The One Thing ☝🏼

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S (Scripture): Acts 20:21 You know I have testified to both Jews and Greeks that they must change their hearts and lives as they turn to God and have faith in our Lord Jesus. 22 Now, compelled by the Spirit, I’m going to Jerusalem. I don’t know what will happen to me there. 23 What I do know is that the Holy Spirit testifies to me from city to city that prisons and troubles await me. 24 But nothing, not even my life, is more important than my completing my mission. This is nothing other than the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus: to testify about the good news of God’s grace.

O (Observation): Paul knows the one thing that is most important, above all else:

To testify about the good news of God’s grace.

He knows that dangers lie ahead, and he testifies anyway. He testifies to both Jews and Greeks. And he does all of this based on his call to serve God.

Regardless of the danger that might befall him, Paul carries on.

A (Application): Ever seen City Slickers? You know, the movie with Billy Crystal and Jack Palance. Palance plays a rough and tough cowboy named Curly.

Curly keeps telling the city slickers that the most important thing was this: then he would hold up his hand in a fist and point his index finger skyward. He would say: “the one thing.” The one thing was the most important thing. The problem is, he doesn’t tell anyone what that ONE thing is.

The idea was that we all have “one thing” that is the most important thing in the world for each of us. And no one can tell you what your one thing is. Curly didn’t tell the city slickers what that one thing is for them, because they each had to discern that for themselves.

How about you? What is your one thing? We know what Paul’s was.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to clarify our “one thing” that you have called us to. Amen.

Bonus: YouTube clip of the “one thing” conversation. (Disclaimer: foul language).

Love and Veterans

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S (Scripture): John 13:34 [Jesus says to the disciples:] “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”

O (Observation): A new commandment. This doesn’t necessarily replace the former commandments, but this is a new commandment. Love one another. And not the way we think we should love one another.

Love one another: just as I have loved you. What does that love (Jesus’ love) look like, exactly?

Well, Jesus knows one of the disciples will betray him. This was just revealed in the preceding verses. Jesus loves him anyway. No defense. No weapons. Just let him go.

His love looks like servanthood. He just got done washing the disciples’ feet. He served the ones he loves.

Jesus’ love looks like righteous indignation when people misuse other people. That love gets tested when the helpless are cast aside.

A (Application): Love. How beautiful. To love one another is a rare and beautiful gift. Love, Jesus’ kind of love, makes one do bold and irrational things. Things that may not benefit one’s self, but certainly will benefit others.

Love may cause you to put yourself in harm’s way for another. Love may cause you to give your time and financial support to another who is going through a rough time. Love will remind you that you exist not only for yourself, but for the betterment of others.

I think of our veterans this day. Laying down one’s life is the extreme sacrifice. Serving this country means one gives up one’s independence (at least for a season). This move creates an atmosphere in which people depend on one another.

When soldiers return from active duty, they return to a world of individuals, independent of one another. Some handle this transition well, others, not so much. Perhaps we can empathize with these veterans who seek the community they once had while serving this country. Perhaps we can love them the way Jesus loves people: with service and with no regrets and with a full heart.

Thank you to all veterans. Your service is an inspiration.

And may we seek the day when war is no more.

P (Prayer): Lord, you call many to love and to sacrifice. We lift up our veterans to you this day – active and retired – and wish them peace and wholeness in body, mind, and spirit. Amen.

We Pray: God Provide!

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S (Scripture): Genesis 22:6 Abraham took the wood for the entirely burned offering and laid it on his son Isaac. He took the fire and the knife in his hand, and the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father?”

Abraham said, “I’m here, my son.”

Isaac said, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the entirely burned offering?”

8 Abraham said, “The lamb for the entirely burned offering? God will see to it, my son.” The two of them walked on together.

9 They arrived at the place God had described to him. Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He tied up his son Isaac and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 But the Lord’s messenger called out to Abraham from heaven, “Abraham? Abraham?”

Abraham said, “I’m here.”

12 The messenger said, “Don’t stretch out your hand against the young man, and don’t do anything to him. I now know that you revere God and didn’t hold back your son, your only son, from me.” 13 Abraham looked up and saw a single ram caught by its horns in the dense underbrush. Abraham went over, took the ram, and offered it as an entirely burned offering instead of his son. 14 Abraham named that place “the Lord sees.” That is the reason people today say, “On this mountain the Lord is seen.”

O (Observation): A very interesting story, indeed. Some look at this story and are appalled at such a disturbing set of circumstances. Some see this story as supporting child sacrifice (which cannot be further from the truth). Some see this story as the beginning of support for animal sacrifice.

Abraham has done almost everything God has asked, to this point. Abraham has been willing to follow God, but took one interesting part into his own hands (fathering a son, Ishmael, with his servant, Hagar). God called Abraham. God does not control Abraham.

So, God sets out for one final test…and does not fail Abraham. Isaac is bound (“akedah” in Hebrew). Bound, Isaac is about to be sacrificed to God. Abraham has been faithful, knowing all along that in some way, God will provide. Will God being Isaac back from the dead? What will happen?

God provides. God provides a ram, caught in the thicket. Abraham is faithful, even to the point of giving full dependence upon God. Even giving up the son that he loves dearly…the son promised by God.

A (Application): The father / son language is reiterated over and over again. You see very clearly the connection and relationship and wonder where the Good News is in this story.

As Abraham knows, God provides. In my study on this text, I came across the following, and leave it here for your reading, in hopes that you can see the Good News in such a text….the Good News that foreshadows Jesus the Christ:

The story of the akedah makes a claim on us: All that we have, even our own lives and those of the ones most dear to us, belong ultimately to God, who gave them to us in the first place. The story of the akedah assures us that God will provide, that God will be present. And, of course, as generations of Christian interpreters have seen, it foreshadows the story that forms the foundation of Christian faith – the story of the death and resurrection of the beloved son,5 son of Abraham, son of David, Son of God.

– Kathryn M. S Hoffner decker,

P (Prayer): Lord, you always provide for us. Help us to see your provisions around us. 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.  

Why Did Jesus Die For Us? 

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and avoided by others; a man who suffered, who knew sickness well.
Like someone from whom people hid their faces, he was despised, and we didn’t think about him.
4 It was certainly our sickness that he carried,
and our sufferings that he bore,
but we thought him afflicted,
struck down by God and tormented.
5 He was pierced because of our rebellions
and crushed because of our crimes.
He bore the punishment that made us whole;
by his wounds we are healed.
6 Like sheep we had all wandered away,
each going its own way,
but the Lord let fall on him all our crimes.

10 But the Lord wanted to crush him and to make him suffer. If his life is offered as restitution, he will see his offspring; he will enjoy long life. The Lord’s plans will come to fruition through him.
11 After his deep anguish he will see light, and he will be satisfied.
Through his knowledge, the righteous one, my servant, will make many righteous, and will bear their guilt.
12 Therefore, I will give him a share with the great, and he will divide the spoil with the strong, in return for exposing his life to death and being numbered with rebels, though he carried the sin of many and pleaded on behalf of those who rebelled.

O (Observation): The Suffering Servant – the name many have given to this character described here in Isaiah 53 – is known to many as a foretelling of the Savior to come, Jesus the Christ.

This servant comes to bear the shame and sin of God’s people (of all humanity?)…

God let fall on this servant all of our brokenness, all of our punishment.

A (Application): For Christians…the fact that a servant of God – named Jesus – suffered and made us whole and redeemed us from the power of sin and death and eternal damnation is pretty clear. What is not so clear – and what is the fundamental difference between many lines within Christian thought is this: the reason “why” God gives a suffering servant is not as apparent to us.

Many have argued that we screwed up and that Jesus died in our place. As if God was angry and needed appeasing (penal substitutionary atonement theory). This assumes that we needed God to change God’s mind about us.  That God demanded a sacrifice to be appeased, that God might look kindly upon us again.   The result: God needs satisfaction (blood), Jesus saves our hides, we should feel guilty about this.    

Parts of this view are helpful, and some parts are not so helpful.  

Instead, I lean into what is known as the Christus Victor atonement theory, which is to say that through Jesus taking on our sins and sickness, and finally succumbing to these to the point of death, and then in being resurrected, God overcomes theses evil powers and sets us free from them.   In this case, we need not feel guilty (repentant, yes; guilty, maybe), but empowered by God’s grace.  And in this case, God’s mind is not changed about how to love God’s people. No…in this view, our mind is changed about God.  God is not vindictive.   God is love.  Sacrificial love.  Now we have something to emulate.  Now we have something we can learn from God.   Sacrifice for others, that others might know of God’s great love.  In this is freedom.  

Yeah…that’s it for me.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep my mind open to your love and empower me to serve my neighbor.  Amen.  

Adopted…not Our Doing

S (Scripture): Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ) – if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him.

O (Observation): To be brought into the fold as a child of God, one is adopted.  Whether a descendant of Abraham or not, one is only adopted, and never privileged to claim the name for one’s self.  

As adopted children of God (through the work of the Spirit), one also becomes an heir of God…not just for the gift of eternal life, but that our whole reason for being is transformed from self-seeking behavior, to life-giving behavior for self and others.   

A (Application):  How hard is it to understand that being a child of God is not something we earn on our own?   We give ourselves credit for believing…but that is HARDLY the case to sustain a relationship with God.  

In a wildly irrational act, Jesus chose to suffer for our sake.  Jesus showed that suffering humiliation and death was way more important than allowing the world to engage in the life of “redemptive violence” (thanks, Rob Bell, for that phrase)..that we each have to get our own way, or the last punch!

Instead of my view of Christianity, or your view of Christianity, there is simply Christ crucified.  And as the Spirit joins us to Christ, we no longer have to fear our failures or shortcomings.  Instead, we focus on our callings to live out God’s love in the world. 

We are adopted into God’s family.  Thanks be to God!

P (Prayer):  Lord, we thank you for bringing us into the fold.  Amen. 

An Offering


S (Scripture): Psalm 50:
7 God says: “Listen my people! I am speaking! Listen Israel! I am accusing you! I am God, your God!

8 I am not condemning you because of your sacrifices, or because of your burnt sacrifices that you continually offer me.

9 I do not need to take a bull from your household or goats from your sheepfolds.

10 For every wild animal in the forest belongs to me, as well as the cattle that graze on a thousand hills.

11 I keep track of every bird in the hills, and the insects of the field are mine.

12 Even if I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all it contains belong to me.

13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls?  Do I drink the blood of goats?

14 Present to God a thank-offering!  Repay your vows to the sovereign One!

15 Pray to me when you are in trouble!  I will deliver you, and you will honor me!”

O (Observation): God is declaring the usefulness of the offerings given in worship to God.  Does God actually eat and drink of the offerings?  No.  Is an offering still good to give?  Yes.

Even if God was ever hungry or thirsty, God could, at any time, take a sip from a river or snatch a deer from the forest, because everything already belongs to God.  God doesn’t “need” that offering to eat or drink.  And maybe God’s people kind of forgot that aspect of the offering. 

So instead of bringing an offering simply out of obligation, perhaps the offerings could be focused on giving thanks to God!

God doesn’t just want something FROM the people…God wants something FOR the people.  God wants them to know that they can all cast their joys and sorrows on the Lord. Giving an offering is one way to acknowledge God’s sovereignty in their lives, and so giving an offering is not void of usefulness.   

A (Application): We give offerings at church these days.  On a practical level, this helps us operate and offer worship, programs, pastoral care, etc.  Funny thing is, ALL of these can be done without a church building, without a pastor, without lots of the stuff that goes with being a church.  

Yet, we see much fruitfulness in coming together in a specific place with specific programs and specific leaders.  Quite the paradox.  

In either case…with all of these things I just mentioned, or none of those things….we still give thanks to God and offer various things up to God: ourselves, our time, our possessions.   We can all find ways to do this corporately and as households.   For what reason?  For a thank-offering to God.  To recognize that not just 10%, but 100% belongs to God!

P (Prayer): God, we thank you for providing for our daily bread.  Help us to acknowledge you for the things we have, material and spiritual.  Amen. 

The Great Meal


S (Scripture): Matthew 26:26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat, this is my body.” 27 And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, from now on I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

O (Observation): The great sacrifice, made significant not by our participation, but by Christ’s command.   Jesus institutes a meal for ALL PEOPLE.   In this meal, faith is kindled and renewed.  Jesus establishes a new covenant so that he wouldn’t just be WITH his people.  Now, he will live IN his people.  

For the forgiveness of sins…

A (Application):  For you… for me…

P (Prayer): Lord, we are humbled by your great sacrifice…that you make us whole.  Amen.  

Those Who Have Given Their Lives


Today, I take some abiding time, but also recognize why I have this day off:  Memorial Day.   I pray that all of us realize the lengths at which some will go to protect people from evil and hatred in this world.   As the saying goes for the military: All gave some, some gave all.  

Here is a prayer for those who have died in the midst of war. 

Prayer for those who have given their lives

Eternal God, we give thanks for all those who have shown the greatest love by laying down their lives for others. We especially thank you for those in our military throughout history who have sacrificed their lives for their fellow citizens and for us who came after. As we remember their service, keep us mindful of all those for whom this day is a burden, and send your spirit of comfort to them. Be present with all the women and men who are serving in the military today. [Though they are at war] let them live for the peace known only from you. Help us to be worthy of their legacy, and keep us mindful of their service, that in all things we may live our lives in praise and thanksgiving to you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.  (Evangelical Lutheran Worship – Prayer Book for the Armed Services)

You Want Me to Do What???


 S (Scripture): Psalm 50:8 I am not condemning you because of your sacrifices,
or because of your burnt sacrifices that you continually offer me.
50:9 I do not need to take a bull from your household
or goats from your sheepfolds….
50:12 Even if I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and all it contains belong to me.
50:13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls?
Do I drink the blood of goats?
50:14 Present to God a thank-offering!
Repay your vows to the sovereign One!

O (Observation):  Worship practices are sometimes described in Scripture, like today’s psalm.  I love how the psalmist lifts up God’s voice here, regarding the worship practice of Offerings.  God’s people are giving as a “sacrifice” to God.  God doesn’t NEED the sacrifices… rather, God’s people are to give as a response of thanksgiving!  

The people perhaps got into a routine of offering something to God as part of a quid-pro-quo system.  I screwed up, so here is my penance.  Or, I need a favor, God, here’s a little something I have for you…

What does work, however, is bringing an offering from a posture of thanksgiving.   Let that be the simple practice of Offering. 

A (Application):  In our world, we look to give AND receive.   And only BOTH!   I look like a fool if I give to you, and you don’t give back.   Or I look lazy if I don’t give you back something, if you’ve given me something. 

In worship, we give to God because we celebrate what God has done, is doing, and will do in this world – not just what God will do with our congregation.  If we thought Offering was a time of sacrifice (quid-pro-quo), it would be a very low point in the worship service.   

Instead, I view the time of Offering as a high point in the service.  We are trusting that God will bless those monies.  We trust that the gift I give will be a blessing to my personal/household finances.  

How do we know that last part is true? Couple of options:  

  1. Ask others who are generous givers.  Ask if they regret it. 
  2. Just start giving 10% of your income.  This is known as a “tithe,” a concept from the Old Testament.  (Or increasing your gift towards the tithe mark.). Then, step back, and discern where God has surprised you. 
  3. Look at your personal budget. Does every dollar have a purpose?  Are you blowing through your finances and don’t know where the money is going? Classes like Financial Peace Univsersity are wonderful for helping to bring hope to people in the area of personal finances.  

These are some real ways that you can engage in to find a new purpose for giving to God. 

My wife and I have made the leap of faith to giving 10% of our income through our congregation and local charities, and we haven’t looked back since.  We are happy to give thanks to our God, and we invite you to do the same, whether to church or charity or a local neighbor.  Give, and you will receive blessing. 

P (Prayer):  God of Abundance, open our eyes to your generosity, and to giving out of joy, rather than sacrifice.  Amen.