How Many Gods are There?

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S (Scripture): Joshua 24:14 Joshua said: “So now, revere the Lord. Serve him honestly and faithfully. Put aside the gods that your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and serve the Lord. 15 But if it seems wrong in your opinion to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Choose the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But my family and I will serve the Lord.”

O (Observation): Commitment to God is always voluntary. This is the point Joshua makes:

God’s helped us this far…but if you see something more enticing…go for it. You see a local deity in this newly settled land of ours, and that seems right, go for it.

Just know this – declares Joshua – my family and I…we choose the Lord.

A (Application): The other day our 5 year old daughter asks us: “How many gods are there?” We said “one.” Then I thought back to Martin Luther’s explanation of the 10 Commandments in the Large Catechism and tried to explain that the thing we wish for the most is like a god to us. The thing we give our all for is our god.

Making the football team can become a god. Becoming a concert pianist can become a god. Getting everyone to like you can become your god. Having wealth can become your god. Being overly organized or overly organic can become your god. ANYTHING to which you give your allegiance can become your god.

Now, those items I listed are NOT all bad things. Having goals and contributing your gifts to the world are great. But at what level are you giving yourself to that thing / goal / desire?

Here’s the rub: I choose the Lord. Now, some days I’m great at faith and some days I suck at it. But the invitation my family and I have accepted is that we desire to be people of God, following in Jesus’ footsteps. We practice living into this invitation – as a family – as ELCA Lutherans as a part of the congregation of Advent Lutheran Church, Murfreesboro, TN. (

You have another way of following God? Great! You want to choose another god, that’s up to you. Don’t hear me pressuring you.

I invite you to our faith community or to one of our worship services or events. Connect with us in some way to journey together with us, to practice applying faith together, to messing up and to being forgiven…TOGETHER!

P (Prayer): Lord, I believe, help my unbelief! Amen.


Law AND Gospel

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S (Scripture): Mark 10:17 As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”

18 Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. 19  You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.”

20 “Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 22 But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.

23 Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” 24 His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! 25  It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”

O (Observation): So the man coming before God claims that he has no problem keeping the Law. Turns out…his problem is with living out the Law. Sounds strange.

The Law was about giving God’s people boundary-markers, which in turn supports life for everyone. Over time, the Law became more and more about what someone could get away with and remain in good standing with God.

This rich man may very well have been keeping to the letter of the Law, but the spirit of the Law was completely missed. I blame the teachers of the Law.

The result of the teaching at the time: you could be rich, have no worries about the poor, and keep to the letter of the Law…all while avoiding one’s personal cross and corporate cross.

Who cares for the poor, then? We don’t have a commandment about that.

A (Application): So each of the 10 Commandments is a Law, but when explored through the lens of Law & Gospel, we see a bit more clearly how each commandment brings life!

For example: “You shall have no other gods.” Seems like a problem if we look at money or fame to bring us hope in this life. That is true. We will never get enough of those things. But what do we have? The ONE true God who brings life! Can’t get any better than that!

Or how about the commandment: “You shall not steal”? Martin Luther says this in his teaching regarding this commandment in “The Small Catechism”:

We are to fear and love God so that, we neither steal or take our neighbor’s property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income.

So not only are we to “not steal” from someone, we are to do all we can to help improve and protect our neighbor’s property and financial status.

Law AND Gospel.

What to avoid AND how to engage.

Who is teaching the Law to you these days? Who is teaching the Gospel?

Seems to me that a bit of both is the way to go. Guess that’s what makes me a Lutheran Christian.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us on track and give us grace to keep moving. Thanks!

500th Anniversary of the Reformation!!!

Photo credit here.  

Check out the Lutheran World Federation’s live streaming of commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the Refomation from around the globe!!!

S (Scripture): Ezekiel 36: 22 Therefore, say to the house of Israel, The Lord God proclaims: House of Israel, I’m not acting for your sake but for the sake of my holy name, which you degraded among the nations where you have gone. 23 I will make my great name holy, which was degraded among the nations when you dishonored it among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord. This is what the Lord God says.

When I make myself holy among you in their sight, 24 I will take you from the nations, I will gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you to your own fertile land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be cleansed of all your pollution. I will cleanse you of all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your stony heart from your body and replace it with a living one, 27 and I will give you my spirit so that you may walk according to my regulations and carefully observe my case laws. 28 Then you will live in the land that I gave to your ancestors, you will be my people, and I will be your God.

O (Observation): As a prophet, Ezekiel continues to share God’s word regarding the sinfulness of the people and God’s mercy and grace.    Notice what instigates God’s mercy:  God’s own desire to cleanse God’s people.  

This element of grace cannot be overstated!   God’s people are not doing a special act!  They are not even repentant until they are shown the distance between their actions and God’s grace.  They are to look at themselves in the mirror, and see what they truly are: a people who have taken their stature as God’s children for granted.  

God decides to sprinkle clean water on God’s people… and to put a new heart and a new spirit in them…God will even give back to God’s people the land they once were given…and it is promised to be like the Eden of old.   

God graces God’s people.  Not for what they’ve done, but because God desires it.  

A (Application):  To be sprinkled clean…to be given a new heart and spirit…this is the hope of a Christian baptism.  We retain our identity, and yet something has changed.   We are transformed. We say we “die with Christ” in baptism, so that we might be raised with Jesus and live a new life. 

The sprinkling of water in this text reminds us of baptism.   We are also reminded of the fact that baptism is SO MUCH what God does.  Then, we live our lives in response to that grace and mercy.  

As Lutheran Christians, we baptism at any age.  Baptizing adults is the norm from Scripture.  The believer makes promises to live into the covenant of baptism.   God promises to be present in, with, and under the water, effecting change in the believer.  Faith alone makes this sacrament possible.  

Martin Luther and cohorts – 500 years ago – reminded the Church that God’s grace was not for sale.  And not just this, but that God’s grace was comes to set us free to love and serve our neighbor.  This shift causes us to focus less on our own salvation, and more about serving others.  

The word from Ezekiel today (though not often used to help explain infant baptism), is yet another example of how far God’s grace reaches.    At no point in this text are God’s people repentant.  God makes it all pretty clear:  I’m doing this for my name, alone.  So we believe in infant baptism, as God’s grace – alone – is instilled in us.  Parents and baptismal sponors make known their desire to aid the infant or child in their rearing.  They promise to raise the child in the faith and to aid them in their faith development.  And these actions are all born out of what God has already granted to the child: namely, mercy and grace.  

Part of our weekly worship is a time of Confession & Forgiveness.  In this rite, we confess our sins, then we hear the words: “in the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven of all your sins.”   Why these words?  These are a reminder of God’s baptismal promise to cleanse us…to give us a new spirit and a new heart.  

May today – the 500th anniversary of the Reformation – be a reminder to you that you are forgiven, loved, and made new in Christ Jesus.  And may that forgiveness be what inspires you to examine your motives and actions every day.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, remind us that you are not an angry God, but a God of grace and mercy.  Amen. 

AFFIRM – ELCA Youth Camp

I haven’t posted this week because I’m helping to lead a youth camp called AFFIRM, a youth-event of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA.   

Here, we welcome people to come as they are as children of God, remind folks they are made in the image of God, embody forgiveness and grace, and make sure that ALL know that they have a God that loves them.  

I’ll be back to my regular devotional postings on Monday, June 26.  Peace!

Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS)

S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 2:1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

O (Observation):  Factions in the church again.  Paul reminds the early church that only one thing matters…Christ, and him crucified.   

A (Application):  Not that works of faith don’t matter…just that the one thing that unites us all is Christ, and him crudicfied.   

We’ve added lots of layers over the years, creating thousands of divisions within Christianity.   Paul imagined a much simpler way:  believe that Christ was crucified for you, for me.   In this way, we can see that we are part of ONE body.  

In this year, the 500th anniversay of the Reformation, many of the efforts are set towards showing how we as Lutherans (of the ELCA) are striving towards fuller participation with the Roman Catholic Church.  One such show of progress is the document: Declaration on the Way.  

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website states: “The heart of the Declaration is the Statement of Agreements. On church, ministry and Eucharist, the Declaration draws together a litany of 32 consensus statements, where Catholics and Lutherans already have said there are not church-dividing differences between them.”  (The website for this summary is here.)   This page also contains a Executive Summary of the declaration.  

To read the full “Declaration” document, click here.

For more information about activities for the ELCA’s commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, go here.

May we know full unity. 

P (Prayer):  Lord, simplify things for us, that we might know the full expanse of your being.  Amen. 

Sin and the Interpretation of Scripture.  (Oh, and Same-Sex Marriage)

S (Scripture): Romans 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! Certainly, I would not have known sin except through the law. For indeed I would not have known what it means to desire something belonging to someone else if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” … 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it I died. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good.

… 15 For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I do what I don’t want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me.

O (Observation):  Paul gives a somewhat exhaustive and complicated explanation to the purpose of the law.   The law is meant to bring life, ideally.  The Commandments from God – if lived out – bring about a world that submits to God and brings harmony between people.  So the Law (10 Commandments) and the law (the Jewish laws and interpretations of God’s will for God’s people) is NOT inherently bad or sinful.   Rather, the sin that resides in us is what causes us to do the wrong, which we hate. 

Paul is telling the Jewish Christians of Rome that the Law / law is neither the problem nor the solution.  Instead, sin is the problem!   The Law / law points out our brokenness, and thus, reminds us that no one of us (Jew or Gentile) is better than another.  

So, the Law / law is still meant for good…but is not the marker for salvation.   

A (Application):  Much of the battle between denominations is over the interpretation of Scripture.   Some read more literally (I.e. God created in 7 days), while some view the different parts of the Bible as a collection of different genres, thus interpreting different parts of the Bible based on the genre (I.e. Creation is a myth – story that tells an ultimate truth – and thus it matters not how many days – or eons – it took to create.  Point is: God created!)

This difference in interpretation then leads to major theological differences.  A hot topic is the issue of same-sex marriage.   Should this be allowed or not?   Different denominations come to different conclusions.   Should clergy be allowed to serve if they are in a same-sex marriage (or committed relationship)?   For the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) the answer is:  Yes!  They can be allowed, but the congregation has to decide for itself if they will allow this.  Again, the interpretation of scripture is important, because some will take a broader view of the arc of Scripture and some will look at strict interpretations of key verses to support or refute the decision of the interpretation.  

Why bring this up?  It comes back to the Law / law and sin.   No matter who interprets the Scriptures, some sin will exist in us.  The Scriptures, which are made for our good, can and will be twisted in various ways because of the sin that resides in us.   Anyone who interpreted the Law / law (or more broadly, Scripture) will have an interpretation tainted by sin.   Sin will take the life out of the good intention.  

So, we are all on equal footing.   We are all interpreting the Scriptures with some element of brokenness in our hearts and minds.  So, with the guidance of the Spirit we do the best we can to faithfully interpret Scripture.  As the ELCA, we recognize our shortcomings, and open up the Scriptures to multiple interpretations within our own denomination.  Does that open a can of worms?  Absolutely!  Does that mean we stop interpreting?  Certainly not!

We do the best we can to interpret scripture faithfully.  The main driving point then becomes how do we interpret scripture through the person of Jesus Christ?   That is our main driving point: Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection.   Only through that lens, do we feel like we can faithfully interpret the Scriptures. 

Not better or worse than anyone else…just differently.   And hopefully, with the help of the Spirit.  

P (Prayer): Lord, open our eyes to the Scriptures in ways that bear fruit for your kingdom.  Amen. 

My seminary – Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary 

  S (Scripture): Genesis 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons because he was a son born to him late in life, and he made a special tunic for him. 4 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated Joseph and were not able to speak to him kindly.

18 Now Joseph’s brothers saw him from a distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this master of dreams! 20 Come now, let’s kill him, throw him into one of the cisterns, and then say that a wild animal ate him. Then we’ll see how his dreams turn out!”

36 Now in Egypt the Midianites sold Joseph to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

O (Observation): Joseph was the runt of the litter.  He deserved only the scraps of inheritance from Jacob/Israel, his father.   That was the custom.  And the disturbing fact for Jacob’s firstborn is that Jacob loved Joseph the most.  Frustrating to say the least. 

But Joseph was given dreams that pointed him to the fact that he would be bowed to.  That prophetic vision was given to Joseph, even before what he knew to do with it. 

In the end, Joseph escaped.  Not of his own doing, but he escaped nonetheless.  The hope of the dream is continued.  

A (Application):  Today I’m in Columbia, SC.  I’m attending an alumni focus group at Lutheran Theological  Southern Seminary.   The dreams Kelly and I dreamed here are continually coming into focus.  Driving by familiar sites last night and this morning are causing me to recall those dreams.  

I also recall the dreams of those classmates with whom I shared time and energy.  I also know of some of the cisterns we have all fallen into – some our own doing, some caused by forces unknown. 

Sometimes things work out like we plan; sometimes they don’t.  

Many who have been formed by this seminary have realized that the journey is guided by God’s hand.  And we begin to move out into the world under God’s umbrella of grace.  

We are given the Spirit to guide us on our journey.  My seminary taught me lots of things, but mostly, my seminary formed me and shaped me to discern the presence of the Spirit through worship, relationships, and reaching out to my neighbor.  

Thanks, Lutheran TheologicalSouthern  Seminary!

P (Prayer):  Lord, thank you for always being with me and my family.  Be with my seminary.  Help the seminary to continue to form and shape leaders of the church for today and tomorrow.  Amen.