An Oldy, but a Goodie!

Photo credit here. 

S (Scripture): Psalm 95
1 Come, let’s sing out loud to the Lord!
Let’s raise a joyful shout to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let’s come before him with thanks!
Let’s shout songs of joy to him!
3 The Lord is a great God,
the great king over all other gods.
4 The earth’s depths are in his hands;
the mountain heights belong to him;
5 the sea, which he made, is his
along with the dry ground,
which his own hands formed.

O (Observation):  Very much centered on God as Creator, this psalm gives thanks and praise to God.   Coming from a background that seems fairly stable, this psalm was likely written in a time of peace for God’s people.   

Times were not always so for God’s people, but when they got the chance to simply praise God, they did.  

A (Application):  Getting away and giving thanks and praise to God are part of the Christian life.  Retreating and centering one’s life – whether that retreat be a weekend worship service, or a pilgrimage like the ELCA Youth Gathering (coming up in Houston in June 2018) or the ELCA Rostered Ministers Gathering (happening now in Atlanta) – is essential for our physical, emotional, social, and spiritual health. We need some time away to quiet our minds and separate ourselves from the demands on our time.   

Giving thanks to God is a natural thing for a Christian, even (or especially) in times of doubt or uncertainty.   Acknowledging that God watches over us and never lets us drown is of key importance to us.  

As I read this psalm, I couldn’t help but think of the times I’ve sung this psalm in retreat (read: worship).   Lots of YouTube videos of many different arrangements of this psalm exist.  

Let this be a reminder that our Lutheran liturgy is not some standalone material fabricated by folks in fancy robes.  Rather, the words are mined from the Mountain of scripture before us.  Some digging had to be done, to discover the gems that lay inside the Scruptires already.   No need to re-create.   Re-fashion into song? Yes.  But re-create?  No.  

Peace!

P (Prayer):  Lord, you are amazing and all of your creation is good.  Help us to preserve this earth and respect all you have created.   Amen.  

Who is Your Master?

S (Scripture): Romans 14:1 Now receive the one who is weak in the faith, and do not have disputes over differing opinions. 2 One person believes in eating everything, but the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not despise the one who does not, and the one who abstains must not judge the one who eats everything, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5 One person regards one day holier than other days, and another regards them all alike. Each must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day does it for the Lord. The one who eats, eats for the Lord because he gives thanks to God, and the one who abstains from eating abstains for the Lord, and he gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives for himself and none dies for himself. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For this reason Christ died and returned to life, so that he may be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

O (Observation):  Paul helps the Christians in Rome to understand that the actions people take are not to be regarded solely for the action itself.  Jews and Romans were both beginning to believe that Jesus was their Lord, but their actions were different amongst their individual cultures, even as each was faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ.  

So, intent of action is to be considered.  Well…how does one begin to understand intent?

First, one must get to know the person to understand their action.   Second, after getting to know the person, one must seek to understand the intent of their action.  Third, one must begin to understand if the intent is inspired by the person’s devotion to the Lord.   If the person is devoting their action to the Lord, then so be it.  

Could the other person be misguided?  Perhaps.  Might one disagree with the course of action.  Could be.  

Paul doesn’t think anything goes.  Rather, he is focused on those who see Jesus as their master.  If Jesus is truly one’s master, then the intent is good and pure, resulting in action that should not be critiqued.   

And whether the action leads to life or death, Jesus has us covered, thanks to his death and resurrection.  

A (Application):  So which master are we following?   That seems to me to be the key question, for that answer will inform our actions more than anything else.  

Since we are not perfect on this side of the Kingdom, we can certainly falter. So we should be open to constantly discerning who our master is in order to discern if our actions are good and of pure in intent.  

When our master is the Lord Jesus Christ, our actions will bear fruit of some sort.  When our master is anything else, we will serve it and thus ourselves.  

If you’re wondering why someone else is doing something, don’t just judge their action.  Get to know them and in doing so, you will get to know their intent.  If the intent is wholesome, perhaps you need to let go of your resistance.  If their intent is self-serving, don’t expect it to bear fruit.  If their intent is to cause harm, you will have to discern whether or not to help keep that harm from occurring.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, give us wisdom.  Amen.  

We are the Lord’s

S (Scripture): Acts 11:15 Peter said, “Then as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as he did on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, as he used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 Therefore if God gave them the same gift as he also gave us after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, the apostles and brothers ceased their objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted the repentance that leads to life even to the Gentiles.”

O (Observation):  Repentance that leads to life.   What a powerful sentiment.  What a powerful truth.    God makes it possible for ALL people to repent and be given new life.   

Peter was called to reform the church of his day.  He was helping Jewish Christians to accept the fact that Gentiles could become Christians, even though they had no compulsion to follow the Jewish laws of cleanliness.  All have the opportunity at any point to follow Jesus…to believe in him…to repent.  

A (Application):  We all deserve death.   We all deserve punishment.  (Thought I’d start on a cheery note : )

Yet our Lord Jesus has overcome the power of sin and death and calls us to new life.  Through faith instilled in me by the Holy Spirit – marked by the waters of baptism as an infant – I choose to believe that God ushered me into the Christian community – the body of Christ.  
As an infant, I did nothing to deserve this salvation.   When baptized as teens or adults, we do nothing to earn this salvation.   All rests upon God’s mercy, regardless of our beliefs.  For our beliefs will falter.  Our doubts will rise.  Our acts of mercy will be less than complete, or non-existent.  We will fail to stand up to those who abuse power.  Some will struggle in this life so much, they will succumb to the temptation to end their own lives.  

We fall short, but our story is not just our own.  We are part of a larger story…God’s story.   And the hope I have is that whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:8).

P (Prayer): Lord, you know what weighs on my heart this day.  Console me and those who mourn – whatever the cause.  Amen.  

What is Prayer?

A rarity occurs this day. Every once in a while, the Revised Common Lectionary lines up with the Moravian Texts.  The Gospel text assigned for Sunday, July 24, 2016, happens to be Luke 11:1-13. So, today’s devotion includes some thoughts that I will be sharing on Sunday, too. 

Hope this will be a helpful tool to help you through the day!


S (Scripture): Luke 11:1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he stopped, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 2 So he said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, may your name be honored; may your kingdom come.

3 Give us each day our daily bread,

4 and forgive us our sins,

for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

And do not lead us into temptation.”

5 Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 because a friend of mine has stopped here while on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 Then he will reply from inside, ‘Do not bother me. The door is already shut, and my children and I are in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though the man inside will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of the first man’s sheer persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

9 “So I tell you: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 What father among you, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

O (Observation):  The part of the text that strikes me most is the idea of the friend who comes asking for bread… shamelessly… persistent.   The idea that one can come to God and be so bold is a striking thing.   The promise then, is equally striking: “how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to this who ask.”

God promises to give the gifts of wisdom and discernment (a la the Holy Spirit) to any who ask.  

In the asking is a recognition that a relationship exists and that prayers are always heard…even if the one praying doesn’t necessarily get what they want.  

A (Application): The text doesn’t say, “Ask, and you will get what you want;” although, that is mostly how people see prayer. Almost like a vending machine: put in the quarter with your request, and your automated response will spit out what you pray for. 

The problem with this is that when we DON’T get what we want from prayer, we assume that God isn’t listening, or that God doesn’t care.  Perhaps, instead of getting what we want, God provides what we need (the Holy Spirit). 

Or some see prayer like a one-way message, just hoping that somewhere out there, God is listening. Like putting a note on a scroll and stuffing it inside a bottle and pitching it out to sea.  

So much can be said about prayer, and about this prayer in particular.  

I’ll leave my thoughts on this note:   Just pray. Don’t worry about form or correctness.  Just talk with God.  Or listen to God.  Or both.  Be bold in your request, and be ready to receive the Spirit.  For praying is also opening ourselves up to be changed…transformed.  

P (Prayer): Lord, we are open, at times, and closed, at times.   Help us to always be open to you and your gift of the Spirit.  Amen.  

A Shift in Expectations

  

S (Scripture): Mark 4:26 Jesus also said, “The kingdom of God is like someone who spreads seed on the ground. 27 He goes to sleep and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 By itself the soil produces a crop, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 And when the grain is ripe, he sends in the sickle because the harvest has come.”

O (Observation): While this text may seem mostly about the process of evangelism, I think this text lends itself more to the mystery of God’s divine action.  Regardless of the action of the person spreading the seed, God is the one who makes the seed grow.  

A (Application):  I put a lot of pressure on myself when I started out my days as a pastor. I learned, rather quickly though, that despite my efforts and despite my hopes, I was not the one in charge of developing faith in others.  I believed that if I had the right tools and the right efforts, I would see a correlation between my efforts and the number of people that came to faith (or came to strengthen their faith).   That has not always been the case. 

Do I give up?   Certainly not!  

Instead, my expectations have shifted.   My role is to continue to plant the seeds, but God is in control of the divine mystery of figuring out when the stalk, the head, and the full grain in the head are ready.  God is in charge of the harvest, even though I put effort into planting seeds or gathering the grains.   

Have you put unrealistic expectations on your shoulders?   When you think it’s all up to you, or the leadership in the church, or the pastor, you will be disappointed, just as I have been disappointed in myself from time to time.  But when we give this burden over to the Lord – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – we experience a release like no other, and we become blessed to receive new and experienced followers of Christ into our fold.  

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to remember that this world is your field to be planted by us, but that YOU are the one who mysteriously brings about faith in each one who calls you “Lord.”  Amen. 

Lords and Serfs – The Church

Feudal System

S (Scripture):  Matthew 15: 10 Then [Jesus] called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What defiles a person is not what goes into the mouth; it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person.”…17 “Don’t you understand that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach and then passes out into the sewer? 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are the things that defile a person; it is not eating with unwashed hands that defiles a person.”

O (Observation):  The Pharisees are angry because Jesus is upsetting the apple cart.   Jesus is picking apart their weak and frail system of religious laws.   So many generations of Pharisees focused on EXTERNAL measures to change INTERNAL problems (faith, obedience, etc.).   The problem with this approach is that an external measure does NOT change the internal brokenness.   And try as they may, the Pharisees just could NOT save humanity through their laws.

Jesus points out that the heart is the seedbed of humanity’s defilement.   The Pharisees now feel threatened because their system depends on them controlling the religious masses.  Their control lies in the nature of the system.   Control the rules, control the people.  And without the people, they have no control or power.   Jesus threatened all of this for the Pharisees, who saw salvation in a set of laws, rather than the Messiah.

A (Application):  The feudal system.   Organized religion in America is very much related to the feudal system.  We have bishops and other elected leaders and a hierarchy that is built on the need for serfs to serve the “higher ups.”   Yes, this is a cynical view…but one that I have struggled with.

Over the last few decades, folks have been leaving the organized (Protestant) denominations.  Oh, and when they leave, their money goes with them.  What do lords need in a feudal system?   People and Money.   When the people and money go, lords tend to panic.   The Pharisees panicked when Jesus started teaching the people that the system they were in would not save them.  The external laws would not satisfy their internal need – the need for salvation.

Now, the Church has an opportunity to recall who saves us.  Is our system saving us?  Or is Jesus Christ the one to save?   Well…our system calls us to rely on Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

So, what does that look like?  Do we throw out the whole system?  I don’t think so.  Do we start over completely?  I don’t think so…    So what can we do?

First, I think we listen to validate the worries of those in the church.  Listen to their longings and hopes and dreams as God’s people.

Second, we start to look at what Jesus focused on in his ministry:  Living in relationship with God, with close friends (disciples), and going out into the community to heal and teach and preach.  UP-IN-OUT is the short-hand we use to reflect these three dimensions.

Third, we instill the understanding that in our baptism, God equips each and every one of us to be spiritual producers and not just consumers of spiritual goods.   This step is really hard for the organized church.  We are used to hiring the spiritual experts to do the spiritual work for us.   In the congregation I serve, I am constantly trying to find ways to help our members discover that God has a calling for each one of them.  Sometimes that is an individual call, sometimes it is a communal call.  But we are always listening for the call and we are always working on the response.

I think the organized church wants this.  I really do.  I just think the nature of the system draws us away from personal responsibility for our faith.  I think the discipleship way (which is a bit more organic) reminds us that while the organized church is there to support what we do as disciples, the organized church (EXTERNAL) does not REPLACE the connection that God instills in us in our baptism (INTERNAL).

Where have you seen the organized church work?  Where have you seen it fail?  What role are you playing in the struggle?  What is God up to here in this struggle?

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see the organized church as a vehicle for calling us to be the church in action.  Help us to see that we are called to help each person of faith to struggle with his call and to help her discern a response.  Amen.

Discerning God’s Will

  S (Scripture): Matthew 12:1 At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on a Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pick heads of wheat and eat them. 2 But when the Pharisees saw this they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is against the law to do on the Sabbath.”  3 He said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry – 4 how he entered the house of God and they ate the sacred bread, which was against the law for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the law that the priests in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are not guilty?  6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what this means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

O (Observation):  As Jesus is becoming more known and is receiving some resistance, the Pharisees start mounting attacks against Jesus.  Most of these attacks were about Jesus “breaking the rules.”  

What rules?  The rules that the Church established.   In this case, the rule about the Sabbath.  Any self-respecting Jew would have known better than to “work” on the Sabbath.   Jesus and his crew were working by taking grain from the field on the Sabbath. 

Jesus is scolded for working on the Sababth.  In return, Jesus points out where the “rules” were also being broken by the priests who desecrated the Sabbath, and David (their national and religious hero) was also known to break the Sabbath.  

Jesus is starting to point out the fact that He is Lord of Sabbath.  The concept of the Sabbath is to remind God’s people that rest is part of the equation for abundant life, not just a strict law of obedience.  

A (Application):  Trust me when I say that rest is important.  I need rest, so that God can speak to my mind, body, and soul.  

But even more important, Jesus is pointing out that their salvation is not to rest in laws of human origin, but to be in tune with God’s call for them that day.  For whatever reason, Jesus said that he trumps the Sabbath, and not the other way around.  

This is very odd, and puts us in a conundrum.  If the rules are not always okay, what is okay?  Is this not a slippery slope?   Well…it is a slippery slope.  And I can live with that.  : )

The problem I see with a religion that allows borders to trump discerning God’s will is that we will forget God’s bending towards grace and mercy, God’s abundant and steadfast love.   

So, where do we draw the line?   Perhaps the line is something we always discern?   And if that is our way, then we need to train members of the body of Christ to discern God’s voice.  

At our congregation we ask people to notice “kairos” moments (aka “God moments” or “Aha moments”).   These can be positive or negative moments, which give us pause (like a Sabbath).  At this point, we discern 2 questions: What is God’s word of grace for me this day? And What would God have me do?

So, what borders have your religious inclinations mounted?  Where have you seen folks cross borders to be the Gospel to others?  What kairos moments have you had lately?  What have you done in response to those moments?

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to discern your will for us in this place and time.  Amen.