Suffering With One Another

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 12:22 …the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary. 23 The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. The private parts of our body that aren’t presentable are the ones that are given the most dignity. 24 The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor 25 so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it.

O (Observation): As I have been sharing recently, Paul is talking to a church community he established, in which different members of the body of Christ are lifting themselves up over one another. Some are being given raised or lower status…which is NOT what Paul (or Jesus) stood for. Paul reminds his folks that if we compare the people who follow Jesus to a body, the lesser known parts are given raised status, not because they are better, but because they are unknown and hidden. Thus, we do elevate certain parts that need to be elevated. Not because they are better, but because we cannot tell their story without aiding them in their status.

The goal is that all would be recognized as important and of worth to God.

I see a parallel here to the Prodigal Son story. The elder son thought it unfair to have a feast for the prodigal son upon his return. But the feast wasn’t about the prodigal son deserving anything. Rather, that story is a story of God’s abundant grace. Paul also focuses on the grace for those who need it most. For the parts of the body that are visible and recognized, much like the elder son, are given recognition and a bountiful gift.

A (Application): Our society – in some parts – seems it more responsible to give aid to those who already have it and to ignore the plight of those who “don’t.” When it come to providing care for the downtrodden in our society, we would rather stand by the belief that our hard work and efforts are what should get us by. We don’t like “entitlements.”

Of course that word is a loaded word. It ends a conversation before it can get started.

I believe hard work is good for the soul : )

I also believe that every story matters. The stories of the downtrodden are hardly the same between any two people.

One person is a young adult, in college, who is gay. That person’s parents kick them out, but that person doesn’t have health coverage.

One person became gravely ill and had to use their retirement savings to pay medical bills. He is only 65 years old, but is now healthy and is expected to live another 20 years now.

One person is born with a physical disability, and needs continual care for the whole life long. Her parents do everything for her, but it drains them financially.

Who do you know that needs lifting up? Who do you know that could use the care that our society – as a whole – can help provide?

These folks don’t “deserve” the lack they have.

If we extend the care we give to one another as the body of Christ – lifting up the soft-spoken and hidden folks – should we not also help those who love all around us? That is our witness.

Let us lift up one another. Out of love and care of our neighbor.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, you lift me up, so I can help others to be lifted up. Let me be your hands and feet. Amen.

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In Between

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S (Scripture): Psalm 55

16

But I call out to God,

and the Lord will rescue me.

17

At evening, morning, and midday

I complain and moan

so that God will hear my voice.

18

He saves me, unharmed, from my struggle,

though there are many who are out to get me.

19

God, who is enthroned from ancient days,

will hear and humble them Selah

because they don’t change

and they don’t worship God.

O (Observation): The psalmist is very confident in their faith in God. The psalmist confides in God, trusts in God, believes that God will see him or her through.

A (Application): What is the result of this? The idea that there is a God “out there” somewhere who will know to help this person out? Maybe.

Could the outcome be about an individual needing direction and solace in a time of trouble? Perhaps.

What if struggling through these words and beliefs (“God out there will help me over here”) could be the result of wrestling with reality vs a dream of what could be? Realistically, we don’t know if we will be healed or remain safe from all harm…and yet, we don’t lose all hope, either.

What if these words from today’s Psalm are about us trying to live with the tension of what is and what could be? As long as we don’t throw these words in the face of another, I am okay with these words. If these words from today’s psalmist are used to push someone to a belief in their notion of God…I’m not okay with that.

I use words like today’s psalm with a great deal of humility. I believe God is the source of my help and hope. However, I don’t make others think the same. And in fact, I kind of struggle with the notion that I won’t be harmed. I very well can be harmed even in the midst of my strong faith.

So, what does this all mean? I am okay with the fact that I can fully rely on God’s presence in my life and that I will still feel pain and suffering. My hope is that God will be with me in the good and bad, and abides with me…no matter what.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep me steadfast as you abide with me. Amen.

Can I Be Honest for A Minute?

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S (Scripture): Lamentations 1
20 Pay attention, Lord, for I am in trouble. My stomach is churning; my heart is pounding inside me because I am so bitter. In the streets the sword kills; in the house it is like death.

21 People heard that I was groaning, that I had no comforter. All my enemies heard about my distress; they were thrilled that you had done this. Bring the day you have announced so they become like me!

22 Let all their evil come before you. Then injure them like you’ve injured me because of all my wrong acts; my groans are many, my heart is sick.

O (Observation):  A godly prayer would certainly include a plea for suffering to be removed from one’s self.  However, to ask God to visit that suffering on someone else??? Is that appropriate?   No, but is that real?   Yes!

Let’s be honest:  the people of God have seen their country literally and spiritually torn apart. The author wishes for God to bring hope to their country and their people – the promised hope.   And yet at the same time, they wish for their enemies to suffer the same the same things they suffered as God’s people.  

Not holy, but honest. 

The book of Lamentations is a real inside look at the hearts and minds of God’s people in the wake of the downfall of the Judah and Israel. Their bitterness shows through, especially in this verse.  

And even though today’s scripture uses a singular, personal pronoun “I,” this pronoun is being used as sort of a universal “I,” as in it functions more practically as a national suffering and bemoaning.

A (Application):  I am so thankful that the history of God’s people has not been sterilized / scrubbed clean.   The Bible includes the good, the bad, and the ugly.  

Our nation right now is in a really tough spot.  Protests, natural disasters, a President that speaks divisive words (rather than creating spaces so the protestors concerns can be addressed so we can all listen), systemic racism, a government all twisted inside itself so that nothing fruitful is coming from Congress, a church shooting in Antioch, and more.  

I have such a heavy heart this day from all of these issues I just mentioned.  Even though these issues don’t compare to the burden that people of color in this country have to deal with.  

But I still cry out this day: “God, where the heck are you?!?!?”   

Now…pause…breathe…take a few seconds to center yourself.    We don’t erase our cries to God, neither the cry of those of Lamentations, or even my own cry.   We let the cry, the yelling, the cursing, the suffering exist…and we lift it or shout it to God.   And we realize that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.   

Maybe…no, definitely, we will find a way forward.  

Crews will respond to nature disasters (as will many of you readers).  Just this Saturday I was driving back from Atlanta to Murfreesboro, and I saw a whole line of power company trucks waving Canadian flags.  I realized that this crew was sent from Ontario, Canada, to Florida to help with the recovery of power throughout that state, in the wake of Hurricane Irma!   This is awesome!

And Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR)…we have boots on the ground in Texas and Florida…and they will be there for quite some time.   LDR is also helping with recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which devastated much of Peurto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the US Virgin Islands, and other parts of the Caribbean. This recovery effort is awesome!

Last Tuesday, our congregation hosted another Theology on Tap session – this time regarding Race Relations.  We had a very constructive conversation!   And we will continue the conversation over the next several months.  This is awesome!

So…let us cry out to God when we suffer or those around us suffer.  Let us walk alongside those who wish to be heard, or those who have no voice.  God can handle our short-sighted cries and lamentations.  And God can also bring redemption and transformation directly and also through our hands. 

May we find hope in the midst of our lamentations.   

P (Prayer): Lord, give us hope.  Hear our cries.  Amen. 
Click here to learn more about Luther Disaster Response (including how to help directly with recovery efforts, or making donations).

Suffering, Yet at Peace 


S (Scripture): Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. 3 Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance, character, and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

O (Observation): Suffering is not something we like, yet Paul reminds the church that sufferings are not the end of the story, because we have a peace with God.   Paul sees how a person given faith in Jesus Christ can see suffering through the eyes of Christ.   Christ’s suffering had a glorious ending.  So, Christ’s suffering has a glorious hope and peace for us all, too!

Paul’s own suffering has produced endurance in him, because of Christ being with him.  His endurance developed his character,  because Christ was shaping him.   Paul’s character allowed him to hope, because Christ was with him.  

A (Application):  I don’t believe that Christ wants us to suffer.  I don’t think it is EVER God’s plan for someone to suffer.  However, when someone is suffering, I very much believe that God can create an opportunity to translate that suffering into hope, as Paul suggests:

Suffering >> Endurance >> Character >> Hope

God, who gives us peace, can take our situations of suffering, and cause us to pause and think about things.  To endure the current suffering, giving us endurance.   This endurance will shape our character (as it did Paul’s).  And finally, as people of a developed character, we will hope.  We will know that suffering is not the end, but rather, a peace in God. 

Many people are suffering in spirit these days, as a result of political movements towards the right.   And to those who are suffering, I say this: Remember Paul’s words, founded in faith in Jesus Christ…that we have a peace in God.  

If you sense that you are suffering, know that this is not the end.  That this will be a time of endurance development, character development.   And that you will be hopeful, because our salvation rests not in political leaders, but in our Lord Jesus Christ, who has overcome the power of evil.  

Use this time to mine for gold down in the pit.  God is with you, giving you strength.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, remind us that we already have a peace in you, made real through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  

Prophet – it’s a Calling

 
 

S (Scripture): Jeremiah 11:18 The Lord gave me knowledge, that I might have understanding.  Then he showed me what the people were doing.

19 Before this I had been like a docile lamb ready to be led to the slaughter.  I did not know they were making plans to kill me.  I did not know they were saying,

“Let’s destroy the tree along with its fruit! Let’s remove Jeremiah from the world of the living so people will not even be reminded of him any more.”

O (Observation):  So this is the hard truth for prophets.  Harm may come to you for speaking the truth.  In this case, I take it on faith that God’s Word is truth.  

The truth spoken here is that God’s people have been wandering from the Lord.   God’s people have been worshipping other gods and still bringing sacrifices to The Lord, as if they were only worshipping the one, true God!   They think they can pull the wool over God’s eyes!

A (Application): Based on that last statement, seems to me like we aren’t that far off from our ancestors in the faith.   We, too, bring ourselves and time and money to the Lord, but at the same time, we worship things and powers and idols in the world.  

We worship our jobs, our cars, our yards, our phones, our children….  and when someone comes along and challenges us on this, what is our response?  Anger!!!

You can’t tell me what to do!   Don’t judge me!  Who really does what you’re talking about?!?!?  No one is perfect!

We get so defensive.   And then, we throw our evil responses on the person speaking the truth.   Being a prophet isn’t easy.  

A mature prophet will not judge, but let the words come from The Lord.  A mature prophet will share a prophecy with close friends to make sure that he/she has support. 

Prophets exist in our world today.  Paul talks about how each of us has a calling: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelsist, Shepherd/Pastor, Teacher.  To learn about what your calling could be, or what phase of ministry you are in right now, please go to the following site, and post your results below.  

FiveFoldSurvey.com 

Enjoy!

P (Prayer): Lord, prophets are not easily accepted.  Give us hearts that will take the wise words of the prophets in our midst, that we might learn from You.  Amen.  

Solidarity

  

S (Scripture):  Isaiah 53:8 He was led away after an unjust trial – but who even cared?  Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living; because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded.
9 They intended to bury him with criminals, but he ended up in a rich man’s tomb, because he had committed no violent deeds, nor had he spoken deceitfully.

Colossians 1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son 20 and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross – through him, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

O (Observation):  God’s people have strayed.  And the only way God saw fit to help the people fix the broken Covenant was to become one of the people and to make reparations for the wrongs done by humanity.   Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is seen as the Suffering Servant spoken of in Isaiah.  The result of Jesus’ life (and death and resurrection) are – for me – the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, and Paul seems to agree.  

A (Application):  When people suffer, what is your response?   Recently, the shooting that killed the recruiting officers in Chattanooga brought many people in our nation together, to support the families and friends of our fallen soldiers.   Innocent victims, they were – brutally gunned down. 

And what was the response?   Solidarity. One positive response was overpasses filled with people waving flags, as the bodies of the fallen soldiers passed by on the interstate below.  This was one way people showed that they were in solidarity with the family and friends of the deceased. 

When people suffer, we are called to come to one another’s aid – for support and mutual uplifting.   Jesus Christ, knowing our shortcomings, came as one of us.  We faced the ultimate separation from God: death.  So, Jesus came to conquer death as a human.  In doing so, he stood by us – fallen humanity.  

Now, having been saved, we are set free to stand in solidarity with others.  

How are you standing in solidarity with the homeless? The sick? The dying? Those in the minority?

Jesus came first to be in solidarity with us.   Now, we can stand in solidarity with the weak and downtrodden.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, give us strength and courage to stand with those who cannot stand on their own. Amen. 

How Can This Be?

 

 S (Scripture): Job 13:13 “Refrain from talking with me so that I may speak;
then let come to me what may.
13:14 Why do I put myself in peril,
and take my life in my hands?
13:15 Even if he slays me, I will hope in him;
I will surely defend my ways to his face!
13:16 Moreover, this will become my deliverance,
for no godless person would come before him.”

O (Observation): Job is so sure of his innocence, that he is willing to risk his own life by standing before God to argue his own case.   And he knows that if he is guilty, he will be punished – even to death.  

He resents what his friends have told him.   They have essentially told Job that he must have done something wrong for God to have brought such devastation on him.   Job refuses to believe this, and wants to get to the bottom of this whole thing.  

Job’s boldness is also intriguing.   How dare anyone declare their innocence, let alone proclaiming that one would stand before God!   That’s a very bold move, indeed!

A (Application): I guess my upbringing has always caused me to fear standing before the Lord, but also to rejoice in such a thing.   But in neither case (in fear or rejoicing) did I ever think myself innocent.   

I wonder if that posture is Job’s way of saying, “I want some answers!  And I want them, now!  Damned if I’ll be innocently persecuted!”

Seldom have I felt that kind of righteous anger.  Almost shaking my fist at God kind of frustration.    So I tap into the larger suffering in the world: hunger, lack of health care, slavery, sex trafficking.   Then…I shake my fist and wonder… How can this be?

Sometimes solutions escape us.   So we trust in the Lord…and like we did during Easter Vigil, we look back at light in the midst of darkness; God bringing hope, where there is none.  

And we sit and we wait…and in the meantime, we seek God’s presence in other ways.  And who knows…maybe we become part of the solution.  

In what ways has God called you to action?  Where have you seen God’s presence lately?

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to know that we are one with you.  In this one-ness, we have your Authority to make a difference in this world and the ability to stand before you.  Make us strong when we are weak.  Help us to trust in your Power.  Amen.