How Many Gods are There?

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S (Scripture): Joshua 24:14 Joshua said: “So now, revere the Lord. Serve him honestly and faithfully. Put aside the gods that your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and serve the Lord. 15 But if it seems wrong in your opinion to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Choose the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But my family and I will serve the Lord.”

O (Observation): Commitment to God is always voluntary. This is the point Joshua makes:

God’s helped us this far…but if you see something more enticing…go for it. You see a local deity in this newly settled land of ours, and that seems right, go for it.

Just know this – declares Joshua – my family and I…we choose the Lord.

A (Application): The other day our 5 year old daughter asks us: “How many gods are there?” We said “one.” Then I thought back to Martin Luther’s explanation of the 10 Commandments in the Large Catechism and tried to explain that the thing we wish for the most is like a god to us. The thing we give our all for is our god.

Making the football team can become a god. Becoming a concert pianist can become a god. Getting everyone to like you can become your god. Having wealth can become your god. Being overly organized or overly organic can become your god. ANYTHING to which you give your allegiance can become your god.

Now, those items I listed are NOT all bad things. Having goals and contributing your gifts to the world are great. But at what level are you giving yourself to that thing / goal / desire?

Here’s the rub: I choose the Lord. Now, some days I’m great at faith and some days I suck at it. But the invitation my family and I have accepted is that we desire to be people of God, following in Jesus’ footsteps. We practice living into this invitation – as a family – as ELCA Lutherans as a part of the congregation of Advent Lutheran Church, Murfreesboro, TN. (

You have another way of following God? Great! You want to choose another god, that’s up to you. Don’t hear me pressuring you.

I invite you to our faith community or to one of our worship services or events. Connect with us in some way to journey together with us, to practice applying faith together, to messing up and to being forgiven…TOGETHER!

P (Prayer): Lord, I believe, help my unbelief! Amen.


“So How’s That Working Out for You?”

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S (Scripture): Numbers 14:1 The entire community raised their voice and the people wept that night. 2 All the Israelites criticized Moses and Aaron. The entire community said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt or if only we had died in this desert! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our children will be taken by force. Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4 So they said to each other, “Let’s pick a leader and let’s go back to Egypt.”

10b Then the Lord’s glory appeared in the meeting tent to all the Israelites. 11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people disrespect me? And how long will they doubt me after all the signs that I performed among them? 12 I’ll strike them down with a plague and disown them. Then I’ll make you into a great nation, stronger than they.”

19 Please forgive the wrongs of these people because of your absolute loyalty, just as you’ve forgiven these people from their time in Egypt until now.”

20 Then the Lord said, “I will forgive as you requested. But,

25 Since the Amalekites and the Canaanites live in the valley, tomorrow turn and march into the desert by the route of the Reed Sea.”

26 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron: 27 How long will this wicked community complain against me? I’ve heard the Israelites’ dissent as they continue to complain against me. 28 Say to them, “As I live,” says the Lord, “just as I’ve heard you say, so I’ll do to you. 29 Your dead bodies will fall in this desert. None of you who were enlisted and were registered from 20 years old and above, who complained against me, 30 will enter the land in which I promised to settle you, with the exception of Caleb, Jephunneh’s son, and Joshua, Nun’s son. 31 But your children, whom you said would be taken by force, I’ll bring them in and they will know the land that you rejected. 32 Your bodies, however, will fall in this desert, 33 and your children will be shepherds in the desert for forty years. They will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies fall in the desert. 34 For as many days as you explored the land, that is, forty days, just as many years you’ll bear your guilt, that is, forty years. This is how you will understand my frustration.” 35 I the Lord have spoken. I will do this to the entire wicked community who gathered against me. They will die in this desert. There they’ll meet their end.

O (Observation): WOW! Some extremely harsh words from a God who is all-powerful and all-knowing. God gives the people a land…but they’d rather be back in Egypt…enslaved. So they complain to God…and God leaves them to their own devices. God is the one who saves and who lets people choose for themselves how they will live. Of course, choosing one’s own personal desires can cause harm to one’s self and the community.

But instead of focusing on missing the mark, perhaps we have a lesson on faith and trust in the Lord. Let us focus on this: when God provides vision, God also provides provision.

A (Application): I think Israel’s problem can be summed up by a question that Dr. Phil likes to ask: “So how’s that working out for you?”

This question comes when this television personality / counselor speaks to his guests and they share how they decided to heed their own advice, rather than seek wisdom from others. “So how’s that working out for you?”

You wanna provide for yourself? Go for it.

You wanna be enslaved? Let me know how that goes.

What are we doing that goes against God’s call in our lives?

Where is God leading us that we are too scared to follow?

Remember, where God provides VISION, God provides PROVISION! Go for it! Trust in the Lord! God will provide…whether we go straight into our call…or even if it takes “40 years” to get there.

P (Prayer): Lord, call us onward and provide. Amen.

Looking Backwards to Look Forward

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S (Scripture): 1 Peter 2:4 Now you are coming to [Jesus] as to a living stone. Even though this stone was rejected by humans, from God’s perspective it is chosen, valuable. 5 You yourselves are being built like living stones into a spiritual temple. You are being made into a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Thus it is written in scripture, Look! I am laying a cornerstone in Zion, chosen, valuable. The person who believes in him will never be shamed.  7 So God honors you who believe. For those who refuse to believe, though, the stone the builders tossed aside has become the capstone. 8 This is a stone that makes people stumble and a rock that makes them fall. Because they refuse to believe in the word, they stumble. Indeed, this is the end to which they were appointed. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. 10 Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

O (Observation): Peter lets God’s people know that they have hope in Jesus Christ, because Jesus has set them apart for God’s work in the world.   Rejection may be part of the results of the work, but they are to press on, since Jesus has already given them mercy to carry on.   

Many will not believe, but God’s people are to carry on and to share how God brought each of them from darkness into the light.  

A (Application):  At a recent retreat I attended, Pr Mark Hanson – former Presiding Bishop of the ELCA – taught us about “cairns.”   A cairn is a human-made pile (or stack) of stones.   The purpose of cairns is diverse, but he highlighted this purpose: to mark a significant moment in history.   

Jacob sets up a pile of rocks when he sees angels ascending and descending in a dream.  Joshua and crew were instructed to set stones in the middle of the the riverbed of the “temporarily dammed Jordan River” when they crossed into the Promised Land.   These cairns mark significant life-giving moments in the history of God’s people. 

In what seemed like a moment of defeat, a rock was placed in front of a tomb.  What was a marker of death became a marker of true life!

Seeing a cairn in this light can serve two main purposes: as a memorial, or as a sign pointing to a new future.   If seen as a memorial, we lock in the past and focus on nostalgia…a yearning for what was…idealizing an unattainable past.   If seen as a sign pointing to the future…we open up some wonderful possibilities!

When a cairn is seen as a sign pointing to a new future, we move from simple nostalgia, to memory that builds confidence for the present and future.  Looking back in order to look forward.  This brings us hope.  We can look back and see where we’ve been, and we can look at those markers and see how God was active in our lives.  That gives us hope for the present and future.  

After all, we are LIVING stones.  We can share stories of where we’ve been.   We can focus on where we are going.   We can be the markers for future generations.   And so we begin, anew, today!

What stories from our past will give us confidence that we can weather the storms of today???

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us steadfast in your word.    Point us to past seasons so we can see where you acted with us, for us, in us, through us. Amen. P

Called and Equipped!  Baptized and Sent!

S (Scripture): Joshua 1:1  After Moses the Lord’s servant died, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Get ready! Cross the Jordan River! Lead these people into the land which I am ready to hand over to them. 3 I am handing over to you every place you set foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the wilderness in the south to Lebanon in the north. It will extend all the way to the great River Euphrates in the east (including all of Syria) and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to resist you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not abandon you or leave you alone. 6 Be strong and brave! You must lead these people in the conquest of this land that I solemnly promised their ancestors I would hand over to them. 7 Make sure you are very strong and brave! Carefully obey all the law my servant Moses charged you to keep! Do not swerve from it to the right or to the left, so that you may be successful in all you do.

O (Observation):  Joshua assumes leadership of God’s people, ordained by God.   In the midst of this “transfer” some expectations are set.   

Be strong and brave!  Do not swerve from the Law.  Obey the Law, like Moses!  You must lead this people in the conquest of this land. 

That’s a tall order…but Joshua is not left to his own devices to see that he is obedient.  

Instead, we also see God’s actions in these word today:

  • God promises to hand the land over to God’s people
  • “As I was with Moses, so I’ll be with you.”
  • “I will not abandon you or leave you.”

God remains a constant in Joshua’s life.  Joshua knows that God is with him.  Joshua can only be obedient in as much as God is with him, reminding Joshua of who and whose he is.  Joshua is God’s. 

A (Application):  Believe it or not, we are all called into the challenge of Joshua.  We are not called to claim land promsied by God; rather, we are all called, in baptism, to live out God’s peace and justice in all the earth. 

That means that in some cases, we stand with the marginalized, which can be unpopular.  That means that in some cases, we take actions or say words (for the cause of peace and justice) that will surely bring criticism or fear into our sphere.   

Should those challenges cause us to change our courses of action?  Certainly not!

But how will we be sustained?!?  The same thing that causes us to move forward for the sake of peace and justice is also that which unites us with God: our baptism.  

God called Moses and Joshua to lead, to step forward.  God calls us, as well, through baptism.   And while our baptism urges us to stand for peace and justice, we are also sustained by the gift of the Holy Spirit to be with us as we step forward.  

We are urged onward, but with the help and guidance of the Spirit.  We are called and we are equipped.  Fear not.  God is with you! 

P (Prayer):  Lord, we are unsure and uncertain.    Remind us of our baptism.  Guide us.  Love us. Protect us.   Amen.  

Leading or Letting Go

S (Scripture): Deuteronomy 34:1 Then Moses ascended from the deserts of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the summit of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. The Lord showed him the whole land – Gilead to Dan, 2 and all of Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the distant sea, 3 the Negev, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of the date palm trees, as far as Zoar. 4 Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it, but you will not cross over there.”

5 So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab as the Lord had said. 6 He buried him in the land of Moab near Beth Peor, but no one knows his exact burial place to this very day. 7 Moses was 120 years old when he died, but his eye was not dull nor had his vitality departed. 8 The Israelites mourned for Moses in the deserts of Moab for thirty days; then the days of mourning for Moses ended.

O (Observation):  Was it even Moses’ fault that the people of Israel sinned?  Why not let Moses in?  He did some really powerful stuff as God’s servant!  And he was humble and obedient, right?  How unfair!

Well…I don’t know if advocating for Moses is the right course of action.  Perhaps just knowing that Moses didn’t get in is enough.   Maybe the Lord saw fit to pass the baton to Joshua at this stage.  Maybe new energy was needed for God’s people at that time. 

Standing on that mountain, Moses is reminded of the covenant that God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The covenant still stands, just not with Moses at the helm when it comes to fruition.  

A (Application): Leaders must discern when one project ends and another begins.  Sometimes we juggle multiple projects… sometimes one is enough to fill our whole plate.   

Sometimes we are angry because we have to wait on the mountaintop, knowing we won’t enter the “promised land.”  Other times, we are the ones leading the charge, thanks to the blood, sweat and tears of those who came before us.  

Sometimes we are Moses.  Sometimes we are Joshua.  I’ve been both, and each presents its own joys and challenges.  Many factors are at play, but one thing is constant:  our God is faithful to God’s people.   This journey is not about the leaders, but what God is up to in us, and around us. 

When have you been like Moses, leading the charge, but then passing the baton?  Was it painful?  Easy?

When have you been like Joshua, receiving the baton?  Were you scared? Did you doubt yourself?

In either case, God’s got your back…

P (Prayer): Lord, you challenge us, but only after first promising to be with us in this life to sustain us with daily bread.   Keep us fed and nourished, so we can respond to your will in leading or in letting go.  Amen. 

Faith and Trust

S (Scripture): Numbers 14:1 Then all the community raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the Israelites murmured against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had perished in this wilderness! 3 Why has the Lord brought us into this land only to be killed by the sword, that our wives and our children should become plunder? Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4 So they said to one another, “Let’s appoint a leader and return to Egypt.”

5 Then Moses and Aaron fell down with their faces to the ground before the whole assembled community of the Israelites. 6 And Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, two of those who had investigated the land, tore their garments. 7 They said to the whole community of the Israelites, “The land we passed through to investigate is an exceedingly good land. 8 If the Lord delights in us, then he will bring us into this land and give it to us – a land that is flowing with milk and honey. 9 Only do not rebel against the Lord, and do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection has turned aside from them, but the Lord is with us. Do not fear them!”
O (Observation):  Facing like what seems insurmountable odds, the Hebrew people would rather turn from the Promised Land and head back to the shackles they wore in Egypt.  Joshua and Caleb tear their garments to show their frustration towards God’s people who are choosing logic over faith.   As an act of intercessory prayer (and to stave off God’s wrath) Moses and Aaron fall prostrate on the ground and silently plead for mercy as the representatives of God’s insolent people.  

 The faith of God’s people is challenged in this moment.  And they have failed.   But not all.  

A (Application):  How many times have I chosen logic over faith?  Quite a bit.  But that’s not my Achille’s heel.   Mine is one of self-doubt.   

How could I accomplish something so insurmountable as serving as a pastor?   How can I believe that God has chosen me for this particular vocation?   What can I give of myself? 

Notice:  these are all the wrong questions. 

Thanks to a baptismal calling that I have the chance to live into on a daily basis, I consider what this calling means for me and for others.   I explore what God is saying to me and to other people.  We listen together.  We profess together.  We hold one another accountable.  

We are not perfect, but we have a God who is.  We have a God who says, “Go for it.  I am with you. Even to the ends of the earth, I will be there.  You see that lush valley over there?  That is yours.  You will wander, and I will let you, but not forever. I will entice you back with grace and mercy…whether you realize it or not.  So go!  Take the next step.  I will be with you.”

Let us hope that stepping forward will bring fruit and a new start.  Let that new start begin today.  

P (Prayer): Lord, you are a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.  Amen.  

Bonus:  Thy Word, by Amy Grant