The Lord’s Power…Not Ours

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S (Scripture): Acts 11:19 Now those who were scattered as a result of the trouble that occurred because of Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. They proclaimed the word only to Jews. 20 Among them were some people from Cyprus and Cyrene. They entered Antioch and began to proclaim the good news about the Lord Jesus also to Gentiles. 21 The Lord’s power was with them, and a large number came to believe and turned to the Lord.

O (Observation): Stephen was stoned to death for witnessing to the people regarding Jesus as God’s Son. The Jews that stoned him stood their ground on their understanding of who God is and believed calling Jesus “Lord” was blasphemy.

As a result of this terrible act of hatred, Jesus’ believers were scattered. Well, only God could turn tragedy into triumph. Having been scattered after Stephen’s death, Stephen’s cohorts continued to share God’s Good News of hope and salvation for ALL people into the towns of Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. The result: more believers!

And the key is in v. 21:

Acts11:21 The Lord’s power was with them, and a large number came to believe and turned to the Lord.

God was at work in the midst of the witness of Jesus’ followers.

A (Application): How often do we believe that “we” bring God’s presence into the room?

When I go to visit someone at the hospital, I must realize that God was there before me, is there with me, and remains with the person when I leave.

When I preach, I’m not starting from nothing: God’s presence is there already.

When I talk to a stranger about my faith, I need not worry, for God will prepare the words for me to say (though it’s a good idea to practice some words in the meantime : )

We have the distinct privilege and advantage knowing that – like Stephen’s cohorts – that the Lord is doing the work through us. We use our energy and senses to carry the Gospel, but God’s power is what changes hearts and minds.

So, we prepare…we show up…we do the work we are called to do…and the Lord’s power moves from there.

P (Prayer): Lord, Work your power through us, in us, even in spite of us. Amen.


The Jesus Way

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S (Scripture): (A little more verses than I normally use, but important for the point that strikes me today.)

Mark 11:27 Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem again. As Jesus was walking around the temple, the chief priests, legal experts, and elders came to him. 28 They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?”

29 Jesus said to them, “I have a question for you. Give me an answer, then I’ll tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things. 30  Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin? Answer me.”

31 They argued among themselves, “If we say, ‘It’s of heavenly origin,’ he’ll say, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But we can’t say, ‘It’s of earthly origin.’” They said this because they were afraid of the crowd, because they all thought John was a prophet. 33 They answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.”

12:1 Jesus spoke to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the winepress, and built a tower. Then he rented it to tenant farmers and took a trip. 2 When it was time, he sent a servant to collect from the tenants his share of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they grabbed the servant, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again the landowner sent another servant to them, but they struck him on the head and treated him disgracefully. 5 He sent another one; that one they killed. The landlord sent many other servants, but the tenants beat some and killed others. 6 Now the landowner had one son whom he loved dearly. He sent him last, thinking, They will respect my son. 7 But those tenant farmers said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 They grabbed him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

9 “So what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10  Haven’t you read this scripture, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 11 The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes?”

12 They wanted to arrest Jesus because they knew that he had told the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.

O (Observation): Normally, when we read scripture, the chapter numbers take on more meaning than they should. Notice that the transition from chapter 11 to 12 is not a change of setting or audience. The leaders of the church are trying to trap Jesus into an answer regarding his authority: if he says this is on God’s authority, perhaps Jesus will expose himself to criticism or if he does this ministry on his own authority, they can dismiss him.

Point is, they don’t see Jesus as being in line with God’s mission for the world.

But Jesus’ way is not to directly respond to the questions of those in authority. Instead, he turns the tables and asks the church leaders a question about authority. He makes them think. He exposes their desires. They just want to stay in power. So they are concerned with their own worldly authority gained by their position…not by the influence that God has on people through faith.

The parable Jesus shares seems to place Jesus in a long line of messengers, of which he is the Son, and John is one of the many prophets whom God has sent to God’s people. The prophets of old came before John. Jesus’ authority comes as one who is sent from God. God has been sending messengers to God’s people for a loooong, long time. And God’s worldly leaders have missed the messages time and time again.

Jesus never got defensive. Jesus didn’t attack his enemy. He simply bounced questions back and made people think…rather than just follow a doctrine or theology. Jesus asked people to discern their role in God’s mission in the world.

This is Jesus’ Way.

A (Application): How often do you find yourself following a theology…”just because”?

Probably quite a bit.

We all do it. We all fight off the landowner’s messengers and offspring coming back to collect and see how things are going. We fight off those with prophetic voices, because we don’t want to have our theology challenged. We’ve worked hard to get where we are. We are settled on lots of issues that have come to our attention. We don’t need to dust things up.

But as each day passes, we are called to reassess who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do. How? Through prayer, meditation, studying Scripture. By bouncing ideas off of close friends and loved ones. By going out into the world to walk with your neighbors of all differing identities. In this way, you will receive the Spirit’s guidance.

The authority will be God’s.

This is Jesus’ Way.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us and help us to bear fruit for your Kingdom. Amen.

Stumbling Blocks

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S (Scripture): Matthew 19:23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I assure you that it will be very hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 In fact, it’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”

25 When his disciples heard this, they were stunned. “Then who can be saved?” they asked.

26 Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible for human beings. But all things are possible for God.”

27 Then Peter replied, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you. What will we have?”

28 Jesus said to them, “I assure you who have followed me that, when everything is made new, when the Human One sits on his magnificent throne, you also will sit on twelve thrones overseeing the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And all who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, or farms because of my name will receive one hundred times more and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.

O (Observation): Jesus comes off of some talk about being rich and entering the Kingdom of God. How these are somewhat incompatible. The disciples claim they’ve given up everything, and that is good and well. They will receive much for this emptying of themselves.

But Jesus doesn’t leave it there. He says: “Many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.”

Kind of throws wrench into the system the disciples has in mind, no? Jesus isn’t looking for a first place finisher, just some who are showing their dedication to the Way. In this is blessing…but maybe not a “first place” finish.

A (Application): I am struck by the stories of King Arthur and the round table. Why a round table? So that there is no “head” of the table. No power position to be had.

A vision of equality at the table.

That sounds close to the truth. No status. No clawing after wealth. No power play. Just being with one another.

Ah…if only…

P (Prayer): Lord, make us loose the grip on earthly status in favor of our heavenly callings to love and grace and mercy. Amen.

Puny god

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S (Scripture): Hosea 4: 12 My people take advice from a piece of wood,
and their divining rod gives them predictions.
A spirit of prostitution has led them astray;
they have left God to follow other gods.

O (Observation): In the book of Hosea, God encourages Hosea (a prophet for God) to go and marry a prostitute as an object lesson. Hosea obeys, but does not have sex. The point is not that Hosea should “sleep around,” but to make the point: engaging with a prostitute is akin to Israel being “married” to God, yet thinking that other gods hold sway, too.

God is upset with Israel, because so many of God’s people have turned to other gods to satisfy their needs. And those who do turn to God do so for all the wrong reasons (like simply to get what they want, or to get out of trouble without repenting).

A (Application): Good thing that kind of stuff doesn’t happen anymore : )

Yeah…following other gods…that’s a big one. In the Large Catechism, in his explanation of the First Commandment, Martin Luther writes that anything in which we trust is a god.

I love the Avenger movies. In the Avenger movie in which Loki is the main villain and considers himself a “god,” The Hulk beats up Lokey and as he walks away, The Hulk says, “Puny god.”

So, in what do we trust? Money? Power? Status? Salvation in Baptism? The Eucharist? Faith? The Avengers? (Sorry…had to throw that one in there : )

So many things to choose from…so confusing…because everything promises life and abundance. And that is the basis on which the makers of ads / commercials appeal to us: hope.

Get this brand-new lease… Buy this ring for your loved one… Get that new watch…

Will they provide everlasting hope? Nope. Not one bit. Yet we go for it, anyway. Where is God in the picture? Can you be faithful to God AND make big purchases? I think so…yet danger lies in the purchasing of goods for hope.

Think on Matthew 25…Jesus let folks know they fed / clothed / visited him (or didn’t). That makes a big impact on what you do with your money and time.

God is our hope. The Spirit causing us to believe is our hope. Jesus, the one who endured all things is our hope.

May we recognize this hope, and not pimp ourselves out to other gods. And when we do, may we be truly repentant. For God’s grace is always there…ready to be received.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me know how to avoid the dangers of slipping away to other gods and focus on how you call me to interact with these other gods in the world. Amen.

Freedom: What Do We Do With It?

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 22:15 Is this what makes you a king, having more cedar than anyone else?
Didn’t your father eat and drink and still do what was just and right?
Then it went well for him!
16 He defended the rights of the poor and needy;
then it went well. Isn’t that what it means to know me? declares the Lord.
17 But you set your eyes and heart
on nothing but unjust gain;
you spill the blood of the innocent;
you practice cruelty;
you oppress your subjects.

O (Observation): God describes what is just, not just habit or impulse.  God wants the kings that represent God’s people to be fair and to serve those in need.   Being king is not about accumulation of wealth or status.  

Being king means using your resources to serve your neighbor who is in need, not crush them under your boot. 

A (Application): Oh, would the politicians we elect embrace these words from Jeremiah this day.   To let them know that those in power (the wealthy, the strong, the equipped) need less help than those on the fringe (the poor, the homeless, the sick).  And not only this, but that the politicians might embrace their position as a place of honor and lead with the posture of a servant to the community in which they serve.  

My all-time favorite movie is Braveheart.  William Wallace, the main character, tells Robert the Bruce (politician and potential king of his people):

There’s a difference between us. You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom. And I go to make sure that they have it.

Freedom.  What is that?  What if freedom means being released from more than political chains?  What if freedom is more than being released from physical chains?   

What if freedom meant not having to decide between paying rent OR paying for food?   What if freedom meant not having to decide if antibiotics OR paying the electric bill were more important today?  What if freedom meant not having to be reminded of slavery by having a Confederate statue in the public square?

We have everything we need in this world to feed and clothe and house everybody.   But in order to do this, we must repent of our selfishness and give to others our time and our financial resources.  We will open up our hearts and homes to welcome in folks.  

We have the resources and means to re-locate Confederate statues into more appropriate places besides the public square.   

We can do these things.  

My friend once answered the following question with a great response:  What can we do to help the homeless?  He replied, “Become friends with them.”   He didn’t just talk about money or positions of power.  He encouraged us to get to know some one. To start a relationship with some one.   

We can get to know Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy.  We can talk to descendants of the United Daughters of the Confederacy who raised funds to place many monuments like the one in the public square in my town.  We can become friends.  

We have lots of options to serve God in this world.  We have lots to say and do on behalf of God.   Let us serve God with a humble heart, and let us treat our neighbors as we would want to be treated.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, give us hearts willing to serve.  Amen.  

The Protestant Reformation & a Loving God

I mention Luther’s Small Catechism in this article.  Click here for information about the FREE Small Catechism app!!!  Nod to Augsburg Fortress for making this available to the public!

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S (Scripture): Psalm 90
8 You put our sins right in front of you, set our hidden faults in the light from your face.

11 Who can comprehend the power of your anger?
The honor that is due you corresponds to your wrath.
12 Teach us to number our days
so we can have a wise heart.

13 Come back to us, Lord!
Please, quick!
Have some compassion for your servants!
14 Fill us full every morning with your faithful love
so we can rejoice and celebrate our whole life long.
15 Make us happy for the same amount of time that you afflicted us—

O (Observation): The psalmist recognizes that God has expectations of those who call on the Lord for hope and salvation.   When God-fearers disappoint God, the psalmist recognizes a type of wrath that comes from God.   

Whether this is a fear-motivation, or simply someone who doesn’t want to disappoint God…the pslamist recognizes that while God can be full of wrath, God also has the capacity for compassion and mercy.  

This combination fills God-fearers with both fear and great joy.   

A (Application):  2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.   Martin Luther was one of the most famous leaders within this movement.    

In the early 1500’s, Luther travelled throughout the area of Saxony (in modern-day Germany).    He was greatly disappointed in his findings.  He was seeking to know what the common people knew of the God which they feared.    They knew very little about God and almost nothing of the Scriptures.   They paid their taxes to the Church, though.  All they knew of God was that they were to fear God.  

Luther helped to change this view of an angry God.  Luther discovered – through reading the scriptures, which was something very few clergy actually did! – that God was not only wrathful at times, but was also found to be full of mercy and compassion, as well!   

This psalm captures both fear and joy in being a follower of God.   The fear allows us to be respectful towards God and to follow God’s ways, however, the compassion God has for us brings us joy and mercy.  

As Luther saw the lack of Christian Education throughout his homeland of Saxony, he created a resource known as The Small Catechism.   The Small Catechism teaches about 5 fundamental elements of the Christian faith: The 10 Commandments, The Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion.   

As Luther creates explanations for the elements of The 10 Commandments, he begins each explanation of each commandment with “We are to fear and love God, so that…”  In this repeated phrase, Luther captures the elements of fear and compassion of our God seen here in Psalm 90.  

May you know that a healthy respect and awe of the Lord is good.  And just as good is the compassion and mercy given to us by our God!

P (Prayer): Lord, we fear and love you.   Help us to be okay with both…for you are mighty in power and love.  Amen.  

Lord, Rise Up through Us

S (Scripture): Psalm 21:13 Rise up, O Lord, in strength! We will sing and praise your power!

O (Observation):  Admittedly, this verse is meant for king and country.   That is, the political and military leader who serves the Lord (and that nation) gives thanks to God for God’s mighty acts.

A (Application):  Sometimes, we try to assign positive movement forward with God’s will.  Sometimes progress, though, isn’t helpful.  Depends on what’s being accomplished.   Are the poor, the marginalized, being served an injustice?   If so, we speak up, we speak out. 

Why get involved?   Because justice cries out for action.   To be idle in times of injustice is to be complicit with the injustice.  

We rely on the Lord to Rise Up and take action.  Yet we must realize that we may be the ones through whom God wishes to act.  So we move into a state of readiness.  As bridegrooms awaiting the bride.   We remain vigilant and seek the Lord’s wisdom on what to say and when to say it.  

P (Prayer): Lord, give us strength…give us wisdom.  Amen.