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.  

Captivity…then, Freedom

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 21:8 This is what you should tell this people: The Lord says: I’m setting before you the way of life and the way of death. 9 Whoever stays in the city will die by the sword, famine, and disease. But whoever leaves the city and surrenders to the Babylonians will live; yes, their lives will be spared. 10 I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good, declares the Lord; it will be delivered to the king of Babylon, who will set it on fire.

O (Observation):  God has finally allowed the people of God to be taken over.  Their lives are no longer dedicated to God, except when they are in a pinch.   God will be letting the people feel the pain of moving away from God’s grace.   

This pain, however, can possibly be assuaged.   God is giving life in the midst of the death and destruction to come.   If they stay in Israel, they will perish.  But if they go with the Babylonians – back to Babylon – they will live.   The people must decide.  

A note about “captivity” in the days of Jeremiah: neighboring countries that conquered a people and its land would take the people as captives back to their own homelands.   Some of the captors would stay in the place which they conquered, but mostly, folks whose land was captured would be taken to the land of their captors.  They would live, but in a foreign land. 

A (Application):  At times, we find ourselves in a pit that we have dug with our own hands.   We sort of wake up to the destruction we have created around our lives.   These moments of awakening can seem to be desparate times, indeed.  And yet…we are still people of hope.  

Our past does not define us.   Our errors are not what makes up our identities.  We are who are followers of Christ seek our identity in Him: forgiven sinners, sheep in the Great Shepherd’s flock, sons and daughters of The King.  

Who we are is shaped by God.  We err.  We repent to God.  We are made new.   

God’s people would be gathered once again, despite their captivity in Babylon.  The years would be many, but they would eventually be redeemed.  In Jesus Christ, who reconciles all of us to God.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, hear our cries of repentance.  Amen. 

Be the Malleable Clay

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 18

1 Jeremiah received the Lord’s word: 2 Go down to the potter’s house, and I’ll give you instructions about what to do there. 3 So I went down to the potter’s house; he was working on the potter’s wheel. 4 But the piece he was making was flawed while still in his hands, so the potter started on another, as seemed best to him. 5 Then the Lord’s word came to me: 6 House of Israel, can’t I deal with you like this potter, declares the Lord? Like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in mine, house of Israel! 7 At any time I may announce that I will dig up, pull down, and destroy a nation or kingdom; 8 but if that nation I warned turns from its evil, then I’ll relent and not carry out the harm I intended for it. 9 At the same time, I may announce that I will build and plant a nation or kingdom; 10 but if that nation displeases and disobeys me, then I’ll relent and not carry out the good I intended for it.

O (Observation):  God’s metaphor for Israel is that God is the potter and God’s people of Israel are the clay. God wishes to mold and shape the people that God wants these followers to become.   Sometimes, when the potter works the clay, the clay becomes fractured or flawed.   So, the potter re-works the clay and re-shapes it. 

God sees that the people of Israel are like so much flawed clay.   Now, God seeks to re-shape the clay.   To be re-shaped, God’s people would need to ask to be forgiven.   Should they repent…they would become malleable.  Upon repentance, God’s people see that they will not receive harm.  

A (Application): Repentance is not something we embody very well in this nation, or even as The Church.    This is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and we lift up our brother, Martin Luther, as a saint.  Yet, in today’s world, I disagree much with what Luther had to say against Muslims and Jews.   I renounce those teachings and yet still revere and honor such a brave witness to the Gospel.  

I think Luther’s the perfect example of what it means to be clay that is willing to be reworked.  He was a bold, brave, and sometimes stubborn person. Yet, when he was convinced that he was in the wrong, he would repent.  (Though in his final years he spoke out too strongly, in my opinion, on the topics I already mentioned.)

We can all use a little repentance in our lives.  Myself included.   I confess of my shortcomings on a weekly basis.  This is part of my Lutheran heritage: confess and receive forgiveness, eat of the wine and bread of forgiveness…weekly.  

As we repent…we become that clay willing to be re-worked, re-shaped.  Molded to a fitting purpose.  Less of my will…more of God’s will.  I hope.  I pray.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, not my will be done, but yours! Amen. 

Confession From a White Man & a (mostly) White Church

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 13

17 If you are too proud to listen, I will go off alone and cry my eyes out.  I will weep uncontrollably because the Lord’s flock will be dragged off into exile.
18 Tell the king and the queen mother:Come down from your lofty place, because your glorious crowns will soon be removed from your heads.

19 The towns of the arid southern plain will be surrounded; no one will get in or out; all Judah will be taken into exile; everyone will be led away.

O (Observation):  Jeremiah mourns that God’s people are too proud, and as a result, they will be cast out.   God will not let go of them forever, but Jeremiah’s lament is that the people are so stubborn and arrogant that they are willing to be cast out into exile, rather than repent.

Perhaps Jeremiah’s tears come because he sees the disparity between the action of the people and God’s desires for God’s people.   And the people won’t listen.  So God will pull the old, “Ok.  You do life your way.   Let’s see how that works out for you.”

A (Application): Statues.   Confederate statues.  This is the talk of the town.   I’ll be listening in.   To those who want it removed.  To those who don’t.  (By the way, I’m okay with taking ours down in Murfreesboro…but I am one voice amongst many.)

I read something that woke me up, regarding the latest rise in awareness of racism.   One suggestion from a black writer to white folks wishing to be allies in the work of dismantling racism is not to act surprised.   The suggestion was this:   Don’t be surprised by acts of racism; it’s always been here.  The author wants folks to be aware of racism…the point is that the level of shock shows a lack of awareness on our (white people’s) part.   

Click here for the entire article from Sojourners. Here is the section that got me:

4. Please try not to, “I can’t believe that something like this would happen in this day and age!” your way into being an ally when atrocities like the events in Charleston, S.C., and Charlottesville, Va., happen. People of color have been aware of this kind of hatred and violence in America for centuries, and it belittles our experience for you to show up 300 years late to the oppression-party suddenly caring about the world. Don’t get me wrong, I welcome you. I want for you to come into a place of awareness. However, your shock and outrage at the existence of racism in America echoes the fact that you have lived an entire life with the luxury of indifference about the lives of marginalized/disenfranchised folks. Please take several seats.

I have had many moments of awareness, but let’s just say that I feel a bit more convicted now than I ever have.   

I invite you to discern your place in the system and to see how you might be both a part of the problem and solution.  I invite you (my white friends) to repent of your part in systemic racism.  Don’t look to others or their actions.  Look at yourself, repent, and then seek God’s direction in your life.  See how you can be a part of God’s glorious plan to bring about reparations and reconciliation in your town.   

Build relationships across racial lines.  In a workshop on racism, I explained to an African American friend that – even in a genuine show of neighborly love – that I might feel like I was trying to build a relationship artificially.  She assured me that if I was genuine, and she heard that I wanted to get to know her and befriend her, that that would not be as artificial as I am making it out to be.  She said, “I’d be happy to get to know you.”

So, you see…sometimes it just takes stepping out of the circle.  Just a step or two at a time.  

Step out.  Today.  

P (Prayer):  #SpiritLeadMe.  Amen.