Paul Wrote a Letter to Me, Today (and Maybe to You, too!)

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S (Scripture): 2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we always must thank God for you, brothers and sisters who are loved by God. This is because he chose you from the beginning to be the first crop of the harvest. This brought salvation, through your dedication to God by the Spirit and through your belief in the truth. 14 God called all of you through our good news so you could possess the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions we taught you, whether we taught you in person or through our letter. 16 Our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and a good hope. 17 May he encourage your hearts and give you strength in every good thing you do or say.

3:1 Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us so that the Lord’s message will spread quickly and be honored, just like it happened with you. 2 Pray too that we will be rescued from inappropriate and evil people since everyone that we meet won’t respond with faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful and will give you strength and protect you from the evil one. 4 We are confident about you in the Lord—that you are doing and will keep doing what we tell you to do. 5 May the Lord lead your hearts to express God’s love and Christ’s endurance.

O (Observation): Paul gives encouragement to the church in Thessalonica, to keep on fighting the good fight of faith.  

A (Application):  I guess you can say that I feel as if Paul wrote this letter to me, today.   

Maybe you feel like this, as well?

#SpiritLeadMe

#NoSilenceNoViolence

P (Prayer): Spirit, lead me.  

In Case of Rapture…

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S (Scripture): 1 Thessalonians 5:9 God didn’t intend for us to suffer his wrath but rather to possess salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 Jesus died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with him. 11 So continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already.

O (Observation):  Many in Paul’s time wondered when Jesus was coming back.  For many of that time, who believed that Jesus was the Son of God, Jesus’ return was thought to be imminent.  Like…tomorrow is Jesus’ likely time of return.   And because of this, many lived in fear.  They feared Jesus’ return, because they feared that they might be doing something “wrong” when Jesus comes back.  

So Paul reminds the people that Jesus was not about causing fear, but rather, salvation!   Jesus was about overcoming the gap in relationship between the people and God.  Death was the greatest gap between God and God’s people, and God overcame that gap by allowing Jesus to suffer and die, then be raised.   In being raised, Jesus overcame the power of sin and death.   

So, whether they are awake or asleep (that is, alive or dead) they are the Lord’s!  In other words, God is always with you.  So keep going about your work and stop worrying about your salvation being dependent upon the action you are engaging in at the exact moment Jesus comes back.   Instead, keep encouraging each other that God wishes for you to carry out your daily duties…and to do so with joy.   

A (Application):  I saw a bumper sticker once that said: “WARNING: In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.”   I’ve also seen some that say: “In case of rapture, can I have your car?”

Obviously, the second sticker is a humorous response to the first.   But the first sticker represents a whole concept that inspires fear in Christian believers.   And unfortunately, that fear creates a sub-culture within Christianity that revolves around “doing / looking good for Jesus.”   The problem with this line of thinking is that – if we’re being honest – we will falter, and thus, we will be stressed out over our eternal salvation. 

Paul reminded those in Thessalonica that Jesus’ return was a joy, not a fear!

To non-Christians, the whole rapture component looks like cleaning up the house real quick before the parents come home.  Can’t let them know we had that party!   Quick, sweep that junk under the rug.  Toss out the beer cans!   Spray the Lysol EVERYWHERE.   

Look…God is bigger than our faults and failures…and the times in Scripture when God is most disappointed with us is when we try to cover up our faults and pretend that we are faithful, when we are not.  God is angry with empty praise and empty worship.   

God can handle our faults.  God simply requires a repentant heart.    God takes care of the rest.  

So let us encourage others – Christians and non-Christians alike – to be honest with one another and to humbly seek God’s forgiveness and the wideness of God’s mercy.   

P (Prayer): Lord, give us hearts of joy, not fear.  Amen.  

Why Worship?


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S (Scripture): Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. 14 And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people. 16 The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.

O (Observation): Paul teaches a clear ethic of love and forgiveness.  Caring for one another is at the heart of Paul’s words.   Be kind to one another, not just for your sake or the sake of the one you interact with…but for the Lord’s sake, as well.    

The word of Christ must dwell in you, richly.   Not only Jesus himself, but also songs and scriptures.   Paul calls his people to constantly remind themselves of the forgiveness and mercy that God has shown to God’s people throughout history.   In recalling theses words through song and readings, Paul reminds his folks that they will be close to the heart of God…and doing God’s work. 

A (Application):  Every week during worship, in our liturgy, in our songs, in our readings, we recall God’s saving acts of forgiveness, love, and mercy.  Many don’t realize, but the liturgy in Lutheran worship is steeped in the words of scripture.   We know much more of the scriptures than we give ourselves credit for.   Folks might not be able to recall chapter and verse of some of the scriptures, but it does enter their hearts and minds.   And it enters the hearts and minds of our little ones, too!   This is why we love having our children in worship with us.  

We can learn a lot during worship, but for Lutherans, worship is not just a time for learning.  Worship is also a time for absorbing God’s dynamic presence: through symbols, through sacraments, through hearing and reading God’s word directly, through singing hymns and psalms, and though God’s word proclaimed and prayed.   

We sing and proclaim and share God’s peace with one another, all for God’s glory.  This practice is then carried out into the world.  We gather weekly to be reminded of who and whose we are.  We are then equipped and sent into the world to love and serve our neighbors. 

Worship shapes us.   Worship is not just for “me and Jesus.”   Worship transforms the rest of our lives…until we gather again, in God’s name, to be reminded of who and whose we are.   

May we capture this sense of grace and share it in the world today.  

P (Prayer): Lord, gather us in, equip us, send us forth to serve.  Amen.  

Who Defines “Contentment”?

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S (Scripture): Philippians 4:10 [Paul writes] I was very glad in the Lord because now at last you have shown concern for me again. (Of course you were always concerned but had no way to show it.) 11 I’m not saying this because I need anything, for I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. 12 I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. 13 I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.

O (Observation): Paul is wrapping up his letter to the church in Philippi. He knows that his fellow Jesus-followers in Philippi have supported him all along, but he must have been able to receive some concrete form of support from them. He mentions "you have shown concern for me again…". He knows they have cared for him all along, but seeing a gift is like icing on the cake.

But in any case, Paul is content. He is happy whether or not he receive tangible evidence of support, because he has discovered something even more powerful and effective: endurance through the power of Jesus.

Paul has had plenty and has had little. In both cases, he was content. This is the Gospel strength: in much or in want, he can be content, with strength to endure though Jesus.

A (Application): When was the last time you were truly content?

Being content is difficult in our consumerist society. You are constantly reminded of what you don't have. For Paul, he had times when he had very little; he had times when he didn't even have his freedom (imprisoned).

Paul was gifted with strength to endure times of want…and to find contentment even with very little in hand. He found his strength in Jesus.

With strength through Jesus to become content, what does this do for us? Being content allows us to focus less on ourselves, and opens us to care for others. Unfortunately, this looks like foolishness to the world. So not only do we have to contend with personal struggles of denying ourselves, the world is also on our back, demanding that we look out for me, myself, and I…first and foremost.

The only thing to counter these struggles (which Jesus has already overcome) is to lean on Jesus' strength.

I suggest we learn about others needs, in the meantime. Especially listening to those who are NOT like us. (For me, "us" means white, male, Protestant.)

I have a lot to learn about those around me. My understanding of contentment may have to be different than the understanding of contentment to the homeless community, the black community, the Hispanic community, the gay and lesbian community, the atheist community.

I wonder if there is a difference.

I won't know…until I listen.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to listen. Amen.

The Journey can be Exhausting

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S (Scripture): Philippians 3:10 The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death 11 so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead.

12 It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. 13 Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. 14 The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.

O (Observation): Paul is helping the faith community know that one's faith journey is always ongoing. And the strength to continue the journey does not come from one's own gut or power or inner strength. Rather, the power to run this race of faith comes from knowing (or being known by) Christ and the power of his resurrection. And not just this, but letting one's ego go is part of the faithful response to being in this race / on this journey.

The race / journey continues. We never reach the zenith. But we strive for it. Always.

A (Application): Martin Luther once said:

This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.

According to this quote, the journey of faith never ends. That can be exciting and yet exhausting.

If you are exhausted, take a breath, take a break, but let someone know you are going through this exhaustion. Don't just hold it in. Let close ones know your experience. Sometimes the church helps with this process. Sometimes it makes things worse. Find someone you trust and let them know. You are not alone. We are in this together.

And a little break is needed from time to time.

Catch your breath. Splash some water on your face…maybe have some wine and bread. Remember who and whose you are.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us strength on this journey of faith. Amen.

Can We (Christians) All Get Along?

S (Scripture): Philippians 1:27 Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel…29 God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. 30 You are having the same struggle that you saw me face and now hear that I’m still facing.

2:1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, 2 complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. 3 Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. 4 Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.

O (Observation):  Paul knows what it means to be persecuted because of following Jesus.  He has served Jesus ever since his Damascus Road experience.  And now, Paul is teaching his followers what it means to follow Jesus…that following Jesus brings joy, but also persecution.   The persecutions will not be experienced alone.  Jesus shares those persecutions with his followers.  

Getting along with other followers of Jesus will also be a challenge and will be a persecution in its own way, too.  Each will have to suffer his or her own ego to take a back seat to the needs of the other.    That means not only will they be called upon to experience joy with the world around them…they would have to figure out how to get along with other Christ followers!

A (Application): Following Jesus means suffering your wants and desires to have a lower priority than Jesus’ call to discipleship. This means thinking of yourself less (like CS Lewis’ famous quote), without thinking less of yourself.  

In our world, we have quite the scarcity mindset.  We think: “If someone else wins, I must be losing.”    If someone else’s needs are met before mine, then I am weak and the other is strong.    

This scarcity spills over into our spiritual beliefs.   Can someone else who follows Christ believe something different than me about, say…the end times…or what it means to be “saved”…or how to baptize (sprinkle or immersion)…or whether I can hang out and support those of other faiths…or the LGBTQ community?   To many, we cannot have different sets of standards and follow the same Christ.   This is why we have over 30,000 denominations.  We can’t get along!

I wonder what Paul would think?

I know what I think:  we let the good and bad mingle together, doing the best we can to listen to God and respond.  I hope this includes a wide variety of opinions about what it means to follow Christ, without making anyone feel like they can’t be in fellowship together.   Let us bring joy to the world, because Jesus brought us joy in the first place.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to see that winning and losing are not the goal…but instead, following you wherever you may lead us…and to do so with great joy.  Amen. 

In the Face of the Bad, Practice the Better

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 12:Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.  8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

O (Observation):  Paul was said to have had a physical ailment that kept him from ever being fully healthy, physically.   I’d have to do more research on this, but regardless of the ailment, Paul makes a theological point.

Paul understands his physical ailment, or weakness, to be reminded that he is not whole…not without Christ.  Paul understands that even though he is weak, that simply makes room for Christ to show up and make him whole.  

What does it look like for Christ to make Paul whole?  Jesus’ grace, filling in where Paul is weak. 

A (Application):  When Christians throw around knowledge or Scripture to publicly condemn Christians or non-Christians, I get more than a little irked.   Maybe I get irked because I have a hard time with rebuttals.  I need time to think something through, and to consider all the angles before I respond.  When I respond too hastily, I find that I get too emotional in my responses, or too narrow-minded.   

We can all serve as Jesus did, sharing the Gospel, bringing healing and forgiveness, even bringing new life where there is none.   But when others criticize you for it, don’t feel like you need a rebuttal.   If you are doing something in Christ’s name that is giving life to something or someone else, fear not.  Embrace the apparent weakness, that Jesus’ grace might be sufficient to satisfy you.    

As we take the example of Jesus, we might simply turn from the negative attitudes around us, and do something GOOD in response.  Richard Rohr shares the core values of the Center for Action and Contemplation on their website.  One core principle is this:

“the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better”

As Christians and non-Christians alike try to knock you down when you serve or speak in the name of Jesus…let them…for in your weakness, Jesus’ grace will fill you.  Practice the better. Let this be Jesus’ way of filling you with grace.  

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us filled with your grace, that we might practice the better in the face of the bad.  Amen.