Responding to the Call

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 5:4 No one takes this honor for themselves but takes it only when they are called by God, just like Aaron.

5 In the same way Christ also didn’t promote himself to become high priest. Instead, it was the one who said to him,

You are my Son.

        Today I have become your Father

O (Observation): The call to serve the people of God comes from God…even for Jesus. Aaron served God’s people by communicating with God and bringing the people’s joys and concerns to God. Also, for the sake of order, priests throughout the ages have spoken to God on behalf of God’s people. They offer contrite hearts to God.

Eventually, we have seen God’s desire more clearly. We no longer need sacrifices – Jesus made sure of that. God never needed sacrifices, just a people willing to admit their brokenness.

A (Application): Instead of sacrifices, we bring our collective broken heart to God. And priests help us to do that.

Who are our priests? These are people of God who sense that called has called them to carry these broken hearts and help them to connect to God. These people who are called by God to be priests are also acknowledged and accepted by the surrounding community. In other words, that call is both internal (sensed by the individual) and external (verified by the God-follower community).

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church In America, that process of discernment is aided by what we call the “Candidacy Process.” If you are sensing that your baptismal call is leading you into service of the Church, check out our resources on the ELCA website.

And if you do sense God’s call, let me know…I’d love to help you process that a bit.

Here’s my number: 615-617-9697.

P (Prayer): Lord, in our baptism, you call us. Help us to respond to your call. Amen.

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The Call

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S (Scripture): 2 Timothy 4:I’m giving you this commission in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is coming to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearance and his kingdom. 2 Preach the word. Be ready to do it whether it is convenient or inconvenient. Correct, confront, and encourage with patience and instruction. 3 There will come a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. They will collect teachers who say what they want to hear because they are self-centered. 4 They will turn their back on the truth and turn to myths. 5 But you must keep control of yourself in all circumstances. Endure suffering, do the work of a preacher of the good news, and carry out your service fully.

O (Observation): Paul commissions Timothy for ministry. He gives him instruction, guidance, boundaries within which to do his ministry. The grace has already come in the form of a call to particular ministry. Now, the living out of that grace confronts Timothy: preach, be ready, correct, encourage, keep control. Above all, do the work of the good news – whether convenient or inconvenient.

A (Application): WOW! What. A wonderful reading as I turn a page in my life this day. I’m getting into my first full day of work as an Assistant to the Bishop in the Southeastern Synod. This will not be something I take for granted, nor will I take this calling lightly.

I will take Paul’s encouragement, knowing that this call is a continuation of God’s call for me in the Church.

May God bless us as we embark on this new journey together.

Many thanks to my mentor and leaders from my youth, young adult, and college and seminary years. Many thanks to the congregational members and friends whom I have served. I hear God’s voice through their caring words and wisdom. (Whether I was able to comprehend those words or not.)

May God be with us.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, you call us to ventures in which we do not know the ending. May your wisdom and guidance be with us. Amen.

The Poor, The Downtrodden

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S (Scripture): 2 Thessalonians 3:6 Brothers and sisters, we command you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to stay away from every brother or sister who lives an undisciplined life that is not in line with the traditions that you received from us. 7 You yourselves know how you need to imitate us because we were not undisciplined when we were with you. 8 We didn’t eat anyone’s food without paying for it. Instead, we worked night and day with effort and hard work so that we would not impose on you. 9 We did this to give you an example to imitate, not because we didn’t have a right to insist on financial support. 10 Even when we were with you we were giving you this command: “If anyone doesn’t want to work, they shouldn’t eat.”

O (Observation): Paul (and those who wrote using Paul’s name) was big on using the Law to guide and direct behavior in Jesus’ followers. He was a Pharisee at one point, critiquing God followers when they broke from the Jewish teachings and customs.

Paul was always good at challenging folks. Having been transformed by an encounter with Jesus, he understood, anew, that grace puts one in a stance that requires a person to love God and neighbor…even in the most dire of circumstances. And since Paul was a person of great challenge – to himself and to others – he also fought hard to make sure no one took the Gospel for granted.

So, if you can work, then work. If you can put food on your table, then the right thing to do is to work so you can put food on your table. Don’t take advantage of other folks’ generosity.

We are subject to no one; yet we are subject to all. If you need help, ask for it. If you can help yourself or others, do it. Both are valid ways of living.

A (Application): Some like to use these words of Paul today to make an excuse for not contributing to the needs of the homeless. They think: why can’t these people work for themselves? Earn their own way? Paul says this is the way!

I say we should challenge folks to find a way to use their God-given gifts to make the world a better place and to put food on their own table. Yet, the judgment does not belong to you or to me as to another’s abilities (or lack thereof). Each one must judge for themselves.

How do we teach this in a way that encourages all to work for their own sake, without using this as a judgment against others?

The easy thing to do is to say, “You don’t work, you don’t eat!” Didn’t Jesus go around healing people, loving all people, and reminding us to sell what we have and give alms?

Surely we can use our gifts for good in this world. Surely we can have compassion for those who cannot mentally or emotionally hold themselves accountable. Surely we can use our gifts to walk alongside those who have trouble figuring out how to make a new life in this country.

Perhaps in showing compassion to those who have trouble figuring out life, those who received help will one day have the means to help someone else. Perhaps being the example of uncoerced generosity will lead to others being generous, as well.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us generous hearts. Amen.

America, America

Photo credit here – and a great article that addresses the win-win scenario of citizenship in America.

S (Scripture): 2 Thessalonians 3:1 Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us so that the Lord’s message will spread quickly and be honored, just like it happened with you. 2 Pray too that we will be rescued from inappropriate and evil people since everyone that we meet won’t respond with faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful and will give you strength and protect you from the evil one. 4 We are confident about you in the Lord—that you are doing and will keep doing what we tell you to do. 5 May the Lord lead your hearts to express God’s love and Christ’s endurance.

O (Observation): Paul and crew are encouraging the people of God in Thessalonica to continue to seek God’s will and to do God’s will. Even though evil still abounds, Paul prays for protection from evil ones. Seems to be that even though God is present, that doesn’t stop evil ones from working against the people of God.

Paul’s message is clear: keep up the good work, people of God, for the Lord leads your heart and gives you Christ’s endurance. That endurance does not demand retribution nor fairness. That endurance is based on faith in God alone.

A (Application): So an article has come up recently regarding White House reps saying that the poem adorning the Statue of Liberty was for Europeans, originally. And a movement is afoot to vet folks so that only those who can “stand on their own two feet” should be allowed to seek citizenship in this country.

America was a place where people could go when people were oppressed or simply wanted freedom. The times change and I get that. But one thing that is a constant guiding light to this world is that we are a country that is full of promise.

That promise is eroding. We are becoming more and more selfish. We are looking to our own needs first, instead of helping others to succeed…like it’s a zero-sum game. Win-win scenarios exist! We just get lazy and think, “If you win, I’m gonna lose. So instead of helping anyone else, I’m gonna get mine.” How selfish is that?

Anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ looks not to one’s self , first, but last. Being nourished at the table in worship, confessing and receiving forgiveness, sharing the peace in worship…these rituals remind me that Christ is our center and sets us free from selfish desires in order to help us look to our neighbors in need.

May God help us to fight the evil that is around us and seeks to change our hearts for the worse. Help us to look outwards, that we might see that God already is taking care of our hearts and minds.

P (Prayer): Lord, help make Americans care again. Amen.

Service with a Smile

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 42

42 

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my spirit upon him;

    he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry or lift up his voice,

    or make it heard in the street;

a bruised reed he will not break,

    and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;

    he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be crushed

    until he has established justice in the earth;

    and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord,

    who created the heavens and stretched them out,

    who spread out the earth and what comes from it,

who gives breath to the people upon it

    and spirit to those who walk in it:

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,

    I have taken you by the hand and kept you;

I have given you as a covenant to the people,[a]

    a light to the nations,

    to open the eyes that are blind,

to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,

    from the prison those who sit in darkness.

O (Observation): The Servant of God. A strange combination of quiet, strength, hopefulness, and compassion.

The Servant is an agent of God. An agent in this sense will bring God’s hope and joy to others.

Those who need God’s hope and joy the most are those who are imprisoned or blind or more simply, those in search of justice.

A (Application): This Servant is considered a foretelling of Jesus by many Christians. I tend to agree. These verses are indeed quoted in the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 12) in response to the questioning of who Jesus is. This Servant is the one who is proclaimed as the one to bring justice. For Jesus to be this Servant ties together the history of God’s people throughout the ages.

Jesus was always to come. After all, Jesus is the Christ in the flesh, in a particular time and place in our history.

The concept of the Servant gives us hope that we don’t always have to be the strongest or the bravest or the brightest on our own. In fact, we have one who exemplifies peace and justice and hope. And when we need strength, God is the one who will provide it.

What we seek these days is justice. What we hope for is strength to act for our neighbors in need. What we are reminded of is humility along the way.

Let us be bold in seeking justice, but let us do this in a way that honors God and and bring dignity to all people.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to serve as your Servant serves you. Amen.

What are Your Values?

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S (Scripture): Ephesians 4:29 Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say. 30 Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy—you were sealed by him for the day of redemption. 31 Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. 32 Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.

5:1 Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children. 2 Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. He was a sacrificial offering that smelled sweet to God.

O (Observation): Paul instructs the Christian community he established to honor God with their lips and lives. They have been forgiven and set free from the standards of the world – pride, envy, anger – and have been given something else to live for: love, kindness, compassion.

A (Application): I wonder if we as a Christian community can find ways to speak in support of our refugee brothers and sisters AND find ways to do it without assuming other people share our values. This is the crux of Christian engagement in the world.

How do we show Christian love when others don’t share our values? What do we do about other Christians who don’t share our values?

I have a hard time dealing with people who don’t share values of love, kindness, and compassion. They say they are being compassionate, but typically that means being compassionate towards their own self / community.

We are good at looking at others and saying that THOSE people have something screwed up internally, but when WE are at fault, it is usually something beyond our control. Or we just deny fault of any kind.

May we find that all of us receive forgiveness from the faults we possess. May we find grace and compassion are the ways forward.

P (Prayer): Lord, helps us to see that you are our source of grace, and that all of us need it to be sustained. Amen.

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.