The Written Word

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S (Scripture): Psalm 119

169

Let my cry reach you, Lord;

help me understand according to what you’ve said.

170

Let my request for grace come before you;

deliver me according to your promise!

171

Let my lips overflow with praise

because you’ve taught me your statutes.

172

Let my tongue declare your word,

because all your commandments are righteous.

173

Let your power help me

because I have chosen your precepts.

174

Lord, I long for your saving help!

Your Instruction is my joy!

175

Let me live again so I can praise you!

Let your rules help me!

176

I’ve wandered off like a sheep, lost.

Find your servant

because I haven’t forgotten

your commandments!

O (Observation): The close of this Psalm is found here in the text provided for you today. This Psalm is an acrostic. Every letter of the Hebrew alphabet begins a section. Each section begins with the coordinating letter of the alphabet. This is meant to show wholeness or completeness. The wholeness is how God’s followers are caught up in God’s being. The wholeness shows how the Torah shapes God’s people towards righteousness – that is, to be in good standing before God and neighbor.

God’s guidance is sought in all things. When afraid, angry, sorrowful, repentant, happy…in all things, God’s people remain grateful for God’s guidance and grace.

Even though “I” is used, I read it as a “collective ‘I’.” That is…imagine everyone who has ever read and prayed over this Psalm. Imagine all of God’s people reading it – aloud – together, in multiple languages. God’s people…with one one, heterogenous praise.

How beautiful…

A (Application): Reading this text today has caused me to pause. Quite often, when I think of someone “falling away” from God, I think of myself or others doing “bad things.” What a limited view of sin.

As I read this text today, I am ashamed. For these past few months, so much personal strife has entered my arena. We have not done “bad things” as much as circumstances around us have simply been difficult and challenging.

This Psalm reminds me that not trusting that God will lead me / us in times of strife has been my sin. My despair has been winning, but today’s reading brings me hope once again…and it reminds me of the importance of reading Scripture daily. (Or almost daily : )

God reaches out to us in friends and family and so many other ways…of this, I have no doubt. Yet…what lies in our power is to pick up the written Word and to trust that it will not return empty.

Pick it up.

Open it in your browser.

Just start reading.

In fact, read it with others. Ask questions. Struggle with how the Scripture applies to your life. (Kind of like what I struggle through every time I write!)

BibleGateway.com. Give them a whirl.

What scriptures to read? Do like I do:

Go to https://www.moravian.org/ and see what texts they suggest for the day!

What is your pain / strife today? In what ways do you feel like you’ve been drifting?

P (Prayer): Lord, continue to speak to me. Amen.

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Don’t Waste My Time (or Money)

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S (Scripture): Matthew 26:6 When Jesus was at Bethany visiting the house of Simon, who had a skin disease, 7 a woman came to him with a vase made of alabaster containing very expensive perfume. She poured it on Jesus’ head while he was sitting at dinner. 8 Now when the disciples saw it they were angry and said, “Why this waste? 9 This perfume could have been sold for a lot of money and given to the poor.”

10 But Jesus knew what they were thinking. He said, “Why do you make trouble for the woman? She’s done a good thing for me. 11  You always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me. 12  By pouring this perfume over my body she’s prepared me to be buried. 13  I tell you the truth that wherever in the whole world this good news is announced, what she’s done will also be told in memory of her.”

O (Observation): Jesus is inching ever closer to his death. His remaining time on this earth is therefore very precious, indeed. As this woman comes and pours oil on his head – essentially anointing Jesus – criticism comes from the disciples. They are lost on the meaning of this wasted expense.

Jesus reassures the disciples that this moment is precious, and that they are not ignoring the poor in this moment…rather, for this moment…they will turn their attention to Jesus…and in the very near future, they will continue to care for the poor.

Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 15:11…

Poor persons will never disappear from the earth. That’s why I’m giving you this command: you must open your hand generously to your fellow Israelites, to the needy among you, and to the poor who live with you in your land.

Notice that Jesus quotes a text that commands God’s people to be generous to the poor and needy. Jesus is not dismissing the disciples from caring for the poor forever. Jesus is not throwing up his hands in exhaustion or frustration. He is simply pointing to this one moment. Sort of like saying, “Look. As soon as I am gone, you will continue to serve the poor and needy.”

Jesus does not give up…but merely embraces his anointing and calls on the the disciples to “be” in the moment with him…this moment leading up to his trial, and pending crucifixion.

A (Application): How often have we used this verse from Matthew to give up on caring for the poor? How often have we quoted Jesus and say, “Look! Even Jesus recognizes that we will always have the poor. So…what really can we do? We can’t be bothered or feel guilty when we see poor people. They will simply always be.”

Well, looking at Deut 15:11, we might think otherwise. The disciples would have known the Scriptures by this point, and I think we can assume that the disciples would know the rest of the verse Jesus was referring to. Yes, we will have the poor – due to our brokenness – but that we will also have to do something for and with the poor.

Not only is this verse from Deut significant the whole chapter of Deut 15 is important ! It’s all about the Jubilee – the year of the Lord’s favor in which debts are supposed to be forgiven… which could be part of the cause for those who are poor.

So, when folks quote, “the poor will always be with us…” ask what they mean by that. Are they shrugging their shoulders? Or are they hunkering down to help find root causes of the suffering of so many…as they pursue solutions and justice for all?

Jesus is heading into a time of great trial and suffering. Jesus is headed to us free. And even though we have freedom, sin still weighs me down. We will always have sinners with us – myself included – so this side of Kingdom come, I will need forgiveness and I will need to forgive others. I cannot throw my hands up and just accept sin. Rather, I will seek repentance all of my days, and seek God to grant me the strength to forgive others just as I have been forgiven.

P (Prayer): Lord, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Amen.

Getting What We Don’t Deserve

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S (Scripture): Jonah 3:4 Jonah started into the city, walking one day, and he cried out, “Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and put on mourning clothes, from the greatest of them to the least significant…

4:1 But Jonah thought this was utterly wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Come on, Lord! Wasn’t this precisely my point when I was back in my own land? This is why I fled to Tarshish earlier! I know that you are a merciful and compassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to destroy. 3 At this point, Lord, you may as well take my life from me, because it would be better for me to die than to live.”

O (Observation): Wow! Really, Jonah? Bitter much?

Seeing Jonah complain that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love is almost hysterical. Jonah didn’t like the Ninevites, because they had opposed God and God’s people. Seems like Jonah was wishing for karma, not mercy. Jonah wanted Nineveh’s people to get what was coming to them. But they didn’t get karma. They got an invitation to mercy. And they accepted mercy – and turning from their old ways.

A (Application): How many of us want our enemies (or simply those who disagree with us) to receive God’s mercy? Even if they repent, don’t you just want them to be punished? I think we all do. We want them to get what’s coming to them!

And yet, we are called to preach (and bring in our very being) repentance and forgiveness. In our meager understanding of karma (or some say “justice”) people get what they “deserve.” (Who decides what is deserved? Not really sure about that.)

When we bring the opportunity for repentance and forgiveness, we are bringing restoration to brokenness and broken relationships. When someone receives their “just punishment” no relationships are established.

Instead, we tell people that God is present, we embody patience and forgiveness, and we bring people together.

This all starts with understanding that we are the Ninevites – or at least entertain the possibility that I might be acting like a pre-Jonah Ninevite this day. I need to seek God’s forgiveness. And in doing so, I might rejoice that our God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. I don’t want to live in sin, but as I have this flesh hanging around my neck (Martin Luther’s euphemism for “while I’m alive in earth”) I will sin.

And so, I celebrate that forgiveness awaits all of us. I celebrate that I will hear that message when I need forgiveness. I celebrate that I will bear that message of forgiveness to those who need to hear that message at the appropriate time.

When was the last time you felt forgiven? When was the last time you were able to forgive someone else?

P (Prayer): Lord, forgiveness is an opportunity to come back to you and to our neighbors on earth. Bring your peace this Advent season. Amen.

Can I Squeeze Forgiveness into a Tweet?

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S (Scripture): Hosea 14

4 I will heal their disloyalty;
I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them.
5 I will be like the dew to Israel;
he shall blossom like the lily,
he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon.
6 His shoots shall spread out;
his beauty shall be like the olive tree,
and his fragrance like that of Lebanon.
7 They shall again live beneath my shadow,
they shall flourish as a garden;
they shall blossom like the vine,
their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

O (Observation): If you’ve read ANY of Hosea, you know that God’s people do NOT deserve any grace or any forgiveness. In these 7 verses, however, God is declaring all kinds of goodness and grace that will come from their relationship…even though God’s people have EGREGIOUSLY erred!!!!

Someone should be ticked off about this!

And yet…these are the words of God. God’s people will be forgiven. They will flourish. Yes, they will be corrected and suffer, but their suffering is not like “jail time.” Their punishment is simply to understand the err of their ways and suffer their conscience to acknowledge how much they and those around them suffered due to their trespasses.

And grace gets the last word from Hosea.

A (Application): I see it all the time: tweets that condemn. What usefulness do we have for tweets that condemn? And I’m talking about progressives taking down conservatives as well as the other way around.

Living in a world of 140 characters to make an argument (now being tested at 280 characters) has further shaped us into a culture of “zingers” – one-line arguments that try to win over people to “your side.”

Twitter can be used for so many good purposes, don’t get me wrong. In fact, I hope you use twitter to share good news with the world, instead of just tearing down the world.

The sad part related to forgiveness is that when we tweet hateful messages, we are leaving this impression that the complicated issues in our world can be fully explained in 140 (or 280) characters or less. Like we can have this solid argument condemning someone and just walk away. That is arrogance and misuse of the Law.

We spend so many of those 140 characters condemning, we simply have no room left for forgiveness.

I’m reminded of Jesus talking to a bunch of Pharisees getting ready to stone an adulteress to death, when he says, “The one who is without sin, cast the first stone.” They walk away. They cannot condemn, because they each stand condemned in some way. Each has fallen short of perfection, each has succumbed to some sin. We all do.

And so what if we leaned more and more into God stance on forgiveness? Like the way God treated Hosea. They felt God’s wrath, but also God’s grace and mercy. What if we extended grace? With grace, we can walk with criminals through their incarceration; we can walk with perpetrators through forgiveness and reconciliation with their victims; we can provide safe spaces for victims of sexual misconduct to share their story without judgment.

The story of Hosea doesn’t fit neatly into 140 characters. The story of God’s people in Hosea is much more complicated than that.

May we use our social outlets to lift up, and not condemn.

P (Prayer): Lord, send us out into the world of social media to make disciples, not enemies. The enemies will come, Lord, we know that…but don’t let us make enemies with our words. May our enemies come because they disagree with YOUR words. Amen.

Where Do We Go From Here?


S (Scripture): Jeremiah 51:5 God, the Lord of heavenly forces, hasn’t abandoned Israel and Judah, even though they live in a land filled with guilt before the holy one of Israel.

O (Observation):  God’s people were oriented towards God after being rescued from Egypt.  Over time, they wandered away from God’s guidance.   They began to make their own paths without asking God about “where to next?”

As a result, God allowed them to wander and – eventually – be destroyed by the Babylonians.   The Babylonians came in, but God did not forget the people of Judah and Israel.  

One day, God’s people would be set free and come back into their homeland.  What comes first is not the people’s pleas, but God’s mercy – thus he verse above.   

God made a covenant that God will never forget…so God extends grace, and the people will eventually see this and respond with a new orientation: Hope in the midst of challenge. 

A (Application):  We are a people very much divided.  In an attempt to bridge some of the divide, our Theology on Tap group from Advent Lutheran Church gathered last night under the topic: “Race Relations in 2017 – Where do we go from here?”

25 of us gathered (21 white and 4 black) to discuss the issue of racism, of identity through skin color, and white supremacy.   Are there problems?  Yes!  Are we hopeless?  No!

We have seen progress, but like the crowd of God’s people that Jeremiah was addressing, we are a place steeped in sin, and the only way forward, is through the grace of God. 

I am hopeful.   We will start a mini-series of talks and conversations on race relations, and we will ask God to lead us.  Please say a prayer for us as we do the work of the Gospel, here in Murfreesboro, TN.   

P (Prayer):  Lord, guide us into the way of peace and unity, amidst our diversity.  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.

 

Why Being Wicked is So Enticing

(Photo of Matthew McConnaughey as “the man in black” in the upcoming film, The Dark Tower, adapted from the Stephen King book series by the same name.  Photo credit here.)

S (Scripture): Psalm 73

1 Truly God is good to the upright,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant;
I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 

4 For they have no pain;
their bodies are sound and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not plagued like other people.

O (Observation):  The psalmist acknowledges that God calls all to be righteous, but for some reason, the psalmist is jealous of the wicked!

This author is not jealous of the person’s wickedness, but rather, jealous of the apparent prosperity of the wicked…

A (Application):  The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…

We so easily can be manipulated by our own egos.   We can see someone who – through dishonest or wicked means – gains popularity and / or wealth – and we can become jealous.  We can start to think about putting ourselves into that person’s place.  If I can just ignore this bit of justice or ignore that neighbor’s need…I, too, can be rich or famous.   

Look! The wicked have no pain. They are sleek!

Yeah, right!   The wicked have pain…they just don’t show you…  The pain comes in lack of support…lack of guidance…lack of joy.   
We can all be tempted to allow wickedness to guide us, because it seems to pay off in worldly ways.  Yet, what is gained?   And what is lost? 

Instead of relying on wickedness, we can rely on the Lord to supply our needs (not our wants).   

Do not let evil lure you into its trap.   Sin is just death  masquerading as life.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, remind us that we are yours and that you supply our every need.  Amen.