Baptism Changes Things

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S (Scripture): 2 Chronicles 6:24 If your people Israel are defeated by an enemy because they have sinned against you, but then they change their hearts, give thanks to your name, and ask for mercy in your presence at this temple, 25 then listen from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel. Return them to the land you gave to them and their ancestors.

26 When the sky holds back its rain because Israel has sinned against you, but they then pray concerning this place, give thanks to your name, and turn away from their sin because you have punished them for it, 27 then listen from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them the best way for them to follow, and send rain on your land that you gave to your people as an inheritance.

O (Observation): Solomon is dedicating the Temple to God. This is the temple David wished to build – for which he even had plans drawn up – but was told NOT to build it…that Solomon was to build it. And when Solomon was anointed king, he asked for one thing: wisdom. And in this prayer of dedication, Solomon shows wisdom.

Solomon knows that God’s people will err. He knows God’s people will drift away from the path. His wisdom is seeking not to excuse God’s people, but rather to make sure that God hears their cries of repentance. That God show mercy when God’s people need it the most.

And when they seek forgiveness, and they are sorry for what they’ve done…when land is returned and the rain comes…these will be signs of God’s mercy.

A (Application): The cycle: receive grace, live, sin, repent, receive grace…repeat. What makes us worthy of grace, if we are stuck in this pattern? Why even attempt to live a life of Christian freedom???

In a word: baptism. Our baptism starts into more than just the pattern listed above. Our baptism starts in us the gift of faith. From this faith we have opportunities to share faith with others, welcoming them into the Way.

Our faith also gives us hope. Even in the midst of our failings, we are all willing to do life without seeing ourselves as the central point around which life revolves. Instead, God dwells in the center of our being, and that drives us to serve God and our neighbor. By doing so, we instill hope and faith in other people.

We make stops along our journey to hear God, hear loved ones, and hear our own heartbeat. We give glory to God for bringing order out of chaos, for bringing peace to us in the midst of our tumultuous lives, for inviting us to live within the body of Christ.

May you reflect on your baptism today to see the many joys and struggles it brings. May you see that God enters those struggles with you. May you seek baptism, if the Christian faith is something new to you.

P (Prayer): Lord, we thank you for listening to us and forgiving us. Guide us. Heal us. Amen.

Called to Serve!

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S (Scripture): Luke 3:7 Then John said to the crowds who came to be baptized by him, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? 8 Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.”

10 The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

11 He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. They said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?”

13 He replied, “Collect no more than you are authorized to collect.”

14 Soldiers asked, “What about us? What should we do?”

He answered, “Don’t cheat or harass anyone, and be satisfied with your pay.”

O (Observation): John speaks for God – he is a prophet. Many come come to be baptized by John to show that they wish to receive forgiveness of sins and wish to change their lives. No longer does John think it sufficient to be a Jew – from the lineage of Abraham and Sarah. That “status” is of little significance should one not change one’s life.

John says that God expects a changed life in response to the grace given to each.

Life in Christ gives ALL people a chance – even a pile of rocks : )

Jesus forms a new way of life with God, one that is open to all.

A (Application): Complacency is our biggest threat as Christians in the world. “I’ve done enough. I’ve done my part. There’s nothing I can do about it.” These words are our excuses.

Instead of relying on our baptism as our “ticket home,” let’s also think about our baptism as our call to serve and our being equipped for mission in the world!

Rest not only on what God has done FOR you…through prayer and community discern how God is working THROUGH you!

P (Prayer): Lord, make me a channel of your peace. Amen.

Adultery

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S (Scripture): Matthew 5:27 [Jesus said:] “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery. 28 But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. 29 And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into hell.

O (Observation): Jesus has been re-shaping and re-defining communal boundaries of those who follow God. Jesus is expanding their understanding of what it means to be a follower of God…and what it means to be blessed. Being blessed in God looks upside-down according to the world.

Also, Jesus is re-shaping their understandings of (2 of) The 10 Commandments: Jesus is showing that the commandments are more than just rules to be kept, but rather, a spirit to be embraced.

A (Application): Highpoint Church. Google it. Then come back here.

Jesus mentions not committing adultery. Ok, not committing the act of adultery is the main idea. But Jesus says even lusting after someone is harmful. In other words, the worth and value of the one being lusted after should be kept whole and undefiled, in deed and in spirit. The one committing the act of adultery is to be repentant (and not shaming the victim, or even worse, trying go from being the perpetrator to being the victim).

Perhaps Jesus is getting at another point here, too: just because you proclaim to be free of committing adultery in deed, you may very well be guilty in spirit.

This guilt hopefully leads to the truth coming out and the perpetrator seeking forgiveness and ultimately, justice being done. With Jesus’ understanding, the default would be that we all – in some fashion – have sinned in terms of adultery and that we – not the victim – are most in need of healing.

P (Prayer): Lord, bring us hope and make us accountable to you and other honorable people in this world. Amen.

Who Said That?

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S (Scripture): Amos 7: 8 The Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”

“A plumb line,” I said.
Then the Lord said,
“See, I am setting a plumb line
in the middle of my people Israel.
I will never again forgive them.
9 The shrines of Isaac will be made desolate,
and the holy places of Israel will be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, reported to Israel’s King Jeroboam, “Amos has plotted against you within the house of Israel. The land isn’t able to cope with everything that he is saying. 11 Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will be forced out of its land.’”

12 Amaziah said to Amos, “You who see things, go, run away to the land of Judah, eat your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s holy place and his royal house.”

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I am not a prophet, nor am I a prophet’s son; but I am a shepherd, and a trimmer of sycamore trees. 15 But the Lord took me from shepherding the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

16 “Now then hear the Lord’s word.
You say, ‘Don’t prophesy against Israel, and don’t preach
against the house of Isaac.’
17 “Therefore, the Lord proclaims:
‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and your daughters will fall by the sword,
and your land will be measured and divided up;
you yourself will die in an unclean land,
and Israel will surely be taken away from its land.’”

O (Observation): Prophetic words are not always meant to comfort. In fact, most prophetic words are mean to correct God’s people. The words of Amos are just such words.

The famous “plumb line” image is about helping God’s people to have a guideline, a boundary against which their actions will be judged. If they fall “out of plumb” they will know they are in need of repentance. Following up on that repentance will be critical for God’s people to be I good standing before God.

And no matter how much folks like to dismiss words from prophets, the words still stand…because those words come from God.

A (Application): To whom shall we listen? Politicians? Pastors? Church members? Atheists?

How about a shepherd? A mechanic? A CEO?

Prophets come in all forms, all shapes, all professions. Prophets are not limited to a particular place or job. As Amos says in v. 14, he is just a shepherd, a trimmer of sycamore trees. He also just happens to be called to share God’s prophetic words.

Perhaps this text can give us pause to consider from whom we are receiving a message that challenges us. Pause long enough to discern the truth coming from the statement, regardless of who is sharing that word. Don’t dismiss the words just because you don’t trust or relate to the carrier of the message. Discuss it with others you trust and discern together the purpose.

You may come to the conclusion that your initial sense is best…but at least you considered the message. And if you need to repent, do so.

And keep an eye on that plumb line.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word, your plumb line, your messages from your prophets. Amen.

Our Past Can’t Hold Us Back!


Photo credit here.  Pictured is a food shelter located in Murfreesboro, TN.   LoveGodServePeople.org.  

S (Scripture): Ezekiel 18: 14 But suppose [a person] has a child who sees all the sins that his father committed. He becomes alarmed and doesn’t do them. 15 He doesn’t eat on the mountains or pay attention to the idols of the house of Israel. He doesn’t defile his neighbor’s wife. 16 He doesn’t cheat anyone, either by seizing collateral for loans or committing robbery. He gives his food to the hungry and clothes to the naked. 17 He refrains from oppressing the poor by taking neither interest nor profit. He observes my case laws and follows my regulations. He won’t die because of his father’s guilt. He will surely live. 18 As for his father: If he exploited the weak or committed robbery, or did anything else that wasn’t good for the people, he will die because of his own guilt.

O (Observation):  Physical death awaits us all, but in this life, Ezekiel points out that true life exists in looking to serve the interests of others, and not just one’s own interests.   Ezekiel is sharing God’s message about sins not necessarily being visited upon sons and daughters simply by default.  

Rather, God is opening up the minds of God’s people to realize that one is not defined by one’s parents – or one’s own past, even.   Rather, one might have one’s eyes opened to see that – all around us – people need to be fed and clothed.  Acting on those needs brings life to the recipients of that food and clothing, and in return, new life is brought to the person who gives to others.  

Funny how “giving away” actually brings the new life promised by God.  

A (Application): Pretty soon, a group of white supremacists will rally at the courthouse square to raise their message of disdain against immigrants and all people of color.   They have already shared flyers in the campus of Middle TN State University to recruit more to these bigoted groups.  

The vision is bleak for this town, when people see this stuff.   And yet, hope remains. 

We repudiate the words and actions of any group showing hate for another.  We will engage in a nonviolent response, in an alternate physical location.    And we will show love and care for our neighbors.    And we will share a vision of a future that is colorful, where cultures will learn from one another…and maybe we will catch a glimpse of the Kingdom!

Our past does not define us.   Jesus made sure of that by taking on and overcoming our sins – once and for all!  A shared vision of the future will bring many of us together…a future that includes being kind to one another, regardless of skin color, nation of origin, or language.  This is Jesus’ way.  

God always keeps open the door to loving our neighbor.   And feeds us so that we can keep on feeding others for the rest of our days.  

Is your past holding you back?  If so, be free today, in Jesus’ name!  Shake off that burden by seeking forgiveness.   Then go…and feed a need in your community today. 

P (Prayer):  Lord, we thank you for setting us free to go and serve our neighbor in need.  Amen. 

Close to God

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 10:1 The Law is a shadow of the good things that are coming, not the real things themselves. It never can perfect the ones who are trying to draw near to God through the same sacrifices that are offered continually every year.

O (Observation):  God’s Law stands as a corrective for God’s people, namely, the 10 Commandments.  The Law also stood as an identity marker for how God’s people were to love God and love neighbor.  The Law portrays a peaceful Kingdom, yet God’s people fall short of that ideal.  Even though God’s people fail, that doesn’t mean the Law was not effective.   The Law was a guiding light for a people who wandered time again.  

God’s grace is what pulled them back into relationship with God.  

Hebrews leans heavily on sacrifice as the scapegoat for error of God’s people.  I think this author transforms what was an important custom of making sacrifices to God into a final “sealed the deal” event in Jesus’ sacrifice.   

The emphasis is less on appeasing God, and turning towards how Jesus fulfills the Law…how Jesus brought us closer to God than any earthly sacrifice.   

A (Application):  Some days, feeling close to God can be a challenge.   Challenged by finances, relationships, social media wars, lack of joy, addictions…we face many challenges.  We try to follow God’s path for us, but are we on it?  What do we do to make up for our wandering?

And this is where the grace comes in.   God shows us mercy, welcomes us back on the path. In this grace our eyes are opened once again to the wideness of God’s mercy.   As we soak in this grace, we can’t help but be transformed.  We realize that while we still were sinning, God was loving us through those moments.  And that makes me want to get on my knees and pray for forgiveness even more.   

Grace, forgiveness, repentance, transformation.  Pretty much in that order.   No sacrifices necessary. 

P (Prayer):  Lord, we thank you for guiding us back into the path…always.  Amen.  

How Does Grace Change Us? Seems Like the Weak Way Out…

LOVE

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 33:14 The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. 15 In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. 16 In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness. 17 The Lord proclaims: David will always have one of his descendants sit on the throne of the house of Israel.

O (Observation):  In the midst of their demise, God’s people hear (yet again) of God’s promise to restore Israel and Judah to a new glory.  King Nebuchadnezzar is on their borders, actively fighting and conquering.  Jeremiah is commissioned by God, yet again, to submit to this foreign king, on the promise that God’s people will be restored once again…    King Zedekiah need simply to trust that God will make good on God’s promises.  King Zedekiah need rely on God’s grace alone.

A (Application): God’s major promise to Judah and Israel (and to all of us today!) includes the fact that a king will come from the line of David…a righteous branch…who will do what is just and right.   Will we deserve this king?  Absolutely not.  But then, that’s the point, right?

In retrospect, Jesus is that descendant of David.  Jesus sits enthroned, meting out justice and righteousness in His own way…through love and mercy, through unconditional love.

A recent Richard Rohr devotion includes this quote, which sums up for me the hope of grace, forgiveness, and redemption (and describes the hope God gives to Jeremiah and God’s people):

The ego expects this pattern: sin > punishment > repentance > transformation.

Ezekiel recalibrates this process after experiencing YHWH’s purifying love for Israel. The pattern becomes: sin > unconditional love and forgiveness > transformation > repentance.

If this is indeed God’s pattern, as I believe it surely is, this is a very different universe that God is creating. Jesus called it “the Realm [or Kingdom] of God.”

I think this fundamental difference is what is causing Christians today to be at odds with one another.   I want transformation in people’s lives.  I want people to understand that they can stand before God because of God’s grace.   I want people to know that they are gifted for God’s work and that God wants to do great and wonderful things in them and through them (and me).

I think the best way to get this message across is to welcome and accept all people to join the fellowship of the saints…that we might come together to walk alongside one another with grace and mercy as the keys to our relationship.   This is what Jesus does in his ministry.

I want to see people’s lives changed, Christians and non-Christians alike.  How do we do this?   Through understanding the pattern set seen by Ezekiel in the Rohr quote above.   First, show people that our God is a God of unconditional love and forgiveness, then transformation ensues.  And finally, you realize that you stand before God, NOT because of what you have done (or avoided), but rather, you stand before God, simply by God’s grace…there you stand, a repentant sinner, wrapped in God’s love.

I want to see change in the world…the change that comes from knowing that God loves you/me.  From Richard Rohr’s same post, we get to the crux of how grace transforms:

God resists our evil and conquers it with good, or how could God ask the same of us? Think about that. God shocks and stuns us into love. God does not love us if we change; God loves us so that we can change. Only love—not duress, guilt, any form of shunning, or social pressure—effects true inner transformation.

P (Prayer):  God, show us the way of welcome and acceptance.  Show the world how your grace shocks us into transformation.  Amen.