The Public Square

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S (Scripture): Acts 26:24 At this point in Paul’s defense, Festus declared with a loud voice, “You’ve lost your mind, Paul! Too much learning is driving you mad!”

25 But Paul replied, “I’m not mad, most honorable Festus! I’m speaking what is sound and true. 26 King Agrippa knows about these things, and I have been speaking openly to him. I’m certain that none of these things have escaped his attention. This didn’t happen secretly or in some out-of-the-way place. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you trying to convince me that, in such a short time, you’ve made me a Christian?”

29 Paul responded, “Whether it is a short or a long time, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today will become like me, except for these chains.”

O (Observation): The debate is quite interesting. Arguing a case for faith in front of a government judge is like explaining photosynthesis to a rock. It just doesn’t need to be. The courts and the religious leaders served two different purposes in Paul’s time. The religious leaders stuck to questions of faith and the political leaders were concerned with control of their people and lands.

So, in his attempt to defend himself, Paul takes the opportunity to explain that he has no beef with the state, except that he is currently in chains.

Paul then brings faith into the debate, because he is trying to appeal to the king’s faith. You believe in the prophets, right? They foretold of the one to come. Jesus!

King Agrippa won’t be pulled into a debate on faith, but I admire Paul’s struggle to make the king’s faith part of his decision regarding Paul’s possible incarceration.

A (Application): How often do we appeal to our own calling as Christians in the world when making decisions in the public square? We like to treat our faith lives separate from our everyday lives. In doing so, we miss the opportunity for God to shape us and to work with us through our everyday struggles.

When I see injustice, I consider my own self and how I am only where I am by the grace of God. Don’t others get to experience that same grace by God and the community?

When someone decides that they want to not sell a cake to someone or not marry someone because of a religious (Christian) conviction, I would suggest that their use of religion is one that looks to defend an ideology, rather than embrace the person and teachings of Christ.

First and foremost, we extend mercy, because we have first received mercy. So our following is made of worship and fellowship and service in which we can embrace this mercy and give it as we have received it.

Second, we extend mercy and lean on Christ’s teachings so as to connect with others through a shared sense of being broken. Our shared faith is not because we can confidently and boldly profess our faith, but rather we proclaim that we share a lack of perfection and wholeness. As we share our faith, we don’t just make a faith claim, but rather we speak as a people who knows they need Christ to bind them up in their woundedness.

May we be as bold as Paul to speak of our faith in the public square, and may we do so out of a response to the grace and mercy shown to us first by Christ.

P (Prayer): Lord, heal me, a sinner. Cause me to speak in your name always. Amen.


“Worthy of God’s Grace?” (Is that Even the Right Question???)

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S (Scripture): Acts 12:44 On the next Sabbath, almost everyone in the city [of Antioch] gathered to hear the Lord’s word. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were overcome with jealousy. They argued against what Paul was saying by slandering him. 46 Speaking courageously, Paul and Barnabas said, “We had to speak God’s word to you first. Since you reject it and show that you are unworthy to receive eternal life, we will turn to the Gentiles. 47 This is what the Lord commanded us:

I have made you a light for the Gentiles,

so that you could bring salvation to the end of the earth.”

O (Observation): Paul faces the Jews who doubt that Jesus is connected to God’s plan. They doubt that their rituals and customs should be overturned, because they cannot go along with this message that in Jesus all sins may be forgiven for those who believe. It just cannot be that simple! They have time-tested customs and Scripture to support their view.

So, Paul reminds them that Isaiah once told God’s people that they would be blinded by their own lack of acceptance for bringing Gentiles along. Thus, Israel would be a light for the Gentiles. If Jews didn’t accept God’s grace, perhaps the Gentiles would!

A (Application): God ALWAYS has in mind a welcome for people of the whole earth! Yet we continually find ways to push others out. We find ways to keep others from taking our God, as if there wasn’t enough room at the table for all of us.

Or maybe we have an idea of who God should accept, who God should (or shouldn’t) associate with. And when you see a situation going against your ideas…you get frustrated, or angry.

God doesn’t get even with you and I when we get angry at God’s grace for others. God simply points to you and I and says, “I’ve shown much grace to those folks. They may not deserve it, but I give it. Would you like to know my grace? Take up your cross and follow me. I’ll help you through it.”

May we be open to the Spirit’s movement in our lives and accept it as God’s grace for us all.

P (Prayer): Lord, soften our hearts for your will to be done in and through us this day. Amen.

Relying On God

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S (Scripture): Two lessons from today’s Moravian Daily Texts!!!

Ruth 4:13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife.

He was intimate with her, the Lord let her become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi, “May the Lord be blessed, who today hasn’t left you without a redeemer. May his name be proclaimed in Israel. 15 He will restore your life and sustain you in your old age. Your daughter-in-law who loves you has given birth to him. She’s better for you than seven sons.” 16 Naomi took the child and held him to her breast, and she became his guardian. 17 The neighborhood women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They called his name Obed.[c] He became Jesse’s father and David’s grandfather.

18 These are the generations of Perez: Perez became the father of Hezron, 19 Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, 20 Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 21 Salmon the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed, 22 Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David.

Luke 23:32 They also led two other criminals to be executed with Jesus…39 One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

40 Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? 41 We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”

O (Observation): What could these two lessons possibly have in common? Not much, you say? Challenge accepted!

In Ruth’s story, Ruth’s faithful witness of hospitality for her mother-in-law (Naomi) is a wonderful sign of grace. Ruth’s husband (Mahlon / Naomi’s son) dies, and Ruth has the right to leave Naomi after Mahlon’s death. But she carries on, caring for Naomi as best she can.

Ruth is left with nothing: no inheritance, no family (by blood), no real hope for employment…nothing…and yet, God’s grace works in her to allow her to be Jesse’s grandmother…David’s great-grandmother…and, in time, an ancestor of the Son of Man.

As Jesus goes to the cross, he is lifted beside two criminals – one who is belligerent and mocks Jesus, the other a new “believer.” These two men – emptied of EVERYTHING this world has to offer…and God’s grace is extended to the one who seeks mercy and God’s favor.

God provides.

A (Application): Life can be pretty topsy-turvy at times. Mine is: sicknesses, home renovations, busy schedule for kids, lots of work responsibilities, and more. Oh yeah, keep up with the joys of home ownership : )

Things add up…and we can feel pretty empty inside. We wanna be as good as Ruth. Faithful to another. But maybe it’s not so much about Ruth’s faithfulness, but is about God’s faithfulness and mercy.

Same with the cross. Two folks who didn’t deserve grace: both get it – one receives it.

Some days I’m as faithful as Ruth. Some days, I’m as rotten as the criminal mocking Jesus. Some days, I’m just willing to accept God’s grace and know God’s Kingdom more fully.

Hope abounds. In the midst of the dreary times…in the scary times, God is present in the family, friends, and professionals that aid us in our days.

P (Prayer): God, you work wonders. Work a few more today, would ya? Thanks! Amen.

Relationship, relationships

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S (Scripture): Matthew 25:14 Jesus said to his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who was leaving on a trip. He called his servants and handed his possessions over to them. 15 To one he gave five valuable coins, and to another he gave two, and to another he gave one. He gave to each servant according to that servant’s ability. Then he left on his journey.

16 “After the man left, the servant who had five valuable coins took them and went to work doing business with them. He gained five more. 17 In the same way, the one who had two valuable coins gained two more. 18 But the servant who had received the one valuable coin dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.

19 “Now after a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The one who had received five valuable coins came forward with five additional coins. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Excellent! You are a good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’

22 “The second servant also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done! You are a good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’

24 “Now the one who had received one valuable coin came and said, ‘Master, I knew that you are a hard man. You harvest grain where you haven’t sown. You gather crops where you haven’t spread seed. 25 So I was afraid. And I hid my valuable coin in the ground. Here, you have what’s yours.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You evil and lazy servant! You knew that I harvest grain where I haven’t sown and that I gather crops where I haven’t spread seed? 27 In that case, you should have turned my money over to the bankers so that when I returned, you could give me what belonged to me with interest. 28 Therefore, take from him the valuable coin and give it to the one who has ten coins. 29 Those who have much will receive more, and they will have more than they need. But as for those who don’t have much, even the little bit they have will be taken away from them. 30 Now take the worthless servant and throw him outside into the darkness.’

“People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.

O (Observation): Is this about threatening the disciples to use their gifts? Or is something more subversive going on here?

What if Jesus isn’t the owner / man leaving on a trip in this parable, but is the slave who is given 1 talent?

Jesus is being depicted the person in power as a harsh person (like locking out 1/2 of the bridesmaids in the verses just before these) and now, if Jesus is Lord, then he is treating the one with one talent very poorly.

Is this what we are to expect from Jesus?

Or is this interpretation a way for Jesus to be subversive and flip the parable upside-down.

What if the owner was a scoundrel and was unjust? What if this was Jesus’ point: Jesus will NOT rule as the person in power in this parable.

A (Application): So instead of wondering how many gifts we have, perhaps we dwell on the point that Jesus is NOT a harsh judge and will not keep us locked out. Rather, perhaps we dispel the notion that Jesus will rule in these ways. Knowing this, maybe we can be free to serve others fairly and with mercy.

Relationships are important. How we treat folks matters…here and now. Jesus will come again. In the meantime, let us treasure what relationships we haves and seek God to help us to build more bridges.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us full of mercy and grace. Amen.

Like Bouncers Checking ID’s

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S (Scripture): Matthew 15:21 From there, Jesus went to the regions of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from those territories came out and shouted, “Show me mercy, Son of David. My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.” 23 But he didn’t respond to her at all.

His disciples came and urged him, “Send her away; she keeps shouting out after us.”

24 Jesus replied, “I’ve been sent only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.”

25 But she knelt before him and said, “Lord, help me.”

26 He replied, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.”

27 She said, “Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their masters’ table.”

28 Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith. It will be just as you wish.” And right then her daughter was healed.

O (Observation): A line is drawn. On one side, a Canaanite woman, who’s daughter is possessed by a demon; on the other side, Jesus’ disciples. “Have mercy!” she says. “Get rid of her!” says the disciples.

And in the middle, straddling that line – eventually totally obliterating that line – stands Jesus.

Like a bunch of bouncers checking ID’s, the disciples wonder why Jesus is even giving this foreigner the time of day.

James Boyce (Emiritus Professor of New Testament and Greek at Luther Smeinary, St. Paul, MN) shares the following in his commentary on this text, via

Jesus’ parable raises questions about the understanding of where the boundaries of God’s mercies are to be located. Traditional ways of locating what is unclean or outside are called into question as Jesus calls for a new understanding and a new heart as the origin and center of God’s ways among us.

A (Application): We gathered yesterday, at noon and 7pm yesterday for Ash Wednesday worship services at Advent Lutheran Church. We gathered to contemplate our own mortality and mourned the loss of 17 high school students in Parkland, FL. We wondered, considering our own mortality, how to wrestle with this difficult situation.

We have questions. We are saddened. Where is God’s mercy in this situation? Where is the boundary marker here? Perhaps some of those affected by this mass shooting will bear out God’s mercy and grace. Perhaps a witness will rise up amongst the chaos and transform tragedy into hope.

Perhaps someone will move into a new circle of thought and divided peoples will come together in some way. That is the hope of this sorry from Matthew, after all.

This story of the Canaanite woman’s remarkable faith in an unexpected place serves as a reminder to me about the hope of moving outside of our normal circles.

When we are scared of moving outside of the normal circles, I wonder why that is? Are we afraid of wasting mercy and love?

Against all opposition, this woman stands her ground. Her faith is not shaken by the disciples and their lack of grace.

In my ministry, I have been surprised by reversals in my own thought and the thoughts of those around me, from a more narrow to a much wider understanding of God’s grace. I am awakening more and more to the wideness of God’s mercy.

As I move more and more into “outsider” circles, I see many who are faithful to God and / or to their neighbors. Out of compassion, these so-called outsiders show extreme care and faith, and seem to know very deeply what mercy is all about. I see God in them and I see mercy through their actions. I see people coming together to laugh, to mourn, to consider one another.

Yet I have many days when I am joining the chorus of the disciples, pushing out the needs of those struck by difficulty. I can be cruel, if I’m honest. If not verbally, maybe in my own mind.

And so, seeing both sides of this story, I stand in awe of Jesus’ words and actions. Jesus is the one who surprises us, who is the embodiment of God’s mercy and love and judgment.

Jesus allows us to speak and share, but always guides us in the moments after our speaking. Jesus brings us to God’s mercy as the key to our ministry.

May those affected by tragedy in Parkland, FL, know that sense of mercy this day. May God’s mercy be with them. May we see beyond our normal circles, and widen them to include all.

P (Prayer): Lord, we seek your mercy and love. Our broken hearts are yours. Amen.

Be Near Me, Lord Jesus

S (Scripture): Micah 4:1 But in the days to come,
the mountain of the Lord’s house
will be the highest of the mountains;
it will be lifted above the hills;
peoples will stream to it.
2 Many nations will go and say:
“Come, let’s go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of Jacob’s God,
so that he may teach us his ways
and we may walk in God’s paths!”
Instruction will come from Zion
and the Lord’s word from Jerusalem.
3 God will judge between the nations
and settle disputes of mighty nations,
which are far away.
They will beat their swords into iron plows
and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
they will no longer learn how to make war.
4 All will sit underneath their own grapevines,
under their own fig trees.
There will be no one to terrify them;
for the mouth of the Lord of heavenly forces has spoken.

O (Observation): In the times of the prophets, God’s people experienced great turmoil – being taken over by foreign nations, being threatened because of their choice of religion, being enslaved. In these terrible times of upheaval, God’s prophets would not only give a word of correction to God’s people, but also – in some manner – a word of great comfort, too. That comforting word would usually come in the form of some future hope promised by God.

In Micah 4, we have a future hope, one in which weapons are re-purposed as farming instruments…instruments of peace and life.

A (Application): God finds a way to lift up correction and yet mercy, time and time again. In almost the same breath we hear words of correction and yet words of mercy. God is both!

Jesus exudes the same stance of correction and mercy: he tells the man who is brought on a mat that his sins are forgiven (correction), and that he is healed (mercy); he tells the woman at the well that she has several husbands, yet offers her water which will quench her thirst forever; he tells the story of a boy who hit rock bottom, but is also welcomed home by his father.

The story of hope is the story of the Scriptures. Even the challenging texts from Revelation point to Jesus as victor over the hideous beasts this broken world has to offer.

The season of Advent calls us to be a hopeful people. We will be so, but we will need constant reminding. So we gather for worship and with one another for mutual uplifting. We gather in the community to meet people and to serve people.

May this Advent waiting fill you with hope, even if the signs around you point out what you lack.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us hopeful his season. Just “BE” with us. Amen.

If you’re going through a difficult season of life, we invite you to come and worship with us on Sunday, December 17, 2017, at 3pm, for “The Longest Night” worship service, a worship time of Longing, Hope, and Healing.

Click here for our Facebook event for more details regarding “The Longest Night.”

Ninevah? Say WHAT?!?!?!

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S (Scripture): Jonah 1:1 The Lord’s word came to Jonah, Amittai’s son: 2 “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their evil has come to my attention.”

3 So Jonah got up—to flee to Tarshish from the Lord! He went down to Joppa and found a ship headed for Tarshish. He paid the fare and went aboard to go with them to Tarshish, away from the Lord.

O (Observation): Jonah responded to the Lord. He responded alright – in the opposite direction! Later on, Jonah admits that he never liked the Ninevites. He just knew God would have mercy on them. He wouldn’t be able to stand to see mercy on them, if that is how things were going to turn out.

Jonah was so reluctant to follow the Lord’s word that he takes off in the opposite direction!

A (Application): We all have had our Jonah experiences: You want me to do what, Lord? In my life, that means donating 10% of our income, praying in the home, singing hymns sometimes, worshipping every week, spending part of our Thanksgiving morning serving others in our community, and on and on.

We all have our “Ninevah’s” too, don’t we? Folks or movements that we don’t think deserve God’s mercy, yet God is calling us to extend that mercy, anyway.

Where is your Tarshish – that place you run to to flee God’s calling? Is it your home? The office? The internet?

See what beauty God has in store for you. Follow God’s call. See what that mercy looks like. I can’t promise you that you’ll love it, or even like it…but maybe you’ll learn something about our God.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us the strength to face the Ninevah’s in our world, to bear your Gospel message wherever we go. Amen.