Do We Get a Cheat Sheet?

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S (Scripture): Acts 15:6 The apostles and the elders gathered to consider this matter [of circumcision]. 7 After much debate, Peter stood and addressed them, “Fellow believers, you know that, early on, God chose me from among you as the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and come to believe. 8 God, who knows people’s deepest thoughts and desires, confirmed this by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, but purified their deepest thoughts and desires through faith. 10 Why then are you now challenging God by placing a burden on the shoulders of these disciples that neither we nor our ancestors could bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we and they are saved in the same way, by the grace of the Lord Jesus.”

12 The entire assembly fell quiet as they listened to Barnabas and Paul describe all the signs and wonders God did among the Gentiles through their activity. 13 When Barnabas and Paul also fell silent, James responded, “Fellow believers, listen to me. 14 Simon reported how, in his kindness, God came to the Gentiles in the first place, to raise up from them a people of God. 15 The prophets’ words agree with this; as it is written,

16 

After this I will return,

        and I will rebuild David’s fallen tent;

        I will rebuild what has been torn down.

            I will restore it

17 

            so that the rest of humanity will seek the Lord,

                even all the Gentiles who belong to me.

O (Observation): The leadership of the Church fathers in Jerusalem for what becomes known as The Jerusalem Council. At the council, circumcision is discussed.Is it necessary – or not – for one to be circumcised before one can become a Christian?

For those who never ventured out to foreign lands nor turned their attention to any wisdom other than their own teachings, OF COURSE one must be circumcised FIRST!

Yet to folks like Peter and Paul and Barnabbas, who remained open to God’s movement and actually paid attention to the Gentile population, they witnessed God inviting ALL people into the fold. So for the disciples and Paul, of course we welcome in all who accept Jesus Christ without the need for circumcision.

What matters are two things: 1.) in the quote from Amos we see above, God has already, from time immemorial, welcomed who all seek to call on God’s name – Jew and Gentile; and, 2.) as Peter claims, we are saved by grace and no work from the Law of Moses.

A (Application): Where do we spend our time? Is it looking only at our own teachings and customs? Or do we spend time in places we aren’t comfortable and learning about religions and customs other than our own?

Seems to me that this text is really, really challenging us to open our eyes to the new thing God has done, is doing, and will do.

When do we ever stop thinking and just get a list of rules to live by as Christians? The answer is: never.

So, we must be ready to listen. How do we do that? With practice.

We listen and share what God has spoken to us. We share with other Christians to confer with other disciples and we move forward in grace.

Most of all, we remember how we got to where we are as Christians: through grace.

P (Prayer): Lord, remind us of our humble nature as Christians. Help us to listen to your voice. Amen.

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Breakthrough

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S (Scripture): John 10:37 (Jesus replied to the Jewish opposition) “If I don’t do the works of my Father, don’t believe me. 38 But if I do them, and you don’t believe me, believe the works so that you can know and recognize that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again, they wanted to arrest him, but he escaped from them.

40 Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had baptized at first, and he stayed there. 41 Many people came to him. “John didn’t do any miraculous signs,” they said, “but everything John said about this man was true.” 42 Many believed in Jesus there.

O (Observation): Jesus spends a lot of time and energy trying to convince God’s religious elite that He is God’s Son. The leaders who have studied Scripture the most might be able to connect the dots, but they have such tunnel-vision, that all they can do with Jesus is throw him into a category that makes him a heretic.

The crowds, however, likely didn’t know the Scriptures as well, and focused more on the signs / works Jesus was performing. Perhaps their attention to the present was helpful, noticing not only what God did in the past, but also what God was doing in the PRESENT!

A (Application): Does this all sound familiar? I hope so, because this is what we do as a Church nowadays. We miss God’s movement in the present. When we notice God’s movement, we can name it and call it a “kairos.”

Taking time to dwell in that moment (and even inviting others to chime in with their thoughts on your moment) is helpful. For when we discern and invite community to help discern, we make less of a rash decision and we can actually see faith forming before our very hearts. This is called spiritual breakthrough, and I wish for so many of you to find a way to be in the moment. See what God is up to right here, right now. See every moment of your day as a pregnant moment, filled with the anticipation of God’s presence in those moments.

From that moment and discernment, you will know what to do, in God’s name. Your moment will be a time of reflection AND a call to action.

May you see the kairos moments all around you today…moments both big and small.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us into the moments and help us see you in them. Amen.

From Head to Heart

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S (Scripture): Matthew 7:28 When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were amazed at his teaching 29 because he was teaching them like someone with authority and not like their legal experts.

O (Observation): Jesus finishes up the Sermon on the Mount. The crowd reacts to Jesus’ message (beginning in Matthew 5). The impact of this message on the people is this:

“He was teaching them like someone with authority and not like their legal experts.”

Jesus speaks in a way that he is not just parroting what God desires. Instead, Jesus fully embodies God’s will and message as he speaks to the crowd.

A (Application): So often, Christians will parrot and repeat messages. This is a good first step in faith formation. One must know the basics of the faith.

Many Lutherans I know that are 50+ years of age recall that Confirmation consisted of much memorization. Some had to memorize the entire Small Catechism, some had to remember parts of it. Or Scripture.

What they are supposed to do with that memorization was up to them.

The move from the head to the heart is the most difficult distance to travel. That is what Jesus has done. He has moved our faith toward its original intent: a law and a Spirit that dwells in our hearts. This is why Jesus seemed to teach with authority, because the Law and Spirit reside in his heart.

As I help our young people prepare for a life in the Christian faith, we focus less on memorization and more on learning how to embody the faith and how to discern what the Spirit is saying. We talk about where we have seen God in our lesson, or in our lives. We share that “kairos” moment and ask one another to give their feedback into the other’s kairos. We discern, together, what God is saying for that person and what God would have that person do. The individual takes the lead, but the surrounding community gives feedback to help the individual decide what God is saying.

Jesus taught with authority, because he and God are one and because Jesus knows the Law in his heart. May we know such union with God that we might speak with gracious and humble authority in our own lives…that we might help others to know our peace and our desire to seek peace and justice throughout the earth.

P (Prayer): God, move our faith from our heads to our hearts. Amen.

Discerning God’s Will (kairos)

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 11:
1 A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse;
a branch will sprout from his roots.
2 The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him,
a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a spirit of planning and strength,
a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
3 He will delight in fearing the Lord.
He won’t judge by appearances, nor decide by hearsay.
4 He will judge the needy with righteousness,
and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land.
He will strike the violent with the rod of his mouth; by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be the belt around his hips,
and faithfulness the belt around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
the calf and the young lion will feed together,
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow and the bear will graze.
Their young will lie down together, and a lion will eat straw like an ox.
8 A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole;
toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den.
9 They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain.
The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, just as the water covers the sea.


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O (Observation):  God’s people, during the time of the prophet Isaiah, had little hope for themselves.  Neighboring forces were closing in on God’s people of Judah, and they felt abandoned by God.  Yet in this text, God reassures them that even though God was correcting them for their misdeeds, God was not abandoning them.  Much like children being scolded by their parents, God scolds Israel out of love and compassion for the people…that they might follow the path of mercy, grace, and justice.  That God’s people might follow God’s lead, and not simply serve their own base desires.  

So the image of the “stump of Jesse” is brought forth.   King David’s father, Jesse, was in a line of succession of God’s favor – not by anything Jesse had done, but by God’s divine blessing.  This blessing goes all the way back to Abraham, and God choosing to make a great people of Abraham’s lineage.  From Abraham to Jesse to David (Jesse’s son) to Jesus…God brings hope to God’s people.   

And in the end, even nature itself and all animals will become docile and plentiful.  Killing will be no more.   Danger will be no more.  And abundant life eternal will fill the earth.   

A (Application):  How badly do we wish to control our destiny?   We hold so tightly to our own worldviews that we would rather cause someone else harm, than let someone change our mind.   

What would this world like like if we would allow ourselves to follow God’s lead and not just our own?   Sounds good, but how do we do that?

I think God’s people in Isaiah’s time – just like us Christians today – have a hard time seeing God around us.   So what do we do?   

I like to use a tool called the “Circle” (pictured above).  The circle is a guide for us to use when we are discerning God’s  will for our lives.  This discernment is best done within a trusted group of fellow disciples.   Sometimes the words will be challenging; sometimes the words will be an invitation to listen more deeply to the grace God is already giving you.    You dwell on a moment in which you sense God knocking on the door and share that with the group – we call this a “kairos” moment.  You discuss this kairos together and share how the Scriptures or personal stories can further inform the kairos.

Once the kairos is discussed (which is basically discerning what God is saying to you) then you make a plan to act and be held accountable to the group (which is to discern what God wants you to do).   Again, this works best in the midst of a group of trusted disciples, where you can be vulnerable to sharing the kairos moments with others and trust that God is speaking through this group.   

Our tendency – like that of God’s people in the Isaiah text – is to move forward without fully contemplating what God was up to.  The prophet Isaiah was present to speak up on God’s behalf.  Now, we have the Spirit to help us discern.  And we can do this in groups that I have worked with called “huddles.”

I’ve been in groups like this and I’ve led them.  They work extremely well.   We cannot go this journey as disciples all alone.  Guidance and care from fellow disciples is critical.  Jesus gathered the 12 to lean on one another.  He led them so that they would lead others in figuring out how to respond to God’s calls.  

I see wisdom in discerning God’s will in groups, so that what guides us is not our own egos, but the Spirit of God.   

Let me know if you’d ever like to be in such a group.  I have led them online and in person.  Peace!

P (Prayer):  Lord, get us out of our own way, and let your will be done in our lives.  Amen.  

My Promised Land


S (Scripture): Numbers 13:26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and to the whole community of the Israelites in the wilderness of Paran at Kadesh. They reported to the whole community and showed the fruit of the land. 27 They told Moses, “We went to the land where you sent us. It is indeed flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 But the inhabitants are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. Moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the land of the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.”

30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses, saying, “Let us go up and occupy it, for we are well able to conquer it.” 31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against these people, because they are stronger than we are!” 32 Then they presented the Israelites with a discouraging report of the land they had investigated, saying, “The land that we passed through to investigate is a land that devours its inhabitants. All the people we saw there are of great stature. 33 We even saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak came from the Nephilim), and we seemed liked grasshoppers both to ourselves and to them.”

O (Observation):  The Hebrew people are approaching the Promised Land for the first time.   They send one representative from each tribe to scope out the land to get a look at its inhabitants, the land itself, and to bring back some fruit of the land.   

The land – beautiful.   The fruit – wholesome.   The people – scary!

The spies that scoped out the territory of the land promised to them by God is beautiful and grandiose…but it is also inhabited by some scary people.   How could they drive out these people from the land?

So the spies tell of the land, but have severe doubts about their ability to claim the land for themselves.  

Caleb speaks up to say that they can take the land.  

The people are left with conflicting sentiments about their ability to enter the Promised Land.  

A (Application):  What is your Promised Land?  Mine is a family with a house and great job.  A life in which I have the perfect balance of work and rest.  I’m able to dine out and go on vacations and have no student loans hanging over my head : )

My Promsied Land is a place where people follow me for what I teach and preach…a place where I’m smart enough to not have to be corrected and wise enough to help the congregation I serve to a major transformation.  

Now…notice what’s missing?   God.  Jesus.  The Holy Spirit.  

These things I mention are all about me…even the bit about the church I serve.  All of these statements center on what I can do and does not once reflect what God might want for me…where God might be leading me…what God is saying to me.   

The 12 sent to scope out the Promsied Land (even Caleb at this point) fail to discern God’s call, God’s presence, God’s voice. 

How often do we observe a kairos (a God-moment) and breeze right by it?   How often do we begin to follow a call from God, only to abandon our call to listen and to know that God is still with us, even when that doesn’t seem true?

We all end up wandering.  We all end up needing a time of repentance and forgiveness.  

This post today is not about making you feel guilty, but a reminder that God is always ready to hear your plea for grace and mercy and forgiveness.  Today.  Now.   

As a baptized believer, I’m made new everyday…by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and I’m reminded of this by my fellow believers in Christ.  

Do you have someone you are journeying with?   Someone to help you pause, reflect, listen?  Do you have someone who hears your plea for grace and mercy?   I pray you find such a person of peace today.   I pray God gets your attention and shows you a peace that surpasses all understanding this day. 

P (Prayer):  Lord, may you send your angels to guide us to your path.  May they open our ears to your voice this day…a voice of grace and mercy. Amen. 

Discerning God’s Will

  S (Scripture): Matthew 12:1 At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on a Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pick heads of wheat and eat them. 2 But when the Pharisees saw this they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is against the law to do on the Sabbath.”  3 He said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry – 4 how he entered the house of God and they ate the sacred bread, which was against the law for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the law that the priests in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are not guilty?  6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what this means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

O (Observation):  As Jesus is becoming more known and is receiving some resistance, the Pharisees start mounting attacks against Jesus.  Most of these attacks were about Jesus “breaking the rules.”  

What rules?  The rules that the Church established.   In this case, the rule about the Sabbath.  Any self-respecting Jew would have known better than to “work” on the Sabbath.   Jesus and his crew were working by taking grain from the field on the Sabbath. 

Jesus is scolded for working on the Sababth.  In return, Jesus points out where the “rules” were also being broken by the priests who desecrated the Sabbath, and David (their national and religious hero) was also known to break the Sabbath.  

Jesus is starting to point out the fact that He is Lord of Sabbath.  The concept of the Sabbath is to remind God’s people that rest is part of the equation for abundant life, not just a strict law of obedience.  

A (Application):  Trust me when I say that rest is important.  I need rest, so that God can speak to my mind, body, and soul.  

But even more important, Jesus is pointing out that their salvation is not to rest in laws of human origin, but to be in tune with God’s call for them that day.  For whatever reason, Jesus said that he trumps the Sabbath, and not the other way around.  

This is very odd, and puts us in a conundrum.  If the rules are not always okay, what is okay?  Is this not a slippery slope?   Well…it is a slippery slope.  And I can live with that.  : )

The problem I see with a religion that allows borders to trump discerning God’s will is that we will forget God’s bending towards grace and mercy, God’s abundant and steadfast love.   

So, where do we draw the line?   Perhaps the line is something we always discern?   And if that is our way, then we need to train members of the body of Christ to discern God’s voice.  

At our congregation we ask people to notice “kairos” moments (aka “God moments” or “Aha moments”).   These can be positive or negative moments, which give us pause (like a Sabbath).  At this point, we discern 2 questions: What is God’s word of grace for me this day? And What would God have me do?

So, what borders have your religious inclinations mounted?  Where have you seen folks cross borders to be the Gospel to others?  What kairos moments have you had lately?  What have you done in response to those moments?

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to discern your will for us in this place and time.  Amen.  

God-Moments

  S (Scripture): 1 Timothy 1:15 This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” – and I am the worst of them! 16 But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life.

O (Observation):  Paul (author of our letter here to Timothy) used to be Saul.  Saul persecuted / killed those who claimed that Jesus Christ was Lord / Son of God. Why?  Saul was a Pharisee, and considered his slaughter of Christians a strong and powerful showing of the depths of his faith and loyalty to God.  

And Paul recognizes that God has done soemthing extremely special here:  God redeems Saul to show the world the depths of God’s saving power.  That even in the midst of his sin, Paul was redeemed.  

That was a big change from the popular thought of the Jewish (human-constructed) belief system.   One showed their obedience to God and then was identified as a trusted member of God’s household of faith.  

God, In Jesus, changed all of that.  

A (Application):  People make the wrong connections here. A lot of doubters say, “So I just do whatever I want, and God’s cool with that.  God will just say, ‘Oh, I love you, do whatever you want.’ And then they are saved and can do it all over again.”

That’s precisely NOT what grace is about.  Does God’s grace envelope you right where you are?  Yes!  Absolutely!  But is that where you stay?  No! Certainly not!

We are all called to repent and believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ.   But before we repent, we have to know that there is something for which we are called to repent.  

Usually, God catches our attention with a kairos – a moment in time that freezes us in our tracks, either a positive or negative experience.  We can dive into those moments to process what’s going on.   Since we mostly will NOT see Jesus face to face, as Saul/Paul did, we can share stories from the Scriptures and our own lives to help that person.  Those moments are best spent with others in the faith to help the person having the kairos.

Can you name a kairos from your life?   Can you point to a moment recently, that took your breath away, for better or worse?

My most recent kairos has to do with engaging in campus ministry at MTSU.   In pursuing what God is saying to me, my close disciple-friends helped me to discern that God is promising to lay out a path for me.  And God has done that.  We begin working with campus ministry later this month!!!  (The processing and communal support are key to dealing with a kairos!)

P (Prayer):  Lord, you come to us, always.   Remind us that we are yours and that we can hear from you any time and any place. Amen.