Who are you Called to Be and Do?

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S (Scripture): John 16:5 [Jesus said to the disciples]: “But now I go away to the one who sent me. None of you ask me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Yet because I have said these things to you, you are filled with sorrow. 7 I assure you that it is better for you that I go away. If I don’t go away, the Companion won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will show the world it was wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment. 9 He will show the world it was wrong about sin because they don’t believe in me. 10 He will show the world it was wrong about righteousness because I’m going to the Father and you won’t see me anymore. 11 He will show the world it was wrong about judgment because this world’s ruler stands condemned.

O (Observation): Jesus goes, but with a promise. Jesus moves from doing the preaching / teaching / healing to handing over these duties. And in handing over these duties, Jesus is also equipping the disciples. They will have the Spirit. (Not to mention, Jesus was mentoring these disciples all along.)

So, as Jesus goes, he also promises that this is for the best. Hard to trust, but trust we do.

And we will see the truth revealed: about sin, righteousness, and judgment.

A (Application): How often do we fret over getting things just right? How arrogant can we become to the point of pointing out the sins of others???

Or, perhaps we put in long hours as a volunteer at church, and fail to see others stepping up to help?

In both cases, we get complacent in the pathway towards discerning what one is called to be and do. We fail to see that the Spirit is busy equipping us. We like to short circuit the process of raising up leaders. We expect people to act like us (“the righteous”) and fail to see our own faults.

Leaders are born, they’re made. New leaders need existing leaders to raise them up. Self-righteous need to see the world through the eyes of others.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us discerning hearts and minds. Amen.

Will This Cycle Be Broken?

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S (Scripture): Judges 3:1 These are the nations that the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had no firsthand knowledge of the wars of Canaan. 2 They survived only to teach war to the generations of Israelites who had no firsthand knowledge of the earlier wars: 3 the five rulers of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, Sidonians, and Hivites who lived in the highlands of Lebanon from Mount Baal-hermon to Lebo-hamath. 4 They were to be the test for Israel, to find out whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which he had made to their ancestors through Moses. 5 So the Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. 6 But the Israelites intermarried with them and served their gods.

7 The Israelites did things that the Lord saw as evil, and they forgot the Lord their God. They served the Baals and the Asherahs. 8 The Lord became angry with Israel and gave them over to King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram-naharaim. The Israelites served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. 9 But then they cried out to the Lord. So the Lord raised up a deliverer for the Israelites, Othniel, Kenaz’s son, Caleb’s younger brother, who rescued them. 10 The Lord’s spirit was in Othniel, and he led Israel. When he marched out for war, the Lord handed over Aram’s King Cushan-rishathaim. Othniel overpowered Cushan-rishathaim, 11 and the land was peaceful for forty years, until Othniel, Kenaz’s son, died.

O (Observation): God’s people have made it to the Promised Land. They thought they had it made. God led the people from slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land. They would be so thankful to be where they are now, right? Wrong.

According to the Old Testament witness, up to this point, the troubles of the Hebrew people have been self-imposed. Lacking faith in God amounted to allowing the powers of the world to take over. God allows the people the freedom to choose which god they would obey. As God’s people cry for help (after choosing the Baals and Asherahs), they are tended to by God, through grace.

As God’s people settle into their new territory, they struggle to remain faithful to God. God’s way of showing forgiveness and grace is to raise up leaders (like Othniel) to help them down a good path. And that works…for a time. Until that leader dies…and then they go back to their terrible ways…worshipping and obeying other powers and gods.

Seems like a recipe for insanity!

A (Application): As we cycle through our bouts of faithfulness and a lack of faithfulness, God found a different way to deal with us: coming to us in the person of Jesus Christ. (The fancy for word for that is “incarnation.”)

As the incarnate Word, Jesus is the one who hears our daily cries for help, and he grants that grace to us, all the while encouraging us to lean on Him…and not the powers of the world.

We feel trapped towards the gods / powers of the world. Jesus reminds us that we are freed from those powers. That while those powers seem enticing, they do not last.

Instead, Jesus looks for us to transcend the powers and ways of the world. Jesus looks to help us understand that following God is not a chore, but is life-giving. God’s grace will continually beckon us towards loving God and caring for our neighbors.

We do not have to prove ourselves. Rather, we hold fast to what God has given to us, and make the best use of that for the sake of the world around us.

(Prayer): Lord, help us to help others…thereby being faithful to You! Amen.

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.

Love the Sinner, Hate Your Own Sin

  

S (Scripture): James 4:11 Do not speak against one another, brothers and sisters. He who speaks against a fellow believer or judges a fellow believer speaks against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but its judge. 12 But there is only one who is lawgiver and judge – the one who is able to save and destroy. On the other hand, who are you to judge your neighbor?

O (Observation): James is striving for peace in the Chirstian community he oversees.   Part of this struggle is to tame how the Jesus-followers deal with their varied and divisive beliefs and actions.  

A (Application):  Why do we put ourselves into the seat of the judge?   Does it come from a supposed superior intellect of the commands of Scripture?  Is it a regional culture that assumes a certain stance towards morals?   Does it come down to peer pressure (in the sense that proving your piety earns you points with God or other Christians)?

Whatever the root cause, James is pretty clear here that we are called to NOT judge our neighbor, but instead, as we start counting others’ sins, perhaps then we should start counting our own. In doing so, we realize that we don’t get to be the judge.  

Locally, in Murfreesboro, TN, one church has asked the scouts (Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts) to NOT come back to use their facilities, because the scouts now have the option to allow pack leaders who are in same-sex relationships.   Some churches / denominations won’t abide this.  

So…they kick out the whole group.   The potential good of the scouts is in some ways undone by the churches / denominations judging their neighbor.  And that’s their right.   No one should be forced go against their convictions or concience.  

But the damage is done.   The “Christian” viewpoint becomes one of hypocrisy through these kinds of actions.   Becoming judge is wrong.  Christ is the only judge.  And I am assured of my salvation as a baptized believer in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Let me be clear: Christians, much like Muslims, should not all be painted with one stroke of the brush.  We are varied.  

In my case, as part of a member church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we allow for leaders who are in same-sex relationships to be pastors and to allow pastors to perform same-sex unions, as approved or not by the local congregation.  

  
We struggle to adhere to James 4 text, while viewing everyone through the lens of “fully saint, fully sinner.”  We strive to live into this freedom Christ gives us, to use that freedom to love our neighbor, and not to use it for selfish gain.  

How have you struggled with judging your neighbor?   Are you doing that with a family member?  Have you counted your own sins?   

I’m reminded daily to challenge myself and other people.  I remind people, as I challenge them, that I, too, struggle.  I try to meet people where they are and join them in the struggle.    

Let’s keep it real.   Love the sinner, hate your own sin. 

P (Prayer): Lord, you are the only wide judge.  Keep us from harming our neighbor.   Keep us from hiding your light under a bushel.   As we judge, remind us of our own brokenness and soften our hearts to allow your grace to enter in.  Amen. 

Who’s the Real Enemy, Anyway?

  S (Scripture): Colossians 3:12
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,  13 bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others. 14 And to all these virtues add love, which is the perfect bond. 15 Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

O (Observation):  The church in Colossae is having to work through issues of unity.   They seem to be focusing on winning in the eyes of the world, leaning on human understandings, rather than viewing one another through God’s eyes.  The church members see nationality, sex, and even religious affiliations as key.  Paul reminds them that all who are of Christ are no longer viewed this way.  

And instead of judging others, they are called to forgive one another, just as God has forgiven each of them. 

A (Application):  When we see the world, we still fall into the same trap of judging one another and treating one another with worldly judgment.   

Instead, Paul calls for peace and love, and exhortation.   Exhortation is different than judgment. 

Recently,  on social media, I’ve seen discussion of abortion same-sex / same-gender marriage.  I’ve been involved in some ways.   Rarely is the conversation constructive, but I have seen some healthy conversations, too.  

Speaking of these difficult issues…I can see Paul helping us to discern the difference between Exhortation and Judgment.   The key difference for me is that Judgment assumes the role of God, whereas Exhortation is a human command based in wisdom, and comes with a dose of humility. 

The online and in-person conversations that go sour tend to lack 2 things:  humility and an understanding that we are in this together. 

The devil loves nothing more than to cause us to fight with each other as believers.  It’s as if we have mistaken our brothers and sisters in Christ for the enemy!   This is wrong.  Evil / the devil is our enemy.   Can we exhort one another, as Paul has done?  Absolutely!  Should we write one another off, completely?  Never!  

God has not written off any of His children…and never will. 

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to keep in mind who the real enemy is: the devil.  Amen.