Faithful Love of God

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S (Scripture): Psalm 136


God remembered us when we were humiliated—

God’s faithful love lasts forever.


God rescued us from our enemies—

God’s faithful love lasts forever.


God is the one who provides food for all living things—

God’s faithful love lasts forever!


Give thanks to the God of heaven—

God’s faithful love lasts forever!

O (Observation): Notice the pattern? For every verse in this Psalm ends with the phrase: “God’s faithful love lasts forever.”

This Psalm is a re-telling of Salvation History. By Salvation History, I mean going back to creation being ordered by God, God claiming a people and seeing them through changes, all the way through the present moment of the psalmist. The psalmist recognizes God’s presence in all things and sees that God’s faithful love lasts forever.

A (Application): I hope that God sees our everyday joys and trials. And in witnessing our lives, I pray that God opens our eyes to God’s presence in our decisions, in our routines, in our daily work (or schooling).

As you sit down to dinner this night, give thanks to God that you have food to eat. If you have too much, what can you give to another?

After all, God can and does work through you.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to help others…not as I ought, but as I am able. And I am able, thanks to you. Amen.

What Do I Do Now?

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S (Scripture): John 6:26 Jesus replied, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. 27 Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”

28 They asked, “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?”

29 Jesus replied, “This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent.”

30 They asked, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

O (Observation): The crowd of 5,000 has had their fill of loaves and fish. Now they believe another sign is required for them to do God’s work.

The work, Jesus says, is much more simple than even that. Simply believe that Jesus (God’s Son) was sent by God. They don’t like that though. They feel the need to DO something.

A (Application): Why do we always feel the need to DO something to work towards salvation? Jesus says the work is simply starting with the belief that God is already at work.

Any work we do is based on the fact that God has already done the work of forgiveness and reconciling us to God. Jesus has taken the power of sin and has overcome it.

Now, we are free to move about the world following our callings for the sake of God’s work. We are set free from saving ourselves – Jesus does that for us. We are set free for meeting the needs of those around us.

In this, we have our freedom.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep me believing in your Son. Amen

Salvation Now?

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(Please take a moment to read Judges 4 today, too, as we see important women leading and making powerful moves for God’s people!)

S (Scripture): Luke 19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through town. 2 A man there named Zacchaeus, a ruler among tax collectors, was rich…8 Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.”

9 Jesus said to him, “Today, salvation has come to this household because he too is a son of Abraham. 10  The Human One came to seek and save the lost.”

O (Observation): Today? Today salvation has come? I thought salvation was something reserved for the end?

A (Application): Jesus makes a very important move. Salvation is not just something to happen later on…in the great by-and-by. Salvation is here. Salvation is now.

Salvation is about being freed up from the trappings of this world: consumerism, power, competition, etc.

Salvation begs the question: from what am I freed? For Zacchaeus, he was freed from the love of money.

Salvation also means we are not just freed FROM something, but we are freed FOR something. Zacchaeus was freed for helping others (paying 4 times to those whom he cheated and giving to the poor).

What do you need to be freed from? What is God freeing you for this day?

P (Prayer): Lord, release me from that which binds me. Guide me into that which you wish for me to do this day. Amen.

Gathered ‘Round the Throne

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S (Scripture): Revelation 7: 13 Then one of the elders said to me, “Who are these people wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”

14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.”

Then he said to me, “These people have come out of great hardship. They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood. 15 This is the reason they are before God’s throne. They worship him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They won’t hunger or thirst anymore. No sun or scorching heat will beat down on them, 17 because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

O (Observation): The life of the follower of Jesus is like one whose robes have been washed white by Jesus’ sacrifice. The stains on the robes of the person wearing them have been placed there by the fault of the individual, yet Jesus makes them clean. Jesus overcomes the power of sin and death and gathers his followers together. They give him praise and worship Him.

In this scene, Jesus gives life-giving water and wipes away all tears from his followers eyes. They will cry no more. They will thirst no more. All will be well.

A (Application): Hard to see the throne image in the here and now. Life is chaotic and tumultuous. We fear for our safety and our job security and we have a difficult time seeing anything like robes washed in white while signing praises to the Lamb.

We sing words like “Salvation belongs to our God, and to Christ the Lamb, forever and ever,” and “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.” These images are brought forth through the Scriptures. We give thanks to God for making us whole and judging us with love.

The punishment of sin is sin itself. When we sin, we suffer and those around us suffer, even if we don’t feel it or sense it. Sin separates us from God and one another, and numbs us to that distancing, until somehow (through the Spirit) we awake…to see that while nothing can ever truly separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus…we discover we have been pushing God away.

Texts like today – from Revelation – are a good reminder to us that the end has already been accounted for. Today, we live into the grace freely given to us. We live into the hope that one day, we will all be united, gathered around the throne, singing…giving praise to God.

Embrace that security of the vision of the faithful gathered around the throne this day in the midst of your tumultuous ventures.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us hope that we will see more and better days ahead…if not in this life…then the next. Amen.

Our Attempt to Control the Holy Spirit

S (Scripture): Acts 15:6 Both the apostles and the elders met together to deliberate about this matter. 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that some time ago God chose me to preach to the Gentiles so they would hear the message of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, has testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between them and us, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 So now why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they are.”

O (Observation):  Known as the Jerusalem Council, the apostles and elders gathered to determine if the Gentiles should subscribe to the Jewish laws as part of their call to be followers of Christ. Various opinions about this issue were held by different groups of Jesus-followers.   Those who were Jews and become followers of Jesus thought it was only fair that Gentile believers also hold the Jewish customs.  That somehow, this would make things more fair.

Peter, instead, shared the fact that laws or no laws, being save by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is what saves them all – Jew and Gentile alike.  Peter did not advocate total chaos, he simply wanted to keep the main thing the main thing:  faith in Jesus Christ is the only requirement for salvation…if one is given the Holy Spirit to have that faith, that is the only requirement.

In sum: Peter says we are saved by grace through faith as a gift of the Holy Spirit.   

A (Application):  Sounds like our Lutheran mantra: saved by grace through faith.  

If this is our belief (and it is for me) then anyone can believe in Jesus Christ, for stopping the work of the Holy Spirit is nigh impossible.  

What ramifications does this belief have?  

This belief means that the death penalty is not a good idea, because someone might be moved by the Spirit, and forgiveness or even reconciliation might occur.   

This belief means that every child given up for adoption has the potential to be moved by the Spirit to do great work in this world.  

This belief means that our new president might be moved to action that could lift up others (or if not, inspire actions of the populace to show care for our neighbors who fear or are hurt by this administration).   

This belief means that while we might want to vehemently disagree with one another, we are all still called to respect one another, for the Spirit  may be at work in the midst of that difficulty, birthing something new or extraordinary.   

These ideas may seem unrelated and random, but so is (in my experience) the work of the Spirit.   Seemingly random, yet moving us to the overarching movement of God’s reign and God’s movement.  God continually pulls us into God’s narrative of salvation for the whole world (maybe even towards those with whom we disagree : ).  Yikes!

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep our hearts and minds open to the work of your Spirit.  Amen. 

It’s Mine! All Mine!

S (Scripture): Acts 13:44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city assembled together to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and they began to contradict what Paul was saying by reviling him. 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. 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):  Jealousy takes over for the Jews gathered at the local synagogue in which Paul is preaching (in Antioch).  They don’t like all of the Gentiles hanging around “messing up their things.”  These Gentiles are being welcomed in because they are starting to believe this message of hope provided by Paul and Barnabas.

Paul’s words cut deep here. Not only is he claiming that these Jews are rejecting the word of God, he takes another step in claiming that the Jews simply don’t see themselves as worthy of eternal life. Because of this, Paul says he turns to the Gentiles. As he does this, he shares some words from Isaiah. Paul is acting on the prophetic words from that prophet years ago.

According to Isaiah, the Jews were responsible for being a light to the Gentiles…indeed to the whole world.  Doing so would bring salvation to the whole earth.  Yet God’s people got off track.  Even with the Law and Prophets, they couldn’t do it for themselves.  Instead, Jesus had come to fulfill the purpose of the Law and Prophets.  To remind the world that salvation was always meant for ALL people, lived out first in the Jews, then to the whole world.  

Paul and Barnabas were doing their part to live out this hoped-for future.  

A (Application):  Mine, Mine, Mine!  That’s the cry of a child who is jealous.    That’s the cry of an immature person who likes what he/she sees and craves it…to the exclusion of others.  This goes against the purpose God has for us.  

We think that the world is a zero-sum game.   The more I give away, the less I have.   But I have  found that when I actually accomplish living out the Gospel and give away my time, talent, treasures, I somehow feel enriched.  Like somehow, 2 + 2 = 5.   Like I receive, even though I’m giving.  That is NOT a zero-sum game.  

The Gospel message works this way, too – as we give, we receive.  When we share the message of Jesus, especially with those who don’t look or act like “us,” we receive blessing.  It’s hard to describe, but you know it when you do it.   

That’s my challenge for you today.  Share God’s love with someone, even if you don’t think they deserve it.  You just might be amazed…or disappointed.   I can’t guarantee your success rate.  Remember, Paul also received hateful responses from those with whom he shared the Gospel.  But many more received the message and took the hope he was sharing to heart.  

What shall you do today with what you have?   With your finances?  With your time?  With the Gospel message?

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to know you are a God of abundance.  Amen.  

So Who’s Getting In?

S (Scripture): John 10:27 [Jesus replied to the Jewish leaders:] “My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

O (Observation):  Jesus was discussing salvation with the Jewish leaders.  They seemed to want only those who followed the Law to be given salvation.  Jesus wants anyone who will hear his voice and recognize his voice.  That means Jew and Gentile alike.  Not so good for business, huh?

A (Application):  Who do we want in?  Into salvation, I mean.   Seems like Christians spend more time talking about who’s getting in, rather than the reason why any of us is getting in at all!   The Gospel is our hope and stay.   That’s the Good News!

Jesus calls all of us to be a part of the Kingdom.  Listen for his voice.  He calls. 

Can you tell me a time when you’ve heard God’s voice?  

(My most recent experience of God calling was at a racism workshop at Lutheridge, a conference center in Arden, NC.)

P (Prayer): Lord, help us all to see that you call all to listen to your voice.  Amen.  

The Gospel is Not a Weapon

S (Scripture): Luke 17:33 Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it. 34 I tell you, in that night there will be two people in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 There will be two women grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”

O (Observation):  Jesus is talking about “the coming of the Son of Man.”  This has “end-time” and judgment connotations.   Jesus is calling on those who follow God to now follow him.  This is a major challenge, and the people will have to decide.  

When the time comes, Jesus makes note that it will be swift and sudden.  He calls on them to believe in him.  To help set the tone, he says that two people will be working side by side, and one will be taken and the other not.

The commentary today tells me this, about one being taken and the other remaining:

The primary purpose in context is to picture the sudden, surprising separation of the righteous and the judged (i.e., condemned) at the return of the Son of Man.

A (Application):  So I don’t worry about my salvation or the salvation of others.   Yep. Take that in.   Let me explain…

I don’t see others around me as saved or not saved.  I try my level-best to love and care for everyone equally.  That is tremendously difficult when I encounter people who dislike or mock me, but I still try.  And even if I fail, I don’t walk away thinking, “Well, I guess I won’t be seeing them in heaven.”

I CARE about people, but if I think it’s my job to save people, and the goal is to make sure they are saved, my frustration will know no end, and I will end up becoming very legalistic about life and faith.  Soon faith would become some formula devoid of transformation.  Perhaps salvation would be whittled down to saying a particular prayer or statement of belief…and nothing more…no change of heart…no transformation.  

Or worse, we could become militant about making sure others love God.   

(Check out this movie clip that mocks the militant approach to faith.)

 Yes, the picture Jesus lays out is scary.  And yes, salvation matters.   

So, go out and tell others what God has done for you. Go out and serve others, because God has served you.  Go out and be kind to ALL people.  Go out and see others not as souls to be saved, but as God’s children to be loved.  

When asked if you have been saved, what has been your response?

P (Prayer):  Lord, may we know that you are willing and able to transform each and every one of us.   Help us by lowering our resistance to you and your love.  Amen.  

We Don’t Give to Get

S (Scripture): Deuteronomy 9:6 Understand, therefore, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is about to give you this good land as a possession, for you are a stubborn people!

O (Observation):  God is preparing the people for entrance into the promised land.  The text today gives us some theological background for Israel inheriting the Promised Land…and it has nothing to do with them.   God goes on to describe the wickedness of the people currently inhabiting the Promised Land.   But God reminds Israel, lest they get too arrogant, that this conquest is not due to Israel’s uprightness…but is something God is doing for God’s people.  

A (Application):  We don’t give in order to get.   When we mess this up, we mess up our attitude.  God reminded Israel that their faithfulness did not result in them getting the Promised  Land; that was all God’s doing.  The same principle applies to us.  What blessings we receive, we receive from God, even in spite of our messed up attitudes. 

This boils down to correlation, not causation.  God’s people receive blessing because God is good…not because we deserve it.  

We don’t deserve the forgiveness and salvation we receive.  The moment we think we OUGHT to be forgiven and saved, we’ve missed the point.  The moment we think we can achieve salvation, we’ve missed the point. 

Instead, let us live lives of gratitude: for creation, for salvation, for forgiveness and reconciliation.  Let us rejoice in God our Savior.  

P (Prayer): Lord, bless us now and forever.  Amen.  

Control of the 144,000


S (Scripture): Revelation 7:4 Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.

O (Observation): 144,000 are supposedly to select few to be sealed by God…and no more are to be of this “elect.”   Guessing others can be saved, but only 144,000 for sure. 

Well, as a piece of apocalyptic literature, I understand these numbers as symbolic.   First, 7 is a number that represents wholeness and sacredness (the number of days to create the cosmos, along with a day of rest).  Second, 12 is powerful, since that is the number of tribes of Israel. 

144,000 = (12 x 12) x (10 x 10 x 10)

12 tribes of Israel x 12 apostles. 

10 x 10 x 10 is wholeness or perfection.

These numbers are symbolic and have special meaning.  Thus, the number 144,000 denotes not a literal group of tribulation Jews, but rather the entire church of all races, languages, times and places.

A (Application):  I try really hard to be patient on social media.   I’m getting better.   I’m taking more time to jump into a discussion.  I’m taking more time to formulate caring responses, instead of emotional responses.   

But sometimes, I feel like I’m being told I’m not one of that select 144,000.  Now, no one has ever used those words, exactly…but the idea of being considered outside of salvation has been thrust upon me more than once, because of my theological views.  

I can say, pretty confidently, that I care not that I’m condemned.  I speak with a clear conscience, knowing that I am trying to interpret what God is saying to me, and then to act on those words of challenge and grace.   And I do so with members of my faith community.  

How are you relating to the 144,000?   Are you in? Out?  Or is the whole thing not in your hands? : )

P (Prayer): Lord, you are in control. We are not.  Help us to know the difference. Amen.