God is dealing with God’s people much in the same way disappointed parents deal with their children: truth and love.

God is reminding all of God’s people that they have noting to boast in, except this: that they know and understand God (insofar as one can “know” God, that is).

God reveals God’s self as loving and merciful. When we disobey God, God’s frustration does show through, but always in the hopes that our behavior changes.

God’s people (and others who wishes to be in God’s favor) would circumcise themselves as a sign that they followed God and God’s ways. This was a commandment from God to Abraham. This was a sign of faithfulness to God.

But God says even those who are circumcised physically are not really circumcised towards a change in behavior. They are circumcised in ritual alone. In other words, their hearts are not changed to live with faith alone in God. They still veer towards the gods of this world.

A (Application): God’s frustration rests in the fact that all the things we trust in this world are fickle and change nothing.

So we, who are Christian, are called to trust in God. We are called to lean on God alone: not in knowledge or resolve or riches.

With that said, I point you to a statement by the bishop of the St. Paul Area Synod of the ELCA, on the ELCA’s decision to become a “sanctuary church denomination.” (Click here for that statement. I beg of you to read that, then come back to this devotion.)

Much has been said on various news outlets about our denomination’s stance regarding this declaration. I beg of you to consider today’s scripture reading and consider God’s call for God’s people to be faithful not to a political party or to our wallets or to our “safety,” but rather to be faithful to knowing God and listening for God’s call to walk alongside and to serve our neighbor in need. It’s a simple as that.

P (Prayer): God, we seek refuge in you. Help us to help those who seek refuge in body and spirit. Amen.

Freedom!

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 2:

20 

Long ago I broke your yoke;

    I shattered your chains.

    But even then you said, “I won’t serve you.”

On every high hill and under every lush tree,

    you have acted like a prostitute.

21 

Yet it was I who planted you, a precious vine of fine quality;

    how could you turn into a wild vine

        and become good for nothing?

Jeremiah 3

12 Go proclaim these words to the north and say:

Return, unfaithful Israel,

        declares the Lord.

I won’t reject you,

    for I’m faithful,

        declares the Lord;

I won’t stay angry forever.

13 

Only acknowledge your wrongdoing:

    how you have rebelled against the Lord your God,

        and given yourself to strangers

            under every lush tree

        and haven’t obeyed me,

            declares the Lord.

14 

Return, rebellious children,

        declares the Lord,

    for I’m your husband.

I’ll gather you—

    one from a city and two from a tribe—

        and bring you back to Zion.

O (Observation): Jeremiah is God’s prophet, called upon to remind God’s people of the err of their ways. Not a fun job, but a necessary one.

Why necessary? To be reminded that God’s people were made for more than themselves. God’s people exist to give God praise and tell others of the freedom in the life of God.

You may not get what you want, but you will get what you need. Peace and security in God are the most reliable gifts one can have, even in the face of a warring world with shifting alliances.

The word of grace remains. God is faithful and stands ready to welcome back all who err.

A (Application): Every Sunday, we begin our liturgy with the Confession & Forgiveness. We are reminded of God’s presence and are humbled by our admittance of wrongs done, known and unknown. Words of grace and forgiveness accompany this liturgy, giving us hope for a new day.

As followers of our God, we are always welcomed back to a faithful and loving God. God never waivers in love for us. The love of God prompts us to respond in love to our neighbors in need, whether they be gay or straight, black, brown, or white, male, female, or transitioning.

We all can come back to God who wishes us to remain faithful and to use this grace to bring others to know God. And when we fail at this, God welcomes us back in anyway, encouraging us to embrace the freedom from the tyranny of gods in this world, and to live for God alone.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to be a follow the call to freedom in You! Amen.

Where Do We Go From Here?


S (Scripture): Jeremiah 51:5 God, the Lord of heavenly forces, hasn’t abandoned Israel and Judah, even though they live in a land filled with guilt before the holy one of Israel.

O (Observation):  God’s people were oriented towards God after being rescued from Egypt.  Over time, they wandered away from God’s guidance.   They began to make their own paths without asking God about “where to next?”

As a result, God allowed them to wander and – eventually – be destroyed by the Babylonians.   The Babylonians came in, but God did not forget the people of Judah and Israel.  

One day, God’s people would be set free and come back into their homeland.  What comes first is not the people’s pleas, but God’s mercy – thus he verse above.   

God made a covenant that God will never forget…so God extends grace, and the people will eventually see this and respond with a new orientation: Hope in the midst of challenge. 

A (Application):  We are a people very much divided.  In an attempt to bridge some of the divide, our Theology on Tap group from Advent Lutheran Church gathered last night under the topic: “Race Relations in 2017 – Where do we go from here?”

25 of us gathered (21 white and 4 black) to discuss the issue of racism, of identity through skin color, and white supremacy.   Are there problems?  Yes!  Are we hopeless?  No!

We have seen progress, but like the crowd of God’s people that Jeremiah was addressing, we are a place steeped in sin, and the only way forward, is through the grace of God. 

I am hopeful.   We will start a mini-series of talks and conversations on race relations, and we will ask God to lead us.  Please say a prayer for us as we do the work of the Gospel, here in Murfreesboro, TN.   

P (Prayer):  Lord, guide us into the way of peace and unity, amidst our diversity.  Amen. 

Everyone’s a Prophet

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 38:1b Jeremiah had been telling the people: 2 The Lord proclaims: Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine, and disease. But whoever surrenders to the Babylonians will live; yes, their lives will be spared. 3 The Lord proclaims: This city will certainly be handed over to the army of Babylon’s king, who will capture it.

4 Then the officials said to the king: “This man must be put to death! By saying such things, he is discouraging the few remaining troops left in the city, as well as all the people. This man doesn’t seek their welfare but their ruin!”

5 “He’s in your hands,” King Zedekiah said, “for the king can do nothing to stop you.” 6 So they seized Jeremiah, threw him into the cistern of the royal prince Malchiah, within the prison quarters, and lowered him down by ropes. Now there wasn’t any water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah began to sink into the mud.

O (Observation):  The message God continuously shared through Jeremiah, was that the Hebrew people would need to go with the Babylonians, if they wanted to live.  Not only would they live, but God’s promise is to bring God’s people back to their homeland one day.   

If they stay, they die. These are their choices: life or death.  

Jeremiah was called to stay and continue to prophecy to God’s people, so he was sort of exempt from the proclamation (he is after all, God’s mouthpiece to the people).   Several of God’s people chose life; they chose to give to Babylon. 

Yet the king and many of the king’s advisors and false prophets declared that God’s people would withstand another attack from the Babylonians.  They would be wrong.  And they were so adamant about their prophecies (Israel victorious in battle) that they had Jeremiah thrown into the cistern full of mud, just to shut him up.  

We see how things turn out.  God’s people defeated, and yet, God’s promises coming true:  God redeems the people of God.  God brings them back, but not before the prophetic witness of Jeremiah is heard and ignored.  

A (Application):  How many prophets exist today?  True prophets.    Does someone have to be famous to be a prophet?   Rich?  Poor?   Wear clothing of camel hair?

I think many of God’s people today have a gift of prophecy, in the sense that they receive feelings / visions / thoughts of what God is saying to them as individuals or about us as a community.  

How de we know which prophetic message to follow?   This takes discernment amongst the Christian community.   Once one receives a message, one would be most wise to share it with a trusted group such that the community (however large or small) may discern the vision together.   Then, move forward with sharing the vision with the people at large.  In this way, the community can discern the truth of the vision and move forward.  

We all can act like prophets behind our keyboards these days (even myself).   And we can make bold, prophetic statements.  My suggestion:  gather trusted folks together (or share with several individually) before we share the vision.   And then move forward humbly, and with a strong will.  Let God be your confidence. 

P (Prayer): Lord, give us the gift of discernment. Amen. 

Mercy in Brokenness

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 30:3 The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will bring back my people Israel and Judah from captivity, says the Lord. I will bring them home to the land that I gave to their ancestors, and they will possess it. 4 Here are the words that the Lord spoke concerning Israel and Judah:

Why have all turned pale?
7 That day is awful, beyond words.
A time of unspeakable pain
for my people Jacob.
But they will be delivered from it.

8 At that time, I will break the yoke off their necks and remove their shackles. Foreigners will no longer enslave them, declares the Lord of heavenly forces. 9 They will serve the Lord their God and the king whom I will raise up for them from David’s family.

10 So don’t be afraid, my servant Jacob,
declares the Lord,
Don’t lose hope, Israel.
I will deliver you from faraway places
and your children from the land of their exile.
My people Jacob will again be safe and sound,
with no one harassing them.
11 I am with you and will rescue you,
declares the Lord.

O (Observation): Jeremiah is given a word of hope to share with God’s people.  God’s people are about to head out into exile (to Babylon). God declares again that the people of Judah or Israel.  God will not be forgotten, nor will God abandon them.  

God acknowledges that the leaders of Judah and Israel have looked away from God for hope and salvation.   This is the result: they will be left to their own powers, which are not enough to save themselves.   God will show them, however, God’s might, as God will rescue the people.  

Will God’s people learn from their mistakes?   Maybe.  

Will they ever make another mistake?   Yeah, sure.  You betcha!
A (Application):  When was the last time you made a mistake (of your own doing)?   Did you learn from it?   Thought so.   

And yet…you will likely make a similar mistake – or a new, more glorious mistake – and you will need to learn from that mistake, too, yes?  Yes.  

Mistakes are not bad, as long as we learn from them.  But even so, we will err.  And we will likely find that we’ve corrected our mistakes only to make newer mistakes down the road.  

Success, finding zero-fault…these are silly ways of seeking power and wisdom in this world.  

Instead, we fall…living in a fallen creation, and when recovery time comes, we receive mercy from God.   In this way, we acknowledge the Divine Love.   We fail.  We fall.  God redeems.  God picks us up.   We realize that no set of Laws or rules will make us  “successful Christians.”    Instead, the fall and the mercy.  This is God’s way…showing up with mercy after the brokenness appears.  

God and God’s people do not cause natural disasters, by the way…  I’m not at all trying to hint at that.  I’m simply trying to acknowledge that brokenness exists in the world…and God is here to show mercy when that brokenness moves in, front and center, like in a hurricane, or like in a mistake we make in our personal lives.     

Let us hope that we learn of God’s presence in the recovery efforts in Texas as the people recover from Hurricane Harvey.   Let us learn that God picks us up, when we fall and when we fail.   

P (Prayer):  Lord God, watch over all who enter clean up efforts in TX and give affected residents hope that they will be able to come back “home.”   Amen.  

Which Way is Harder?


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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 26 1 Early in the rule of Judah’s King Jehoiakim, Josiah’s son, this word came from the Lord: 2 The Lord proclaims [to Jeremiah]: Stand in the temple courtyard and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who have come to the temple to worship. Tell them everything I command you; leave nothing out. 3 Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from their evil ways. If they do, I will relent and not carry out the harm I have in mind for them because of the wrong they have done. 4 So tell them, The Lord proclaims: If you don’t listen to me or follow the Instruction I have set before you— 5 if you don’t listen to the words of the prophets that I have sent to you time and again, though you haven’t listened, 6 then I will make this temple a ruin like Shiloh, and this city I will make a curse before all nations on earth.

7 The priests, the prophets, and all the people heard Jeremiah declare these words in the Lord’s temple. 8 And when Jeremiah finished saying everything the Lord told him to say, the priests and the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! 9 Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that ‘this temple will become a ruin like Shiloh, and this city will be destroyed and left without inhabitant’?” Then all the people joined ranks against Jeremiah in the Lord’s temple.

O (Observation): The priests and prophets don’t want to hear the hard truth that Jeremiah is called to preach.  They don’t want to see their blessed temple destroyed.   Who would?   

And the mob mentality sets in.    You won’t destroy our temple!  You won’t kick us out!   Never mind that God is the one speaking…the people don’t want to hear it!

A (Application):  People don’t want to hear the hard truth.   In my context, in middle TN, most people think the hard truth is embracing a tough stance against things like the LGBT community, against the Muslim community, against the homeless population (we’ll give to charities, but we want “them off our streets”).    

To me, standing against these things is the easy way…because this is how we’ve always done it.  We are told to distrust everyone who is “not like us.”   But the reality is that they are us and we are them!   We simply fool ourselves if we think we don’t have the poor or LGBT folks in our faith communities.  We are fooling ourselves if we think we don’t know those of the Muslim faith – they are our bankers, pharmacists, teachers, and more.   We are fooling ourselves if we think the poor are not in our midst.  They are us!  We are them!

Realizing that they are us and we are them is another step closer to anxiety and confrontation, though!   “How dare you say that our temple will be torn down!?!?!”   My great-grandpappy built that temple!   Over my dead body will I accept those other people!  Forgive the Muslim extremists, when my child is fighting them in the Middle East?  Heck no!  Those poor folks can work hard, like I do!   Become friends with a homeless person?  Never!

Acceptance is not the easy way.  Acceptance is a struggle…a struggle to let our false self die so that our true self – in Christ – might live!

I acknowledge the pain and suffering of the hard way of forgiveness; of standing FOR something, rather than against it; of going beyond one’s comfort zone.  And I dare not push anyone today.  My point is not to push you into my way.   

My hope is to invite you into the way of Christ, who is the way of love and peace and reconciliation. 

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to hear your voice in the midst of challenge.  Amen.