The “END” – but what about TODAY?

all-things-new

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S (Scripture): Revelation 14:6 Then I saw another angel flying high overhead with eternal good news to proclaim to those who live on earth, and to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come. Worship the one who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”
8 Another angel, a second one, followed and said, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She made all the nations drink the wine of her lustful passion.”
9 Then another angel, a third one, followed them and said in a loud voice, “If any worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or their hands, 10 they themselves will also drink the wine of God’s passionate anger, poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will suffer the pain of fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. 11 The smoke of their painful suffering goes up forever and always. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, and those who receive the mark of its name.”
12 This calls for the endurance of the saints, who keep God’s commandments and keep faith with Jesus.
13 And I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Favored are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “so they can rest from their labors, because their deeds follow them.”

O (Observation):  Amidst the devastation of the world, three angels appear to John of Patmos, and bring good news to all who follow the Lord.  These angels promise that God remains faithful to those who follow him.

The second angel declares that Babylon has fallen!   What good news!  Babylon (likely referring to the power of Rome and its many foreign gods) is destroyed!   The symbol of oppression and lustful passions has been destroyed.

And to those who die “in the Lord,” they are favored.   Even death cannot destroy the hope that one finds in Jesus Christ

A (Application):  I wonder if the hope that so many people cling to in Revelation worry about this scenario playing out in our lifetime?  I have heard many arguments for why we are living in the end times now – in 2017.   They name one-to-one correlations between the book of Revelation and current events.   I don’t subscribe to these theories.

I’m not trying to just dismiss or discredit these attempts at prophetic predictions, I just simply do not worry about these things.

My call is to gather folks together in the name of our Triune God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and lead our people to spend time with God, spend time together bearing one another’s burdens, and to go out into the world with a servant’s heart.   This is what keeps me going.   I rejoice that Jesus wins in the end of Revelation and all tears are wiped away – once and for all.

IN THE MEANTIME, we have hungry that need to be fed, immigrants that need hope that they can create a way of life in this country, and we need to be gathered – weekly – to be reminded that our God is with us in all of our endeavors.

God goes out ahead of us.  God is with us.   God stays behind when we leave.   God is doing all of this all of the time.    We simply show up.  We set dates, and we show up: to worship, to gather for fun, to serve.

P (Prayer):  Lord, take away the burden of knowing the time of your coming.  Instead, help us to focus on the here and now.  Amen.

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Guilty AND Set Free

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S (Scripture): Micah 6:1 Hear what the Lord is saying:
Arise, lay out the lawsuit before the mountains;
let the hills hear your voice!
2 Hear, mountains, the lawsuit of the Lord!
Hear, eternal foundations of the earth!
The Lord has a lawsuit against his people;
with Israel he will argue.
3 “My people, what did I ever do to you?
How have I wearied you? Answer me!
4 I brought you up out of the land of Egypt;
I redeemed you from the house of slavery.
I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam before you…”

6 With what should I approach the Lord
and bow down before God on high?
Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings,
with year-old calves?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with many torrents of oil?
Should I give my oldest child for my crime;
the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit?

8 He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you:
to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.

7:8 Do not rejoice over me, my enemy,
because when I fall, I will rise;
if I sit in darkness, the Lord is my light.
9 I must bear the raging of the Lord,
for I have sinned against him,
until he decides my case and provides justice for me.
He will bring me out into the light;
I will see by means of his righteousness.
10 Then my enemy will see;
shame will cover her who said to me:
“Where is the Lord your God?”
My eyes will see her ruin…

15 As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt,
I will show Israel wonderful things.

18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity,
overlooking the sin of the few remaining for his inheritance?
He doesn’t hold on to his anger forever;
he delights in faithful love.
19 He will once again have compassion on us;
he will tread down our iniquities.
You will hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea.
20 You will provide faithfulness to Jacob, faithful love to Abraham,
as you swore to our ancestors a long time ago.

O (Observation): Hear, ye! Hear, ye! All rise for the Honorable Judge God, hearing the case of God vs. Israel. (Yes, God is Judge and Plaintiff.). The jury box is full of the mountains and the “foundations of the earth.” (Will they be impartial? I don’t know : )

So here is Micah standing before God, representing Israel, for past crimes. What is Micah to do? God’s people have been caught in the act of relying on their own strength and foreign powers…all to try to save their own skin.

Well, Micah knows the people have been caught red-handed…so what is his first move? Plea bargain!!!!

What would please the Lord? Let’s plea this thing down from a capital offense to a misdemeanor, shall we? How about entirely burned offerings, with year-old calves? How about thousands of rams, with many torrents of oil? Should I give my oldest child for my crime; the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit?

Wow! No innocence shown here. Guilty as charged. God’s people have relied on grace in an unhealthy way. They have taken for granted the grace God has bestowed upon God’s people.

And yet…God’s justice includes restoring God’s people. God doesn’t hold onto anger forever. God’s faithfulness to Abraham and Jacob will carry forward to the present and the future.

A (Application): How often do we stand accused before God and neighbor? How often have we suffered or caused others to suffer? Are we guilty? Yep. What does repentance look like? What does it feel like?

What shall we do in the face of our guilt? Please don’t run away from it. Take the stand. Plead your case before God, who judges with love and mercy. We don’t deserve to stand before God, but having been joined to Jesus in our baptism, having become one with Him and God and the Spirit, we have access to this unending grace. God will remember God’s promise. And we will be remembered by God.

Hope abounds as we wait for the Lord.

P (Prayer): Lord, we are guilty, and we are made whole in you. Amen.

Be Near Me, Lord Jesus

S (Scripture): Micah 4:1 But in the days to come,
the mountain of the Lord’s house
will be the highest of the mountains;
it will be lifted above the hills;
peoples will stream to it.
2 Many nations will go and say:
“Come, let’s go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of Jacob’s God,
so that he may teach us his ways
and we may walk in God’s paths!”
Instruction will come from Zion
and the Lord’s word from Jerusalem.
3 God will judge between the nations
and settle disputes of mighty nations,
which are far away.
They will beat their swords into iron plows
and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
they will no longer learn how to make war.
4 All will sit underneath their own grapevines,
under their own fig trees.
There will be no one to terrify them;
for the mouth of the Lord of heavenly forces has spoken.

O (Observation): In the times of the prophets, God’s people experienced great turmoil – being taken over by foreign nations, being threatened because of their choice of religion, being enslaved. In these terrible times of upheaval, God’s prophets would not only give a word of correction to God’s people, but also – in some manner – a word of great comfort, too. That comforting word would usually come in the form of some future hope promised by God.

In Micah 4, we have a future hope, one in which weapons are re-purposed as farming instruments…instruments of peace and life.

A (Application): God finds a way to lift up correction and yet mercy, time and time again. In almost the same breath we hear words of correction and yet words of mercy. God is both!

Jesus exudes the same stance of correction and mercy: he tells the man who is brought on a mat that his sins are forgiven (correction), and that he is healed (mercy); he tells the woman at the well that she has several husbands, yet offers her water which will quench her thirst forever; he tells the story of a boy who hit rock bottom, but is also welcomed home by his father.

The story of hope is the story of the Scriptures. Even the challenging texts from Revelation point to Jesus as victor over the hideous beasts this broken world has to offer.

The season of Advent calls us to be a hopeful people. We will be so, but we will need constant reminding. So we gather for worship and with one another for mutual uplifting. We gather in the community to meet people and to serve people.

May this Advent waiting fill you with hope, even if the signs around you point out what you lack.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us hopeful his season. Just “BE” with us. Amen.

If you’re going through a difficult season of life, we invite you to come and worship with us on Sunday, December 17, 2017, at 3pm, for “The Longest Night” worship service, a worship time of Longing, Hope, and Healing.

Click here for our Facebook event for more details regarding “The Longest Night.”

Getting What We Don’t Deserve

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S (Scripture): Jonah 3:4 Jonah started into the city, walking one day, and he cried out, “Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and put on mourning clothes, from the greatest of them to the least significant…

4:1 But Jonah thought this was utterly wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Come on, Lord! Wasn’t this precisely my point when I was back in my own land? This is why I fled to Tarshish earlier! I know that you are a merciful and compassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to destroy. 3 At this point, Lord, you may as well take my life from me, because it would be better for me to die than to live.”

O (Observation): Wow! Really, Jonah? Bitter much?

Seeing Jonah complain that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love is almost hysterical. Jonah didn’t like the Ninevites, because they had opposed God and God’s people. Seems like Jonah was wishing for karma, not mercy. Jonah wanted Nineveh’s people to get what was coming to them. But they didn’t get karma. They got an invitation to mercy. And they accepted mercy – and turning from their old ways.

A (Application): How many of us want our enemies (or simply those who disagree with us) to receive God’s mercy? Even if they repent, don’t you just want them to be punished? I think we all do. We want them to get what’s coming to them!

And yet, we are called to preach (and bring in our very being) repentance and forgiveness. In our meager understanding of karma (or some say “justice”) people get what they “deserve.” (Who decides what is deserved? Not really sure about that.)

When we bring the opportunity for repentance and forgiveness, we are bringing restoration to brokenness and broken relationships. When someone receives their “just punishment” no relationships are established.

Instead, we tell people that God is present, we embody patience and forgiveness, and we bring people together.

This all starts with understanding that we are the Ninevites – or at least entertain the possibility that I might be acting like a pre-Jonah Ninevite this day. I need to seek God’s forgiveness. And in doing so, I might rejoice that our God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. I don’t want to live in sin, but as I have this flesh hanging around my neck (Martin Luther’s euphemism for “while I’m alive in earth”) I will sin.

And so, I celebrate that forgiveness awaits all of us. I celebrate that I will hear that message when I need forgiveness. I celebrate that I will bear that message of forgiveness to those who need to hear that message at the appropriate time.

When was the last time you felt forgiven? When was the last time you were able to forgive someone else?

P (Prayer): Lord, forgiveness is an opportunity to come back to you and to our neighbors on earth. Bring your peace this Advent season. Amen.

Are You In Balance?

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S (Scripture): Amos 5:21 I hate, I reject your festivals; I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies.
22 If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food—
I won’t be pleased;
I won’t even look at your offerings of well-fed animals.
23 Take away the noise of your songs;
I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
25 Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
during the forty years in the wilderness, house of Israel?

O (Observation): God – through the prophet Amos – speaks words of correction to God’s people. They thought if they fulfilled their obligations of giving up offerings to the Lord that they would be in the clear with God. Yet God seeks more than just offerings and sweet songs. God wants justice to roll down, not just burnt offerings at an altar for God. What good is a burnt offering to God to someone without food to eat or a roof over their heads?

Amos 5:11 lays out a clear accusation against God’s people: “you crush the weak…you tax their grain.” God’s people have ignored the pleas of the weak and powerless. God will then show correction to God’s followers. God will also call forth justice to flow.

A (Application): I’m always feeling a bit guilty about not doing enough of the right stuff. I’ve got it so good. And the more I read Scripture and write out these devotions, the more I sense that God is pulling me in the right direction.

I’m one who very much “senses” God’s presence. That needs to well up inside of me, before I start taking action. That’s a good thing. That activity of the Spirit, stirring my heart, motivates me to take action and to bring others with me.

Yet I also must recognize that sometimes the actions are what will stir me. Sometimes the Spirit will simply be in the actions: serving the homeless, giving to a charity, getting to know others in my neighborhood.

In all, what I find is best for the Christian journey is to spend time with God, with fellow followers of Jesus, and with those not in my regular circles. Doing these 3 things (think: triangle) helps me to see a bit more clearly when I am lacking in one area (or more) and maybe I’m spending too much time in one area (while neglecting other areas).

May this be a helpful tool for you to discern where you are being called to spend your time and may justice flow from this exercise.

P (Prayer): Gracious Lord, you call us to spend time with you, with fellow Jesus-followers, and with those we do not know. Help us also to follow your call to be a part of the justice that flows down like streams. Amen.

Gathered ‘Round the Throne

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S (Scripture): Revelation 7: 13 Then one of the elders said to me, “Who are these people wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”

14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.”

Then he said to me, “These people have come out of great hardship. They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood. 15 This is the reason they are before God’s throne. They worship him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They won’t hunger or thirst anymore. No sun or scorching heat will beat down on them, 17 because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

O (Observation): The life of the follower of Jesus is like one whose robes have been washed white by Jesus’ sacrifice. The stains on the robes of the person wearing them have been placed there by the fault of the individual, yet Jesus makes them clean. Jesus overcomes the power of sin and death and gathers his followers together. They give him praise and worship Him.

In this scene, Jesus gives life-giving water and wipes away all tears from his followers eyes. They will cry no more. They will thirst no more. All will be well.

A (Application): Hard to see the throne image in the here and now. Life is chaotic and tumultuous. We fear for our safety and our job security and we have a difficult time seeing anything like robes washed in white while signing praises to the Lamb.

We sing words like “Salvation belongs to our God, and to Christ the Lamb, forever and ever,” and “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.” These images are brought forth through the Scriptures. We give thanks to God for making us whole and judging us with love.

The punishment of sin is sin itself. When we sin, we suffer and those around us suffer, even if we don’t feel it or sense it. Sin separates us from God and one another, and numbs us to that distancing, until somehow (through the Spirit) we awake…to see that while nothing can ever truly separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus…we discover we have been pushing God away.

Texts like today – from Revelation – are a good reminder to us that the end has already been accounted for. Today, we live into the grace freely given to us. We live into the hope that one day, we will all be united, gathered around the throne, singing…giving praise to God.

Embrace that security of the vision of the faithful gathered around the throne this day in the midst of your tumultuous ventures.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us hope that we will see more and better days ahead…if not in this life…then the next. Amen.

Who Can Serve???

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S (Scripture): Joel 2

25 I will repay you for the years
that the cutting locust,
the swarming locust, the hopping locust, and the devouring locust have eaten—
my great army, which I sent against you.
26 You will eat abundantly and be satisfied,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has done wonders for you;
and my people will never again be put to shame.
27 You will know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the Lord your God—no other exists;
never again will my people be put to shame.
28 After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone;
your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
and your young men will see visions.
29 In those days, I will also pour out my
spirit on the male and female slaves.

O (Observation): God freely admits to having corrected God’s people when they needed correction. God sent locusts to eat their crops. Then more to eat the leftovers. Then more to eat the crumbs : ) No apologies. However, God now promises something fruitful. God promises a new vision revealed to God’s people.

The vision God reveals comes through God’s Spirit being poured out on everyone. That Spirit will inspire prophecies and dreams for God’s people.

And not only on God’s people…but even on the male AND female slaves!!!! Scandalous!

God ‘s mercy knows no bounds.

A (Application): The text today is quoted quite a bit in liturgies and messages, usually without the context around it. Joel is a prophet who speaks God’s judgment, but also God’s word of grace. Repentance is called for once again, and so is God’s unrelenting grace and mercy.

What strikes me today is the humility that comes with being a follower of Jesus. That’s sounds weird. I think others have to declare you humble…you can’t really call yourself humble : )

Anyway, humility is what strikes me today. The nature of our faith causes us to be humble. As a pastor serving a congregation in a suburban area, we can get quite frazzled over how things operate in the congregation. We can worry about how well a ministry is going by wondering how many members are involved. And what about non-members? What if they get involved? Is that okay? Can non-members be involved? OF COURSE!

OUR CALL IS TO MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS! Humility is a part of that. Inviting members and non-members alike to be a part of what God is calling us to do goes with the territory. We don’t have to “convert” everyone. We don’t have to ask people to give their hearts to Jesus. We simply serve. We simply share the same space. We simply invite. In the process of doing life together, we can encourage baptism or taking next steps in faith formation…but that comes after building a relationship with folks and not demanding they sign on the dotted line.

If they aren’t against us, and they are doing good…great! Regardless of who the “they” are.

A great example is our participation in the upcoming “Coldest Nights” program in Murfreesboro, TN. On nights below 32 degrees, our congregation (twice per month) will provide a meal for about 15 ladies seeking shelter for the night. Lots of folks are eager to help – some members, some non-members – and that is AWESOME! I couldn’t be more proud of our folks pulling the community together to serve or neighbors in need. God’s grace falls on us all.

Happy serving!

P (Prayer): God, make us all ready to serve. Amen.