An Oldy, but a Goodie!

Photo credit here. 

S (Scripture): Psalm 95
1 Come, let’s sing out loud to the Lord!
Let’s raise a joyful shout to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let’s come before him with thanks!
Let’s shout songs of joy to him!
3 The Lord is a great God,
the great king over all other gods.
4 The earth’s depths are in his hands;
the mountain heights belong to him;
5 the sea, which he made, is his
along with the dry ground,
which his own hands formed.

O (Observation):  Very much centered on God as Creator, this psalm gives thanks and praise to God.   Coming from a background that seems fairly stable, this psalm was likely written in a time of peace for God’s people.   

Times were not always so for God’s people, but when they got the chance to simply praise God, they did.  

A (Application):  Getting away and giving thanks and praise to God are part of the Christian life.  Retreating and centering one’s life – whether that retreat be a weekend worship service, or a pilgrimage like the ELCA Youth Gathering (coming up in Houston in June 2018) or the ELCA Rostered Ministers Gathering (happening now in Atlanta) – is essential for our physical, emotional, social, and spiritual health. We need some time away to quiet our minds and separate ourselves from the demands on our time.   

Giving thanks to God is a natural thing for a Christian, even (or especially) in times of doubt or uncertainty.   Acknowledging that God watches over us and never lets us drown is of key importance to us.  

As I read this psalm, I couldn’t help but think of the times I’ve sung this psalm in retreat (read: worship).   Lots of YouTube videos of many different arrangements of this psalm exist.  

Let this be a reminder that our Lutheran liturgy is not some standalone material fabricated by folks in fancy robes.  Rather, the words are mined from the Mountain of scripture before us.  Some digging had to be done, to discover the gems that lay inside the Scruptires already.   No need to re-create.   Re-fashion into song? Yes.  But re-create?  No.  

Peace!

P (Prayer):  Lord, you are amazing and all of your creation is good.  Help us to preserve this earth and respect all you have created.   Amen.  

Can We (Christians) All Get Along?

S (Scripture): Philippians 1:27 Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel…29 God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. 30 You are having the same struggle that you saw me face and now hear that I’m still facing.

2:1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, 2 complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. 3 Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. 4 Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.

O (Observation):  Paul knows what it means to be persecuted because of following Jesus.  He has served Jesus ever since his Damascus Road experience.  And now, Paul is teaching his followers what it means to follow Jesus…that following Jesus brings joy, but also persecution.   The persecutions will not be experienced alone.  Jesus shares those persecutions with his followers.  

Getting along with other followers of Jesus will also be a challenge and will be a persecution in its own way, too.  Each will have to suffer his or her own ego to take a back seat to the needs of the other.    That means not only will they be called upon to experience joy with the world around them…they would have to figure out how to get along with other Christ followers!

A (Application): Following Jesus means suffering your wants and desires to have a lower priority than Jesus’ call to discipleship. This means thinking of yourself less (like CS Lewis’ famous quote), without thinking less of yourself.  

In our world, we have quite the scarcity mindset.  We think: “If someone else wins, I must be losing.”    If someone else’s needs are met before mine, then I am weak and the other is strong.    

This scarcity spills over into our spiritual beliefs.   Can someone else who follows Christ believe something different than me about, say…the end times…or what it means to be “saved”…or how to baptize (sprinkle or immersion)…or whether I can hang out and support those of other faiths…or the LGBTQ community?   To many, we cannot have different sets of standards and follow the same Christ.   This is why we have over 30,000 denominations.  We can’t get along!

I wonder what Paul would think?

I know what I think:  we let the good and bad mingle together, doing the best we can to listen to God and respond.  I hope this includes a wide variety of opinions about what it means to follow Christ, without making anyone feel like they can’t be in fellowship together.   Let us bring joy to the world, because Jesus brought us joy in the first place.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to see that winning and losing are not the goal…but instead, following you wherever you may lead us…and to do so with great joy.  Amen. 

Thanking the Lord This Afternoon


S (Scripture): Isaiah 12:3 You will draw water with joy from the springs of salvation.
4 And you will say on that day:
“Thank the Lord; call on God’s name;
proclaim God’s deeds among the peoples;
declare that God’s name is exalted.
5 Sing to the Lord, who has done glorious things;
proclaim this throughout all the earth.”

O (Observation): God’s people sing a hymn of trust.   Sometimes they would speak words of trust to reassure themselves that God promises a good end for God’s people, even if current circumstances are bleak. 

A (Application):  Sitting with extended family on the lake.   Family reunion time.  Chairs on the edge of the lake.  Kids swimming out to the small island.   Laughing. Playing.  Teaching little ones how to skip stones on the surface of the lake.   

Thanking the Lord this morning.  Enjoying creation.  Trusting in the Lord. 

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep us trusting in you for all we need and have.  Amen.  

Theology of Work


(Photo credit: here)

S (Scripture): Ecclesiastes 5:13 There is a grievous ill that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owners to their hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture; though they are parents of children, they have nothing in their hands. 15 As they came from their mother’s womb, so they shall go again, naked as they came; they shall take nothing for their toil, which they may carry away with their hands. 16 This also is a grievous ill: just as they came, so shall they go; and what gain do they have from toiling for the wind? 17 Besides, all their days they eat in darkness, in much vexation and sickness and resentment.

18 This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot. 19 Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For they will scarcely brood over the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with the joy of their hearts.

O (Observation):  Solomon has seen what wealth can do to a person.  Wealth can turn a person inward, caring only for himself or herself.   To what end?   To a cold and lonely end.    When a rich person dies, that person cannot take their earthly goods with them.   Toiling is not bad…but if one toils to gain more things…one does so in vain.  

But Solomon gives us another view of toil: joy in contentment.   Brooding over the work gains nothing.   Instead, find the work God has called each to do, and in that, find joy!

A (Application): I continue to be amazed at our capitalistic society in the US and the growing discontent we have in our lives.   The gadgets and gizmos and vacations we all desire can drive us away from contentment and towards a poor view of our work:  work = money for stuff.   

The joy of work gives us purpose and a way to contribute to society.   The wonderful part of capitalism is the opportunity to explore any of your callings and to seek to be paid for it.   However, the downfall of capitalism is that those who cannot work, or those who cannot see work as something to be enjoyed decide that they don’t fit in, and thus, end up on the streets or living off of handouts.  

I pray that everyone find the inherent dignity in all of humanity.   I pray that everyone find the calling God has instilled in them.  I pray that we are all compassionate enough help those whose work does not allow them enough pay to live on their own.   

I pray that we all enjoy our work for the sake of bringing God glory!

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to be thankful and grateful for our callings in this world!  Amen.

Why Being Wicked is So Enticing

(Photo of Matthew McConnaughey as “the man in black” in the upcoming film, The Dark Tower, adapted from the Stephen King book series by the same name.  Photo credit here.)

S (Scripture): Psalm 73

1 Truly God is good to the upright,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant;
I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 

4 For they have no pain;
their bodies are sound and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not plagued like other people.

O (Observation):  The psalmist acknowledges that God calls all to be righteous, but for some reason, the psalmist is jealous of the wicked!

This author is not jealous of the person’s wickedness, but rather, jealous of the apparent prosperity of the wicked…

A (Application):  The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…

We so easily can be manipulated by our own egos.   We can see someone who – through dishonest or wicked means – gains popularity and / or wealth – and we can become jealous.  We can start to think about putting ourselves into that person’s place.  If I can just ignore this bit of justice or ignore that neighbor’s need…I, too, can be rich or famous.   

Look! The wicked have no pain. They are sleek!

Yeah, right!   The wicked have pain…they just don’t show you…  The pain comes in lack of support…lack of guidance…lack of joy.   
We can all be tempted to allow wickedness to guide us, because it seems to pay off in worldly ways.  Yet, what is gained?   And what is lost? 

Instead of relying on wickedness, we can rely on the Lord to supply our needs (not our wants).   

Do not let evil lure you into its trap.   Sin is just death  masquerading as life.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, remind us that we are yours and that you supply our every need.  Amen.  

The Promise of Divine Discipline


S (Scripture): Psalm 3
1b I will praise you, O Lord, for you lifted me up, and did not allow my enemies to gloat over me.

2 O Lord my God, I cried out to you and you healed me.

3 O Lord, you pulled me up from Sheol; you rescued me from among those descending into the grave.

4 Sing to the Lord, you faithful followers of his; give thanks to his holy name.

5 For his anger lasts only a brief moment, and his good favor restores one’s life.

One may experience sorrow during the night, but joy arrives in the morning.

O (Observation):  The study notes that come from the online Bible reader I use (Net.Bible.org):

The author thanks the Lord for delivering him from death and urges others to join him in praise. The psalmist experienced divine discipline for a brief time, but when he cried out for help the Lord intervened and restored his favor.

A (Application): I’m the kind of person that doesn’t like discipline much.  And I don’t like doling out discipline either, which can frustrate my spouse at times : ) (I’m working on this…)

My kids don’t always take heed to my discipline.  Hmm.  Wonder why?  Perhaps my power is limited?   I think my purpose is usually clear: they are moving outside of the boundaries of accepted behavior.  Ok…but then they want to know why that boundary is there.  “Why is that my bedtime?” “What did I do?” “Why?”

Is this testing coming from disrespect?   Or simple curioisity?   Or innocence?  Seems to me to be a bit of all of those possibilities.   With God, however, we have different elements at play. 

Discipline that comes from God is quite a bit different for a faithful Christian believer.   Divine discipline always has the promise that God is bringing us back around to our true and right calling.   As much as we might be experiencing divine discipline, we know that joy comes with the morning (v. 5 above).   My discipline that I give my children can at times be unfair or tainted with personal bias (and therefore may not bring the child into the desired path).

The hard part is that we can’t always see the joy coming down the road – even with divine discipline.  Instead, we rely only on the promise that God will be with us… the promise that all will turn out well.   

What discipline are you dishing out?  For what purpose?   Do you sense that you are receiving divine discipline?  And if so, for what purpose are you receiving that discipline?   

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to see that joy comes in the morning. Amen. 

Making It Through Today


S (Scripture): Psalm 123

1 I look up toward you, the one enthroned in heaven.

2 Look, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female servant look to the hand of her mistress, so my eyes will look to the Lord, our God, until he shows us favor.

3 Show us favor, O Lord, show us favor!  For we have had our fill of humiliation, and then some.

4 We have had our fill of the taunts of the self-assured, of the contempt of the proud.

AND

John 13:34 [Jesus says,] “I give you a new commandment – to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another.”

O (Observation):  The psalmist utters a frustrated, yet faith-filled sigh to God above.   This psalm could very well have been composed while the Israelites were in Babylonian captivity – pulled from their homeland and sent to live in foreign territory. He is frustrated, yet not without hope. 

In the John text, Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet and is preparing them for a lifetime of challenges, and he won’t be around to help them in person.  So, he teaches them they hallmark of a disciple: love one another.  Not just those who part of “the Christian team.”  Rather, love ALL people.  This will show the world that love comes to rescue, not power or might.  


A (Application):  I’m really drained.  I know people are venting frustrations, but I can barely look at my FaceBook feed right now.  I have over 1,000 friends on FB, and my “friends” are all over the political spectrum.   

I see articles that take small things and make overarching generalizations as a response.  We spin stories and stats to our desires.    We cry “foul” because people are hurting each other or destroying property.  People are outraged for Trump being voted president.  People are outraged at the protests.   

I’ve pointed out some things that frustrate me about Trump followers committing horrific acts in response to their candidate being voted into office.   I’ve also posted about people committing acts of violence towards those who have voted for Trump.  All of it is inexcusable. 

What a crazy couple of days.  And all of the frustrations and angst are valid indeed.  We cannot invalidate the frustrations and fears, joys and praises that these last few days have stirred in the people of our nation.  

And as I read these texts today, I didn’t feel compelled to condemn anyone.   I’m moving past that.  Rather, I felt that the psalmist and I connected in a deep way.  I felt a kinship in the frustration, and sensed that God will see us through this, even though things are topsy-turvy for now.   

As far as how to move forward?  That’s where the Gospel text comes into play today.   Eventually (or now, if you can muster it) we are called to show love for one another.  As we show love for one another, we will pause.  We will listen and validate one another’s thoughts and feelings and hopes and dreams and fears and worries.  Deepening our connections will be the key for how to move forward.   This is what will bring us together.  

Let us continue to sit across the table from one another.  And if we must, we will peaceably protest as we strive for peace and justice in all the earth. 

P (Prayer):  Lord, guide us into all peace.  Amen.