Children!

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 44

1

But now hear, O Jacob my servant,

    Israel whom I have chosen!

Thus says the Lord who made you,

    who formed you in the womb and will help you:

Do not fear, O Jacob my servant,

    Jeshurun whom I have chosen.

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,

    and streams on the dry ground;

I will pour my spirit upon your descendants,

    and my blessing on your offspring.

They shall spring up like a green tamarisk,

    like willows by flowing streams.

This one will say, “I am the Lord’s,”

    another will be called by the name of Jacob,

yet another will write on the hand, “The Lord’s,”

    and adopt the name of Israel.

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,

    and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:

I am the first and I am the last;

    besides me there is no god.

Who is like me? Let them proclaim it,

    let them declare and set it forth before me.

Who has announced from of old the things to come?

    Let them tell us what is yet to be.

Do not fear, or be afraid;

    have I not told you from of old and declared it?

    You are my witnesses!

Is there any god besides me?

    There is no other rock; I know not one.

O (Observation): Today’s word proves once again that God has always been about loving the world, not just one nation. God identifies with Israel, and promised – in ages past – to see God’s people become numerous and to be a blessing to the world.

Some would be children of Israel already. Some will be identified through the name of Jacob – also a part of God’s family. And yet others will wish to have the name of “The Lord,” like one adopted by God.

Through adoption or through being raised in the faith, God’s love is open to all.

A (Application): So many people that I know are disenchanted with the Church. Too much hypocrisy. Too many scandals. Too much fake-ness. Too much judgment.

And who can blame them. They are right to lack faith in the Church. They are right to be upset.

Yet our faith resides not in the Church, but in the Lord. The Lord is our strength. The Lord is the one who adopts us and calls us “Children.”

Our hope is that as the Church, we can reclaim the goodness of our God who accepts us and loves us as we are…and continues to work on us our whole lives long.

May we see a reformation in the Church once again, that we might embrace the message of grace and justice for all the earth.

P (Prayer): Lord, move us to holy discontent with regard to the status quo. Help us to live into our identity as members of the body of Christ, gifted differently for the sake of serving this whole world. Amen.

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Prepare the Way of the Lord: Love!

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 40

3

A voice cries out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,

    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up,

    and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

    and the rough places a plain.

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

    and all people shall see it together,

    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

O (Observation): God’s people, stick in the midst of foreign occupation and devastating circumstances, are reassured that God will see them through such a time as this.

God reminds the people of Israel that work is still to be done. A path is desired by God. And God will see to it that all obstructions are cleared away. God will make God’s self known to the world.

And God’s glory will be revealed.

A (Application): If you have not heard by now, on September 1, I will begin serving as Assistant to the Bishop for the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. That means my family and I will be moving to the Atlanta area (near Stone Mountain, GA), and away from Murfreesboro, TN, which has been our home for the past 7 &1/2 years.

This is a bittersweet time for us, as we have become deeply embedded in this community. We have see growth. We have seen challenge. God’s presence is obscured by the various ways we have interpreted what it means to be Christian in this part of the world. Some think it means being obedient to “The Bible” or to what some preacher says one must do. Being a Christian here can mean admonishing the neighbor in love.

These calls to obedience alone are mountains and valleys that obscure the nature of God. For to see Christianity merely as obedience is to go shallow. Or, as Richard Rohr puts it: “Mere obedience is far too often a detour around actual love. Obedience is usually about cleaning up, Love is about waking up.”

So, how do we clear the path? Love. In acts of love. In doing the most loving thing you can do in any moment, in any circumstance.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to prepare the way for you by sharing love with those we encounter. Amen.

Submit To One Another

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S (Scripture): Ephesians 5:21 and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. 22 For example, wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord. 23 A husband is the head of his wife like Christ is head of the church, that is, the savior of the body. 24 So wives submit to their husbands in everything like the church submits to Christ. 25 As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. 26 He did this to make her holy by washing her in a bath of water with the word. 27 He did this to present himself with a splendid church, one without any sort of stain or wrinkle on her clothes, but rather one that is holy and blameless. 28 That’s how husbands ought to love their wives—in the same way as they do their own bodies. Anyone who loves his wife loves himself. 29 No one ever hates his own body, but feeds it and takes care of it just like Christ does for the church 30 because we are parts of his body. 31 This is why a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two of them will be one body.32 Marriage is a significant allegory, and I’m applying it to Christ and the church. 33 In any case, as for you individually, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and wives should respect their husbands.

O (Observation) & A (Application): Paul, Paul, Paul… I love you, bro… but sometimes you make my life difficult.

I love the allegory. The patriarchal language? Not so much.

Some people like to point to this kind of language and use it to make women subservient to their husbands.

Some people like to point to marriage being male and female, due to texts like these.

Here’s the deal: in Christ, spouses submit to each other. This is true for ALL relationships, but especially for those who commit to spending their lives with one another.

The Church submits to Christ, and Christ does not abuse that submission. When someone submits to you, you don’t abuse that person. Submission takes trust and faith. We don’t take advantage of that trust and faith.

So, whoever you’re married to, respect that person, like Christ respects us. We can still correct and challenge one another, but we will always respect them.

And, unfortunately, when we fail to respect the other…or we see that the joy of loving one another cannot be brought back, then separation may be called for. And if that’s the best course of action…if a damaged relationship is beyond repair, know that you are doing the right thing.

Love ya, Paul, and I get what you’re saying. So yes, let us respect one another.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see that you are the norm for what relationship looks like. Amen.

Trust in God: So Simple, so Difficult

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 30:

1

Doom to you, rebellious children, says the Lord,

    who make a plan, which is not mine;

    who weave a plot, but not by my spirit,

        piling up sin on sin;

    setting out to go down to Egypt without consulting me,

    taking refuge in Pharaoh’s refuge and hiding in Egypt’s shadow.

Pharaoh’s refuge will become your shame,

    hiding in Egypt’s shadow your disgrace.

    all will become shamed because of a people who can’t assist them.

They are no help; they are no profit;

    rather, shame and disgrace.

19 People in Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no longer. God will certainly be merciful to you. Hearing the sound of your outcry, God will answer you.

23 God will provide rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food the ground produces will be rich and abundant. On that day, your cattle will graze in large pastures. 24 The oxen and donkeys that are working the ground will eat tasty feed spread for them with shovel and fork.

O (Observation): God gives both correction and mercy. God guides people, reminding them that their earthly notions of protection are feeble compared to God’s reign.

Hide in Egypt’s shadow? Not gonna help!

Hide behind earthly armies? Futile!

But what does God’s mercy look like? Like a parent who cares for their crying child. Like rain for the seeds planted. So that an abundance comes forth from the ground – satisfying animal and human alike.

Trust in God’s mercies, not your own schemes, people of God…

A (Application): Trust in God. Sounds like a cop out.

Does that mean we don’t make plans? Certainly not!

Trust in God means to do the most loving thing you can do in any given moment. This is trust, because doing the most loving thing means we may be putting ourselves at risk: our finances, our physical or emotional well-being, our safety, our plans…

Trusting in God is a TALL order. It’s not for the faint of heart.

If you struggle with this, you are not alone. Just recall the words from Isaiah 30. Hear how God tells the people that their schemes of this earth are pointless, futile. Instead, God, who can move mountains, can and will work together all things in great love for you and me and all of us. This can be a win-win situation.

Trust in God. Let others in. Let the Spirit move you this day.

P (Prayer): God, help me listen to you and trust in you. Amen.

Christ in Us All

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S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 4:4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of those who don’t have faith so they couldn’t see the light of the gospel that reveals Christ’s glory. Christ is the image of God.

Proverbs 20:27 The breath of a person is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the inmost parts.

O (Observation): These two verses from very different times and situations bring forth the image of God dwelling in our very being. God is with us. God is in us. All have the ability to receive the Christ, who is already in us. The revealing of the Christ from within us makes sense as our very breath is like the lamp of the Lord. The lamp guides our way, from the inside out.

As Christ dwells within us, we cannot help but see the Christ in one another. As such, we start to treat one another as if we were interacting with the Divine Trinity itself.

A (Application): So what does all of this mean? It means that we get to see the Christ in one another. Seeing Christ in one another means seeing the hope of forgiveness in one another. The evil ones and the good ones. All are imbued with the Christ nature, for we are all one in Christ. We are all cut of the same cloth (as some like to say).

This means forgiveness is possible. This means that the chance of forgiveness and reconciliation is very high. This means that when we look on one another, we have hope to be forgiven or to forgive.

And when we cannot forgive, perhaps we hold on to the hope that the Christ dwelling in the other is still holding on strong. Even if we must let a relationship go.

Christ in us. Christ guiding us. This is my hope.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us always…from the inside out. Amen.

Of the People

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 9:19 Although I’m free from all people, I make myself a slave to all people, to recruit more of them. 20 I act like a Jew to the Jews, so I can recruit Jews. I act like I’m under the Law to those under the Law, so I can recruit those who are under the Law (though I myself am not under the Law). 21 I act like I’m outside the Law to those who are outside the Law, so I can recruit those outside the Law (though I’m not outside the law of God but rather under the law of Christ). 22 I act weak to the weak, so I can recruit the weak. I have become all things to all people, so I could save some by all possible means. 23 All the things I do are for the sake of the gospel, so I can be a partner with it.

24 Don’t you know that all the runners in the stadium run, but only one gets the prize?

O (Observation): Paul talks about his approach to ministry. He adapts to the culture and the people’s practices. He doesn’t forget his identity in Christ, but he lives as a servant of Christ, always.

A (Application): St. Patrick was lauded for his approach to mission. He entered Ireland a second time (first as a slave, second, as a bishop). As bishop to Ireland, St. Patrick chose to appreciate each different clan and their dialect as a unique gift. He never made them learn Latin, nor follow all of the practices he picked up in Europe, in his seminary studies.

Patrick loved the people and appreciated them. He never forced his ways, yet still proclaimed the Gospel.

In what ways do we obscure the Gospel? When do we cover it up? When do we let it shine?

P (Prayer): Lord, helps us to shine your light on the world this day. Amen.

Leading with Love

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S (Scripture): Romans 13:8 Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law. 9 The commandments, Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t desire what others have, and any other commandments, are all summed up in one word: You must love your neighbor as yourself.10 Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law.

O (Observation): Paul encourages all followers of Christ to do the best they can to cooperate with governmental authorities and with one another. Here, Paul shows them the way forward, which was taught by Jesus: Love your neighbor as yourself.

In this simple (yet somehow extremely complicated and difficult) command, we find a way forward. Love is what fulfills the Law. Leading with love can guide one’s relationship with authorities and with one’s neighbor.

A (Application): Leading with Love is the key to relationships with authorities, with family, with strangers.

Yet leading with love can be quite challenging. For our emotions and feelings and desire for retribution can get in the way. If we think someone has wronged us, do we forget that? No…but we can work though that. Love allows us the space to work through the wrongs done to us.

So sometimes leading with love is simply about extending the grace first shown to you in Christ Jesus, so that others can receive the same grace you’ve received. You are not digging up grace on your own…you are simply giving to others what you have already received.

Lead with love. At the coffee shop, the gas station, your office, your classroom, the lunchroom, the park. Lead with love, and see if it becomes contagious. And don’t be surprised when someone asks you where you became a person that leads with love. Be ready to share your response : )

(Seriously. Literally rehearse what you are going to say. Sometimes we have to verbalize or write down our faith story to put it in perspective. It’s a good practice.)

P (Prayer): Lord, we receive your grace, unworthy as we are. You find a way to love each of us, for we are your creation. Thank you. Amen.