God’s Covenant with Us

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Genesis 15:7 [The LORD] said to Abram, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.”

8 But Abram said, “Lord God, how do I know that I will actually possess it?”

9 He said, “Bring me a three-year-old female calf, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a dove, and a young pigeon.” 10 He took all of these animals, split them in half, and laid the halves facing each other, but he didn’t split the birds. 11 When vultures swooped down on the carcasses, Abram waved them off. 12 After the sun set, Abram slept deeply. A terrifying and deep darkness settled over him….

17 After the sun had set and darkness had deepened, a smoking vessel with a fiery flame passed between the split-open animals. 18 That day the Lord cut a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from Egypt’s river to the great Euphrates, 19 together with the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

O (Observation): This is one of the most intriguing covenants to explain, because of its very practical nature and because of the lengths God goes to show that God will make good on God’s promises.

At this point, God has already promised to Abram that he and Sarai that they would be established as the ancestors of a great kingdom and of a great many people. Yet, to this point, they have no offspring and Abram questions God’s resolve.

God’s response: Take the goats and others sacrificial animals. Kill them and spilt them in two. Lay the two halves opposite one another.

At this point, if two people were making an agreement, they would both pass through between the two halves of the animals – first one person and then the other. What they are effectively saying is: “should I break my part of the covenant, may I be as these animals that have been split in two.” This is a very serious agreement.

In Abram’s case, notice that Abram does NOT pass between the two halves. Only this “smoky vessel and fiery flame” passes through the animal halves.

In other words, this covenant between God and Abram / Sarai is ALL ON GOD to fulfill.

The Lord alone can make this happen…and eventually, fulfilling all righteousness, does make it happen. God’s people come from the line of Abram and Sarai. Bringing to us, Jesus, Savior of the world.

A (Application): As I venture around the 4 states of our Southeastern Synod of the ELCA – GA, AL, MS, and TN – I have the blessing of engaging with our campus ministries.

Yesterday I met with the good people of Tyson House – a joint Episcopal / Lutheran campus ministry – at the University of TN – Knoxville.

I saw young people and pastors working together to BE CHURCH the most faithful way they can.

They feed those who need food. They spend time in retreat. They go out for coffee or ice cream. They gather for worship and study, which grounds them for the work ahead.

And in all of this ministry they – and in all campus ministries – strive to know that God promises to be with them.

Be blessed people of Tyson House!

P (Prayer): Lord God, please remind me this thing called Church is always supported by You, our hope and stay. Amen.

Jesus Changes Everything

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Hebrews 8:1 Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We have this kind of high priest. He sat down at the right side of the throne of the majesty in the heavens. 2 He’s serving as a priest in the holy place, which is the true meeting tent that God, not any human being, set up. 3 Every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices. So it’s necessary for this high priest also to have something to offer. 4 If he was located on earth, he wouldn’t be a priest because there are already others who offer gifts based on the Law. 5 They serve in a place that is a copy and shadow of the heavenly meeting tent. This is indicated when Moses was warned by God when he was about to set up the meeting tent: See that you follow the pattern that I showed you on the mountain in every detail. 6 But now, Jesus has received a superior priestly service just as he arranged a better covenant that is enacted with better promises.

O (Observation): God’s people are trying to reconcile why God established multiple covenants. The author concludes that the covenant of placing the Law on our hearts has been good, but is imperfect…not because God is imperfect, but because we are. The covenant is placed on us in our broken world.

In Jesus comes the better covenant because it has better promises with it.

A (Application): We are broken and frail. Our political systems are based on win-lose scenarios, our economic systems are based on greed, our Christian religious systems are based on proving others wrong and damning them for it.

How to be a Christian in the world today?

With Jesus. Only with Jesus do we move forward.

We move forward in ways that help us towards win-win solutions in politics, seeking the uplifting of our political enemy. We can see that our economy can help us sustain those most challenged, by helping us to be generous towards the least of these. We can begin our conversations about Christ with love and compassion and empathy FIRST, showing God’s love for all people.

These are counter-cultural moves. The Hebrews author sees that God can and does work in and through the person of Jesus. And Jesus changes our practical everyday lives!!!!

We seek to help others. We seek to give. We seek to uplift.

This is the change of Jesus being my hope and salvation. My priest who intercedes for me.

What changes your life?

P (Prayer): Lord, guide me in all my ways. Amen.

Exile, Promises, and Hope

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Jeremiah 46:27 

But don’t be afraid, my servant Judah;

    don’t lose heart, Israel.

I will deliver you from a faraway place

    and your children from the land of their exile.

My people Jacob will again be safe and sound,

    with no one harassing them.

28 

So don’t be afraid, my servant Jacob,

    declares the Lord.

I’m with you;

    I will put an end to all the nations

        where I have scattered you.

But I won’t put an end to you.

    I won’t let you avoid punishment;

    I will discipline you as you deserve.

O (Observation): Some of God’s people experienced exile when the Babylonians were allowed to come in and take over Judah. Some of God’s people stayed in Judah to be servants to the Babylonians.

Either way, an exile was happening. This was no longer their home. Temples destroyed. Protective city walls crushed. Foreigners occupying the territory of God’s people.

God’s people erred and went out of their way to disobey God. And God’s response was to let the Babylonians come in and do their thing.

Yet, God would not completely abandon the people whom God claimed. God’s people would be remembered by God. They would not be forsaken forever.

The promise is made by God. Even though discipline awaits, God is still with God’s people.

A (Application): Exile. I kind of feel an exile has come upon our family. We moved from Murfreesboro, TN, to Lilburn, GA. Our children are in new schools, our jobs have changed. Yet, this does not feel like punishment, but rather a call towards a new direction. This whole situation is not one of correction, but one of new orientation.

We do sense God’s hand guiding and moving us in the right direction. We are to be patient and trust in the Lord. We are to “be” and not just “do.”

That is hard. Simple, but hard.

And so we go to work or school. We do our best to give God praise though our words and actions…knowing that God does not forget us.

God is with us. For, even though we feel like are being worn away, this allows God’s presence to shine through even more.

If you feel like you are in exile, explore the ways in which “less of you, more of God” comes about in your life.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us into the way of peace. Amen.

Stumbling Blocks and a Promise

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Ezra 4:1 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the families and said to them, “Let’s build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we’ve been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Assyria’s King Esarhaddon, who brought us here.”

3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of the families in Israel replied, “You’ll have no part with us in building a house for our God. We alone will build because the Lord, the God of Israel, and Persia’s King Cyrus commanded us.”

4 The neighboring peoples discouraged the people of Judah, made them afraid to build, 5 and bribed officials to frustrate their plan. They did this throughout the rule of Persia’s King Cyrus until the rule of Persia’s King Darius.

O (Observation): God’s people returned to Jerusalem thanks to God’s ability to persuade Babylonian King Cyrus to not only allow God’s people to return, but also to give them their stuff back (and more!).

So they begin to rebuild. They are elated!

But a neighboring group comes over and they want part of the action. When they are told “No!” they go tattle-tailing to the king, until a new king shows up back in Persia: King Artaxerxes. This new king doesn’t like what God’s people are up to…so he tells his people to stop the rebuilding.

Ugh!

A (Application): Just when we think we have a clear path for ministry, something likes to get in our way. God worked on King Cyrus to get him to support the people of God. Now, it’s all turned upside-down.

Lots of times I think I have a great idea for ministry or life, and things get in the way. Stumbling blocks.

Is it my fault? What did I do wrong? Why is this so hard?

Doubts and challenges creep up on us all the time. Does that mean we are headed down the wrong path? Or just tired? Or unclear?

I don’t think I can answer that question. Instead, we turn to Christ. Jesus is ready to take on our frustrations and concerns and the Spirit will guide us.

If I can assure you of anything, it is this: God is with us every step of the way. We are constantly reminded in the scriptures of God’s command and promise: Fear not, for I am with you.

P (Prayer): God, release us from frustration. Guide us forward. Amen.

Promises, Promises…

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Matthew 17:1 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain. 2 He was transformed in front of them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.

3 Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll make three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

5 While he was still speaking, look, a bright cloud overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!” 6 Hearing this, the disciples fell on their faces, filled with awe.

7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anybody about the vision until the Human One is raised from the dead.”

O (Observation): The Transfiguration is a powerful story revealing God’s manifestation amongst the people: as the Law, the Prophets, and now, through Jesus. This ongoing story of God’s inbreaking into this world is put on display for Peter, James, and John. They see God clearly though the Law and Prophets, and in Jesus’ words and actions.

A (Application): I recently had a conversation with a Muslim acquaintance, in which he asked: “Do you see the Old Testament as important?” What a great question!

“Yes!” I told him. In fact, without the Old Testament, we might not understand the person of Jesus nearly so well.

The covenants God has made with Israel are fulfilled in the person of Jesus. The first promise (or covenant) is made from God to Abraham – a promise of many descendants and great rulers.

Then, the Law is set forth, with help from Moses. Later, God promises that God will build a house out of King David. And God promises to write the Law on the hearts of all of God’s followers (Jeremiah 31). Eventually, as all hope seems lost – the covenants almost forgotten – Jesus springs forth, of the line of Abraham, David, Jeremiah…down to Mary and Joseph.

Had I been more on my game when talking to my Muslim friend, I might have lifted up this passage (of the Transfiguration) as a great indicator of the succession of covenants and how important the Old Testament is as a witness to the sustaining power of God’s Spirit through the ages…to stick with us despite our failings as God’s people…to experience grace and forgiveness, unending.

And all of who God is shapes us! If my God is that forgiving, now I will embody forgiveness towards others. Instead of faith being a transaction or a belief in God, my faith is to be lived out is as if Jesus is alive in me. So, believing in Jesus is then a way of life, a way of seeing, a way of interacting, a way of hearing.

God has moved through the ancestors of the Old Testament, in the person of Jesus, and continues to live in me and all of creation, through the movement of the Spirit.

P (Prayer): Lord, grant us wisdom to witness the ongoing work of the Spirit in our world, in our very lives. Amen.

A Journey of Trust

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Genesis 12:1 The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you,
those who curse you I will curse;
all the families of the earth
will be blessed because of you.”

4 Abram left just as the Lord told him, and Lot went with him. Now Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all of their possessions, and those who became members of their household in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan.

O (Observation): What a brave, bold, trusting act of Abram! And even more so, what a great opportunity God gives to Abram and Sarai!

What do we know of Abram? Not much. Sarai? Again, not much. Only that they were descended of Noah’s line (since Noah’s descendants had to re-populate the WHOLE earth…hmmm). Anyway…

Abram and Sarai leave what is known and what is secure to enter something new and different…with God promising to guide them the whole way.

A (Application): I wonder what Abram and Sarai mentioned of this promise to their household? I wonder what the children thought? What the 2nd cousin twice removed thought? What the grandparents thought? (“We’ll never hear from them again!”)

God speaks to us…but can we hear God? When God calls, a response is appropriate. Sometimes the response is to NOT go. Sometimes the response is to act. Sometimes the response is to remain silent. We have no set type of response. The response is discerned. And that discernment is best done within the trusted community to which one belongs.

I have felt called over the last several years to take steps towards equal justice for various groups. As a white male, I feel not guilt, but a responsibility to make sure those on the margins are heard and respected. In doing so, I leave my own “Ur,” as Abram and Sarai did long ago. As Abram and Sarai, I, too, trust that God goes with me.

One such venture into justice occurs tomorrow, January 11, 2018, with the congregation I serve: Advent Lutheran Church, Murfreesboro, TN (Http://TheAdventChurch.com). We will host the Rev. Ron Bonner as he leads a presentation and conversation on race relations. The workshop details are in the graphic below:

If you’re a Murfreesboro person…come on out!

P (Prayer): Lord, we don’t know where the journey will end, just that you will be with us. Thank you for calling and leading us. Amen.

My Worries…Your Worries

  S (Scripture): Psalm 119

49 Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope.

50 This is what comforts me in my trouble, for your promise revives me.

O (Observation): The psalmist worries about the dangers surrounding him, but recalls the stories of God’s faithfulness to God’s people.  

A (Application): The trials of our lives can get the better of us. Here are some examples of things going on in the lives of people I know:

  • Mother enters hospice care
  • Father passes away
  • Family faces financial difficulty
  • Car broke down, needs a ride to work and to drop off daughter to daycare 
  • Family member shows up unexpectedly, and needs a place to live 
  • Homeless man and his dog need a ride to Atlanta (from Nashville)

Some of these are more trivial, some, more serious.  But when trouble comes our way, we can lose sight of the hope of The Lord who has made a promise to us to be with us. 

From a global perspective, these issues I posted above may not seem as bad, but the struggles are real. Perhaps being exposed to more global news and mission work will help me and my congregation understand a little more deeply the needs of others in this world.  And maybe, we can realize that God’s promises to us just might help us to worry less about our problems and think a little more about our neighbor. 

What mission trips have you been on that have enlightened you?  What are your worries this day? 

P (Prayer): Lord, make us look to your promises and to see how those who live in poverty might know and experience your promises.  Amen. 
p.s. Consider supporting ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission.   These young adults become great witnesses for those who cannot go and do mission work themselves.