The Call

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S (Scripture): 2 Timothy 4:I’m giving you this commission in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is coming to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearance and his kingdom. 2 Preach the word. Be ready to do it whether it is convenient or inconvenient. Correct, confront, and encourage with patience and instruction. 3 There will come a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. They will collect teachers who say what they want to hear because they are self-centered. 4 They will turn their back on the truth and turn to myths. 5 But you must keep control of yourself in all circumstances. Endure suffering, do the work of a preacher of the good news, and carry out your service fully.

O (Observation): Paul commissions Timothy for ministry. He gives him instruction, guidance, boundaries within which to do his ministry. The grace has already come in the form of a call to particular ministry. Now, the living out of that grace confronts Timothy: preach, be ready, correct, encourage, keep control. Above all, do the work of the good news – whether convenient or inconvenient.

A (Application): WOW! What. A wonderful reading as I turn a page in my life this day. I’m getting into my first full day of work as an Assistant to the Bishop in the Southeastern Synod. This will not be something I take for granted, nor will I take this calling lightly.

I will take Paul’s encouragement, knowing that this call is a continuation of God’s call for me in the Church.

May God bless us as we embark on this new journey together.

Many thanks to my mentor and leaders from my youth, young adult, and college and seminary years. Many thanks to the congregational members and friends whom I have served. I hear God’s voice through their caring words and wisdom. (Whether I was able to comprehend those words or not.)

May God be with us.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, you call us to ventures in which we do not know the ending. May your wisdom and guidance be with us. Amen.

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The Poor, The Downtrodden

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S (Scripture): 2 Thessalonians 3:6 Brothers and sisters, we command you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to stay away from every brother or sister who lives an undisciplined life that is not in line with the traditions that you received from us. 7 You yourselves know how you need to imitate us because we were not undisciplined when we were with you. 8 We didn’t eat anyone’s food without paying for it. Instead, we worked night and day with effort and hard work so that we would not impose on you. 9 We did this to give you an example to imitate, not because we didn’t have a right to insist on financial support. 10 Even when we were with you we were giving you this command: “If anyone doesn’t want to work, they shouldn’t eat.”

O (Observation): Paul (and those who wrote using Paul’s name) was big on using the Law to guide and direct behavior in Jesus’ followers. He was a Pharisee at one point, critiquing God followers when they broke from the Jewish teachings and customs.

Paul was always good at challenging folks. Having been transformed by an encounter with Jesus, he understood, anew, that grace puts one in a stance that requires a person to love God and neighbor…even in the most dire of circumstances. And since Paul was a person of great challenge – to himself and to others – he also fought hard to make sure no one took the Gospel for granted.

So, if you can work, then work. If you can put food on your table, then the right thing to do is to work so you can put food on your table. Don’t take advantage of other folks’ generosity.

We are subject to no one; yet we are subject to all. If you need help, ask for it. If you can help yourself or others, do it. Both are valid ways of living.

A (Application): Some like to use these words of Paul today to make an excuse for not contributing to the needs of the homeless. They think: why can’t these people work for themselves? Earn their own way? Paul says this is the way!

I say we should challenge folks to find a way to use their God-given gifts to make the world a better place and to put food on their own table. Yet, the judgment does not belong to you or to me as to another’s abilities (or lack thereof). Each one must judge for themselves.

How do we teach this in a way that encourages all to work for their own sake, without using this as a judgment against others?

The easy thing to do is to say, “You don’t work, you don’t eat!” Didn’t Jesus go around healing people, loving all people, and reminding us to sell what we have and give alms?

Surely we can use our gifts for good in this world. Surely we can have compassion for those who cannot mentally or emotionally hold themselves accountable. Surely we can use our gifts to walk alongside those who have trouble figuring out how to make a new life in this country.

Perhaps in showing compassion to those who have trouble figuring out life, those who received help will one day have the means to help someone else. Perhaps being the example of uncoerced generosity will lead to others being generous, as well.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us generous hearts. Amen.

Holy Work

Photo credit here. By the way, this is a video describing the ELCA’s program, Young Adults in Global Mission.

S (Scripture): Ephesians 2:8 You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith (or, through his faithfulness.). This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. 9 It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. 10 Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

O (Observation): Debate continues on the emphasis of the faith. Is it God’s faithfulness to us, or our faith that saves us? Either way, we have reconciled this by stating that “our” faith only comes to us as a gift of the Spirit. So, in the end, the onus is on God. God stirs up faith in us.

Is our level of faith in direct correlation to our kind acts (or perverse / sinful acts)? Certainly not!

God’s Grace is a gift – a gift we have in abundance!

We are created in Christ Jesus to do good! This is our purpose.

A (Application): How often do we cut ourselves short when it comes to our ability to serve others in the name of God? We have a perceived inability to do miracles and wonders in Christ!

Faith turns us from our selfish desires towards looking for the ultimate good in ourselves and others. Faith calls on us to look for the Christ in the other: the poor, the homeless, the outcast, the refugee, the immigrant. In doing so, we cannot help but to serve and to love our neighbor in need.

Where are you feeling called to serve? Whether in Christ’s name or just from the goodness of your heart. Do that work, and see a miracle!

P (Prayer): Lord, remind us of your presence in our lives! Stir our hearts towards the holy work to which you call us. Amen.

The Lord’s Power…Not Ours

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S (Scripture): Acts 11:19 Now those who were scattered as a result of the trouble that occurred because of Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. They proclaimed the word only to Jews. 20 Among them were some people from Cyprus and Cyrene. They entered Antioch and began to proclaim the good news about the Lord Jesus also to Gentiles. 21 The Lord’s power was with them, and a large number came to believe and turned to the Lord.

O (Observation): Stephen was stoned to death for witnessing to the people regarding Jesus as God’s Son. The Jews that stoned him stood their ground on their understanding of who God is and believed calling Jesus “Lord” was blasphemy.

As a result of this terrible act of hatred, Jesus’ believers were scattered. Well, only God could turn tragedy into triumph. Having been scattered after Stephen’s death, Stephen’s cohorts continued to share God’s Good News of hope and salvation for ALL people into the towns of Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. The result: more believers!

And the key is in v. 21:

Acts11:21 The Lord’s power was with them, and a large number came to believe and turned to the Lord.

God was at work in the midst of the witness of Jesus’ followers.

A (Application): How often do we believe that “we” bring God’s presence into the room?

When I go to visit someone at the hospital, I must realize that God was there before me, is there with me, and remains with the person when I leave.

When I preach, I’m not starting from nothing: God’s presence is there already.

When I talk to a stranger about my faith, I need not worry, for God will prepare the words for me to say (though it’s a good idea to practice some words in the meantime : )

We have the distinct privilege and advantage knowing that – like Stephen’s cohorts – that the Lord is doing the work through us. We use our energy and senses to carry the Gospel, but God’s power is what changes hearts and minds.

So, we prepare…we show up…we do the work we are called to do…and the Lord’s power moves from there.

P (Prayer): Lord, Work your power through us, in us, even in spite of us. Amen.

Rhythm: Abiding and Bearing Fruit

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S (Scripture): John 15:1 [Jesus said to the disciples:] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. 2 He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. 3 You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. 6 If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.

O (Observation): What is the point of being a disciple? That one produces fruit for God and God’s Kingdom. How does one bear fruit? By being a branch connected to the vine – Jesus. How can one stay connected to the vine (and this bear fruit)? By remaining / abiding in Jesus, the vine!

So we are supposed to bear fruit and stay connected to Jesus.

Seems simple, but can be very hard.

A (Application): Over my studies of discipleship, I’ve come across a great illustration of remaining connected to the vine and also of producing fruit for God’s Kingdom.

First, a disclaimer: only because Christ makes it possible, can we produce fruit for the Kingdom. This devotion leans towards what we can do with salvation, and is not about how we earn salvation!

Second, the key to abiding and bearing fruit is to know that these two elements that seem like opposites belong on either sides of a pendulum swinging back and forth. On one side “Abide.” On the other side: “Bear Fruit.” (Annalternstive is Rest / Work.

An illustration: when I began serving the congregation I’m serving now, I drew the picture included in this devotion (see above). I asked them where the congregation felt they were on this pendulum. They mark the spot towards the work / bearing fruit side. The sentiment was: “we’ve got a pastor, so let’s get moving!”

Then I asked them: “When you make a new friend, or add a family member through marriage or birth, what do you typically do?” They all responded with remarks that belong to more of the abide/rest side of the pendulum swing. They realized that having a new pastor on board would mean that we would want to get to know one another and become one, before we started getting very active toward the bearing fruit side. We needed time to dwell together and be together.

Jesus knew when working with the disciples that they would experience times and seasons when they would need to simply remain in Christ and be one with Christ in order to be strengthened for the times when they would have to go and bear fruit.

This same sentiment holds true for you and me today.

If you are all work and no rest, you will burn out. If you are all rest and no work, you will not produce fruit. Imagine the pendulum swinging back-and-forth causing you to find rhythms of rest and work of abiding and bearing fruit.

How are those rhythms working for you these days? What is your daily rhythm? Your weekly rhythm? Your monthly or annual rhythms?

P (Prayer): Lord, you sustain by inviting us to abide in you. Help us also to bear fruit for you and your kingdom! Amen.

P.s. this concept and image comes from elements taught by 3D Ministries (3DM; https://3dmovements.com/)

Bound up? (This is not a laxative commercial : )

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S (Scripture): John 11:38 Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb [of Lazarus]. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”

40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” 43 Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

O (Observation): Jesus is greatly disturbed. His friend has died. Mary and Martha and several others are almost disappointed in Jesus. He could have prevented this! Or could have come sooner…before the customary 3 days passed, in which it might have been possible to re-unite the spirit to the body.

But alas…Lazarus has been dead 4 days! A life ended. No more work for Lazarus. No more will Lazarus use his gifts and talents for the Lord…for loved ones.

Jesus is greatly disturbed. But why? Because his friend has died? Yes. And…

He sees that those around him do not understand what Jesus said just a little bit earlier:

John 11:25 Jesus said to [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. 26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus is also disturbed because the group he is leading doesn’t yet believe that God holds power over life AND death. Soon, God would prove this by raising Jesus from the dead.

In the end of this scene, Jesus’ last command is simple. “Unbind him and let him go!” Lazarus’ work is not yet complete. Perhaps God has more in store for him. Perhaps Jesus just needed to show the world that God is the God of life AND death. That not even death can separate us from God!

A (Application): The short question is this: What is binding you? What is holding you back? Do you not believe that God is with you? If not, no worries…God is still there. : )

May the Spirit move you not only to faith (being raised as Lazarus was raised), but also to action (“Unbind him! Unbind her!”).

May you receive God’s blessing this day to be set free to do God’s work. May you find the persons to walk alongside you as you do this work.

P (Prayer): Lord, unbind us for your sake and for the sake of our neighbor! Amen.

What Do I Do Now?

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S (Scripture): John 6:26 Jesus replied, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. 27 Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”

28 They asked, “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?”

29 Jesus replied, “This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent.”

30 They asked, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

O (Observation): The crowd of 5,000 has had their fill of loaves and fish. Now they believe another sign is required for them to do God’s work.

The work, Jesus says, is much more simple than even that. Simply believe that Jesus (God’s Son) was sent by God. They don’t like that though. They feel the need to DO something.

A (Application): Why do we always feel the need to DO something to work towards salvation? Jesus says the work is simply starting with the belief that God is already at work.

Any work we do is based on the fact that God has already done the work of forgiveness and reconciling us to God. Jesus has taken the power of sin and has overcome it.

Now, we are free to move about the world following our callings for the sake of God’s work. We are set free from saving ourselves – Jesus does that for us. We are set free for meeting the needs of those around us.

In this, we have our freedom.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep me believing in your Son. Amen