Set Free…to Serve!

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Jeremiah 34:8 Jeremiah received the Lord’s word after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to proclaim liberty for their slaves: 9 everyone was to free their male and female Hebrew slaves and no longer hold a Judean brother or sister in bondage. 10 So all the officials and people who entered into this covenant agreed to free their male and female slaves and no longer hold them in bondage; they obeyed the king’s command[a] and let them go. 11 But afterward they broke their promise, took back the men and women they had freed, and enslaved them again.

12 Then the Lord’s word came to Jeremiah: 13 The Lord, the God of Israel, proclaims: I made a covenant with your ancestors when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 14 I said that every seventh year each of you must free any Hebrews who have been sold to you. After they have served you for six years, you must set them free. But your ancestors didn’t obey or pay any attention to me. 15 Recently you turned about and did what was right in my sight; each of you proclaimed liberty for the other and made a covenant before me in the temple that bears my name. 16 But then you went back on your word and made my name impure; each of you reclaimed the men and women you had set free and forced them to be your slaves again.

O (Observation): To serve out of indebtedness and to be forgiven is the standard for God’s people of the day. Yet out of a sense of mercy, they are to forgive one another every 7 years. All are to be released and allowed to be forgiven of their debt. What is owed is no longer owed.

Yet God’s people enslaved one another again. Why do we do that?

A (Application): Why do try to keep in place that which is detrimental to us. God knows that freeing one another from a debt is about the healthiest thing we can do.

We work hard to help one another and pay off debts when we can. But if we are truly unable, what benefit is there in holding a debt over someone who cannot repay?

We do the honorable thing and help one another. We contribute to society. Some will take advantage of this, but most debts can be absorbed without too much of a cost.

Releasing is the idea. God released the people from one another’s debt in order to help them all see that freedom is the goal for us. Free from having to serve one another. And yet free to choose to serve one another.

This is our hope. Freedom for all. Service to all.

We are free to love and serve our neighbor. We seek to assist those devastated by Hurricane Dorian and all who seek refuge and care after natural disasters. We rally around this freedom that we have to help others.

P (Prayer): Lord, you have freed us. Help us to free one another. Be with those stranded and mourning the loss of life in the Bahamas and in other areas affected by Hurricane Dorian. Amen.

To Serve or to Be Served

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Luke 22:24 An argument broke out among the disciples over which one of them should be regarded as the greatest.

25 But Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles rule over their subjects, and those in authority over them are called ‘friends of the people.’ 26 But that’s not the way it will be with you. Instead, the greatest among you must become like a person of lower status and the leader like a servant. 27 So which one is greater, the one who is seated at the table or the one who serves at the table? Isn’t it the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

O (Observation): What?!?! What about our status? What about our status as leaders? How are we supposed to lead the church if we don’t hold any authority?

Jesus is confusing things once again…leadership in the church has worked, so why change the view?

Well…has it worked?

Perhaps a view of servant-leadership is in order.

A (Application): On a weekday in Spring 2003, I went into what is known as my Entrance Interview to start my process into becoming a pastor in the ELCA. I talked a lot about all of my church experiences and what I’ve done to deserve this opportunity to serve the Church.

A gruff, pipe-wielding man by the name of Rev. Dr. Tom Ridenhour (who would later become my preaching professor at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary) said to me: “I’ve heard a whole lot about ‘me’ and ‘my’ and what ‘I’ve done’ and very little about ‘what God is doing or what God has done.'”

<insert long, awkward, quiet pause…and me starting to sweat…>

Dr. Ridenhour continues after the pause with: “…but I look forward to having you in my classes at seminary…”

(“phew!”)

Well, I learned that day (and I’m still learning) to want to be the one serving, and not the one at the table. How about you?

P (Prayer): Lord, remind me that service to neighbor is as meaningful as being served. Amen.

God…Is Us

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Psalm 44

8

So we glory in God at all times

and give thanks to your name forever. Selah

9

But now you’ve rejected and humiliated us.

You no longer accompany our armies.

10

You make us retreat from the enemy;

our adversaries plunder us.

11

You’ve handed us over like sheep for butchering;

you’ve scattered us among the nations.

O (Observation): How fickle the psalmist is. One line, praising God (v. 8); the next, calling out God for rejecting the psalmist and the rest of God’s people (vv. 9-11).

A (Application): How frustrating. Yesterday I was praising God for being with God’s people. Yay, God! Now…what? Cursing God for not being on “our” side?

So…when in times of prospering, God is on our side… And in times of desolation and fear, God is not on our side… Does that sum it all up?

Yes. But that doesn’t make sense.

Apply that to a third world country. Is God not on the side of the starving and the poor? Is God not for the oppressed being set free?

The theology of the psalms is much less about what God is doing or “not” doing, but is much more about the human struggle with providence. Some days, we can truly sense that God is doing good and overseeing us. Some days, God seems almost absent. The struggle is to identify that God can and does work with us through all of the confidence and all of the doubt…through our “wins and losses.”

So, what can we do?

We will trust. We will trust that God will guide us. We will lean on one another in difficult times so that we can begin to identify where God is. And if we can’t sense God, we will stand together…serving and praying and giving until we realize that we are God on earth. That all this time we were looking “up” for God…when God was always around us…that God is us when we serve and pray and give.

The Spirit calls us together…equips us…that we might be God on earth. So maybe we will realize that the times we don’t see God are the times we aren’t serving, praying, giving. For in these acts of discipleship…we are indeed God’s hands and feet on this good earth.

P (Prayer): Lord, let me be a servant of your peace. Amen.

God BETWEEN Us

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Matthew 25:31 “Now when the Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right side. But the goats he will put on his left.

34 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. 35 I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. 36 I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’

37 “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’

O (Observation): Jesus continues to turn the view of God’s reign on its ear. So many expected God to be found solely in the spaces that were holy, amongst people who were “clean,” and certainly not amid the afflicted nor in the prisons. And yet, Jesus places God in all of these situations.

Jesus describes the joy and usefulness of being with those who are sick and in prison. For in these acts of selflessness, God is there! These acts are as if God is receiving our assistance.

In the act of visiting the sick and imprisoned, God is made real. God is not only a being then, but God is made manifest through these interactions. So in the very act of kindness being shown from one to another THERE is God.

A (Application): Is God just what I see and have heard? Is the only way for God to be made manifest to be done so in the person of Jesus? Is God not manifest in creation, all around us? (Not that God IS everything, but that God is REVEALED in everything that is good in creation.)

When I tell someone of the Good News, is Jesus the one and only thing to share? Well, for me, that is the path…to know God’s love made real in Jesus Christ, dead and resurrected.

But that path may not be for everyone. What if I seek the same values of peace and serving neighbors in need while working alongside my Muslim neighbors (which I do, by the way)? What of that?

If I am feeding the homeless and praying with the sick…is God not there? What if my Muslim friend does this with me? Is Jesus there? Must Jesus be acknowledged? Or can we do the good, without forcing someone to convert?

Just wondering…

P (Prayer): Lord, you work through many different means of grace. May we be your means of grace this day. Amen.

The “END” – but what about TODAY?

all-things-new

Photo credit here.

S (Scripture): Revelation 14:6 Then I saw another angel flying high overhead with eternal good news to proclaim to those who live on earth, and to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come. Worship the one who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”
8 Another angel, a second one, followed and said, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She made all the nations drink the wine of her lustful passion.”
9 Then another angel, a third one, followed them and said in a loud voice, “If any worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or their hands, 10 they themselves will also drink the wine of God’s passionate anger, poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will suffer the pain of fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. 11 The smoke of their painful suffering goes up forever and always. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, and those who receive the mark of its name.”
12 This calls for the endurance of the saints, who keep God’s commandments and keep faith with Jesus.
13 And I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Favored are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “so they can rest from their labors, because their deeds follow them.”

O (Observation):  Amidst the devastation of the world, three angels appear to John of Patmos, and bring good news to all who follow the Lord.  These angels promise that God remains faithful to those who follow him.

The second angel declares that Babylon has fallen!   What good news!  Babylon (likely referring to the power of Rome and its many foreign gods) is destroyed!   The symbol of oppression and lustful passions has been destroyed.

And to those who die “in the Lord,” they are favored.   Even death cannot destroy the hope that one finds in Jesus Christ

A (Application):  I wonder if the hope that so many people cling to in Revelation worry about this scenario playing out in our lifetime?  I have heard many arguments for why we are living in the end times now – in 2017.   They name one-to-one correlations between the book of Revelation and current events.   I don’t subscribe to these theories.

I’m not trying to just dismiss or discredit these attempts at prophetic predictions, I just simply do not worry about these things.

My call is to gather folks together in the name of our Triune God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and lead our people to spend time with God, spend time together bearing one another’s burdens, and to go out into the world with a servant’s heart.   This is what keeps me going.   I rejoice that Jesus wins in the end of Revelation and all tears are wiped away – once and for all.

IN THE MEANTIME, we have hungry that need to be fed, immigrants that need hope that they can create a way of life in this country, and we need to be gathered – weekly – to be reminded that our God is with us in all of our endeavors.

God goes out ahead of us.  God is with us.   God stays behind when we leave.   God is doing all of this all of the time.    We simply show up.  We set dates, and we show up: to worship, to gather for fun, to serve.

P (Prayer):  Lord, take away the burden of knowing the time of your coming.  Instead, help us to focus on the here and now.  Amen.

Who Can Serve???

Photo credit here.

S (Scripture): Joel 2

25 I will repay you for the years
that the cutting locust,
the swarming locust, the hopping locust, and the devouring locust have eaten—
my great army, which I sent against you.
26 You will eat abundantly and be satisfied,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has done wonders for you;
and my people will never again be put to shame.
27 You will know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the Lord your God—no other exists;
never again will my people be put to shame.
28 After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone;
your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
and your young men will see visions.
29 In those days, I will also pour out my
spirit on the male and female slaves.

O (Observation): God freely admits to having corrected God’s people when they needed correction. God sent locusts to eat their crops. Then more to eat the leftovers. Then more to eat the crumbs : ) No apologies. However, God now promises something fruitful. God promises a new vision revealed to God’s people.

The vision God reveals comes through God’s Spirit being poured out on everyone. That Spirit will inspire prophecies and dreams for God’s people.

And not only on God’s people…but even on the male AND female slaves!!!! Scandalous!

God ‘s mercy knows no bounds.

A (Application): The text today is quoted quite a bit in liturgies and messages, usually without the context around it. Joel is a prophet who speaks God’s judgment, but also God’s word of grace. Repentance is called for once again, and so is God’s unrelenting grace and mercy.

What strikes me today is the humility that comes with being a follower of Jesus. That’s sounds weird. I think others have to declare you humble…you can’t really call yourself humble : )

Anyway, humility is what strikes me today. The nature of our faith causes us to be humble. As a pastor serving a congregation in a suburban area, we can get quite frazzled over how things operate in the congregation. We can worry about how well a ministry is going by wondering how many members are involved. And what about non-members? What if they get involved? Is that okay? Can non-members be involved? OF COURSE!

OUR CALL IS TO MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS! Humility is a part of that. Inviting members and non-members alike to be a part of what God is calling us to do goes with the territory. We don’t have to “convert” everyone. We don’t have to ask people to give their hearts to Jesus. We simply serve. We simply share the same space. We simply invite. In the process of doing life together, we can encourage baptism or taking next steps in faith formation…but that comes after building a relationship with folks and not demanding they sign on the dotted line.

If they aren’t against us, and they are doing good…great! Regardless of who the “they” are.

A great example is our participation in the upcoming “Coldest Nights” program in Murfreesboro, TN. On nights below 32 degrees, our congregation (twice per month) will provide a meal for about 15 ladies seeking shelter for the night. Lots of folks are eager to help – some members, some non-members – and that is AWESOME! I couldn’t be more proud of our folks pulling the community together to serve or neighbors in need. God’s grace falls on us all.

Happy serving!

P (Prayer): God, make us all ready to serve. Amen.

A Lamp Shining In a Dark Place

Photo Credit here

S (Scripture): 2 Peter 1:19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
O (Observation):  Peter reminds his followers (and readers) that they have a special advantage of having been witnesses (or at least heard it second-hand) that Jesus Christ is the glory of God incarnate – God in the flesh.  

This advantage will give them more cause to be hopeful, to be as a lamp shining in a dark place.  

Recalling this truth of God in flesh, Jesus Christ, bringing about salvation and overcoming the power of sin and death, is something to be reminded of time and time again.   

Recall this truth, Peter reminds us.  And in remembering, the light will shine in the darkness    

A (Application):   “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”  We sang that today at the ELCA Youth Gathering training event in Houston, TX, this morning.  This is a reminder that we are the light and that we are called to carry the light into the darkness of our communities and into the darkness of our own lives.  

As a participant and one of the many leaders for the ELCA Youth Gathering, I have been reminded time and again, that God is our light and our life, and in God we love and move and have our being.  One can’t help but recall all of this when surrounded by 30,000 fellow church members.  

And from that pilgrimage experience of the ELCA Youth Gathering, we see that we are called to shine the light of Christ in the dark places: by caring for others, by listening to our neighbors, by coming together to worship on a regular basis.  

Who has been the light in your life?

When have you been a light -bearer to others?

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to let your light shine through us at the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston next summer, and every day.  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. 

What Does Hope Look Like?

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Lamentations 5: 19 But you, Lord, will rule forever; your throne lasts from one generation to the next.
20 Why do you forget us continually; why do you abandon us for such a long time?
21 Return us, Lord, to yourself. Please let us return!  Give us new days, like those long ago—
22 unless you have completely rejected us, or have become too angry with us.

O (Observation): The framework around the despair here is that God’s people understand the devaststion of their land (and people) as recompense for their turning away from God.   

And when we zoom in on these verses here, we can see that their faith in God is challenged to the point of wondering if God is still even “for them” anymore.  

A (Application):  I in no way attribute the recent hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, Maria) or the earthquakes in Mexico to God’s doing – not in any way shape or form.   And yet I can see how those devastated by the storms and quakes could share similar lamentations.    

Regardless of how one sees the cause of God’s people and land being destroyed at the time of the writing of Lamentations, or the cause of today’s horrific natural disasters, the crying out of all peoples is the same:  why?!  God, where are you?!

My hope and is that we can help be the answer to that prayer.   That we would take up our chainsaws and shovels, rakes and buckets, trash bags and hard hats.    That we would send money and prayers where they are needed most.  

God is at work through our hands and wallets and spirits.   Let us follow the call to serve, to help where needed most.  

P (Prayer):  Equipping Lord, call us to the places where we can serve those who have lost their homes and maybe even loved ones.  Amen.  
(More on aid to Puerto Rico here. )

The Priestly Role

Photo credit here.  And you might want to click this time : )

S (Scripture): Hebrews 4:14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

O (Observation):  The priests of the church were typically separated from the people in early times, so that they could properly observe liturgical rites (I.e. Worship).   The priest would be the “go-between” between the people and God.  

Of course, God has always been close to the people (never just far away).   Yet the priest helped God’s people see the connection between God and the people.  

With Jesus as the Great High Priest now, God’s people know a bit more fully that they can “approach the throne of grace with boldness” to receive mercy and grace.

A (Application):  The unfortunate outcome of having priests is the notion that one cannot speak directly to God, or that somehow the priest needs to be the elevated one who speaks to God on behalf of the people.  

For a time, this was something the Church took advantage of for selfish gain.  Think of it as “job security.”   

However, the Church has made it more clear over time that God is close to all, and has always been.  We have always had access to God through prayer and meditation.   And yet, most people say, “Oh, I’m not good at praying” or “I’m not good at meditations” or “I don’t have time to pray.”   Well, with that mindset, no, it will never work out for you.  

But let me ask you this:  Have you ever wanted something that someone else had (in terms of a peace or a spirituality that you admired, and wanted to make it your own)?   If so, have you approached that person?   If they didn’t respond, did you ask again?   

This is very important stuff.   Find someone who you think is someone God has put into your life to show you how to pray or meditate or give extranagavtly or build healthy friendships or serve selflessly.  Whatever the practice is that you are feeling God calling you to…go find someone who does that well.  

Then, once you’ve followed someone long enough, continue to adapt to your own style of prayer, service, meditation, giving, etc.  

The priest’s function – in my opinion – is to teach others how to pray, how to sense God’s closeness, how to pass on the gifts of grace in baptism and Commmnion, so that others can learn to do the same.   

So, what’s stopping you from taking the next step? From having that next conversation?  From seeing how close God and God’s mercy really are?

P (Prayer): Lord, you are close.  Show us.  Teach us how to connect.  Continue to send brace and patient leaders for your Church.  Amen.