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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Theology of the Cross (Part 2)

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S (Scripture): Psalm 10

17 

Lord, you listen to the desires of those who suffer.

    You steady their hearts;

you listen closely to them,

18 

    to establish justice

        for the orphan and the oppressed,

    so that people of the land

        will never again be terrified.

O (Observation): God’s presence in the midst of suffering is never in doubt. God hears the cries of those who suffer…of those who have no one else to listen.

God’s concern will be to bring justice…at least, that is the hope of those who follow God.

Jesus would one day find himself suffering, too. With no powerful people on earth to defend him. He would rely fully on God, and no one else. And God would see him through. And the Spirit would burst forth!

A (Application): Our hope rests not in commanding God to come to our aid or by outsmarting or out-resourcing our enemies. Rather, we will lean solely upon God’s version of justice.

For if we seek justice on our terms, and we get it wrong…then what? We can still act, but we do so humbly and with prayer. We submit to God getting things right. We submit to listening to God’s voice. We submit to taking action based on what God speaks to us. We submit to the Spirit’s guidance.

May our response be God’s will and not our own.

P (Prayer): Lord, hear us. You will. Amen.

A Brief Word…Time to Abide

Hello good people of “Digging Daily with Pastor Michael”!

Thank you for following. As is my custom from time to time, I will be taking a break from public devotions through this blog. I will be in and out of town over the next several weeks, and I find that my time with this blog is best spent when I am in my normal routine.

So, through June and much of July, I will be posting, but only sporadically. I look forward to my travels with youth trips and vacation time with my family.

Blessings!


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S (Scripture): Numbers 23:25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Don’t curse them or bless them.”

26 But Balaam answered and said to Balak, “Didn’t I say to you, ‘I’ll do whatever the Lord tells me to’?”

27 Balak said to Balaam, “Please come and I’ll take you to another place. Perhaps God will prefer it, so that you could curse him for me from there.”

O (Observation): Balak is King of the people of Moab, a place through which God’s people asked to march, on their way to the Promised Land. Balak said no…he did not give his permission. Moses spoke to God. God said, we are going anyway.

Balak wants to fight God’s people. So, in order to weaken God’s people, Balak sends messengers to Balaam (a sort of priest) to talk with God, in order to send a curse on God’s people. Balaam speaks to God. God says, “I blessed these people. They’re gonna march on.”

Balak’s like “no way.” Balaam’s like “way.”

Twice already, Balaam has blessed God’s people, since God has already blessed them.

Now, we have the text above. For a third time, Balak is seeking to curse God’s people. Nope. Not gonna do it. Not even if Balak sweetens the deal.

A (Application): Ever tried to go against a calling God has placed on your life? To move into a new thing? Ever tried to convince God to choose a different path forward?

We are so tempted to be like Balak…sweeten the pot. Convince God to get on our side.

Only to be disappointed when God doesn’t choose “our” path.

What is God saying to you today? How is God shaping your thoughts and heart today? Who are you in God’s eyes?

With that blessing, now ask yourself: What is God calling me to do? Now that I am reminded that I am God’s…which direction will I head towards now?

Seek wisdom from friends and trusted leaders around you. Share your thoughts and dreams. Seek prayer partners to help you in your discernment this day.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to hear and see our place in your journey. Amen.

Who Defines “Contentment”?

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S (Scripture): Philippians 4:10 [Paul writes] I was very glad in the Lord because now at last you have shown concern for me again. (Of course you were always concerned but had no way to show it.) 11 I’m not saying this because I need anything, for I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. 12 I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. 13 I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.

O (Observation): Paul is wrapping up his letter to the church in Philippi. He knows that his fellow Jesus-followers in Philippi have supported him all along, but he must have been able to receive some concrete form of support from them. He mentions "you have shown concern for me again…". He knows they have cared for him all along, but seeing a gift is like icing on the cake.

But in any case, Paul is content. He is happy whether or not he receive tangible evidence of support, because he has discovered something even more powerful and effective: endurance through the power of Jesus.

Paul has had plenty and has had little. In both cases, he was content. This is the Gospel strength: in much or in want, he can be content, with strength to endure though Jesus.

A (Application): When was the last time you were truly content?

Being content is difficult in our consumerist society. You are constantly reminded of what you don't have. For Paul, he had times when he had very little; he had times when he didn't even have his freedom (imprisoned).

Paul was gifted with strength to endure times of want…and to find contentment even with very little in hand. He found his strength in Jesus.

With strength through Jesus to become content, what does this do for us? Being content allows us to focus less on ourselves, and opens us to care for others. Unfortunately, this looks like foolishness to the world. So not only do we have to contend with personal struggles of denying ourselves, the world is also on our back, demanding that we look out for me, myself, and I…first and foremost.

The only thing to counter these struggles (which Jesus has already overcome) is to lean on Jesus' strength.

I suggest we learn about others needs, in the meantime. Especially listening to those who are NOT like us. (For me, "us" means white, male, Protestant.)

I have a lot to learn about those around me. My understanding of contentment may have to be different than the understanding of contentment to the homeless community, the black community, the Hispanic community, the gay and lesbian community, the atheist community.

I wonder if there is a difference.

I won't know…until I listen.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to listen. Amen.

How Can I Help?  


S (Scripture): Job 39

19 “Do you give the horse its might?
Do you clothe its neck with mane?
20 Do you make it leap like the locust?
Its majestic snorting is terrible.
21 It paws[d] violently, exults mightily;
it goes out to meet the weapons.
22 It laughs at fear, and is not dismayed;
it does not turn back from the sword.
23 Upon it rattle the quiver,
the flashing spear, and the javelin.
24 With fierceness and rage it swallows the ground;
it cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet.
25 When the trumpet sounds, it says ‘Aha!’
From a distance it smells the battle,
the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.

O (Observation):  The Lord is finally giving voice to this situation of Job’s. The Lord starts in chapter 38 and continues through this chapter, chapter 39.  The Lord is asking Job if he knows how all of creation began, and how creation goes on the way it does. His questions are in a cynical tone, knowing that Job cannot answer the questions that the Lord is asking.

The image of the horse going into battle is quite a vivid image.   But Job cannot possibly know where the horse gets its might or mane, or how it can laugh at fear.  Job does not know how anything in nature works, nor does anyone, except the Lord.  

And so, the Lord calls on Job to show reverence to the Lord, for Job’s supposed wisdom is nothing compared to the Lord.   

A (Application):  Science has allowed us to sort of reverse engineer most of creation.  We can see how two things came together to make a new thing, but we cannot re-create it.  We can look back and pick things apart, but we lack The Lord’s wisdom to predict the future.  

Even in science, mystery remains.  

In faith, we have doctrines and theologies, but none completely captures who God is.   Our wisdom only extends so far with the written or spoke Word.   

So, why is it that we think we are wise enough to understand why bad things happen?    Things like breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, and type 1 diabetes, to name a few.   No one deserves these things.   They just receive them.    

God doesn’t wish for us to suffer, nor are we meant to control creation.  Yet we can be present for one another without accusing each other of being all righteous or all sinful.   We can be present with one another in the midst of responses to natural disasters.  

We can see life as that which brings ups and downs beyond our wisdom.    We can be present.   Without words.  Without motives, other than simply to be with someone in their time of need.  

Stand with.  Sit with.  Listen to.  These are our responses to folks in need.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, show us signs of your love in the midst of that which baffles us.  Amen.  

Hello? Hello?  Can You Hear Me?


S (Scripture): Acts 28:16 When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.

17 After three days Paul called the local Jewish leaders together.

21 They replied, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, nor have any of the brothers come from there and reported or said anything bad about you. 22 But we would like to hear from you what you think, for regarding this sect we know that people everywhere speak against it.”

23 They set a day to meet with him, and they came to him where he was staying in even greater numbers. From morning until evening he explained things to them, testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from both the law of Moses and the prophets. 24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others refused to believe. 25 So they began to leave, unable to agree among themselves, after Paul made one last statement: 

“The Holy Spirit spoke rightly to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah 26 when he said,
‘Go to this people and say,
“You will keep on hearing, but will never understand, and you will keep on looking, but will never perceive.

27 For the heart of this people has become dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have closed their eyes, so that they would not see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”’

28 “Therefore be advised that this salvation from God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen!”

O (Observation):  Paul has FINALLY made it to Rome, the heart of the empire of political authority, and the home of a large Jewish community.   Paul is technically under arrest, but he obviously has lots of freedom within his bondage.  

Paul wishes to talk to the church in Rome, so that they might know Jesus and believe that he is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets. Many of the Jews in Rome didn’t believe this, nor that Jesus was the Son of God.  Some didn’t believe; yet, some did. 

Paul spoke plainly about God’s salvation from the time of Moses down to the present day (living in the movement of the Spirit).  He never felt like he had to convince these folks – he simply desired the opportunity to explain things to the people.  The conversion piece was (and always is) up to God. 

Paul simply reminded the people that the prophet Isaiah foretold of a time when God’s own people would not listen to what God was up to…so God would open up salvation to all who believed…including the  Gentiles (which basically means the rest of the known world).   

Ouch!  What slap in the face!   But perhaps a necessary wake-up call…

A (Application):  “Are you listening?” Yeah, my wife’s said that to me a few times throughout our marriage.  When she’s the one not listening, I tend to just stop talking : )

We’re always working on our listening skills. That will never end, I don’t think.  Always trying to hear the other.  Always seeking for the other to listen to something each of us wants to share with the other.  

In the times we fail, we tend to reach out to someone else (a family member, a friend, etc).   We try hard, but sometimes we fail in the moment. 

Being disappointed when someone won’t listen to you is a frustration many people share.   Sometimes the issue is about seeking  justice for the oppressed, or the issue might simply be sharing a story with someone.   In any case, when someone won’t listen, we tend to find someone who will.  And assuming the cause you are passionate about is something constructive, I hope you do find someone to listen.  

We may not always be right, but I think it’s our duty to find someone to listen.   We need to share our ideas and thoughts with others, in order to help us clarify our vision and to help share the word.  

Paul handled this very well by the time he came to Rome.  He shared with those willing to listen.  When they didn’t, he knocked the dust off of his feet and moved on.   He was not there to convince, but to point out to folks that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets.  

In our lives, we can’t always simply knock the dust off of our feet (like in the case of a marriage or friendship), but we can seek to share our stories with someone who will listen. 

We can help the Church understand that in times of need, we are called to step up and help out, like some of our members are doing these days with the help of resettling refugees in Murfreesboro.  We are finding clothing and interpreters where we can.  We are working with others who are doing the same and more.  We have a need, and we are not begging for help…we are asking.  And those who respond positively to the needs of these refugees are the ones we will work with.  The others will simply have to watch and wait.  Perhaps they will be convinced this is the right course of action.  Or they will keep their own course.   Either way, we will do our best to show God’s love to all.  The native and immigrant. 

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to rally folks together for your sake and to find ways to share your love with others.   Amen. 

May We Listen Twice as Much as We Speak

S (Scripture): 1 Kings22:1 There was no war between Syria and Israel for three years. 2 In the third year King Jehoshaphat of Judah came down to visit the king of Israel. 3 The king of Israel said to his servants, “Surely you recognize that Ramoth Gilead belongs to us, though we are hesitant to reclaim it from the king of Syria.” 4 Then he said to Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to attack Ramoth Gilead?” Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, “I will support you; my army and horses are at your disposal.” 5 Then Jehoshaphat added, “First seek an oracle from the Lord.” 6 So the king of Israel assembled about four hundred prophets and asked them, “Should I attack Ramoth Gilead or not?” They said, “Attack! The sovereign one will hand it over to the king.” 7 But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there not a prophet of the Lord still here, that we may ask him?” 8 The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one man through whom we can seek the Lord’s will. But I despise him because he does not prophesy prosperity for me, but disaster. His name is Micaiah son of Imlah. Jehoshaphat said, “The king should not say such things.” 9 The king of Israel summoned an official and said, “Quickly bring Micaiah son of Imlah.”

12 All the prophets were prophesying the same, saying, “Attack Ramoth Gilead! You will succeed; the Lord will hand it over to the king.” 13 Now the messenger who went to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the prophets are in complete agreement that the king will succeed. Your words must agree with theirs; you must predict success.” 14 But Micaiah said, “As certainly as the Lord lives, I will say what the Lord tells me to say.”

17 Micaiah said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains like sheep that have no shepherd. Then the Lord said, ‘They have no master. They should go home in peace.’”

26 Then the king of Israel said, “Take Micaiah and return him to Amon the city official and Joash the king’s son. 27 Say, ‘This is what the king says, “Put this man in prison. Give him only a little bread and water until I safely return.”’” 28 Micaiah said, “If you really do safely return, then the Lord has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Take note, all you people.”

O (Observation):  First, some background. At this point in the history of Israel, the kingdom has been split into two. The northern kingdom is called Judah.  The southern kingdom is called Israel.   At this point in time, Jehoshaphat is the king of Judah, the northern kingdom, whereas Ahab is the king of Israel, the southern kingdom.  The prophet Micaiah, is the one true prophet left in their time. 

Up to this point, King Ahab has really only been using the prophets that tell him what he wants to hear (and there are a lot of them…over 400!).   Seems like Ahab knew of Micaiah, but chose to ignore his words and wisdom, because the vision he regularly received was that of Ahab’s demise.    

Micaiah declared a vision that would lead to Israel being scattered and worse off than if they didn’t try to re-gain their Syrian territory.  But Ahab only took the advice he wanted (from the false prophets), going so far as to imprison Micaiah for seeing this vision of Israel’s destruction.   But as Old Testament prophets go, they simply are called to pass on a message to the community…who then chooses to do with it what they want.   

A (Application):  To whom do you listen?  Who have you invited into your life to help keep you on the straight and narrow?   Who speaks wisdom into your life and helps to correct you when you get off track?   Unfortunately, many of us choose Facebook for the role of prophet.  

Facebook has turned into an echo chamber of sorts, where we only engage the voices and folks with whom we agree.  (Sound like King Ahab, anyone?)  We share and hear only the stuff with which we agree.  We tend to ignore or impune the voices we don’t like.  We lump them into categories: ignorant, stupid, misguided, uninformed, less faithful, etc.

We all need prophets in our lives; we all need voices that contradict our own, lest we become complacent in our religious and ideological views to the point that we shut down conversation completely.  My fear is that listening will become less important and speaking our minds will become too important.   When this happens to leaders (political, religious, others), they begin to rule by fiat, rather than by the Spirit.  

Let us all become people willing to listen twice as much as we speak.   May we take on the voices that contradict us and hear where other people are rooting their thoughts and opinions.  May we lift it all up to God, and may we act on God’s voice to bring us to peace here and in the hereafter.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us listen and speak with wisdom.   Amen.