Carriers of the Message

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S (Scripture): Acts 17:1Paul and Silas journeyed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, then came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was Paul’s custom, he entered the synagogue and for three Sabbaths interacted with them on the basis of the scriptures. 3 Through his interpretation of the scriptures, he demonstrated that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. He declared, “This Jesus whom I proclaim to you is the Christ.”

O (Observation): Paul and Silas (now released from prison) travel to Thessalonica, and there Paul begins to teach the Jews about the continuation of God’s work in the person of Jesus. How? By taking the Scriptures and interpreting them through the lens of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenants made in the Scriptures, if you read the promises as being fulfilled by Jesus the Christ.

These steps are what is necessary to plant a church…for Paul. Make sure they have the scriptures and how to see them through the lens and purpose of Christ.

A (Application): What is your lens? How do you frame the world around you? Are you caught up in living for yourself alone? The framework in which we live determines the outcomes of our actions.

Paul’s framework was against Jesus, before he was visited by Jesus. Paul looked at the same scriptures and had come to one conclusion (as Saul), and another conclusion (as Paul). The framework (what Saul was taught) brought one set of conclusions. The new framework sent him in a different direction.

We do well to share the Gospel like Paul. Meet people where they are in their framework. Don’t make them jump over to yours, first. Chat without condemnation. Get an understanding of where they are coming from. THEN, show how your framework influences your thoughts and decisions. You are not giving up your framework by talking to someone different.

If the other person sees the Gospel in what you say, you have done a good deed and it has born fruit. Will their framework be changed? Will their hearts and minds be changed? Perhaps. But know this, the work of changing someone’s heart and mind is done by God. We simply carry the message. Kind of like Paul and Silas.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us the words to say. Receive those who believe. Amen.

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A House Divided

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S (Scripture):

2 Samuel 2:4 Then the people of Judah came to Hebron and anointed David king over the house of Judah…8 Meanwhile, Abner, Ner’s son, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, and brought him over to Mahanaim. 9 There he made him king over Gilead, the Geshurites, Jezreel, Ephraim, and Benjamin—over all Israel. 10 Saul’s son Ishbosheth was 40 years old when he became king over Israel, and he ruled for two years. The house of Judah, however, followed David. 11 The amount of time David ruled in Hebron over the house of Judah totaled seven and a half years.

John 6:63b Jesus continues: “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 Yet some of you don’t believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning who wouldn’t believe and the one who would betray him. 65 He said, “For this reason I said to you that none can come to me unless the Father enables them to do so.” 66 At this, many of his disciples turned away and no longer accompanied him.

67 Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

68 Simon Peter answered, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are God’s holy one.”

70 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I choose you twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He was speaking of Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

O (Observation): God is no stranger to adversity…to God’s own house divided.

In the case of 2 Samuel 2, Saul has been defeated and animosity has grown strong between Saul’s people and David’s people. The people wanted a king! They got one. In fact, when the first one (Saul) tried to rule apart from God, God dismissed him by anointing another king: David.

Both David and Saul were anointed. So, who should the people follow? Alliances formed and split the people of God. The northern kingdom, Israel, followed Saul. The southern kingdom (Judah) followed David. And thus, God’s people continued in their own “Civil War” in which God’s people continued to kill one another.

As for Jesus, one of his own hand-picked group of 12 will wish to have Jesus killed. At least, he will be willing to “sell out” Jesus to the thugs who wish to have him silenced / censored.

The result? More death…in fact, the death of Jesus himself. And in his wake would come the bursting forth of the Spirit.

Both of these stories remind us that God is no stranger to adversity and that we are sustained even in the midst of adversity and overwhelming odds.

A (Application): Today, I am struck not by own adversity, of which I have very little. I am struck by the adversity of those whom our American society places on the fringe.

People of color.

Women.

Disabled.

LGBTQIA+.

Indigenous People of America.

And so many more.

My friends of a more “conservative” bent think me ridiculous. How can I be so pathetic? How can I be so soft? “Everyone has equal rights.” “I’m not responsible for <insert group here> not getting that job / getting elected / getting that home loan / etc. What people did 50, 100, 250, or more years ago is not me.”

Instead of keeping our house divided, perhaps we could look to the ways that we can all contribute to make this world a better place. If that means using my white, male privilege to help others, then that is the course. I say this, because I have looked around and said, “God, why don’t you do something?” And God says, “I did. I created you!” Oh…dang…

What do I do with that???

What do you do with that???

P (Prayer): Lord, guide me and sustain me. Amen.

Grace Through Ritual

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S (Scripture): Today, two of the lessons I read come together nicely to make one point: following God’s call supersedes even the most sacred of rituals.

1 Samuel 15:19 (Samuel said to Saul…) “Why didn’t you obey the Lord? You did evil in the Lord’s eyes when you tore into the plunder!”

20 “But I did obey the Lord!” Saul protested to Samuel. “I went on the mission the Lord sent me on. I captured Agag the Amalekite king, and I put the Amalekites under the ban. 21 Yes, the troops took sheep and cattle from the plunder—the very best items placed under the ban—but in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

22 Then Samuel replied,

“Does the Lord want entirely burned offerings and sacrifices

as much as obedience to the Lord?

Listen to this: obeying is better than sacrificing,

paying attention is better than fat from rams,

23

because rebellion is as bad as the sin of divination;

arrogance is like the evil of idolatry.

Because you have rejected what the Lord said,

he has rejected you as king.”

————-

John 2:13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 He found in the temple those who were selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as those involved in exchanging currency sitting there. 15 He made a whip from ropes and chased them all out of the temple, including the cattle and the sheep. He scattered the coins and overturned the tables of those who exchanged currency. 16 He said to the dove sellers, “Get these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written, Passion for your house consumes me.[a]

18 Then the Jewish leaders asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things? What miraculous sign will you show us?”

19 Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.”

20 The Jewish leaders replied, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?” 21 But the temple Jesus was talking about was his body.

O (Observation): In the Gospel of John, Jesus turns water into wine…but not just any water. Jesus takes the water used for ceremonial cleansing and turns THAT water into wine. Jesus points out that those jars of water will not be necessary for cleansing anymore.

And on the heals of that story, we get today’s text of Jesus overturning tables and cleansing the Temple. And Jesus promising that the Temple will be torn down and raised in 3 days. Why? The whole sacred system is about to be turned upside down, right along with those tables Jesus flipped.

Now, in Jesus, the world has its path towards forgiveness and love for God and neighbor. Rituals don’t rule – God does.

Saul, trying to honor God with animal sacrifices, moves away from the Lord’s calling. The Lord calls on Saul to destroy the Amalekite people and their livestock. Saul disobeys, thinking his plan is above God’s. I think not.

What is more important? Samuel – God’s prophet – points out that following God and God’s commands is more important than tradition or ritual…even if it means changing the whole system. Even if it makes you looks unpopular.

A (Application): Ok, ok. Take a deep breath. I don’t propose we throw out ANY rituals at this point. I personally believe that the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are chock full of God’s grace and are a means through which God speaks to us. So…ok.

As we use these rituals to point out that God is reaching us through these means of grace, we continue to embrace them. Jesus calls us to these sacred gifts, and so we call others to the waters in which we are spiritually bathed and to the tables around which we commune.

Let us never use these gifts as tools for leverage or as a means for holding power over one another. Let these gifts always point us to God, and not to ourselves. Let these gifts be blessed and let us use them as God does – for reaching out with a hand of mercy, grace, and compassion for others.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to use these means of grace well. Amen.

On the Road to Faith


S (Scripture): Acts 22:6 [Paul said,] “As I was en route and near Damascus, about noon a very bright light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. 7 Then I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Those who were with me saw the light, but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 So I asked, ‘What should I do, Lord?’ The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told about everything that you have been designated to do.’”

O (Observation): Paul recalls the time that Jesus came to him on the road to Damascus and completely turned Paul’s life upside-down.   Paul (Saul at the time) was an ardent student and enforcer of the Law and knew just what God wanted, because he was taught by all the right people and had more zeal for the Lord than anyone.  

But here, Jesus himself seeks out Paul, temporarily blinds him to get his attention, and changes his mission.   Instead of persecuting Jesus’ followers, he would become one.  And he would be led by the Spirit as we went out on mission for Jesus.  

A (Application): How many of you have had a “Damascus Road” experience?   I haven’t. Nope. For me, faith has come in bits and pieces…on retreats, in worship services, in nature, in these devotions, in visits with neighbors.  A little bit at a time, throughout my life: that’s how I have been (and am always being) transformed.  

Keep an eye out for what God is up to.  Sometimes God will come in the thunder and lightning.  Sometimes God will come in the whisper.  Just be ready.  Listen.  Love.   

P (Prayer):  Lord, help me to see you when you show up.  Amen.  

God Encounters Us


S (Scripture): Acts 9:31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria experienced peace and thus was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, the church increased in numbers.

O (Observation): The Church is in a new phase: Following the ways of Jesus Christ.    This is a fulfillment of what God had in store all along, but it is perceived as a new path for God’s people on earth.  The old ways have been transformed and God’s people are having a hard time seeing what God is up to in the movement of the Holy Spirit.  

Saul was persecuting those who followed Jesus Christ (and by proxy, persecuting Jesus himself).   But with a personal visit by Jesus to Saul (in a vision?) Saul has now become Paul, and Paul becomes a key in spreading the Gospel to the “Greek-speaking Jews” (that is, he is able to spread the Gospel across cultural boundaries…into areas outside of Israel).   

And while this is the new and uncomfortable way of doing “church,” The Spirit is certainly leading Jesus’ disciples.   They fear and respect the Lord, and they are showing little resistance to the Spirit’s power in and through them.   As a result: their numbers increase. 

A (Application):  How do we discern what the Spirit is telling us?  Now, I’ll be honest:  I was about to go into a diatribe on listening for the Spirit and asking about the last time you made space to listen for God.   But in Saul’s/Paul’s case, Jesus came and spoke directly to him.   Jesus didn’t wait for Saul to stop and reflect, Jesus just came right to him.   

Sometimes it works that way, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you hear the Spirit in times of meditation and quiet, and sometimes God just gets all up in your face.   

The next question to struggle with then is this: what do you do when God encounters you?   Regardless of the manner in which God encounters us, we have a responsibility to respond to what God is up to.

Now we have something to work with.  For me, God has been calling me to work with my Muslim brothers and sisters here in Murfreesboro, TN. God is also calling me to be vigilant in my pursuit of being a good husband and father.  These are some of my callings by the Holy Spirit.  

What did you do the last time God encountered you?   Have you begun on this work yet? If not, what is causing the resistance? If you have begun this work, is it what you expected?

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to respond to your calling.   Amen.  

Getting Out Ahead of God


S (Scripture): 1 Samuel 13:7 Some of the Hebrews crossed over the Jordan River to the land of Gad and Gilead. But Saul stayed at Gilgal; the entire army that was with him was terrified. 8 He waited for seven days, the time period indicated by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the army began to abandon Saul.

9 So Saul said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings.” Then he offered a burnt offering. 10 Just when he had finished offering the burnt offering, Samuel appeared on the scene. Saul went out to meet him and to greet him.

11 But Samuel said, “What have you done?” Saul replied, “When I saw that the army had started to abandon me and that you didn’t come at the appointed time and that the Philistines had assembled at Micmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down on me at Gilgal and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I felt obligated to offer the burnt offering.”

13 Then Samuel said to Saul, “You have made a foolish choice! You have not obeyed the commandment that the Lord your God gave you. Had you done that, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever! 14 But now your kingdom will not continue! The Lord has sought out for himself a man who is loyal to him and the Lord has appointed him to be leader over his people, for you have not obeyed what the Lord commanded you.”

O (Observation):  Saul got out ahead of God.  In 1 Samuel 10:8, Samuel instructs Saul that when Saul gets to Gilgal, Saul is to wait for Samuel to offer burnt offerings to God.  Saul’s army starts to abandon him, and Saul gets a bit nervous.   So, instead of waiting on Samuel to offer up an offering to God, Saul takes action into his own hands.  Saul offers the offerings to God, because he’s afraid if he doesn’t, then his army will leave him and he won’t be victorious.   Saul puts no trust in the Lord.   That is his main error in this episode.  This error will ultimately cause him to lose his throne.  

A (Application):  Have you ever gotten out ahead of God?   Too worried about allowing God to take control?   Too sensible to see what God can do?   Too reasonable to see God establish abundant blessing in the midst of your scarce resources?

I’ve been worried about securing my future.   I’ve taken steps to secure my own future, while forgetting to ask God for help…sometimes choosing not to let God help.  

And yet in times of trusting in God, I’ve seen blessing.  Ever since my wife and I shifted to giving 10% of our income as a tithe to God, we have been blessed.   We didn’t come into a huge sum of money, but instead our attitude towards money and worries over money have shifted.  We see that God will provide, and we are teaching our children that the love of money is not something to get caught up in.   We will still seek ways to earn our income using the gifts we’ve been given, but our efforts are not in isolation.  God blesses us in what we do with what we have.  

Give some, save some, spend some.  In all, trust the Lord.  

You are not alone on this journey.  God is there.  Trust.  Believe. 

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to see that you provide for us in times of plenty and in times of want.   Make your presence known on this journey. Amen.  

God-Moments

  S (Scripture): 1 Timothy 1:15 This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” – and I am the worst of them! 16 But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life.

O (Observation):  Paul (author of our letter here to Timothy) used to be Saul.  Saul persecuted / killed those who claimed that Jesus Christ was Lord / Son of God. Why?  Saul was a Pharisee, and considered his slaughter of Christians a strong and powerful showing of the depths of his faith and loyalty to God.  

And Paul recognizes that God has done soemthing extremely special here:  God redeems Saul to show the world the depths of God’s saving power.  That even in the midst of his sin, Paul was redeemed.  

That was a big change from the popular thought of the Jewish (human-constructed) belief system.   One showed their obedience to God and then was identified as a trusted member of God’s household of faith.  

God, In Jesus, changed all of that.  

A (Application):  People make the wrong connections here. A lot of doubters say, “So I just do whatever I want, and God’s cool with that.  God will just say, ‘Oh, I love you, do whatever you want.’ And then they are saved and can do it all over again.”

That’s precisely NOT what grace is about.  Does God’s grace envelope you right where you are?  Yes!  Absolutely!  But is that where you stay?  No! Certainly not!

We are all called to repent and believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ.   But before we repent, we have to know that there is something for which we are called to repent.  

Usually, God catches our attention with a kairos – a moment in time that freezes us in our tracks, either a positive or negative experience.  We can dive into those moments to process what’s going on.   Since we mostly will NOT see Jesus face to face, as Saul/Paul did, we can share stories from the Scriptures and our own lives to help that person.  Those moments are best spent with others in the faith to help the person having the kairos.

Can you name a kairos from your life?   Can you point to a moment recently, that took your breath away, for better or worse?

My most recent kairos has to do with engaging in campus ministry at MTSU.   In pursuing what God is saying to me, my close disciple-friends helped me to discern that God is promising to lay out a path for me.  And God has done that.  We begin working with campus ministry later this month!!!  (The processing and communal support are key to dealing with a kairos!)

P (Prayer):  Lord, you come to us, always.   Remind us that we are yours and that we can hear from you any time and any place. Amen.