The Enemy is Me?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 137
1 By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
3 For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

7 Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!”
8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!

O (Observation): Wow! The raw nature of some of these psalms can be downright appalling. Dashing babies against rocks? That’s some harsh stuff.

The captors (God’s people) were sent into what is known as the Babylonian exile. They had fallen from serving God to serving earthly gods and as a result ended up being overtaken by the Babylonian empire. Not only overtaken, but the practice at that time was to take natives of the land one conquered and bring them back as servants in your land. So, these Israelites are enslaved in Babylon for the time being.

In certain cases, singers / musicians would be called upon by their captors to sing and play music. On this day, we hear certain musicians and their desire to be rid of these enemies. So angry, they wish happiness to those wishing to do harm to or even kill the children of these captors.

A (Application): I’ve been ticked off before at folks, but not enough to want to kill their babies!

The struggle continues to this day, though, over how to respond to one’s enemies.

Peter Rollins has some wonderful insights in this area. When we think about people we consider our enemies, quite often we are so focused on dealing with that enemy that we forget that we have our own junk to deal with.

What junk did that musician in the psalm need to deal with? Perhaps he was part of the movement away from God. Maybe not. But as a nation, this concept still applies: we would rather deal with our enemies than ourselves.

Finding enemies allows us to hide from our own misgivings. Naming an enemy allows me to then project my junk on someone else. Weird how that works, right?

Now, I’m no psychologist, but this philosophy still holds true. I’d much rather pick someone I don’t like and blame them for lots of things. Instead, perhaps my pursuit should be an internal one, asking God and trusted friends about these feelings of hatred and wonder about areas of my life in which I need to repent. I assume I will have something to learn from that experience.

Having a discussion with someone with which you disagree may very well be the thing you need the most. In doing so, you may unearth things with which you are struggling with internally. And seeking God in those moments – in humble repentance – is the best thing you can do.

Smashing babies? You may feel that way…but let’s talk about it. Let’s figure out where that anger is coming from…and let us pray that God’s will be done.

(Let me make a caveat here: this devotion does not cover situations of sexual misconduct or abuse of any kind. Those situations are serious enough to warrant legal steps and reconciliation in those situations will likely involve legal and counseling professionals…please see that I’m talking more about general disagreements with folks when malfeasance is not involved.)

P (Prayer): Lord, you cause us to see ourselves in the face of our enemies. Help us to see that you are inviting us to reflect on our own shortcomings and that you remain with us in our times of exile. Amen.


Loving a Hostile Neighbor

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 13:1 Keep loving each other like family. 2 Don’t neglect to open up your homes to guests, because by doing this some have been hosts to angels without knowing it. 3 Remember prisoners as if you were in prison with them, and people who are mistreated as if you were in their place. 4 Marriage must be honored in every respect, with no cheating on the relationship, because God will judge the sexually immoral person and the person who commits adultery. 5 Your way of life should be free from the love of money, and you should be content with what you have. After all, he has said, “I will never leave you or abandon you” (see Deut 31:6; Gen 28:15).

O (Observation):  So, the life in Christ looks like hospitality, caring for the neighbor, and not getting caught up in the love of money.   Being content is important, and is possible, since God promises to be with us.  

And this list is just a glimpse into the Kingdom life in Christ.   And also important to note, these are fruits of Kingdom life, not requirements for entry into God’s Kingdom.   We all slip and fall, and repentance is always near.  

A (Application):   White supremacists intend to rally on the square in my town on Oct 28.   What to do? How to show love in the face of discrimination? 

Do we engage?  Ignore?   This has me going in loops.  Where is God in this?  If we engage, violence will likely ensue.   If we don’t engage, are we endorsing or condoning their actions?  

How do we be the presence of God in such a volatile situation?  How do we stand in solidarity with those who have disdain for others?

Well, we can pray.   

P (Prayer):  Lord, watch over us as we discern how to respond to vitriol with hospitality, to return anger with love.   Amen.  

Us For Them – Sowing Seeds of Hope

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 12: 14 Pursue the goal of peace along with everyone—and holiness as well, because no one will see the Lord without it. 15 Make sure that no one misses out on God’s grace. Make sure that no root of bitterness grows up that might cause trouble and pollute many people.

O (Observation):  The author equates the life of a disciple with running a race.  We have work to do, but we are empowered by God to run this race.  

When running this race, God’s people are encouraged to avoid bitterness, lest that bitterness take root in others.  

A (Application):  Us.  Them.   Typically, Us vs. Them. 

This is how society wants us to see one another.  Culture wars cause us to take sides: north vs south, black or brown or “other” vs white, gay vs “straight”.    

When we strut around with our moral authority, holding doctrine above all, we feed into this “us vs them” mentality.  And the casualties?  Love.  Humanity.  

Jesus is the way, the truth, the life.  His way is compassion and love.   If my theology causes my to see someone else as less than human, then my theology is bad.   If my theology causes me to see someone as less than human, by how they vote, or because they are in a different demographic than I am, I sow bitterness and it takes root.   

(Hat tip to the the podcast called “Pass The Mic” for some of these thoughts today.  Specifically their episode entitled “Kill the Cultur Wars,” Sept 4, 2017.  Click here.

Instead of Us OR Them, Jesus shapes my view to be Us FOR Them.  Love for neighbor.  Love for even my enemies.   (Check out Gungor’s song, “Us For Them,” here on YouTube or iTunes.)

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep me pure, whiter than snow, as I repent of my part in lifting up the culture wars, in sowing bitterness.  Amen.  

The Path Ahead

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S (Scripture): Psalm 107:
17 Some of the redeemed were fools because of their sinful ways.
They suffered because of their wickedness.
18 They had absolutely no appetite for food;
they had arrived at death’s gates.
19 So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
and God saved them from their desperate circumstances.
20 God gave the order and healed them;
he rescued them from their pit.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love
and his wondrous works for all people.
22 Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices
and declare what God has donein songs of joy!

O (Observation):  Funny how hunger and the smell of death can transform the faith of the folks spoken of in this text.   They wandered away from God’s ways, and suffered.   God didn’t punish them, they simply veered off from the path set for them.   And in veering off the path, the difficulties were more prevalent, the grace less apparent.  

And yet, God responds with grace when God’s people cry for help.  Now…having been saved yet again, the call is for God’s people to praise God again.  

Hope springs eternal!

A (Application): What about these hurricanes?  What about rampant racism?  What about terrorist bombings in populated areas?  What about same-sex marriage?  What about…<fill in the blank>?

We have a lot to worry about these days.  We have a political climate that is very divisive.  We have church leaders (myself included) all trying to speak the truth in love.  We have everyone blaming all kinds of things for “why” the crazy stuff happens:  sin, God, same-sex marriage, wealth/poverty divide, greed (or greedy people)…

The Bible speaks about brokenness in creation (which includes us humans).   The Bible also speaks of healing and grace.    

We can argue all day long about what got us here, but I hope we spend as much time on where we are going from here.   I don’t want to erase the past.  The past informs the present feelings and emotions of today.  And yet I’m trying to find a way to marry the past and the present to God’s unconditional love, so that a new path forward can be arranged…in peace.   

This is the hope that springs forth from God:  The possibility of a new day.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us not to talk past one another, but to hear and respect one another.   In that listening, soften our hearts to reply with compassion.  Amen. 

Be the Malleable Clay

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 18

1 Jeremiah received the Lord’s word: 2 Go down to the potter’s house, and I’ll give you instructions about what to do there. 3 So I went down to the potter’s house; he was working on the potter’s wheel. 4 But the piece he was making was flawed while still in his hands, so the potter started on another, as seemed best to him. 5 Then the Lord’s word came to me: 6 House of Israel, can’t I deal with you like this potter, declares the Lord? Like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in mine, house of Israel! 7 At any time I may announce that I will dig up, pull down, and destroy a nation or kingdom; 8 but if that nation I warned turns from its evil, then I’ll relent and not carry out the harm I intended for it. 9 At the same time, I may announce that I will build and plant a nation or kingdom; 10 but if that nation displeases and disobeys me, then I’ll relent and not carry out the good I intended for it.

O (Observation):  God’s metaphor for Israel is that God is the potter and God’s people of Israel are the clay. God wishes to mold and shape the people that God wants these followers to become.   Sometimes, when the potter works the clay, the clay becomes fractured or flawed.   So, the potter re-works the clay and re-shapes it. 

God sees that the people of Israel are like so much flawed clay.   Now, God seeks to re-shape the clay.   To be re-shaped, God’s people would need to ask to be forgiven.   Should they repent…they would become malleable.  Upon repentance, God’s people see that they will not receive harm.  

A (Application): Repentance is not something we embody very well in this nation, or even as The Church.    This is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and we lift up our brother, Martin Luther, as a saint.  Yet, in today’s world, I disagree much with what Luther had to say against Muslims and Jews.   I renounce those teachings and yet still revere and honor such a brave witness to the Gospel.  

I think Luther’s the perfect example of what it means to be clay that is willing to be reworked.  He was a bold, brave, and sometimes stubborn person. Yet, when he was convinced that he was in the wrong, he would repent.  (Though in his final years he spoke out too strongly, in my opinion, on the topics I already mentioned.)

We can all use a little repentance in our lives.  Myself included.   I confess of my shortcomings on a weekly basis.  This is part of my Lutheran heritage: confess and receive forgiveness, eat of the wine and bread of forgiveness…weekly.  

As we repent…we become that clay willing to be re-worked, re-shaped.  Molded to a fitting purpose.  Less of my will…more of God’s will.  I hope.  I pray.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, not my will be done, but yours! Amen. 

One Nation, Underwood

S (Scripture): Proverbs 29

25 The fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.
26 Many seek the favor of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.
27 The unjust are an abomination to the righteous, but the upright are an abomination to the wicked.

O (Observation): Peace and security comes from the Lord, not from any earthly ruler or authority.   Trusting in God brings one justice and hope.  

And who is an abomination?   Depends on the viewpoint.   The unjust acquire wealth and status in ways that make the righteous jealous – though it shouldn’t.  The upright are an abomination to the wicked, because the upright are genuine and receive eternal favor without working lies or deceit.  

A (Application): The freakiest line from the latest House of Cards series is the title of this blog post.  President Francis Underwood pontificates on the future…and he says, “One nation.  Underwood.”  How creepy.  

How often does the “bad guy” win?   How do we allow this?   We do allow it, by the way, either because we stick our heads in the sand or because we are complicit with the system.  

…until we lift our heads…until we are no longer complicit…

We reach a true freedom when we begin to believe in and trust the Lord.   We can walk upright (repenting as we go) fearing no ruler.  We will do no battle.   Instead, our upright nature will drive the wicked ones crazy.   

Our trust will be in the Lord, and as we trust the Lord, we will see that our spirit is not captured.   Our will is set free in order that we live upright lives in the midst of an unjust world.  

Francis Underwood rules through wicked means.   Will you?  Or will you let genuine love for your neighbor guide your ways and your will?

P (Prayer):  Lord, lift up our heads to you!  Amen.  

How’s That Working Out for You?

S (Scripture): Psalm 66

8 Bless our God, O peoples,
  let the sound of his praise be heard,
9 who has kept us among the living,
  and has not let our feet slip.
10 For you, O God, have tested us;
  you have tried us as silver is tried.
11 You brought us into the net;
  you laid burdens on our backs;
12 you let people ride over our heads;
  we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

O (Observation):  The understanding of God in parts of the Old Testament is that God allows good and evil to befall God’s followers.   If they receive blessing, that is good and this blessing is a reward.  If they receive harm, this is to make them understand their sin and the challenges that come with that sin (in the hopes that they would sin no more).   

Being tried like silver seems to be like a smelting process by which the silver is burned at a high temperature and in this process impurities are removed.   In God’s people, they see God trying to purify the people through helping them to know the effects of their own sinfulness.   

A (Application):  We always like “our” way of doing things…whatever that way is.  Sometimes, we even like our ways over God’s ways! (Gasp!  Oh yeah, that’s called sin.)

The punishment of sin is not something we need in addition to the sin itself.   Rather, in sin, we tear ourselves away from God and from others.   That is a hell (or punishment) in and of itself.  That distance we put between each other as we sin towards our neighbor is a chasm that feels like an eternal distance.   We feel alone.  We feel abandoned.  And sometimes, we have no one to blame but ourselves.    

Christ, however crosses this chasm, even the chasm caused by death.   And Christ brings us back into relationship.  We need only to seek that forgiveness.   Recognize our own wrongdoing.   

God does watch us go wayward from time to time.   When we cry out to God, God helps us.  But at first, God probably says, “So, how’d that work out for ya?”

“Yeah, God…umm, not so well.   Please forgive me.”

“Ok,” God says…”I forgive you.   But you go and sin no more.”

P (Prayer):  Lord, we give you thanks for the forgiveness you are always willing to show to us. Amen.