Redemption and Renewal

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S (Scripture): Psalm 69

34 

Let heaven and earth praise God,

    the oceans too, and all that moves within them!

35 

God will most certainly save Zion

    and will rebuild Judah’s cities

    so that God’s servants can live there and possess it.

36 

The offspring of God’s servants will inherit Zion,

    and those who love God’s name will dwell there.


2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. 8 We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. 9 We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.

10 We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies. 11 We who are alive are always being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies that are dying. 12 So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

16 So we aren’t depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. 17 Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. 18 We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.

O (Observation): In the Old Testament and in the New…God is at the center of redemption and renewal. Life for the Israelites during the Babylonian captivity was full of despair and despondency. No one had hope of ever getting back to a state in which God was present and active. But the psalmist was that voice of hope for God’s people. A prophetic voice amidst the challenge. God’s people – the descendants of God’s people of the day – would know God’s power. This is the eternal promise of hope for every generation.

Paul also speaks specifically of a personal and yet collective hope. We are each experiencing the indwelling of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Even though our bodies and brains can only withstand so much in this world, our hope lies in what the body and brain cannot destroy: Christ’s dwelling within us.

A (Application): Though our bodies and brains may fail, our faith lives on. This gives us hope to carry on, no matter the challenges ahead.

As a pastor, I know I need this word today. I almost skipped the devotion today, because I had more of “God’s Work” to do this morning. But stopping and intentionally sitting today, digging into God’s word…this is precisely where I needed to be. (Yes, this is God’s Work, too ?And I hope this word inspires you today to figure out: What in me is dying? What is being reborn?

My confidence and effort were lacking of late. That is dying so that Christ might give me strength this day to do what is necessary to do the hard work of discipleship this day for me.

Happy digging!

P (Prayer): Lord, guide our efforts and sustain as we die a little each day, that Jesus might be born in us more this day and every day. Amen.

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Beautiful Commands

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S (Scripture): Psalm 19

The Lord’s Instruction is perfect,

    reviving one’s very being.

The Lord’s laws are faithful,

    making naive people wise.

The Lord’s regulations are right,

    gladdening the heart.

The Lord’s commands are pure,

    giving light to the eyes.

Honoring the Lord is correct,

    lasting forever.

The Lord’s judgments are true.

    All of these are righteous!

O (Observation): God’s people praise God for the commands they have been given. How would they know how to behave if not guided? What boundaries would they break if not given a heads up first?

How would people begin to live in harmony? Loving God and loving neighbor is possible because God gave the people a way to live within certain boundaries.

These boundaries protect people from harm. These boundaries give people hope that their God and neighbor are looking out for them.

A (Application): Commands. Are commands good? What if they are difficult? What if we don’t keep the commands? Will God love us if we fail? Will our loved ones love us if – and when – we fail?

Maybe the commands are not about us being good or bad. Maybe the commands are not about proving our worth before God or neighbor.

Maybe the commands are beautiful, because they point to what the Kingdom of God looks like. We can face the challenges and joys of following God’s commands, even as fumble our way to following them imperfectly.

May God guide us as we embrace the goodness of our commands.

P (Prayer): Lord, we wish to see your wisdom in the commands. Amen.

Ubuntu – “Humanity”

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S (Scripture): Luke 19:11 As they listened to this, Jesus told them another parable because he was near Jerusalem and they thought God’s kingdom would appear right away. 12 He said, “A certain man who was born into royalty went to a distant land to receive his kingdom and then return. 13 He called together ten servants and gave each of them money worth four months’ wages. He said, ‘Do business with this until I return.’ 14 His citizens hated him, so they sent a representative after him who said, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ 15 After receiving his kingdom, he returned and called the servants to whom he had given the money to find out how much they had earned. 16 The first servant came forward and said, ‘Your money has earned a return of one thousand percent.’ 17 The king replied, ‘Excellent! You are a good servant. Because you have been faithful in a small matter, you will have authority over ten cities.’

18 “The second servant came and said, ‘Master, your money has made a return of five hundred percent.’ 19 To this one, the king said, ‘You will have authority over five cities.’

20 “Another servant came and said, ‘Master, here is your money. I wrapped it up in a scarf for safekeeping. 21 I was afraid of you because you are a stern man. You withdraw what you haven’t deposited and you harvest what you haven’t planted.’ 22 The king replied, ‘I will judge you by the words of your own mouth, you worthless servant! You knew, did you, that I’m a stern man, withdrawing what I didn’t deposit, and harvesting what I didn’t plant? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money in the bank? Then when I arrived, at least I could have gotten it back with interest.’

24 “He said to his attendants, ‘Take his money and give it to the one who has ten times as much.’ 25  ‘But Master,’ they said, ‘he already has ten times as much!’ 26  He replied, ‘I say to you that everyone who has will be given more, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.'”

O (Observation): Jesus tells this story that seems kind of harsh. I mean, give the guy a break, no? He was smart. He hid the money.

But Jesus was addressing a specific concern here: the anticipation of God’s Kingdom coming soon.

And if God’s Kingdom is coming…then get busy using what you’ve been given!!! For the good of the whole!!!

Don’t just sit back and do nothing and say nothing because it’s the smart thing. Take the risk! See the reward! And if you fail…well, at least you tried!

A (Application): Oh Lord…how I love and hate Facebook!

We are so ready to speak, but listening is hard. We are so quick to jump to conclusions and talk past one another.

We are broken.

Heal us, Lord. Help us NOW to see the humanity in one another…that all of us are connected.

We all have immense capacity to harm one another, but (as in the parable) we are also given a gift of grace…which gives us the immense capacity to HEAL!

In Demond Tutu and Mpho Tutu’s book, The Power of Forgiving, they name this gift of shared humanity using the word “Ubuntu.” Ubuntu means “humanity.” This is sometimes expressed as “I am, because we are. We are, because I am.” (The 2003 ELCA Youth Gathering theme was Ubuntu, but the way : )

We have been given this gift of a shared humanity. Let us use it now, anticipating the coming of God’s Kingdom.

How do we do Ubuntu? In a word: forgiveness. We all share the same humanity, regardless of whether we are “legal or illegal,” black/brown/white, male/female, perpetrator or victim. When I wish harm on someone…I not only hurt them, but I also hurt myself…because we are one.

Forgiveness, grace: these are gifts we have been given. Let us not bury this gift or wrap it up in a scarf to harness that for our own sake. Let us share it and multiply the gift. Yes, even to this who we think deserve it the least. This is the only way to heal.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see our shared humanity. Amen.

Ready or Not, Here I Come!

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S (Scripture): Mark 4:1 Jesus began to teach beside the lake again. Such a large crowd gathered that he climbed into a boat there on the lake. He sat in the boat while the whole crowd was nearby on the shore. He said many things to them in parables. While teaching them, he said, “Listen to this! A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path; and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. When the sun came up, it scorched the plants; and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked the seeds, and they produced nothing. Other seed fell into good soil and bore fruit. Upon growing and increasing, the seed produced in one case a yield of thirty to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of one hundred to one.”

10 When they were alone, the people around Jesus, along with the Twelve, asked him about the parables. 11 He said to them, “The secret of God’s kingdom has been given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables. 12 This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven.

13 “Don’t you understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14  The farmer scatters the word. 15  This is the meaning of the seed that fell on the path: When the word is scattered and people hear it, right away Satan comes and steals the word that was planted in them. 16  Here’s the meaning of the seed that fell on rocky ground: When people hear the word, they immediately receive it joyfully. 17  Because they have no roots, they last for only a little while. When they experience distress or abuse because of the word, they immediately fall away. 18  Others are like the seed scattered among the thorny plants. These are the ones who have heard the word; 19  but the worries of this life, the false appeal of wealth, and the desire for more things break in and choke the word, and it bears no fruit. 20  The seed scattered on good soil are those who hear the word and embrace it. They bear fruit, in one case a yield of thirty to one, in another case sixty to one, and in another case one hundred to one.”

O (Observation): A confusing word from Jesus leaves the disciples a bit puzzled. Instead of trying to see this as insider information, Jesus is reminding these disciples that just because one is “on the inside” (that is, one who loves and fears God) does not mean that insiders get an advantage over others. Jesus doesn’t say the disciples are good soil. They might be the soil / ground in any of these 4 situations.

Jesus quotes Isaiah 6 here, reminding the original hearers that Jesus’ story is not his own, but God’s. After all, Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God. He is simply helping to usher it in amongst God’s people while in the flesh.

Jesus says that the Kingdom comes, regardless of the state in which it is received. Humans are not in power over the soil / ground in which they find themselves. This is Good News for the oppressed and downtrodden. They just might be the good soil. And this is a word of caution to the haughty and the proud, for they just might be the path, the rocky ground, or the weeds.

A (Application): Why does this have to be so complicated? Can’t we just know? Not according to the Gospel of Mark!

Mark 1:1 – “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.” This is how the Gospel of Mark starts. The Good News is coming. Salvation is coming. And no one can tell – not even the disciples – who can receive this Good News. The eyes and ears of the best of us can be covered up. We can all become blind to the Good News, even though we claim it every week.

We have all been surprised at one time or another in whom the Word takes root. We are also surprised – at times – that the Word does NOT take root in others. We just don’t know. So, we hope. We pray. We remain humble and glory in the fact that some who embrace the Word are fruit coming forth 30-fold, 60-fold, 100-fold.

That kind of growth is beyond our comprehension, but at least we can give thanks when it does happen.

P (Prayer): Lord, you usher in your Kingdom, whether we are ready or not. Bring it! Keep bringing it! May we have ears to hear. Amen.

Are We There Yet?

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S (Scripture): Matthew 24:32 Jesus said to the disciples: “Learn this parable from the fig tree. After its branch becomes tender and it sprouts new leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 In the same way, when you see all these things, you know that the Human One is near, at the door. 34 I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.

36 “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows.”

O (Observation): The community of believers are growing restless in terms of seeing the Kingdom come. They believed that they would see The End and the fullness of God’s glory in the Kingdom Come.

So, Jesus gives them some context: Others will come and say they are me, but they won’t be me; all are encouraged to endure any suffering done on account of Jesus’ name; the heavens will shake; a trumpet will sound. All of these will take place. You won’t miss it!

And in the meantime, says Jesus, stay alert. You keep an eye on the fig tree; so, too, keep an eye out for my return. Be alert. Be ready.

No one knows when this will all occur.

A (Application): We are not happy without deadlines. Well, some folks are happy with no deadlines…no deadline, no pressure…but also, no results.

With a deadline, we at least know what we are working towards. Now, we may not complete the project, but at least we will have this outside force (the deadline) on which to base our current activity: if the deadline is soon, we ramp up activity…if the deadline is far off, we can wait and relax.

Jesus is preparing the people in Matthew’s community to be ready at all times! They do not have a deadline (we do not have a deadline), but the signs will appear…but even with their appearance, no one knows exactly when all of this will usher in the Kingdom.

So, like we tell our children, get the chores and such done now. Completing those chores now mean more opportunities later on for us to serve or relax or embrace life or a new project.

Let us be ready. Let us be about the work of the Kingdom: using our gifts where the world needs them. Let’s do this until Kingdom come.

P (Prayer): Lord, remind us that we are always working towards the good of the world, regardless of the timing of your coming again. Amen.

Discovering a Treasure

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S (Scripture): Matthew 13:44 Jesus said to the disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field, which someone else found and covered up. Full of joy, the finder sold everything and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. 46 When he found one very precious pearl, he went and sold all that he owned and bought it.”

O (Observation): Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven like a treasure and as a pearl of great value for which people will sacrifice much. Ultimately, it is not about the treasure, the pearl, or those who search. This parable is about the joy of the kingdom of heaven. These are parables intended to motivate people to seek the kingdom of heaven and discover joy.

“Jesus seems to be talking about the hidden holiness lurking about in the mundane monotony of our daily lives.” (That’s a quote from my friend and colleague Delmer Chilton, found here.)

In the seeking, one may not necessarily know what one will come upon. But when the treasure / pearl is found that discoverer will give everything to obtain that treasure.

Much the same for the pearl…this treasure brings joy and yet costs much.

A (Application): In today’s world of facts and alternative facts, how is one to discern truth or knowledge? So much is hidden in the stories we hear and the textbooks we use to educate our young folks.

My hope is that we keep on attempting to unveil the places where the Kingdom has come to earth. I hope we keep on sharing stories and digging into our own stories and the stories of those around us…that we might discover where the Kingdom has already been planted, or hidden, or is taking root and bearing fruit!

This means we constantly have our “Kingdom antennae” raised : )

We remain vigilant in keeping the main thing the main thing: living the life of a forgiven sinner, like a beggar telling other beggars where to find some bread, narrowing our focus to the one thing that matters…that the treasure is here for all of us.

When is the last time you discovered this treasure / pearl? What did that look like for you? How were you able to see this as God’s blessing? What did you have to let go of in order to be able to pick up this treasure?

P (Prayer): Lord, give us willing hearts to let go of what we don’t need, so that we can pick up this priceless treasure you have hidden for all of us to discover. Amen.

Signs of Hope

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S (Scripture): Job 34

10 “Therefore, listen to me, you men of understanding.
Far be it from God to do wickedness,
from the Almighty to do evil.

11 For he repays a person for his work,
and according to the conduct of a person,
he causes the consequences to find him.

12 Indeed, in truth, God does not act wickedly,
and the Almighty does not pervert justice.”

O (Observation): Job’s friend, Elihu, is speaking.   Elihu is making it clear that he believes God to be just, righteous, regardless of what has happened to Job.   Job has been wondering if God is really just…since Job has been struck with calamity.

Elihu confirms that God does not commit acts of wickedness or evil.  People who commit evil acts do experience the consequences of their actions, their separation from God…though that punishment is never instigated by God.  God would not purposely cause harm to anyone.

A (Application):  A loved one is sick.   You’re a good person, but you’re late to EVERYTHING!   You get a flat tire on your way to work.   These are not punishments from God.   God is not “out to get you.”   At least not as far as I’m concerned.

We live in a broken world…a world in need of redemption.   That includes the likes of you and me.  We are less than perfect, but we are not subject to “getting what we deserve.”  Evil and wickedness just exist in the midst of the brokenness of this world.

Jesus’ resurrection has begun the process of redemption and will come to full fruition when Jesus comes again to judge the world in righteousness.   In the meantime, we catch glimpses of the Kingdom breaking into our world, in our time.

If you find yourself falling in line with Job’s ever-growing pessimism, think on Elihu’s words…and think on the bright spots of God’s inbreaking Kingdom, like the stars that shine forth in the night sky.

Look for people sharing God’s love with their neighbor.  Look for someone picking up trash.  Look for someone paying for someone else’s groceries, which I happened to see just the other day.

And if you cannot find a glimpse of God’s goodness breaking into our world, invite others to point out the way for you.

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to see the signs of your inbreaking Kingdom.  Amen.