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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Money Talk

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S (Scripture): Luke 16:1 Jesus also said to the disciples, “A certain rich man heard that his household manager was wasting his estate. 2 He called the manager in and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give me a report of your administration because you can no longer serve as my manager.’

3 “The household manager said to himself, What will I do now that my master is firing me as his manager? I’m not strong enough to dig and too proud to beg. 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I am removed from my management position, people will welcome me into their houses.

5 “One by one, the manager sent for each person who owed his master money. He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil.’ The manager said to him, ‘Take your contract, sit down quickly, and write four hundred fifty gallons.’ 7 Then the manager said to another, ‘How much do you owe?’ He said, ‘One thousand bushels of wheat.’ He said, ‘Take your contract and write eight hundred.’

8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted cleverly. People who belong to this world are more clever in dealing with their peers than are people who belong to the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to make friends for yourselves so that when it’s gone, you will be welcomed into the eternal homes.

10 “Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much, and the one who is dishonest with little is also dishonest with much. 11  If you haven’t been faithful with worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12  If you haven’t been faithful with someone else’s property, who will give you your own? 13  No household servant can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

14 The Pharisees, who were money-lovers, heard all this and sneered at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves before other people, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued by people is deeply offensive to God…”

O (Observation): Jesus at it again…turning the world of the Pharisees (and us) upside-down. Those folks who owed money should have not been given a break. The steward should have walked away and let everyone pay back what was owed.

The fact that Jesus points out that the Pharisees were money-lovers drives home the personal nature of the story. Jesus is trying to make things very simple: you love God OR money; you can’t love both!

Jesus must sense that the Pharisees (and us at times) are too caught up in the worldly impact that wealth has on leaders. Wealth informs our decisions and especially has an impact on our relationships.

What is important here is that Jesus is lifting up relation over wealth / status.

A (Application): How often do we allow the things of this world to make our decisions for us. Our money drives our status / power. Our status of our relationships can even cause us to work towards maintaining power over another, rather than allowing equality in the relationship.

We so love money that we allow its influence to drive our choices: cars, homes, clothes, school system, etc. We let money come before God, when we choose to give to God what is leftover at the end of the month, rather than determining a goal or percentage. (Listen: if you don’t hit the goal, God ain’t gonna zap ya…it’s the intentionality that counts, here.)

Determine what is faithful What honors your neighbor? What honors God? Answer those questions, and you will have done well.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us in our discernment. Amen.

Being Led

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S (Scripture): Mark 6:6b Then Jesus traveled through the surrounding villages teaching.

7 He called for the Twelve and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits. 8 He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick—no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts. 9 He told them to wear sandals but not to put on two shirts. 10 He said, “Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. 11  If a place doesn’t welcome you or listen to you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. 13 They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them.

O (Observation): Jesus is now sending out the disciples for their first journey. He tells them to go, trusting that God will support them on their mission. Don’t bring a ton of extra stuff with you. Just go, and God will give you what you need. Some will welcome you and your message of Good News. Others will outright reject you and the Good News. So be it.

This was not Jesus’ first step with his disciples. He built a relationship first. He challenges them only after equipping them (and helping them to know that God will continually be equipping them over time).

A (Application): I’m always hesitant to just throw people out into a new thing. My kids. My friends. My congregational members.

I’m scared for them. I let fear creep in. Or maybe I want it done “my way.”

Yet I have an example in Jesus and a trust in God that surpasses my worries. I hope I can still live this out.

Where do I actually land on all of this? Here is what I do: I give folks information about how something is done; then, I give them something to imitate; finally, I send them out to innovate their own way.

Information -> Imitation -> Innovation

Quite often we jump from Information to setting folks free to Innovation. Yet we all need something / someone to follow, first! YouTube videos are good information, but that’s not exactly imitation. The missing element from videos is the Guide who helps you in your imitation.

As I’ve witnessed and experienced when I receive information, the one leading me has given me a chance to imitate, AND RECEIVE CORRECTION. That correction cannot be found in a video, but in a relationship. The relationship is key to imitating so that you can eventually innovate.

Trusting God is important for us as followers of Christ. And having someone to guide us in our mission in the world is as important. We need affirmation and correction along the way.

I hope you find that someone. I hope God can be sensed close to you. I hope you are equipped for mission and that you know grace along the way.

P (Prayer):

#MurfreesboroLoves – Relationship and Challenge

S (Scripture): Matthew 10:16 [Jesus said to the disciples:] “Look, I’m sending you as sheep among wolves. Therefore, be wise as snakes and innocent as doves. 17 Watch out for people—because they will hand you over to councils and they will beat you in their synagogues. 18 They will haul you in front of governors and even kings because of me so that you may give your testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 Whenever they hand you over, don’t worry about how to speak or what you will say, because what you can say will be given to you at that moment. 20 You aren’t doing the talking, but the Spirit of my Father is doing the talking through you…”

O (Observation): Invitation and Challenge. This is the way of discipleship with Jesus. Jesus has invited his disciples to be in a very close relationship, in order to help them know that he is with them every step of the way. He also tells them of the challenges they will face. But what makes the challenges bearable is that Jesus is with them…in a close relationship.

Jesus not only sees these followers as friends, but as those who will carry on Jesus’ own work. And here, he doesn’t mix words. They will face difficult challenges. They will be beaten (in their place of worship, no less!).

And yet, even as they are called forth to speak to their actions and testimonies…they will be given the words to say…words supplied by the Spirit.

The Spirit comes to them in the midst of their challenge…borne out of an invitation to be with and follow Jesus.

A (Application): How do I share my thoughts and feelings on certain topics and still maintain the relationships I have? Who will keep me? Who will push me away? Would the pain be worth the pushing and pulling? Will I be better off in the long run?

Ever asked yourself these questions?

So often, we have ideas that conflict with others, but we are afraid to voice those concerns. We are afraid of what others might think, or be afraid of what consequences we might face.

Can we have differences and still be friends? Unfortunately, when it comes to religious beliefs, we feel we cannot have differences AND be friendly to one another.

I’m thankful that God has granted me many friendships in which we simply don’t see eye to eye in terms of religious understanding. One such example is the Murfreesboro Loves movement. We are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, B’ahi, atheist, agnostic, gay, straight, black, white, Hispanic, and so on. We are not defined by color, race, creed…we are defined by a shared communal value of love for our neighbor.

I believe God has given each of us the gifts to speak up and testify about why loving our neighbor is so important. To the point that we were recognized (as a communal group) by the Murfreesboro Branch of the NAACP at a recent MLK Jr Breakfast. Murfreesboro Loves received the Jerry Anderson Humanitarian Award for its work surrounding the planned visit by white supremacist groups who wished to come to Murfreesboro. Our message of love outshined any potential messages of hate that those groups could have brought to our town.

We were determined to be defined by love, not hate. And we did our job. For me, this was about trusting that God’s call in my life was to step out into a potentially risky situation…to speak up when called upon…to trust that God’s relationship with me would sustain me in challenging times…to physically protect me and my family.

I certainly think God kept God’s end of the bargain. And I think God is still at it.

What say you?

P (Prayer): Lord, you bless me. I am unworthy, but you pick me up, send me out, and give me the words anyway. I am blessed. Amen.

Rituals and Relationships

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S (Scripture): Hosea 6:4 Ephraim, what will I do with you?
Judah, what will I do with you?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that vanishes quickly.
5 Therefore, I have attacked them by the prophets,
I have killed them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth like a light.
6 I desire faithful love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God instead of entirely burned offerings.

O (Observation): God’s people are getting a heaping of The Law, they are being shown where they have fallen short of honoring God. In God’s address to the people who claim the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as their God, we hear God naming God’s people as a vanishing morning cloud. God’s people show up, but vanish. God’s people appear, then disappear. They claim to be faithful to God, but go away when they desire affirmation or healing.

Faithful love and knowledge of God. This is what God desires most – for people to know their God. Instead, God’s people find a way to focus on the rituals, with empty hearts. Seems God would rather have a relationship than a ritual. Or maybe, better yet, the relationship would be the focus of the ritual.

A (Application): Do you and your friends have a special greeting or handshake? I know that sounds very middle school, but do you have routines with friends or even family members? Like, do you take your shoes off when you go in their house? Do you go right to the kitchen to grab a snack or a water?

When you leave, do you honk your horn a certain number of times? Do you have a prayer or some other send off?

If any of the above apply, I hope you consider that your rituals likely occur, because you have a relationship with one another.

In the same way, God wishes for our worship rituals to be reflective of our relationship with God. God’s people of Old (in Hosea) still showed up for worship with burnt offerings, but they had very little stock in their relationship with God. When trouble came, or a need for healing, God’s people would quite often turn elsewhere for hope.

In Jesus, we have God re-establishing a relationship, and this time, the relationship is clearly with the whole cosmos! All people are invited to receive God’s mercy and be transformed by God’s grace.

Next time you worship, hear the words and focus on the relationship God wishes to have with you (or maybe you know that relationship is already there). For many of us, that relationship is made firm in our baptism. As a Lutheran, I have lived my whole life long knowing that God reached out to me to establish a relationship with me in my baptism, and has brought many others around me (friends, family, pastors, church leaders, etc.) to remind me of our relationship. And from this relationship comes the many rituals in which I am blessed to partake.

Peace!

P (Prayer): Lord, I thank you for establishing a relationship with me, and helping me to see that our relationship with you and one another on earth are central to who we are as your followers and your witnesses to all the earth. Amen.

Can a Relationship Be Transformed?

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S (Scripture): Phileomon 1:14 I didn’t want to do anything without your consent so that your act of kindness would occur willingly and not under pressure. 15 Maybe this is the reason that Onesimus was separated from you for a while so that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave—that is, as a dearly loved brother. He is especially a dearly loved brother to me. How much more can he become a brother to you, personally and spiritually in the Lord!

O (Observation):  Paul adopts Onesimus – Philemon’s slave – as a follower in Christ.   Paul treats him like a brother.   Now, Paul entreats Philemon to consider taking Onesimus back not just as a slave, but as a brother.   
Paul encourages Philemon to think about how much more Onesimus would be as Philemon’s brother in the Lord.  

A (Application):  Can a relationship be transformed?   Yes.  

Is it always easy?  No.  

Does our past have to define our future?  No.  

In Christ, we can welcome all people from all walks of life.  We welcome all to know of the grace we’ve received in the hopes that they, too, would wish to receive this same grace.  In receiving the grace from God, parties become open to a new possibility of a transformed relationship.  

We wish that all would become brothers and sisters in the Lord!  But if not, we will still show a neighbor’s love.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, direct our relationships to wholeness.   Bring us together.   Amen. 

It Only Takes One

S (Scripture): Acts 16:11 We (Paul and Silas) put out to sea from Troas and sailed a straight course to Samothrace, the next day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of that district of Macedonia, a Roman colony. We stayed in this city for some days. 13 On the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate to the side of the river, where we thought there would be a place of prayer, and we sat down and began to speak to the women who had assembled there. 14 A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, a God-fearing woman, listened to us. The Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying. 15 After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me to be a believer in the Lord, come and stay in my house.” And she persuaded us.

O (Observation): As Paul and Silas were going out on missions to share the Gospel, the Spirit led them to Macedonia, and specifically to Philippi.   There, they thought about where they would look to develop a relationship with some who might already have some belief in God.  

So they went to the river on the Sabbath, suspecting that some believers might be gathered there for prayer and worship.  He was right : )

While at the river, he met Lydia, a dealer in purple cloths…and more importantly, a God-fearing woman.  She was a successful business person and seemed to be the leader of her household.   Eventually, Paul and Silas baptized her whole household. 

Lydia was the right person in the right place and was essentially a gatekeeper to a small community (her household).   Back then, a household might be as many as 30 or so people, like an extended family or so.  

A (Application):  Sometimes, spreading the faith takes just one relationship.   Reaching out in kindness to one person just might make all the difference.  As Paul and Silas befriended Lydia, perhaps you and I can trust that God will lead us to the right relationships to help spread the Good News.  

Quite often, our provincial minds tell us that if we are to be evangelists, that we have to personally be the ones to develop all of the relationships.  That’s simply not so.   As Paul and Silas worked with Lydia, she led them to her household.  Lydia’s existing relationships were open to Paul and Silas now.  So, too, with us, we may end up in a relationship that opens the doorway for us to make even more connections with people.  Those connections can perhaps lead to people receiving the Good News of Jesus Christ.  

We are not left alone in this journey.   God guides and equips folks, like Lydia, to share in these ventures with us.  

Who has been a Lydia for you?  Have you been a Lydia for someone else?

P (Prayer): Lord, you equip us and others.  You send us out to meet the Lydia’s of the world.  Strengthen our faith to help us know that you are already at work in others, even as we go out to do your work.  Amen.