What Does God Require?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 50

7

“Listen, my people, I will now speak;

Israel, I will now testify against you.

I am God—your God!

8

I’m not punishing you for your sacrifices

or for your entirely burned offerings,

which are always before me.

9

I won’t accept bulls from your house

or goats from your corrals

10

because every forest animal already belongs to me,

as do the cattle on a thousand hills.

11

I know every mountain bird;

even the insects in the fields are mine.

12

Even if I were hungry, I wouldn’t tell you

because the whole world and everything in it already belong to me.

13

Do I eat bulls’ meat?

Do I drink goats’ blood?

14

Offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving!

Fulfill the promises you made to the Most High!

15

Cry out to me whenever you are in trouble;

I will deliver you, then you will honor me.”

O (Observation): What does God require? What is the list of things needed to please the Lord?

This one thing: give thanks to God.

Acknowledge that all we have and all that we are come from God. God is our protector through the joys and challenges of life.

A (Application): (See “Observation”)

P (Prayer): Lord, your requirements are good. Help us to follow them. Amen.

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Some Old, Some New

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S (Scripture): Matthew 9:14 At that time John’s disciples came and asked Jesus, “Why do we and the Pharisees frequently fast, but your disciples never fast?”

15 Jesus responded, “The wedding guests can’t mourn while the groom is still with them, can they? But the days will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they’ll fast.

16 “No one sews a piece of new, unshrunk cloth on old clothes because the patch tears away the cloth and makes a worse tear. 17 No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If they did, the wineskins would burst, the wine would spill, and the wineskins would be ruined. Instead, people pour new wine into new wineskins so that both are kept safe.”

O (Observation): Jesus is always aware of the present moment. The NOW. In the present, what matters most is being present. An awareness of what God is up to us what Jesus is teaching his disciples. They will still need to fast and pray and serve and give…but in this moment, they simply need to be present with Jesus (and God).

A (Application): To simply apply the old / former ways is to miss the point. To apply a ritual / custom for the sake of the ritual / custom is to miss out on the opportunity to be present with God in a new way that might be more helpful / hopeful. (Don’t get me wrong, rituals and customs DO have a place in our society and in religion, but let’s not make those rituals / customs our “god”.)

The only way forward is to be aware of God’s presence now. To adapt to the circumstances before you (without simply reverting back to the former ways or to hope for a new thing using the former methods) can be both difficult and fruitful.

Tried and true can be helpful, but it can also miss the point. And not only miss the point, but as Jesus says, new wine in an old wine skin can ruin the wineskin and thus, ruin the wine as it spills out everywhere.

Be aware of God’s presence this day. Try something new with God: listen differently, pray in a new place, serve where you’ve never served before, and see if you notice God in a new way.

P (Prayer): Lord, you challenge us with new and different ways of being in your presence. You are here. You are there. Help us to be aware of your presence. Amen.

You’re Gonna Use Who, God?


S (Scripture): Romans 2:11 For there is no partiality with God. 12 For all who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous before God, but those who do the law will be declared righteous. 14 For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. 15 They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them.

O (Observation): Paul – once again – is showing how no person, whether Jew or Gentile, has any leverage over the other in terms of one’s righteousness.   

Jews use the Law to determine if they are living rightly.   Well, a Jew could easily hear there law, but do nothing with it.   A Gentile, who does not live by the Law, could very much live according to the Law and do that which the Law requires simply because that person’s conscience calls him or her to act righteously.   So, does a Jew have a better place because he or she is a Jew?  No!   

What Paul points to here is that anyone has the ability to do the Law.   For some, it is already written into their hearts to do the Law.  Someone’s status – religious or otherwise – does not automatically make one person more or less righteous in the eyes of God.   

A (Application):  Do the right thing.   Love God, Love People.   That is the mission of all Christians in the world.  Perhaps better understood, we might say: God loves you so that you can love other people.     

The point here is that “doing the right thing” transcends religion.  We will experience times when God uses Christians for good, and times when God will use Muslims for good (as I see happening in Murfreesboro, TN), and times when God will use Jews for good, and times when God will use <insert religion here> for good, and times when God will use atheists or agnostics for good.   

Sometimes, because we are all made in the image of God, we just simply do the right thing.  Not always.   But the point is that in all of us, all of humanity, being righteous is possible for anyone.  

I am seeing this lived out more and more in my setting, in Murfreesboro, TN, especially through the Murfreesboro Muslim Youth and the Rutherford County Interfaith Council.  Great things are happening and we are becoming closer friends, rather enemies to fear.  And in fact, many of these folks in these 2 groups are doing greater things than I.   I’m not afraid to admit that.   They are doing righteous deeds.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, open our eyes to you grace in strange and unusual ways.   Amen.  

So It’s NOT All About Me!?!?

S (Scripture): Mark 10:35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

O (Observation):  Jesus has remarked three times now, that he is heading to his death.   You would think that the disciples would be focused on what they can do to help or to carry on the ministry. Nope.  

James and John want to know who gets the power on the throne.  

Jesus reminds them: It’s not about you!

A (Application):  Ugh!   I can’t say I wouldn’t be without fault, if I was in James and John’s shoes.  They wanted to know that Jesus had a place for them…but it still is selfish.  

Which helps to understand the meaning of religion a little bit better.   If religion doesn’t shake you from your place of selfishness, then it is not a complete religion.  

The Jews and the Gentiles called together by Jesus were being formed in a religion that was selfless in nature.   

Richard Rohr, a theologian who writes a great deal in regards to the meaning of religion and the use of contemplation, points out that religion has 2 main purposes:  to help one find one’s “self,” and then to help us move beyond the “self.”

Most of us get the first part:  I am a child of God.  It’s the second part that gives us trouble.   The second part gave James and John some trouble.  The second part gives me trouble. 

With the celebration of Pentecost coming  up on Sunday, May 15, may we realize the usefulness of our religion: to establish our identity (“self”) and then to allow God’s Spirit to move us beyond our self, into serving and living for the  others around us.  

Has your religion helped you to find your self and then to move beyond it?

P (Prayer):  Lord, I am your child.  You have adopted me.  Help me to know that my self is not about me, but about loving and serving others, bearing witness to your love for me and for all of creation.  That can be really hard for me sometimes.  Amen.  

redeemed – in body, mind, and soul 

  S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 15:20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 15:21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. 15:22 For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

O (Observation):  Christ’s humanity will NOT be denied by Paul.   Paul is very clear here that Christ was human.  Not just a spirit.   A human (Adam) brought all to sin and death, and (absolutely) a human (Christ Jesus) brought about the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting, to the glory of God the Father. 

In this text, Paul also points out that we all fall short of the glory of God, and owe everything to Christ for the redemption of our body, mind, and soul.  This reminder keeps us humble, knowing that our salvation comes through Christ  alone. 

The resurrection of the FLESH was a controversial topic of the time, especially because the Greek culture cared more about getting rid of the flesh, not redeeming it.  Spirit was better, flesh was weakness.  

The resurrection of the flesh also ties into the inherent goodness with which God created – God created us in the flesh we embody, and indeed, it was good.   God is redeeming what we tainted…even though we don’t deserve it. 

A (Application):  The resurrection of the dead is a strange thing indeed.  And yet, this clarity that Paul brings is crucial for our salvation.   We have done nothing to redeem ourselves.  Redemption rests in Christ alone.  Of that, I have no doubt.  

With this in mind, I turn to two issues:

  1. Other faiths
  2. Good works

1. Other faiths:  I believe in the Triune God (the Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.   I also respect the wish of others to worship in their own way.  I don’t think they’re right, but I also approach my stance with humility.  I don’t presume to “lord it over others.” If that is viewed as weakness, oh well.  That’s not my concern. 

2.  Good Works:  our passage today reminds me that good works do not cause our salvation, but rather, are an overflow of grace through our salvation.   I think God loves our efforts in this world.  I believe Dallas Willard is credited with saying: “God is not opposed to effort, just earning.”  I 100% agree.  Our efforts in this world can be focused on God making us holy in our individual and communal journeys.  

Knowing your salvation is secure, what does that free you to pursue?  

P (Prayer):  Lord, you are my saving grace.   Guide me.  Remind me that I am redeemed.  Remind me that I’m to love God and love neighbor.  Amen. 

Church on the Move

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S (Scripture): Acts 13:46 Both Paul and Barnabas replied courageously, “It was necessary to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles. 13:47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have appointed you to be a light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’

O (Observation): Paul and Barnabas were in a synagogue in Pamphylia, speaking about how God has been working through the Jewish people, through Moses and the prophets, down the line to David, and ultimately to Jesus as Savior of all.

Paul and Barnabas get a lot of pushback from the group gathered, refusing to believe that Jesus and Gentiles were part of the plan. Paul & Barnabas sense that God called them to come to the synagogue first, where Jews and non-Jews, who were God-fearers, gathered to hear God’s word read aloud and preached. So that’s what they did. Synagogue first.

After Paul’s explanation that Jesus is the way through which God’s people will be saved, Paul & Barnabas follow the call to witness to the Gentiles. That call actually goes back to Isaiah in one instance – a reminder that God’s plan has always been to love the entire world, regardless of religious beliefs.

A (Application): Sometimes we get lost in the church. We take salvation for granted. Or worse, we feel like we’ve earned our place.

How do we keep things in perspective?

Discipleship. Practices of discipleship remind us to be humble, repentant, and call us to discern why we do what we do. And we do this discipleship in community.

As we engage in practices of discipleship, we grow in faith, and we start to move from church as institution to church as movement.

I lead such discipleship groups in Lutheran circles. If you’re interested in learning more, send me a message. I’d love to share with you the process and the growth we can experience together.

P (Prayer): Lord, you call us to more than “church as usual.” Engage us in the call to follow you and to share your love with others, regardless of religious beliefs. Amen.