Stumbling Blocks and a Promise

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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.

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Promises, Promises…

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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

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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.