A True Welcome

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S (Scripture): Psalm 9

But the Lord rules forever!

    He assumes his throne

    for the sake of justice.

He will establish justice in the world rightly;

    he will judge all people fairly.

The Lord is a safe place for the oppressed—

    a safe place in difficult times.

10 

Those who know your name trust you

    because you have not abandoned

    any who seek you, Lord.

O (Observation): The Lord is a safe place for the oppressed. The psalms were written at many different times throughout the history of God’s people. Some were written in times of peace. Some were written in times of great struggle and adversity. This Psalm reflects one of those times of great adversity.

But a ray of hope keeps God’s people from despair. They trust that all who are oppressed and seek the Lord will find a home with God.

A (Application): The oppressed of our day are many: LGBTQ+, immigrants, those who receive abuse, mentally and physically challenged people, and more. The Church was known as a place of refuge for a long, long time, choosing to aid the oppressed in all places.

My hope is that all churches can be places of refuge for the oppressed, once again. May churches be places where all are welcomed with a true sense of welcome, not a bait and switch type of welcome. Just welcoming folks for who they are is the first and vital step to help them know that God wishes to have a relationship with them.

The challenge to change (or not) may come later on when one understands that grace is what saves us, not our own acts of penitence.

May the Church be a place of welcome for all oppressed people. Just as they are.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see others as you see us. Help us to welcome all. Amen.

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Keep Your Eyes Open!

I am back in the saddle, folks. Around this time, I typically take a few weeks off from my publication of blog posts to focus on my family and my pastoral work. The blog centers me, but a break from the publications helps me to focus on other areas. Here we go…

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S (Scripture): Acts 10:44 While Peter was still speaking (to Cornelius, the God-fearing centurion), the Holy Spirit fell on everyone who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 They heard them speaking in other languages and praising God. Peter asked, 47 “These people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. Surely no one can stop them from being baptized with water, can they?” 48 He directed that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited Peter to stay for several days.

O (Observation): So a group of rule-following / circumcised Jews witness the Spirit coming upon a group of uncircumcised folks who believe in God. They see proof that these folks (who did not follow Jewish customs) are being welcomed into God’s body of believers.

And Peter questions his fellow believers: What is to stop us from baptizing these folks?

A (Application): While at Publix the other day, the young lady bringing the groceries out to my car noticed that I had made a tax-exempt purchase. As such, she inquired about our church. She asked me what was different about the Lutheran Church, what made it stand out from other churches.

Trusting that the Spirit would give me the right words, I said, “Well, we start with grace. And we follow up with grace. We want all to feel welcome to be a part of God’s family.” I know that sounds real “loosey-goosey” to some, but I believe we all have to start there. Help people to know that they belong. As people become a part of the body of Christ – through the movement of the spirit and in baptism – they will be challenged in many and various ways by God and by fellow disciples.

But we always start and end with grace.

Kind of like the message that Peter received from God (Acts 10:15): don’t consider anything unclean that God has made clean. If someone inquires about God’s grace, we give it and help them to see that they, too, have a role in God’s Kingdom. The centurion realized this. The crowd realized this. May we all realize that we all have a place.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep my eyes open to those who enter the path you have laid out for me. Amen.

Seek-Knock-Ask-Find

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S (Scripture): Matthew 7:7 “Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened. 9 Who among you will give your children a stone when they ask for bread? 10 Or give them a snake when they ask for fish? 11 If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. 12 Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.

O (Observation): Jesus continues to teach his disciples about the Way. This Way is what God has been about since the beginning of Creation. Treat others as you would want them to treat you.

Seek. Knock. Ask. Find.

The door is open to all who ask.

This is the Way, even as the Law and Prophets testify. God gives food to all who seek. God does not give out harmful judgment.

A (Application): Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that one must go through a survey, a set of doctrinal beliefs, or be “clear” of any social stigmas before one can receive the grace they seek.

And even if those who seek God come with stigmas or behaviors that are harmful, the hope is that God would move them to repentance (um, yes, that includes every single person ever). Upon repentance, one’s life is changed. But ALL of that work of transformation, to die to yourself and selfishness, and to be raised in Christ is the work of the Spirit. And the best way to help all people to get to this point…to get close enough to hear God’s words of grace, is to be a place (a congregation) that truly welcomes and affirms ALL people. (Oh yeah…that repentance is a daily thing. No “one and done.”)

Some say that because our congregation has this open and welcoming and affirming stance that we “really aren’t a church.” This stance comes not because we just want people to “feel good” about themselves. RATHER, BECAUSE we have a God who loves us right where we are, because The Spirit calls us to seek out God, we purposefully welcome all people to come and be a part of life in our congregation, and we hope they will welcome us into their lives. That we may be one, just as God and Jesus are one.

Straight or gay, trans- or not, questioning, people of color, white people, old, young, male, female, faith, no faith, atheist….all are welcome to be a part of Advent Lutheran Church. So says our Statement of Welcome. Because our God takes us all in. Because we are all broken. Because none of us “has it all together.” Because we all have a plank in our own eye. Because we have a loving God who acts like a good parent to us all.

Yes, you are welcome. God seeks a relationship with you. Seek. Knock. Ask. Find what you are looking for.

P (Prayer): God, break down our hearts of stone. Give us hearts for love alone. Amen.

P.s. I am very proud that our congregation has hosted the first ever PFLAG- Murfreesboro meeting last night. (PFLAG stands for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. This is a safe space for folks to have conversation, ask questions, and mutually support one another.)

A Little Neighborly Picnic

Murfreesboro Muslim Youth Love Your Neighbor 5th (122)

S (Scripture): Romans 15:7 Receive one another, then, just as Christ also received you, to God’s glory.

O (Observation): Paul is starting to close his letter to his people in Rome.   He continues to emphasize the mutual acceptance of one another into the Church.   Jews and Gentiles who have come to believe in Jesus as the Christ are having a hard time dealing with one another and the baggage that each brings to the Church.

Paul seeks all in the Church to welcome one another, just at Christ welcomes each one of us to faith.  And this is done by Jesus not for his own sake, but for God’s glory.   I think that note should not be lost on us.   We accept one another into the fold, not to be Jesus worshippers, but to worship God.   Jesus is the connecting point of God on earth.   In Jesus, we have the model, the archetype for humanity.  Jesus, then, shows us the way, and brings us to a place where we can welcome all into the faith.

A (Application): I attended the 5th Love Your Neighbor picnic at Barfield Park in Murfreesboro, TN, yesterday.  At this point, I can’t imagine this NOT being a part of my life.   At this event, co-sponsored by the Murfeesboro Muslim Youth and the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol (a homeless ministry), we see people from all walks of life gathered together for mutual support, breaking bread with one another, with no spiritual or political agenda.

We simply gather, welcoming one another with no questions asked.   For me, this is my way of being a welcoming presence to my neighbor.   I do this work in the name of Jesus, since I know that Jesus has welcomed me.   I don’t go around at this picnic convincing Muslims or Jews to become Christians.  Rather, I simply meet people where they are.

I have had many relationships started and further developed at these picnics.  My family and I are being exposed to folks and foods from other cultures and we wouldn’t have it any other way.  Conversations are fun and sometimes challenging when accents or language barriers exist…but there is love there.   You can sense it.   You can almost feel it in the air.  This is hard to describe….   But it is so good!

An exciting development is that Murfreesboro has become a site for refugee resettlement.  We have roughly 30 refugees settled into apartments in Murfreesboro, and many in our community have come together to support these refugees.  And many of these new community members came to the picnic!  I met two families from Somalia, and they came dressed in some of their native garb.  They are beautiful people who are so grateful for all our community is doing to support them and help them to become productive members of our society.

33 folks affiliated with our congregation attended some or all of this picnic, yesterday.   We met lots of new folks and experienced grace in our neighbors.

May we all experience this type of growth in love and mercy.  May we all know this grace poured out in mutual love for one another.

P (Prayer):  Lord, meet us where we meet our neighbors.  Amen.

Welcome Back, Traveler


S (Scripture): 

2 Chronicles 36:20 King Nebuchadnezzar deported to Babylon all who escaped the sword. The Israelites served him and his sons until the Persian kingdom rose to power. 21 This took place to fulfill the Lord’s message delivered through Jeremiah. The land experienced its sabbatical years; it remained desolate for seventy years,as prophesied.

Ezra 1:1 In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the Lord’s message spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord stirred the mind of King Cyrus of Persia. He disseminated a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom, announcing in a written edic the following:

2 “Thus says King Cyrus of Persia:

“‘The Lord God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has instructed me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Anyone from his people among you (may his God be with him!) may go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and may build the temple of the Lord God of Israel – he is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 Anyone who survives in any of those places where he is a resident foreigner must be helped by his neighbors with silver, gold, equipment, and animals, along with voluntary offerings for the temple of God which is in Jerusalem.’”

O (Observation):  Ezra picks up where 2 Chronicles leaves off.   At the end of 2 Chronicles, God’s people have been sent to Babylon, under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar.   After 70 years of exile (approximately a generation or two), God stirs King Cyrus’ heart and mind to allow the Israelite people to go back to their homeland and help them rebuild their Temple, and not only that, but he calls on the Persian people to help fund the whole endeavor.  The Persians respond generously, and God’s people go back home. 

Kind Cyrus even returned the vessels used in the Temple – vessels stolen by King Nebuchadnezzar 70 years ago. 

A (Application):  You just never know, right?  As much as we wander and wonder, God constantly surprises me.   

Only by the grace of God do we have a way forward.    How did King Cyrus change his mind and heart?  Perhaps it was God’s doing.   We will never know.   Ezra seems to think it was God’s doing.  I’m okay with believing that.  

This makes me think about my baptism.  I was baptized as an infant.  (Yes, it counts.)  My baptism marks a point in my life when God made promises to me to never let me go.   As far as I move away from God, God still has a hold of me, pulling me back.  Even at my worst, God doesn’t forget me.   

This Lent, I repent of my failings and my shortcomings.  I repent of any way that my version of Christianity causes harm to my neighbor in  need.   

And I am hopeful, because God can change me…a sinner.   And God can and does work in those around me.  God can even convince others to aid me on my back “home.”

How is your journey?   Who has God put into your life to aid you on your journey?

P (Prayer):  Lord, you work in wonderful and marvelous ways.  Remind us that you never let go.  Amen.  

How Some Super Bowl Ads Got it Right! 


S (Scripture): Acts 19:23 At that time a great disturbance took place concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought a great deal of business to the craftsmen. 25 He gathered these together, along with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that our prosperity comes from this business. 26 And you see and hear that this Paul has persuaded and turned away a large crowd, not only in Ephesus but in practically all of the province of Asia, by saying that gods made by hands are not gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that this business of ours will come into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be regarded as nothing, and she whom all the province of Asia and the world worship will suffer the loss of her greatness.”

28 When they heard this they became enraged and began to shout, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 The city was filled with the uproar, and the crowd rushed to the theater together, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, the Macedonians who were Paul’s traveling companions. 30 But when Paul wanted to enter the public assembly, the disciples would not let him. 31 Even some of the provincial authorities who were his friends sent a message to him, urging him not to venture into the theater.

O (Observation):  Paul’s ministry has become more and more a problem for a world worshipping gods other than the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus.  And now it’s hitting them where it hurts: their wallets!

By discrediting the metal idols used to worship  Artemis – and Artemis herself – Paul is effectively putting the metal workers and Artemis’ priests out of a job.  

A (Application):  Martin Luther once said a person needs 3 conversions: of heart, of mind, and of wallet. 

While this points to money as a god, this text and my thoughts today go way  beyond stewardship of money.   Following God will wreck and re-build your understanding of finances, for sure, but the changes run way deeper than money.  

Demetrius talks about how their livelihood is in danger, that their “prosperity comes from this business.”  In other words, their lives are centered on this practice of supporting Artemis. 

While we don’t have an issue with people in the U.S. worshipping Artemis, we do tend worship the idol of “Safety and Security”  (a la the recent Refugee Ban and building a Wall).  At all costs, we must protect ourselves.  We must fear what we don’t know.  “Well, you never know…” Or “we don’t want those people coming in, because they could be terrororists.”   

Over and over again, we worry for our lives, and safety and security.  I have a deep respect for the people and processes in place to protect us, and yet I think we can also tell the world that in the U.S. we are happy to welcome those fleeing persecution, or those wishing to live out a new dream and a fresh start.  

In my sermon yesterday, I challenged our worshippers to think about how they would use $5.5 million to pay for a 30-second ad during the Super Bowl, which would show how – as humans – our goal is to build bridges and relationships.  Well, to my surprise, 3 commercials did just that last night.  

Here they are.   Enjoy.  And bravo to Anheuser-Busch84Lumber and Airbnb for their commercials from last night that encourage the building of bridges and relationships.  These are stories of refugees seeking new starts in our country, or simply to know that we all belong.  These are the American values I have grown to love and embrace.  

Click the links below to see the commercials:

Anheuser-Busch commercial

84Lumber’s commercial

Airbnb’s commercial 

And to be honest, I really love what Hyundai did to support some troops who are overseas.  Check out this show of support.  Wonderful:

Hyundai commercial
P.s. Here’s a story of how Anheuser-Bush is sending an emergency supply of 50,000 cans of water to aid relief workers in Mississippi, who are cleaning up after tornadoes struck various locations in that state.   

P (Prayer): Lord, make us wise enough to thank those who put themselves in harm’s way, and to also put our ultimate Safety and Security in you.   Amen.  

So Who’s Really In?


S (Scripture): Acts 10:34 Then Peter started speaking: “I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism in dealing with people, 35 but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is welcomed before him…”

O (Observation):  Peter is summoned by the Spirit to appear before Cornelius, a soldier of the Italian Cohort, but who was also a God-fearing man.  

They have a conversation about a vision revealed to Peter – a picnic blanket lowered from heaven full of “unclean animals.”

Peter and Cornelius would know to avoid unclean animals for food.  Yet now Peter applies what he’s learned about cleanliness and applies it to people.   Now, even if people do not acknowledge the cleanliness laws, but they fear the Lord and do good in response to that grace, they will be welcomed before the Lord.  

Finally, the message that was always meant for the whole world is now being sent to the whole world.  No longer do Jews only have the Lord…but all who fear the Lord and do what is right. Regardless of nation or skin color or language.  

A (Application):  This message from Peter and Cornelius have huge implications for teaching within the church today.  Who is in?  Who is out? 

As a church that is welcoming to all people, some feel like we are not challenging folks enough to conform to a life in Christ.  That people can come into our circles and do whatever they want.  This statement above does not allow for that path. 

Instead, I help teach folks that Jesus invites us all into a journey together in which we are to fear the Lord AND do good in response to this grace.  Otherwise, it’s all for naught.  

We are all welcome into the Lord’s family.   We follow Jesus and his ways and we are in.  This all takes faith instilled in us through the Holy Spirit, bestowed upon us by God.  

What has been challenging you lately about who is “Christian” or not?

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see that you wish for all of us to fear you, and yet walk with joy the paths you have laid out before us.  Amen.