Carry the Light

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S (Scripture): Acts 26:20b [Paul said to King Agrippa:] “My message was that they should change their hearts and lives and turn to God, and that they should demonstrate this change in their behavior. 21 Because of this, some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to murder me. 22 God has helped me up to this very day. Therefore, I stand here and bear witness to the lowly and the great. I’m saying nothing more than what the Prophets and Moses declared would happen: 23 that the Christ would suffer and that, as the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to my people and to the Gentiles.”

O (Observation): Paul stands accused by the Jews of inciting unrest and they make Paul stand trial. The Roman authorities don’t care much for these problems, but when the skirmishes become unrest for a large part of the population, they listen in.

King Agrippa listens to Paul’s claims.

But maybe these words are more for God’s followers.

Paul lays it out: Jesus was always part of God’s plan. As told through Moses and the Prophets, Jesus – the Suffering One for All – was not a backup plan when people “messed up.” People were never perfect, and thus wandering in the dark, fighting for self-preservation and self-interest.

Jesus is the light to all people, a true revelation of God’s glory.

And now, Paul simply witnesses to the light for all who would hear. He bears God’s redeeming word for all the heat.

A (Application): Quite often we feel like we have to defend Jesus and defend our faith in a preemptive way. Like anything we do could rightly defend our God.

I’m not saying we don’t stand up for peace and justice, but we first struggle with the idea that we are first and foremost seeking the light for ourselves. Sounds selfish, but this is the starting point for all of us. To stumble in the dark until the light is revealed to us in the person of Jesus.

In receiving the light, we are then compelled to share our story to any who would listen.

And as we share the light, as Paul does, we also remain humble, because the light is never ours to own. We simply carry the light for God. We give thank to God that we can carry that light that never diminishes.

We humbly, with broken hearts and minds, carry this light into our homes, work places and schools.

May we be the light…humbly thanking our God for brining the light to us in the first place.

P (Prayer): Lord, shine your light on this poor sinner. Amen.

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“Worthy of God’s Grace?” (Is that Even the Right Question???)

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S (Scripture): Acts 12:44 On the next Sabbath, almost everyone in the city [of Antioch] gathered to hear the Lord’s word. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were overcome with jealousy. They argued against what Paul was saying by slandering him. 46 Speaking courageously, Paul and Barnabas said, “We had to speak God’s word to you first. Since you reject it and show that you are unworthy to receive eternal life, we will turn to the Gentiles. 47 This is what the Lord commanded us:

I have made you a light for the Gentiles,

so that you could bring salvation to the end of the earth.”

O (Observation): Paul faces the Jews who doubt that Jesus is connected to God’s plan. They doubt that their rituals and customs should be overturned, because they cannot go along with this message that in Jesus all sins may be forgiven for those who believe. It just cannot be that simple! They have time-tested customs and Scripture to support their view.

So, Paul reminds them that Isaiah once told God’s people that they would be blinded by their own lack of acceptance for bringing Gentiles along. Thus, Israel would be a light for the Gentiles. If Jews didn’t accept God’s grace, perhaps the Gentiles would!

A (Application): God ALWAYS has in mind a welcome for people of the whole earth! Yet we continually find ways to push others out. We find ways to keep others from taking our God, as if there wasn’t enough room at the table for all of us.

Or maybe we have an idea of who God should accept, who God should (or shouldn’t) associate with. And when you see a situation going against your ideas…you get frustrated, or angry.

God doesn’t get even with you and I when we get angry at God’s grace for others. God simply points to you and I and says, “I’ve shown much grace to those folks. They may not deserve it, but I give it. Would you like to know my grace? Take up your cross and follow me. I’ll help you through it.”

May we be open to the Spirit’s movement in our lives and accept it as God’s grace for us all.

P (Prayer): Lord, soften our hearts for your will to be done in and through us this day. Amen.

Advent Psalm

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S (Scripture): Psalm 139

11

If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me;

the light will become night around me,”

12

even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you!

Nighttime would shine bright as day,

because darkness is the same as light to you!

O (Observation): The psalmist hopes for the Lord to be the light in the darkness.

This comes to ultimate fulfillment in the person of Jesus entering humanity.

A (Application): Jesus is the light in our darkness. This is what Advent is about: expectant hope. We pray that Jesus – the Light of the World – come.

How are you showing a posture of hope this year?

P (Prayer): O come, o come, Emmanuel. Amen.

Light in the Dark

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S (Scripture): Psalm 118

22

The stone rejected by the builders

is now the main foundation stone!

23

This has happened because of the Lord;

it is astounding in our sight!

24

This is the day the Lord acted;

we will rejoice and celebrate in it!

25

Lord, please save us!

Lord, please let us succeed!

26

The one who enters in the Lord’s name is blessed;

we bless all of you from the Lord’s house.

27

The Lord is God!

He has shined a light on us!

So lead the festival offering with ropes

all the way to the horns of the altar.[d]

28

You are my God—I will give thanks to you!

You are my God—I will lift you up high!

29

Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,

because his faithful love lasts forever.

O (Observation): The concept of new life from drastic or difficult circumstances was not a concept started in Jesus. No…this concept has always been present amongst God and God’s people.

Moses and The Pharaoh. David and Goliath. Elijah and the Baal priests. Ruth and Naomi sticking together. Esther and Mordecai facing the evil king, Ahasuerus. All the other prophets. And, in the end, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah…fallen.

Yet God’s faithful love remains forever.

And hope remains.

“The stone rejected by the builders is now the main foundation stone.”

A (Application): How many times do things seem hopeless for you? Are you beaten down? Mentally exhausted? Does it look like there is no end in sight to your suffering? Have you been rejected one too many times?

I invite you to consider faith in Jesus Christ, to allow the Holy Spirit to do a work in you. Jesus knows our sufferings, because he has walked the path of pain and suffering. He has taken on these burdens, to show us what God’s faithful and unending love can look like: like new life in the midst of suffering and death.

God seeks life, not death. If your suffering is a death to you, allow God to help you rise from the depths. See God giving you a new outlook. See God helping you take the next first step towards light and life.

Today, now, allow God’s unending love for you wrap you in the loving arms of God’s safety. Trust that God has given you the gifts you need to thrive in this life. Trust that God is surrounding you with those you need to make it this day. Trust that God will see you through this dark time, and will bring light and life in unimaginable ways.

P (Prayer): Lord, clear our pathway to you! Amen.

Murfreesboro Loves 2018 – a Commemoration

S (Scripture): John 3:16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.

19 “This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil. 20 All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. 21 Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.”

O (Observation): Jesus converses with a Pharisee who wants so badly to believe. But the stumbling blocks keep getting in the way. Jesus encourages him to let the light shine on all we say and do. In that, we will the encounter the death of our old self, and experience a new beginning.

A (Application): Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. ”

On Sunday, October 28, 2018, Reformation Sunday for my tribe of Lutherans, the community of Murfreesboro will gather on the square for a commemoration of the day – one year ago – when our community lifted up love rather than hate. We displayed this unity on a day known as Murfreesboro Loves.

May we be born anew. May we see hope in the midst of despair, patience in the face of evil. God, sustain me; sustain us.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us your light always. Amen.

When the Paycheck Doesn’t Come

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S (Scripture): Psalm 89

46

How long will it last, Lord?

Will you hide yourself forever?

How long will your wrath burn like fire?

47

Remember how short my life is!

Have you created humans for no good reason?

48

Who lives their life without seeing death?

Who is ever rescued from the grip of the grave?Selah

49

Where now are your loving acts

from long ago, my Lord—

the same ones you promised to David

by your own faithfulness?

50

Remember your servant’s abuse, my Lord!

Remember how I bear in my heart

all the insults of the nations,

51

the ones your enemies, Lord, use—

the ones they use to abuse

every step your anointed one takes.

52

Bless the Lord forever!

Amen and Amen!

O (Observation): Well…things don’t seem to be going so well for this psalmist. Like the world’s falling apart around him or her. This one seems troubled, as if the world is crashing down around them. And this trouble is about being conquered by a neighboring nation.

I almost hear an assumption that a life in God is meant to be without suffering or pain…and yet, here is pain and suffering.

A (Application): Juggling with work or purpose can tear us apart. If we are working, and we can’t quite find what we need…we can feel the weight, the burdens of this life. Pressure. Steady, unrelenting pressure.

We must produce! That is the mantra we Americans live by. We show our worth by what we produce in the next paycheck.

Yet, when the paycheck doesn’t come. When the child gets sick. When the parent’s dementia worsens. When we lose a loved one. We can feel defeated…just as the psalmist feels defeated.

Because we can’t see God through the pain and suffering.

But in those moments – however great or small – realize this: God is with you. God is not causing the pain or suffering, but God is with you.

God is with you through inspirational moments – like a ray of light shining through the clouds. Like a thought that inspires you to try something new. Like a new relationship that will guide you into a new connection for potential employment. Like a friend who knows a friend who has a job opening. Like a choppy sea that has been calmed.

We can and we will doubt along the way, but God will not doubt. Nor will God leave you. Even in the midst of your great pain. Allow God to bear the pain with you. And your burden will be light.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see you. Help us to reach out our hands and welcome the gifts that you bring us: time, grace, vision. Surround us with your peace. Amen.

Occupied by Foreign Powers

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S (Scripture): Matthew 4:12 Now when Jesus heard that John was arrested, he went to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, which lies alongside the sea in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This fulfilled what Isaiah the prophet said:

15 Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
alongside the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles,
16 the people who lived in the dark have seen a great light,
and a light has come upon those who lived in the region and in shadow of death.

17 From that time Jesus began to announce, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”

O (Observation): Jesus has begun God’s Mission! Jesus is the light for those who live in darkness. Isaiah 9:1-2 is the quote in italics here.

In Isaiah’s time the Assyrian people had occupied Israel – God’s chosen people. To assuage the fears of the Israelites, God foretold of a time when Assyria would be removed from the people…how God’s people would be free of the foreign occupation. That time would be like a great light shining in their darkness.

The situation in Israel at the time of Jesus’ coming was also a time of occupation of a foreign power (this time, Rome) and God’s people – once again – needed a light to shine in the darkness. And this time, God sent a light that would never dim: Jesus, the light of the world.

With Jesus in their midst – the light in the darkness – Jesus calls upon God’s people to change their ways, for hope – is re-kindled. Hope for the kingdom of heaven is near!

A (Application): Well…I’m back at it in regards to devotions – and so many other things. We’ve mostly cleaned up our interior Christmas decorations (have to leave up the sports tree that has all of my wife’s UGA decorations for the College Football Playoff game tonight – “Go Dawgs” – that’s hard to say as a Georgia Tech alum : )

Most of the stuff is put away, but getting into the swing of things (routines for kids’ school, work, health) can be hard. Almost as if my life is “occupied” by foreign forces. So many things call for my attention, I can feel at times like someone else is in the driver’s seat of my life.

I’m not complaining (am I?). I’m simply naming the truth of life today for me and so many others. I’ve got a ton of great things going on in my life, and yet some days, the weight of it all seems heavy.

And in my baptismal calling, I’m also seeking justice for the poor and oppressed – a seemingly insurmountable task, and a daily plague.

And yet…the light shines in the darkness. Things are not as heavy as they seem, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. How does that work? For me, it means that I need to focus on one thing at a time, one issue at a time, and don’t let it all overwhelm me. Time for prayer and devotion helps me TREMENDOUSLY, because in that time, God helps me to be centered on the most important thing in that moment.

I put way more on myself than I ought. In devotion, I realize that God centers my life, not me, nor my own planning. Jesus is my light when times are dark. This devotion time reminds me that the Kingdom of Heaven is indeed near. Amen!

God will settle what needs to be settled in my life. I will thus focus on seeking justice, contributing to my family and personal health, and seek to do my part of God’s mission in the world. One step at a time.

P (Prayer): God, help me to know that you are near! Amen.

p.s. A Special event note to all of my Murfreesboro followers:

Thursday, January 11, 2018, 10:00am and 7:00pm – a Presentation and Conversation on Race Relations by Rev Ronald Bonner will happen at Advent Lutheran Church, 1700 Irby Lane, Murfreesboro. The same workshop will be presented twice. Click here for the Facebook Event link.