In Exile…but Hope

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S (Scripture): 2 Chronicles 36:11 Zedekiah was 21 years old when he became king, and he ruled for eleven years in Jerusalem. 12 He did what was evil in the Lord his God’s eyes and didn’t submit before the prophet Jeremiah, who spoke for the Lord. 13 Moreover, he rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, despite the solemn pledge Nebuchadnezzar had forced him to swear in God’s name. He became stubborn and refused to turn back to the Lord, Israel’s God…

15 Time and time again, the Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers because he had compassion on his people and his dwelling. 16 But they made fun of God’s messengers, treating God’s words with contempt and ridiculing God’s prophets to such an extent that there was no hope of warding off the Lord’s rising anger against his people.

17 So God brought the Babylonian king against them…

19 Next the Babylonians burned God’s temple down, demolished the walls of Jerusalem, and set fire to all its palaces, destroying everything of value. 20 Finally, he exiled to Babylon anyone who survived the killing so that they could be his slaves and the slaves of his children until Persia came to power. 21 This is how the Lord’s word spoken by Jeremiah was carried out. The land finally enjoyed its sabbath rest. For as long as it lay empty, it rested, until seventy years were completed.

22 In the first year of Persia’s King Cyrus, to carry out the Lord’s promise spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord moved Persia’s King Cyrus to issue the following proclamation throughout his kingdom, along with a written decree:

23 This is what Persia’s King Cyrus says: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the earth’s kingdoms and has instructed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Whoever among you belong to God’s people, let them go up, and may the Lord their God be with them!

O (Observation): The same God who let the Hebrew people of Judah be taken over by the Babylonian king is the same one who brings them back. This exile lasted about 70 years (or about 2 generations).

God’s people were doing evil in the eyes of the Lord and openly mocking the prophets (who were trying to give guidance to God’s people).

This exile allowed God’s people to see the err of their ways, but how were they to get back to the land promised to them?

This is the tricky part of the understanding of how God works. Nothing that God’s people have done gets them back into God’s good graces. God initiates the return of God’s people by affecting change in King Cyrus, the king of Persia. Cyrus does as God wishes: he commands God’s people to go and to take their stuff with them.

In those days invading a land meant breeding the people out by intermarrying and making the captives adopt your customs. Well, God’s people were kept intact and got to take most of their stiff back with them. And with the support of the foreign king!

So back they go…well, most of them…

A (Application): We all have our exiles. Death of a loved one. Surgery awaiting. A relationship gone bad. No money in the bank account.

We are lost. Some thing or someone has taken over your life. Some desire to be something you’re not drives you to succeed, but all you feel is emptiness inside.

What are we yearning for? Wholeness? We won’t get it on our own.

Are we striving for justice or peace? Is the pursuit rooted in empathy for neighbor or wanting to be known as a “good Christian”?

What does God speak to us in our baptism? “You are my daughter / son, you are my beloved! You are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit!” And God makes a promise to us, to set us free to love and serve God and neighbor and to bring us back in when we push ourselves to the point of exile.

We try to cover our brokenness by fitting in or making believe all is well or getting people to like us.

Maybe it’s okay…maybe it’s better if we just admit that “it” is not all well. That we do not have it all together. Then, in the midst of our emptiness and the sharing of our emptiness, we might find a community based on our common element: we are broken.

As such, brings us back, reminding us that it is not our own action, but Jesus’ saving action on the cross that brings us back to God. That grace alone saves us, because our efforts fall woefully short.

In a community in which we are being healed…we can serve others out of a sense of compassion and empathy towards the brokenness of others.

And together, with God’s guidance, we at just find the hope we need.

May your exiles turn into freedom.

P (Prayer): Lord, you save me. Help me to see my own brokenness. Heal me. Amen.

The Public Square

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S (Scripture): Acts 26:24 At this point in Paul’s defense, Festus declared with a loud voice, “You’ve lost your mind, Paul! Too much learning is driving you mad!”

25 But Paul replied, “I’m not mad, most honorable Festus! I’m speaking what is sound and true. 26 King Agrippa knows about these things, and I have been speaking openly to him. I’m certain that none of these things have escaped his attention. This didn’t happen secretly or in some out-of-the-way place. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you trying to convince me that, in such a short time, you’ve made me a Christian?”

29 Paul responded, “Whether it is a short or a long time, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today will become like me, except for these chains.”

O (Observation): The debate is quite interesting. Arguing a case for faith in front of a government judge is like explaining photosynthesis to a rock. It just doesn’t need to be. The courts and the religious leaders served two different purposes in Paul’s time. The religious leaders stuck to questions of faith and the political leaders were concerned with control of their people and lands.

So, in his attempt to defend himself, Paul takes the opportunity to explain that he has no beef with the state, except that he is currently in chains.

Paul then brings faith into the debate, because he is trying to appeal to the king’s faith. You believe in the prophets, right? They foretold of the one to come. Jesus!

King Agrippa won’t be pulled into a debate on faith, but I admire Paul’s struggle to make the king’s faith part of his decision regarding Paul’s possible incarceration.

A (Application): How often do we appeal to our own calling as Christians in the world when making decisions in the public square? We like to treat our faith lives separate from our everyday lives. In doing so, we miss the opportunity for God to shape us and to work with us through our everyday struggles.

When I see injustice, I consider my own self and how I am only where I am by the grace of God. Don’t others get to experience that same grace by God and the community?

When someone decides that they want to not sell a cake to someone or not marry someone because of a religious (Christian) conviction, I would suggest that their use of religion is one that looks to defend an ideology, rather than embrace the person and teachings of Christ.

First and foremost, we extend mercy, because we have first received mercy. So our following is made of worship and fellowship and service in which we can embrace this mercy and give it as we have received it.

Second, we extend mercy and lean on Christ’s teachings so as to connect with others through a shared sense of being broken. Our shared faith is not because we can confidently and boldly profess our faith, but rather we proclaim that we share a lack of perfection and wholeness. As we share our faith, we don’t just make a faith claim, but rather we speak as a people who knows they need Christ to bind them up in their woundedness.

May we be as bold as Paul to speak of our faith in the public square, and may we do so out of a response to the grace and mercy shown to us first by Christ.

P (Prayer): Lord, heal me, a sinner. Cause me to speak in your name always. Amen.

I’ve Got Everything I Need, Right?

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S (Scripture): 2 Kings 17:4b Hoshea (king of Israel) stopped paying tribute to the Assyrian king as he had in previous years, so the Assyrian king arrested him and put him in prison. 5 Then the Assyrian king invaded the whole country. He marched against Samaria and attacked it for three years. 6 In Hoshea’s ninth year, the Assyrian king captured Samaria. He sent Israel into exile to Assyria, resettling them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River, and in the cities of the Medes.

O (Observation): At this point in the history of the Hebrew people, we see a divided people of God: The northern kingdom (Israel) and the southern kingdom (Judah). Each kingdom had its own king.

Politics became the god of the people. They made decisions not based on what God spoke through the prophets, but rather what they felt was the best way to secure their own wants and needs. Sometimes, the needs were about protection from enemies (like Israel’s king paying the Assyrian king for protection). When this favor ends, so does the friendship. And Assyria conquered Israel, exiling (most of) the people of Israel through Assyria. (No better way of getting rid of a people than by making them become your people.)

A (Application): So, the more we rely on ourselves, the worse our predicament becomes. Yet, this is the battle we face. This is the temptation we succumb to time and time again.

To whom do we turn in difficult times? Ourselves? Our money to buy things to make us happy? Our work to help us feel like we are accomplishing something? Our chore list to make sure we get that done?

What makes us feel whole? None of the things I listed. We might get temporary satisfaction…but they don’t last.

Relying on God has been an “On again / off again” thing, if I’m honest. I do things from time to time just to show I can do them, like I’m proving my worth to God and others.

Yet, this is not what God requires of me. God simply calls on me to believe that Jesus came to show us that we have everything we need: gifting from the Spirit, a relationship with God, and disciples to journey alongside.

May you see your blessings this day.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us this day, as always. Amen.

I Want an Oompa Loompa Now, Daddy!

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S (Scripture): 1 Samuel 8:4 So all the Israelite elders got together and went to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “Listen. You are old now, and your sons don’t follow in your footsteps. So appoint us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” 6 It seemed very bad to Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” so he prayed to the Lord.

7 The Lord answered Samuel, “Comply with the people’s request—everything they ask of you—because they haven’t rejected you. No, they’ve rejected me as king over them. 8 They are doing to you only what they’ve been doing to me from the day I brought them out of Egypt to this very minute, abandoning me and worshipping other gods. 9 So comply with their request, but give them a clear warning, telling them how the king will rule over them.”

10 Then Samuel explained everything the Lord had said to the people who were asking for a king. 11 “This is how the king will rule over you,” Samuel said:

“He will take your sons, and will use them for his chariots and his cavalry and as runners for his chariot. 12 He will use them as his commanders of troops of one thousand and troops of fifty, or to do his plowing and his harvesting, or to make his weapons or parts for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, or bakers. 14 He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves and give them to his servants. 15 He will give one-tenth of your grain and your vineyards to his officials and servants. 16 He will take your male and female servants, along with the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys, and make them do his work. 17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and then you yourselves will become his slaves! 18 When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you chose for yourselves, but on that day the Lord won’t answer you.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel and said, “No! There must be a king over us 20 so we can be like all the other nations. Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles.”

21 Samuel listened to everything the people said and repeated it directly to the Lord. 22 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Comply with their request. Give them a king.”

O (Observation): I want an oompa-lumpa now, daddy! You want it? You got it.

Oh, did we explain the ramifications???

Yikes! God’s people are so ungrateful! And yet, God still finds a way for grace. God’s grace is that no coercion will take place. God does not want followers who HAVE to follow…just those who are called to follow.

In the meantime…good luck with that king you want, people of Israel…

A (Application): I cannot explain to you how many times I’ve insisted my way was / is the right way. Sometimes I let God speak. : (

Notice Samuel’s first reaction to the desire for folks to have a king? What is the life-giving action that invites God into the picture?

Samuel prays! He prays…

Tapping into our source of hope and light, God speaks and we listen and discern and share this discernment with others. In so doing, we share the burden of God’s message for all people.

May we embrace God’s grace and share the burden of discernment this day.

P (Prayer): Lord, you guide us and love us through our failures. For this, we give you thanks. Amen.

Murfreesboro Cold Patrol – Justice for the poor

S (Scripture): Psalm 72

12 For [the King] delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight.

O (Observation):  The King is addressed in this psalm.  The ideal picture of a king is laid out in this psalm.  The king is praised for serving the needy, he defends the cause of the poor and crushes the oppressor.   The ideal king rules with righteousness and governs the poor with justice. 

A (Application):  The cause of the poor and needy is always with us.  Sometimes, we even do some good in the cause of justice for the poor amongst us.  

We Americans live in a nation where we believe we get what we deserve.   We believe that if we are in a challenging situation – especially a financial one – we must deserve to be where we are.   We must have screwed up along the way…and there is little mercy shown. 

Well, thankfully, I know a group of people who respond differently to poverty.   Whether they follow the God I believe in or not, they are living the call of the King from this psalm: they deliver the needy, the poor when they have no helper.  

The folks I speak of gather under the name of the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol.  (Click link to go to their website, or here for their Facebook page.)

I went to their open house last night.  They now have a space for the staff or volunteers or homeless folks to sit and gather for a brief respite.   They are located in the heart of the city, close to folks willing to serve and close to folks in need.  

When asked how the Cold Patrol is different than other service organizations in Murfreesboro, one of the board members said the difference boiled down to one word:  relationships.   She said that “we go out and get to know these folks.”   The other organizations in town do serve a HUGE need in terms of supplying clothing, food, housing, etc. to the homeless population.   But the unique element of the Cold Patrol, is that they are intentional about going out into the streets and the woods and getting to really know the homeless population and are working on ways to connect the homeless in Murfreesboro with assistance and to find them some ways to help themselves.  

They are also doing some much needed work in gathering data for research on homelessness issues, that we might better serve the community, or at least to better diagnose the problems for the homeless in Murfreesboro. 

Well done, good and faithful servants.  Thank you for bringing justice for the poor.  

If you would like to make a donation to the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, click here.   

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to walk with the poor and needy.  Might we be reminded that we are called to serve one another.  Amen. 

Open Our Eyes, Lord

S (Scripture): 2 Chronicles 22:10
When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she was determined to destroy the entire royal line of Judah. 11 So Jehoshabeath, the daughter of King Jehoram, took Ahaziah’s son Joash and sneaked him away from the rest of the royal descendants who were to be executed. She hid him and his nurse in the room where the bed covers were stored. So Jehoshabeath the daughter of King Jehoram, wife of Jehoiada the priest and sister of Ahaziah, hid him from Athaliah so she could not execute him. 12 He remained in hiding in God’s temple for six years, while Athaliah was ruling over the land…

23:1 In the seventh year Jehoiada made a bold move. He made a pact with the officers of the units of hundreds…

They came to Jerusalem, 3 and the whole assembly made a covenant with the king in the temple of God. Jehoiada said to them, “The king’s son will rule, just as the Lord promised David’s descendants….”

9 Jehoiada the priest gave to the officers of the units of hundreds King David’s spears and shields that were kept in God’s temple. 10 He placed the men at their posts, each holding his weapon in his hand. They lined up from the south side of the temple to the north side and stood near the altar and the temple, surrounding the king. 11 Jehoiada and his sons led out the king’s son and placed on him the crown and the royal insignia. They proclaimed him king and poured olive oil on his head. They declared, “Long live the king!”

O (Observation):  Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah was frustrated that her son, the king of Judah, died.  She was angry with God and wanted to destroy David’s lineage.  So, some folks hid Ahaziah’s son, Joash, so that he would not be killed by Athaliah.   

For 6 years, Joash was hidden and cared for, but then the priest, Jehoida, developed a plan to bring the king back into his rightful position.  He gave weapons to his allies and they anointed Joash in the temple.  

A (Application):  Sometimes, you just have no control over the situation.   You don’t know all the machinations of moving parts all around you and you just live oblivious to or powerless to the actions around you.  

The scriptures here are silent to Joash’s realization of what was going on.  He was hidden.  And then, 6 years later, he’s ushered in as king.  

Sometimes, God puts the people around you to make things happen.    

A part of the vision statement for the congregation I serve is: “to help each other discover the path God has chosen for us”.   God as hopes and dreams for each of us.  God sees each of us with purpose and calling.  

When Jesus tells the disciples to “be perfect” in Matthew 5:48, he’s talking about living your life in such a way that you are to be the YOU God called you to be!   

God gives us grace in the form of a calling and in the form of people around you.  We simply receive the grace and mercy.  We need but open our eyes to discern where God has been moving about us.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, open my eyes.  Help me to help others discover their paths.  Amen. 

Happy Lent!


S (Scripture): 2 Chronicles 29:8 King Hezekiah continues: The Lord was angry at Judah and Jerusalem and made them an appalling object of horror at which people hiss out their scorn, as you can see with your own eyes. 29:9 Look, our fathers died violently and our sons, daughters, and wives were carried off because of this. 29:10 Now I intend to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, so that he may relent from his raging anger.

O (Observation): So some kings follow God, and others outright disobey God. And while King Hezekiah starts off faithfully, going so far as to cleanse the Temple, one remains suspect. How long will Hezekiah obey God before he goes off the rails?

Hezekiah establishes a covenant, which is all good and well, but as a sinful being, we can’t put too much faith in that covenant.

A covenant we can put faith in is God’s covenant with Abraham. Kings come, Kings go…but the Lord remains.

A (Application): As a 36 year-old, I can remember several times re-committing myself to God in the Lenten season. I treat it too often like a New Year’s resolution. And as such, fall of the wagon, usually.

But over the last few years, I’ve been learning more about God’s covenant with all believers. This covenant establishes a relationship between God and us, essentially making us one with God, never to be separated. I’ve been putting more faith in that covenant than any covenant I establish.

Lenten disciplines are about being reminded that God is faithful, even when we are not. But putting forth some effort is NOT discouraged. Sure, we will fall short, but as Dallas Willard says, “Grace is not opposed to effort, just earning.”

I encourage you to re-commit your life, your finances, your time to the Lord. See where God is calling out to you. Respond accordingly.

I’d love to work with you through these thoughts and feelings. Leave a comment or contact me through the Contact page on this site.

Happy Lent! (Is that a thing? Maybe it is now.)

P (Prayer): Lord, we are frail, we are fickle. Remind us that you have established an everlasting covenant with us, made perfect in Jesus Christ. Remind us of this daily, and give us the guidance and strength necessary to dig daily into your Word and help us to see your grace come alive in your Word and in our lives. Amen.