A Slave to Righteousness

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Romans 7:5 When we were self-centered, the sinful passions aroused through the Law were at work in all the parts of our body, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the Law. We have died with respect to the thing that controlled us, so that we can be slaves in the new life under the Spirit, not in the old life under the written Law.

O (Observation): Paul is still riffing about about the Law. Is one under the Law if also under Christ? No! How is this? The Law is for the living. In Christ, especially in baptism, we die and are re-born. Thus, we are released from the Law, and at the same time, are now slaves to righteousness, under the Spirit.

The Spirit’s calling compels us to respond…not just an obligation to pass or fail…but as an opening for doing God’s ministry.

A (Application): I see us constantly using the new Spirit in us as a new Law. We set up markers to see who is “really” doing God’s work. We measure public appearances, an abundance or a lack of social media presence, or popularity to decide who is being “faithful.”

The time that I spend in personal devotion and prayer helps me to remember that God is with me day in and day out, regardless of the standards I mentioned above. When I get away from this practice, I get out of focus.

The time I spend “digging daily” is a way of “mining for God’s presence.” I do this practice with several other folks. Something life-giving comes from doing this work with others. Is this devotion a new Law? Absolutely not! The practice of digging into God’s word daily is a great way to see the Spirit alive and well in my life and all around me…especially in troublesome times.

P (Prayer): Lord, sustain me in my journey as a space to righteousness. Amen.


TRUTH before Reconciliation

Photo credit: Toi Scott, Facebook

S (Scripture): Joshua 22:1 Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh. 2 He said to them, “You obeyed everything that Moses the Lord’s servant commanded you. You have also obeyed me in everything that I have commanded you. 3 During these many years, you never once deserted your fellow Israelites. You faithfully obeyed the command of the Lord your God. 4 The Lord your God has now given rest to your fellow Israelites, exactly as he promised them. So turn around and go back home. Go to the land where you hold property, which Moses the Lord’s servant gave you on the other side of the Jordan…”

9 So the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh went back. They left the Israelites at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan. They went to the land of Gilead, to the land that they owned. They had settled there at the Lord’s command given by Moses. 10 They came to the districts of the Jordan that are in the land of Canaan. The people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan, an altar that appeared to be immense. 11 Then the Israelites heard a report: “Look. The people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have built an altar at the far edge of the land of Canaan. It lies in the districts of the Jordan on the Israelite side!” 12 When the Israelites heard this, the entire Israelite community assembled at Shiloh to go up to war against them…

21 Then the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh answered the heads of the military units of Israel: 22 “The Lord is God of gods! The Lord is God of gods! He already knows, and now let Israel also know it! If we acted in rebellion or in disrespect against the Lord, don’t spare us today…

24 “No! The truth is we did this out of concern for what might happen. In the future your children might say to our children, ‘What have you got to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 The Lord has set the Jordan as a border between us and you people of Reuben and Gad. You have no portion in the Lord!’ So your children might make our children stop worshipping the Lord. 26 As a result we said, ‘Let’s protect ourselves by building an altar. It isn’t to be for an entirely burned offering or for sacrifice.’ 27 But it is to be a witness between us and you and between our descendants after us. It witnesses that we too perform the service of the Lord in his presence through our entirely burned offerings, sacrifices, and well-being offerings. So in the future your children could never say to our children, ‘You have no portion in the Lord.’

O (Observation): What a bit of holy confusion! Talk about jumping the gun (almost literally)!

A very smart decision made by Gad and crew to build an altar, since the next few generations might forget they are worshipping the same God as their fellow Israelites.

The Jordan River separated them, so it makes sense that they (as a whole people) might start to veer down down deferent pathways over the next few generations. They would see one another over the holidays…but that might be about it!

As for the majority apart from Gad and crew…they could have been a little less hasty, but then, they did just get done wandering 40 years for a lack of faith in God that looked similar to this. So…thankfully, they agreed to allow the altar – a public display of remembrance.

A (Application): What will our children and grandchildren remember of us? They will see headlines and new stories reminding them of division and war and consumerism. Yes.

But we have a way to combat this: with real, live, personal experiences with REAL people (and not just talking points).

My family and I took part in some of the leadership of “Murfreesboro Loves: a community action against hate,” in October 2017. A group of white supremacists were coming into Murfreesboro to spread their message of the supremacy of the white race. This did not sit well with me or my family.

So, instead of trying to just read the news to see what happened, we took a step out to show that our town is one in which ALL belong, regardless of race, creed, or nationality. Hundreds rallied together in a separate place that day, to celebrate unity.

Part of our ongoing concern in Murfreesboro is the lack of awareness of the history of racism in our town and Rutherford County.

A monument resides on the town square of Murfreesboro. It depicts a sentiment of sympathy for fallen soldiers. (Erected in the early 1900’s.)

Now, we have the chance to erect a new monument, thanks in large part to the Equal Justice Initiative’s fundraising efforts to establish “A National Memorial for Peace and Justice,” in Montgomery, AL.

This April 2018 article states that the memorial: “…features more than 800 steel monuments that bear the names of lynching victims throughout the country. In its creation, organizers discovered the names of 4,400 black people who were lynched or died in racial killings between 1877 and 1950.”

Those monuments were created in duplicates: one to remain in the memorial, the other, to be brought home to the counties in which the lynchings took place.

So, what if we talk to people? What if we recognize the fallen soldiers and the fallen slaves? Both monuments at the county seat of Rutherford County? We’ve already got one for the soldiers. How about one for the slaves who were tortured and killed?

Perhaps then, when a family takes a stroll around the square, or we gather on the square for the next Farmer’s Market, we might see both statues and explain to our children and their children that while our history contains pride and atrocities, we seek a way forward that unites us, rather than divides us.

Let us erect this new monument, as a reminder of where we’ve been. Let us be reminded that TRUTH always comes before reconciliation. (Hat tip to Bryan Stevenson for that last sentence.)

Let us be reminded that we can seek unity in the midst of diversity. Let us remain hopeful.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us humility and strength. Amen.

Photo credit: Jennifer Edwards, Facebook

“So How’s That Working Out for You?”

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Numbers 14:1 The entire community raised their voice and the people wept that night. 2 All the Israelites criticized Moses and Aaron. The entire community said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt or if only we had died in this desert! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our children will be taken by force. Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4 So they said to each other, “Let’s pick a leader and let’s go back to Egypt.”

10b Then the Lord’s glory appeared in the meeting tent to all the Israelites. 11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people disrespect me? And how long will they doubt me after all the signs that I performed among them? 12 I’ll strike them down with a plague and disown them. Then I’ll make you into a great nation, stronger than they.”

19 Please forgive the wrongs of these people because of your absolute loyalty, just as you’ve forgiven these people from their time in Egypt until now.”

20 Then the Lord said, “I will forgive as you requested. But,

25 Since the Amalekites and the Canaanites live in the valley, tomorrow turn and march into the desert by the route of the Reed Sea.”

26 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron: 27 How long will this wicked community complain against me? I’ve heard the Israelites’ dissent as they continue to complain against me. 28 Say to them, “As I live,” says the Lord, “just as I’ve heard you say, so I’ll do to you. 29 Your dead bodies will fall in this desert. None of you who were enlisted and were registered from 20 years old and above, who complained against me, 30 will enter the land in which I promised to settle you, with the exception of Caleb, Jephunneh’s son, and Joshua, Nun’s son. 31 But your children, whom you said would be taken by force, I’ll bring them in and they will know the land that you rejected. 32 Your bodies, however, will fall in this desert, 33 and your children will be shepherds in the desert for forty years. They will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies fall in the desert. 34 For as many days as you explored the land, that is, forty days, just as many years you’ll bear your guilt, that is, forty years. This is how you will understand my frustration.” 35 I the Lord have spoken. I will do this to the entire wicked community who gathered against me. They will die in this desert. There they’ll meet their end.

O (Observation): WOW! Some extremely harsh words from a God who is all-powerful and all-knowing. God gives the people a land…but they’d rather be back in Egypt…enslaved. So they complain to God…and God leaves them to their own devices. God is the one who saves and who lets people choose for themselves how they will live. Of course, choosing one’s own personal desires can cause harm to one’s self and the community.

But instead of focusing on missing the mark, perhaps we have a lesson on faith and trust in the Lord. Let us focus on this: when God provides vision, God also provides provision.

A (Application): I think Israel’s problem can be summed up by a question that Dr. Phil likes to ask: “So how’s that working out for you?”

This question comes when this television personality / counselor speaks to his guests and they share how they decided to heed their own advice, rather than seek wisdom from others. “So how’s that working out for you?”

You wanna provide for yourself? Go for it.

You wanna be enslaved? Let me know how that goes.

What are we doing that goes against God’s call in our lives?

Where is God leading us that we are too scared to follow?

Remember, where God provides VISION, God provides PROVISION! Go for it! Trust in the Lord! God will provide…whether we go straight into our call…or even if it takes “40 years” to get there.

P (Prayer): Lord, call us onward and provide. Amen.

Vocation: Your Calling Here and Now

vocation1S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 7:21 Were you called as a slave? Do not worry about it. But if indeed you are able to be free, make the most of the opportunity. 22 For the one who was called in the Lord as a slave is the Lord’s freedman. In the same way, the one who was called as a free person is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought with a price. Do not become slaves of men. 24 In whatever situation someone was called, brothers and sisters, let him remain in it with God.

O (Observation): Paul sometimes jumps around when writing these letters to the churches.   He was just talking about appropriateness of marrying or staying single (or widowed).   Now he addresses this section on the circumstances in which one is called.   Then, after this section, back to marriage.

One thing we might surmise is that because this section is sandwiched in between two discussions on marriage, perhaps Paul was highlighting this point:  The circumstances in which you find yourself being called to the Lord do not define your call…rather, the call itself transforms your view of your circumstances.

Paul recognizes that slavery in his time was not ideal, but that one could be a slave and yet be “free” in the Lord.  Their earthly bodies may be restrained, but they can be set free in their hears and minds…unafraid and unashamed of their worldly status.  In the same way, though, neither is a free person to see themselves as any higher than their enslaved neighbor.   Paul reminds Christ’s followers that they are all equal in the Kingdom.

Both of these points (enslaved are free in Christ; free are slaves to Christ) lead to Paul’s main point:  Do not be slaves to human powers!  Metaphorically or literally, one’s spirit is NOT to succumb to the world’s standards or leaders.

A (Application):  How are you using your position for God’s sake?  (I mean that in a nice way…not in a yelling tone : )

Where you are…stay-at-home parent, executive, police officer, grandparent, child, teacher, cook…how do you see God working through you in your current position?

Part of Paul’s point is that in whatever position you find yourself, don’t feel like your circumstances have to change in order for God to work through you.  Right where you are…God calls you.  That doesn’t mean that your earthly position won’t change…just that God calls you right where you are and can and will work through you TODAY!

Martin Luther thought vocation was extremely important.  Vocation is our calling in the world, our calling lived out in service of the neighbor.   We do what we do not for our own sake, but to serve God by serving others.  Whether that is parenting, making shoes, sweeping, teaching, being a pastor, or whatever it is one does…one does it rightly for the glory of God and in service to the neighbor.

Where are you?  How is God calling you and working through you?

P (Prayer):  Lord, make me a vessel for your grace…lived out here on earth.   Amen.

Slaves of Obedience to Righteousness 

(Top Left: Welcoming Refugees workshop; Top Right: “Family Promise” planning meeting; Bottom: Youth Sunday)

S (Scripture): Romans 6:13b …present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness?

O (Observation):  Paul was clearly defining the motivation in the life of a Jesus-follower.  No one should think about following Jesus as a way of “getting by with the least effort,” since grace covers sin.  Rather, the life of a Jesus follower is to be lived in such a way that you recognize that grace from God has made you who you are.  And as such, your allegiance (that is, your “slave / servant status) is to obedience to God, and not self-centered (sinful) actions.  

The term “slave” is troublesome, because of the history of slavery in America.  So to clarify a bit, many biblical experts have pointed to the type of slavery that Paul talks about.  Paul is NOT talking about slavery as a forced servitude.  Rather, the type of slavery Paul puts forth is more like a proud tie to Israelite heritage (that is, a servant attitude towards God and God’s chosen people).  The footnotes in NET Bible explain this much better than I:

Undoubtedly the background for the concept of being the Lord’s “slave” or “servant” is to be found in the Old Testament scriptures. For someone who was Jewish this concept did not connote drudgery, but honor and privilege. It was used of national Israel at times (Isa 43:10), but was especially associated with famous OT personalities, including such great men as Moses (Josh 14:7), David (Ps 89:3; cf. 2 Sam 7:5, 8) and Elijah (2 Kgs 10:10); all these men were “servants (or slaves) of the Lord.”

A (Application):  In the last 4 days, I experienced a whole bunch of God’s grace.   I attended a workshop on how we here in Murfreesboro, TN, can welcome refugees and serve the least of these.    We learned about what is being done already for these few refugees that have made their way to our city, as well as what we can do going forward.

Last Friday, I attended a workshop about an organization called Family Promise. They help homeless families to get back on their feet and get back into their own living situations as soon as possible, and in a constructive manner that will allow them to care for themselves going forward.

On Sunday, our youth led both of our worship services, as well as acted out the Gospel text.   They also interspersed their own kairos moments and shared how they applied the texts to their own lives.  

After worship, we had a meeting about re-aligning our ministry structure to better serve our vision and goals.  

After that, we had a great congregation council meeting, in which I think we spent more time looking at ministries OUTSIDE OF our congregation, rather than in.  That speaks highly of our opportunity to bear fruit in this community.  

How is all of this possible?   Because we are slaves to righteousness, rather than slaves to sin.  And this is none of our own doing, but rather what Jesus Christ does in us.  In our baptism, we are joining in Christ’s death, which is a death to sin. That means sin is no longer the all-enslaving power.  Instead, our servitude is towards God.  And we are proud of that service.  

What is your servant status bending you towards?   What types of outside ministries are you happy to be a part of?

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us mindful that we are free from the power of sin…free to serve you!   Amen!

Taking a Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes

  S (Scripture): Philemon 1:15 For perhaps it was for this reason that he was separated from you for a little while, so that you would have him back eternally, 16 no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, as a dear brother. He is especially so to me, and even more so to you now, both humanly speaking and in the Lord. 17 Therefore if you regard me as a partner, accept him as you would me. 18 Now if he has defrauded you of anything or owes you anything, charge what he owes to me.

O (Observation):  In the Greco-Roman world, people would become indebted to one another for various reasons.  A poor person would borrow money, or need food or shelter, and would literally become that rich person’s slave/property.  This was how one paid off a debt: servitude. 

These slavery situations ranged from fair to extremely harsh.  Paul is appealing to Philemon (slave owner) to take back Onesimus (slave).  Onesimus and Philemon have both received God’s Word from Paul, and Paul leans on their relationship in Christ for fair treatment and sustenance going forward.  

If Onesimus is to be enslaved, may he do so to God’s glory.  If Philemon is to continue owning these slave, may he treat them all as if they were his own brothers and sisters.  (Note: this doesn’t mean that Paul encourages slavery. Instead of overturning the social structure, he chooses to go to the heart of the matter: how do we treat fellow members of the body of Christ, and all people, for that matter?  Addressing that main issue would then, organically, shift the culture.) 

A (Application):  As a leader in the Church, I sometimes feel like Paul:  sending servants out into the world, trusting that God would guide these servants and that those who receive these servants would treat them with respect.  I know that won’t always happen. 

I sometimes feel like Onesimus, as God calls me to remain humble and step back into a potentially difficult situation, in which I’m at the mercy of others. 

And thirdly, I sometimes feel like Philemon, entrusted with servants who I’m call to treat as my brothers and sisters.  

All of these viewpoints are a call to lean on our Identity as God’s children, saved by grace.   

Only with God’s grace would I send a servant out.

Only with God’s grace could I receive a servant as a brother or sister in Christ.

Only with God’s grace could I receive a calling and trust in God’s protection as I go.

In whose shoes are you walking today?  The Sender? The Recipient? The Sent?

P (Prayer):  Lord: as we send, receive, or are sent, remind us of the baptismal waters in which you bathe us, bringing us to a place of great humility and responsibility.  Amen. 

What’s Your Perspective?

  S (Scripture):  2 Corinthians 4:5 For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 4:6 For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. 

O (Observation):  Slave may best be translated as bond servant.  A bondservant is somebody who sells themselves into somebody else’s service to repay the debt that is a owed.   In this case, Paul and other followers consider themselves bondservants for Jesus’ sake, but they are not working out of this debt.  Rather, they work out of a joyful sense of obligation. 

Paul goes on to describe that their debt is owed to Christ, because Christ shined his light in their hearts to reveal to Paul and other believers the glorious knowledge of God.    
A (Application):  When I say the word words “duty” and “obligation,” what is your reaction?   Then, ask someone of a differing generation about their reaction to those words.  

My guess is that those born in the 1940’s and earlier will enjoy duty and obligation, because they grew up in a time when the societal expectations were such that you followed the orders from above: parents, teachers, officers, etc.   

Ask those born after the 1940’s, and perhaps we get a different response to “duty” and “obligation.”  That age group was a bit more rebellious.  Perhaps more of a “you can’t tell me what to do” bent.   So maybe this verse from Paul is hard to swallow. 
Take those born more recently (post 1980’s), and we have a society filled with extreme conveniences, such that kids complain when they can’t have McDonalds, or go out to a nice restaurant.   What is duty and obligation to this group?

Thus, the difficulty of reading Scripture.  The Bible is the Bible, no matter the perspective.  But perhaps we can learn from those in other generations.  Perhaps a conversation on the varying perspectives of duty and obligation can be of some good use these days.  

Paul’s sense of duty and obligation came from an overwhelming sense of grace they God poured into him.  He couldn’t help, but be obedient!   That’s what happens when God enters into a relationship with you.   You can’t help, but say, “Yes!  Here I am Lord.”

Then, no matter what generation you’re a part of, you will submit and serve: God, fellow disciples, your community.  

What is your reaction to “duty” and “obligation”?

P (Prayer): Lord, we have varied perspectives on the Scriptures and what our response should be to serving you.  Help us all to see the serving nature of being a Christian in the world.  Help us to relish the joyful sense of duty and obligation we have to you in this world.  Amen!