Words, words, words

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S (Scripture): Psalm 64

1

Listen to me when I complain, God!

    Protect my life from the enemy’s terror!

Hide me from the secret plots of wicked people;

    hide me from the schemes of evildoers

        who sharpen their tongues like swords.

They aim their arrow—a cruel word—

    from their hiding places

    so as to shoot an innocent person.

    They shoot without warning and without fear.

They encourage themselves with evil words.

    They plan on laying traps in secret.

O (Observation): The psalmist prays for God’s protection, giving great detail as to how the enemy is preparing for an attack: their tongues will be like swords, cruel words will be their weapons!

The psalmist trusts in God to tangle up the enemy, to ruin the plans of the enemy.

Maybe that is comfort enough.

A (Application): Sticks and stones, right? Our parents always said this…and yet what wars are we in? Word wars!

News cycles consistently quote our nation’s leaders, and on social media we tear one another apart over the words we use to explain ourselves and our positions.

Yet, in the end, the most important issue is relationships. Relationships with friends and those with whom we disagree is the birthplace of peace.

We pray that God would guide our words so that we might establish a constructive path forward towards peace, towards truth-telling, towards forgiveness and reconciliation.

P (Prayer): Lord, guise my words this day into the way of peace. Amen.

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Conversation, Not Judgment

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S (Scripture): Romans 14:13 So stop judging each other. Instead, this is what you should decide: never put a stumbling block or obstacle in the way of your brother or sister. 14 I know and I’m convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is wrong to eat in itself. But if someone thinks something is wrong to eat, it becomes wrong for that person. 15 If your brother or sister is upset by your food, you are no longer walking in love. Don’t let your food destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 And don’t let something you consider to be good be criticized as wrong. 17 God’s kingdom isn’t about eating food and drinking but about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever serves Christ this way pleases God and gets human approval.

O (Observation): Paul encourages Christ-followers who have different opinions about customs to NOT let the customs get in the way of growing the community of faith. He’s not saying one should become a doormat and let other’s opinions reign…you can defend your position. And in that conversation go the way that brings peace, joy, and righteousness.

A (Application): So…don’t judge someone. Get to know why they are doing what they are doing. Hopefully, the conversation will be one in which both parties can understand the other party’s view-point. Ultimately, peace, joy, and righteousness need to be the markers against which our actions and thoughts are measured, not just our feelings or passion.

In Christ, we have one who guides us by example. In the Spirit, we have a companion to go with us to help us make these conversations happen.

P (Prayer): Spirit, guide us into the way of peace, joy, righteousness. Amen.

Non-Violent Direct Action

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S (Scripture): Acts 23:12 The next morning some Jewish leaders formulated a plot and solemnly promised that they wouldn’t eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13 More than forty people were involved in the conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have solemnly promised to eat nothing until we have killed Paul. 15 You and the council must explain to the commander that you need Paul brought down to you. Pretend that you want to examine his case more closely. We’re prepared to kill him before he arrives.”

O (Observation): Paul was nearing the end of his time. He sort of sensed it, but never gave up. He was smart and faithful.

Probably a bit scared, too, no? He was well connected, but the scary part of the story is the lengths to which these church leaders would go to silence Paul, and thereby crush his influence on others.

People of God thinking that killing the opposition is the right thing to do. We, unfortunately, have examples of this in the Old Testament. Oppose God? Die!

Well…

A (Application): I don’t pretend that suffering as a Christian in America is anywhere near suffering as a Christian in 1st century Israel or Rome, nor as a Christian today in certain countries run by dictators.

But American Christians can be rather hurtful and downright evil in their expression of the “defense” of their faith. These angry Christians believe that Christianity is in danger of being compromised. Like they have to come to God’s defense. Can’t God take care of Godself?

Not that we back down from our beliefs. We simply don’t need to defend God, other than in a non-violent direct action kind of way. We can stand up for causes and for equal rights, but not in a violent or vindictive way.

We seek God and others to discern our responses to evil in this world. If they include violence to make our point…we must return to prayer.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us wise and discerning hearts and minds. We go to the cross, not to weapons. Amen.

Do I Have to Go???

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S (Scripture): Acts 16:11 We (I.e. Paul and crew) sailed from Troas straight for Samothrace and came to Neapolis the following day. 12 From there we went to Philippi, a city of Macedonia’s first district and a Roman colony. We stayed in that city several days. 13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the riverbank, where we thought there might be a place for prayer. We sat down and began to talk with the women who had gathered. 14 One of those women was Lydia, a Gentile God-worshipper from the city of Thyatira, a dealer in purple cloth. As she listened, the Lord enabled her to embrace Paul’s message. 15 Once she and her household were baptized, she urged, “Now that you have decided that I am a believer in the Lord, come and stay in my house.” And she persuaded us.

O (Observation): What a great coincidence. Or was it a hunch? Or was it divinely ordained? The meeting between Paul and Lydia is a great reflection on getting out there and making connections…the results of which one would never know if one didn’t explore.

Lydia is just barely mentioned in this text, but if you keep on reading, you will see that she is a Person of Peace for Paul and his group of disciples.

They go to the water – outside the city gate – because that could be a place of prayer. Paul goes there, to that specific place, and he meets a fellow God-worshipper. Likely Jewish and likely rich (a good business person dealing with expensive purple cloth and a person of faith), Lydia happens to be connected to lots of folks.

Who knows if this was divinely ordained or God happened to be working in their midst…either way, God sparked a great friendship that would connect Paul to a wider community.

A (Application): When we do ministry out in the world, in our every day lives, or during a specially planned ministry event, we never know what the outcome will be. We pray that God would put people into our paths or that God would give us courage.

Then we do the “thing.” We do what we set out to do.

And afterwards, we reflect. Where was God in that activity / event? Who was revealed to be someone who would receive me? Who did I chat with that accepts my life testimony?

We never know going in, but almost always, we learn what God was up to coming out of it.

The problem is in the “not going.” If we don’t go, we won’t know if God was there. We won’t know if God was opening others’ hearts and minds to receive us and our testimony.

So…go! Do it! Send that card! Plan that event! Go and visit those people! And just see what God has been working on.

P (Prayer): Lord, remind us that you are with us, always. Amen.

Peace

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S (Scripture): Psalm 120

5

Oh, I’m doomed

because I have been an immigrant in Meshech,

because I’ve made my home among Kedar’s tents.

6

I’ve lived far too long

with people who hate peace.

7

I’m for peace,

but when I speak, they are for war.

O (Observation): the psalmist speaks of being cast out to a foreign place. In that place of uncertainty, the palmist speaks up for peace, but…the cry for peace returns with cries of war.

A (Application): A simple meditation today. What I did with this text was to simply dwell in vv. 6 and 7. I repeated them, slowly, over and over in my heart.

War doesn’t just mean guns and bombs and land. War can mean being unsettled, being in a prison of one’s own making. The battlefield might be for larger numbers, or more influence, or more stuff.

Hate peace? That’s like living in a constant state of discontent.

I’m for peace. Let’s see how long God grants me peace.

P (Prayer): Lord, peace…is your calling for us all. Help us all to see peace. Amen.

Hope Amidst the Storms

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S (Scripture): Psalm 89:9

You rule over the surging sea:

When its waves rise up,

it’s you who makes them still.

O (Observation): A very simple, yet comforting word today. A promise of hope amidst the chaos of life.

A (Application): Lord, when so much is going on – good and bad – I can be overwhelmed and yet you see me through it. Guide me, and calm the storms around me.

P (Prayer): Lord, rise up against the chaos around me. Amen.

Lead Me Beside Still Waters

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S (Scripture): Psalm 23

1 The Lord is my shepherd.
I lack nothing.
2 He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
he leads me to restful waters;
3 he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
for the sake of his good name.
4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
they protect me.
5 You set a table for me
right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
my cup is so full it spills over!
6 Yes, goodness and faithful love
will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the Lord’s house
as long as I live.

O (Observation): This famous psalm is a psalm of assurance for those in dire circumstances. This faithful witness provides hope to all who are facing difficulties.

This psalm is full of wonderful images that contrast the challenges facing the person described in the psalm.

A dark valley full of danger, with God protecting with rod and staff. Enemies ready for battle, but a table – a sign of comfort and fellowship – where opposing forces will come together in peace. And instead of death and peril chasing the psalmist down, goodness and mercy (faithful love) will pursue.

Comfort and mercy in challenging times.

A (Application): With this psalm as our guide, we are given assurances (and reassurances) that God does not leave us orphaned or alone.

Six years ago, I was installed as pastor of the congregation I am now serving. A little over 6 years here and a little over 4 years in a prior call. Over 10 years of experience…and I’ve had my ups and downs – valleys and mountaintops – in both places.

On March 31, I will have been married 17 years…and yes, ups and downs, to be sure.

Kids…our oldest will be 15 on Feb 23. Our middle just turned 12. Our youngest is 5. Ups and downs? You betcha!

But through it all…through multiple moves (living in many states and in many places over the last two decades)…through debt and financial struggles…through ups and downs…God is with us.

God has been with us, even when confronted with enemies or challenges beyond our control. God has been with us, giving us images of sustenance, leading us beside still waters and making us whole, when we have felt broken.

Sometimes it looked like family, friends, or strangers entering our lives and making us feel whole. Too many stories to share here. But please see this as my witness to the joy God has brought to my life – so that I might share that joy with others. And i hope God might use me to be the sustenance for others around me – for friends, family, and even strangers.

P (Prayer): God, create a wholeness in me. Help me to be a part of your mission to bring healing and wholeness to others around me. Amen.