Pushing Others Down

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S (Scripture): Romans 2:28 It isn’t the Jew who maintains outward appearances who will receive praise from God, and it isn’t people who are outwardly circumcised on their bodies. 29 Instead, it is the person who is a Jew inside, who is circumcised in spirit, not literally. That person’s praise doesn’t come from people but from God.

O (Observation): Most of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome was about reconciling the differences between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. His beef with the Jewish Christians was that they were acting arrogant. They believed that with their outward customs, they were better than Gentiles who became Christian. Or that somehow Gentile Christians should adopt the outward custom of circumcision to be on equal ground with Jewish Christians.

The problem that Paul points out is that nothing is gained from the outward practice. He says that the real change God seeks is one of the heart (or spirit). If someone comes to believe in Christ as Lord and Savior, the change doesn’t come from the outside in. The outside marker is just an indication of the internal change that God enacts in someone’s being.

So do the Jews have an advantage? If they do, it’s only because God established a covenant with them first, and revealed the Law and Scriptures to the Jews first…but this gift has always been available to all people.

A (Application): “They’re not Christian.” Quite often I hear people say things like this about other people. The ones making the accusations go to church (or at least say they do) and act all prim and proper. But when it comes to living like Jesus and acting out of grace, they come up way short. I do, too.

The problem with lifting up one’s self over another usually comes because we are insecure about our own faith. We recognize we don’t do the Law, and so we try to make ourselves feel better than others by pushing them down, rather than asking God to lift us all up.

We do this by class, race, sexual orientation, and other ways. We simply are insecure. And that scares us. And thus, we get defensive.

We don’t do The Law. It is a guide, and it is meant to show us our shortcomings. And in the wake of that realization, God hears our cries and welcomes us back with the Gospel.

What would it look like if instead of hiding the ways we break The Law, we face the music and let God redeem us. Then, maybe, we can do less judging of others and more inviting into relationships so that we can share this Gospel message with others. We can speak from our own brokenness and let God come to others.

P (Prayer): Lord, redeem us and make us whole, as only you can. Amen.

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Wait For the Lord

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S (Scripture): Psalm 31

21 

Bless the Lord,

    because he has wondrously revealed

    his faithful love to me

    when I was like a city under siege!

22 

When I was panicked, I said,

    “I’m cut off from your eyes!”

But you heard my request for mercy

    when I cried out to you for help.

23 

All you who are faithful, love the Lord!

    The Lord protects those who are loyal,

        but he pays the proud back to the fullest degree.

24 

All you who wait for the Lord,

be strong and let your heart take courage.

O (Observation): Being courageous in the face of adversity, this psalmist finds hope. Hope not from within, but hope from The Lord.

Knowing the love of God, especially in a time of great turmoil, brings hope. No outside circumstance can imprison one’s hopes and dreams.

I can only imagine what it must be like to be one of God’s people of Israel, cast out into Babylonian captivity. Perhaps the hope of this psalmist was forged in the heart of one of God’s people forced to live in a Babylonian bungalow.

Waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

A (Application): What are you waiting for? Do you feel alone? Do you sense hope? Hopelessness?

The range of emotions is endless when waiting. A family waits over 6 hours while a loved one is undergoing serious surgery. A young family awaits word on whether or not they are approved for their home loan. An expectant mother awaits word on whether she will need to have a c-section or be able to give birth naturally. Waiting. Waiting.

The counsel I have (coming from today’s Scripture, not from me) is this:

Wait for the Lord. Be strong. Take heart. For the Lord will carry you through whatever may come.

(Here is a link to a meditative song based on Psalm 31:24. Take a moment. Be still. Listen.)

P (Prayer): Lord, make us know of your steadfast love. We cannot wait alone or be strong alone or take heart alone. Give us your Spirit and surround us with loving community. Amen.

God Through Us

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S (Scripture): Psalm 25

The Lord’s voice is over the waters;

    the glorious God thunders;

        the Lord is over the mighty waters.

The Lord’s voice is strong;

    the Lord’s voice is majestic.

The Lord’s voice breaks cedar trees—

    yes, the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.

He makes Lebanon jump around like a young bull,

    makes Sirion jump around like a young wild ox.

The Lord’s voice unleashes fiery flames;

    the Lord’s voice shakes the wilderness—

        yes, the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The Lord’s voice convulses the oaks,

    strips the forests bare,

        but in his temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”

10 

The Lord sits enthroned over the floodwaters;

    the Lord sits enthroned—king forever!

11 

Let the Lord give strength to his people!

    Let the Lord bless his people with peace!

O (Observation): In the creation story – and in this Psalm – the waters and floodwaters reflect the chaos that existed before creation. God separated the waters from the waters in creation. God created order out of chaos.

God is sovereign over all. God can make the lands and forests act like pets and play toys.

God is present in the midst of chaos and with that kind of power, surely the Lord can bless her people with peace.

A (Application): Our school system was closed today and yesterday and closed 2 hours early the day before that. Why? Flooding. Rain has been incessant for days and now many roads are flooded.

When waters rise, chaos ensues. Water is quite the force to be reckoned with. One must obey the serious damage that water can cause, especially when it flows over its regular bounds.

And somehow, God sits over the waters. We are part of a broken creation, but God remains faithful to us. How? Empowering our neighbors to love one another.

A great service organization – Murfreesboro Cold Patrol – sprang into action to help the homeless population by washing their newly soaked clothes and sleeping bags. They are helping to ensure that the chronic homeless are aided through this storm and flood.

God lives in the hearts of humans. We serve others and ensure the safety of our fellow humans the best way we can. In doing so, we can endure the floods and disasters of this world.

P (Prayer): God, empower us as co-creators to be the care and love in this world that you wish us to be. Amen.

Where is Hope?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 27

Lord, listen to my voice when I cry out—

    have mercy on me and answer me!

Come, my heart says, seek God’s face.

    Lord, I do seek your face!

Please don’t hide it from me!

    Don’t push your servant aside angrily—

        you have been my help!

    God who saves me,

        don’t neglect me!

12 

Don’t give me over to the desires of my enemies,

    because false witnesses and violent accusers

    have taken their stand against me.

13 

But I have sure faith

    that I will experience the Lord’s goodness

    in the land of the living!

14 

Hope in the Lord!

    Be strong! Let your heart take courage!

        Hope in the Lord!

O (Observation): The hope that comes into play at the end of this Psalm is almost like from a friend speaking to another friend who has lost hope. The psalmist seeks out God in the pit of despair. The friendly voice in v. 14 is a reminder that God – the Lord – is still there beside the person.

Hope is possible, not because the individual can get back on track “without help.” Rather, because the psalmist cannot help himself/herself, hope exists. Because the psalmist lacks comfort, the LACK allows space for him / her to hope.

A (Application): We like to think hope is something that we can grasp in this life, as if hope is something to be reached through hard work and effort. Yet the nature of hope is that it is precisely something we cannot reach. For if it is something we can grasp on our own, then we don’t hope for it…we just create a plan to reach it.

If we can reach the thing(s) we hope for…then it’s not hope. We hope for money, a new car, control, power, and more. These things we “hope” for – if attained – is quite the opposite of good news. It means we think we can satisfy our drive or appetite and pushes us to acquire more of the same (if not material things, than power or control).

Let us, instead, focus on the idea that God never leaves us and can be our hope. In. Our brokenness, God enters in and helps us to be okay with our brokenness. For God does not need us to prove anything. Rather, God focuses our hearts and minds on being with others who are also broken…and together we lean on one another for consolation and hope. Hope in the Lord.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us filled with hope in You. Amen.

A Practical Atheist Am I

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S (Scripture): 1 Samuel 17:32 “Don’t let anyone lose courage because of this Philistine!” David told Saul. “I, your servant, will go out and fight him!”

33 “You can’t go out and fight this Philistine,” Saul answered David. “You are still a boy. But he’s been a warrior since he was a boy!”

34 “Your servant has kept his father’s sheep,” David replied to Saul, “and if ever a lion or a bear came and carried off one of the flock, 35 I would go after it, strike it, and rescue the animal from its mouth. If it turned on me, I would grab it at its jaw, strike it, and kill it. 36 Your servant has fought both lions and bears. This uncircumcised Philistine will be just like one of them because he has insulted the army of the living God.

37 “The Lord,” David added, “who rescued me from the power of both lions and bears, will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.”

“Go!” Saul replied to David. “And may the Lord be with you!”

O (Observation): So what moves David to take up his sling and face Goliath? He had seemingly no advantage. He was younger, smaller, ill-equipped, and had no combat training.

Yet two things stand out to me: 1.) Goliath insulted God; 2.) David acknowledges that the Lord was and is with David.

Those two things are all David needed to get going.

A (Application): So…what do you need to get going? What motivates you? God sustains us all in many and varied ways.

The evils I seem to face are not giant men wanting to kill me (though for some Christians around the globe that may be true). My enemies rarely have skin on them: depression, poor self-image for me or loved ones, consumerism, and more.

These are hard to overcome alone, nigh impossible!

So I pray. For some unknown reason, instead of starting there, I usually end up there. Kind of makes me a practical atheist. (I can handle this – kind of like David putting on Saul’s armor.)

Prayer is where this can all begin. Prayer – a reminder that God is listening and responding in ways I cannot fathom. I don’t face these struggles alone.

May we all know the transforming power of prayer to God, before, during, and after our struggles.

P (Prayer): Jesus, guide us into a relationship with God like only you can. Amen.

You Can Do It!

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S (Scripture): Deuteronomy 30:6 Then the Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants so that you love the Lord your God with all your mind and with all your being in order that you may live… 11 This commandment that I’m giving you right now is definitely not too difficult for you. It isn’t unreachable. 12 It isn’t up in heaven somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will go up for us to heaven and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?” 13 Nor is it across the ocean somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the ocean for us and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?” 14 Not at all! The word is very close to you. It’s in your mouth and in your heart, waiting for you to do it.

O (Observation): Moses speaks to the crowd. They wonder at the command God gives: Love God! Yet they and their ancestors have not obeyed God for quite some time (hence, the 40 years of wandering).

Now, though, God’s mercy comes back into view. The physical circumcision that was required is now a circumcision of the heart. (A helpful move, so that both male and female would now both fully enter the covenant.)

Loving God with heart and mind and being is a commandment that is not too far off. God will take the step to make this faith possible with the cardiac circumcision.

A (Application): My faith originates in what God has done and still does. After wandering for forty years in the wilderness, I would have a tough time thinking that God wanted to reach out to me. And yet that is exactly what is promised and still promises. The Hebrew people have had lives filled with devastation and disaster. I want to how this promise works for them.

I’ve had a pretty easy life. No discrimination. No catastrophes. My faith is what it is because somehow the Spirit moved (and still moves) me.

And the challenge of faith is very simple: loving God is as near to you as your heart and your mouth. Living out the commandment to love God starts and ends with God coming close to us. Regardless of our past or current status. All are welcome to receive God’s grace.

P (Prayer): God, you are amazingly full of grace. For that, we thank you! Amen.

P.s. Any fans of the Christian band, “Lost and Found”? They wrote a song called “Cardiac Circumcision.” I remember singing this song in my living room on a cassette tape after a camp called AFFIRM. I had no idea what it meant technically…but I had an idea that it meant something about changing my heart : )

Guessing these verses inspired their song.

Work and Rest

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S (Scripture): Psalm 127
1 Unless it is the Lord who builds the house,
the builders’ work is pointless.
Unless it is the Lord who protects the city,
the guard on duty is pointless.
2 It is pointless that you get up early and stay up late, eating the bread of hard labor
because God gives sleep to those he loves.

O (Observation): Pointless. That’s the common thread of this psalm. The people of God strive for so many things (building houses, protecting, overworking). The point the psalmist is making is that all of this labor is done in vain if not done “in the Lord.”

The Lord is the key to all of the work and rest that lies ahead for God’s people.

A (Application): I hope you hear the Word today, especially when it comes to work and rest. That is a HUGE issue for us in America in 2017.

I remember going to hear a speaker back while I was in college. His motivation was this: the person who works 60 hours per week will do more and make more money than the person who works 40 hours per week; and the person who works 80 hours per week will make more than the person who works 60 hours per week.

That never sat well with me. Now I have a clearer understanding of why it didn’t sit well: God gives sleep to those he loves.

Lots of other scriptures support the balance of work and rest, and today’s Word is of importance. Getting up too early or staying up too late (in order to be more productive) is silly, it’s pointless. You work at like 50% efficiency when you’re tired and need sleep. So sleep!

I understand we all have deadlines, but don’t let staying up late and getting up early be the norm. Don’t let that lifestyle be the default for your production in this world. You will cause damage to your life and your loved ones when you go down that path.

Embrace the sleep God gives you. Turn it all over to God. Rest your weary mind.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us in our work and our rest. Amen.