Take a Breath and Talk with God

This week we are at the Old Testament Fence Post of Monarchy. When the Israelites first settled in the Promise Land (Canaan), they did not have a very structured government. In truth they were just tribes loosely bound together primarily for defense against other nations. At that time they were led by charismatic leaders known as judges. The list of judges includes many well known Old Testament characters like Deborah, Gideon, Samson and Samuel. In time the people decide they would prefer a king, like the other nations around them. (Just an aside here —- When the people of God decide they want to be like the world around them, trouble is coming.) This offends the aging Samuel. We read about this in I Samuel 8.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me,[a] from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

There’s lot to learn from these five verses, but the thing that I want to focus on in this blog entry is what Samuel does when the words of others displease him. Look back at verse 6. What does Samuel do? He talks with God. He does not argue with the people. He does not enter into a battle of words and will. He does not launch into a self-righteous explanation or a passionate defense. Samuel talks with God.

Seems to me this is an outstanding model for believers today. Within the Christian Church there is much disagreement about many things. Even within my beloved United Methodist Church, there is much disagreement. Seems to me that when those disagreements arise, we would all be better served if we could like Samuel, take a breath and talk with God.

Do you find yourself disagreeing with or even offended by the opinions of others within the church? Are you concerned about the direction of the Church? I know I am. If you are too, why don’t you join me. Let’s learn from Samuel. Let’s take a deep breath and spend some time talking to God. (Which of course, means listening, too.)

Thought for the day: Take a breath and talk with God.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be like Samuel when I am tempted to be offended and defensive. Help me talk with you before I talk with others. Amen

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Cry Out to God

I think it’s time for the people of God to cry out to God. As I write this entry, I am reeling, like I’m sure you are, from the horror of what has happened in Las Vegas. I found myself crying out to God and then — I heard an echo from my own sermon yesterday. We were exploring the Bible’s Third Fence Post — Exodus. You will remember, I’m sure, that God’s people had been oppressed as slaves for many years in Egypt. The writer of Exodus tells us:

23 After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24 God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  ——Exodus 2:23-24

And I asked the congregation: Are you still standing in Egypt, still weighed down by the chains of slavery? If so, then for goodness sake, cry out to our God. God wants nothing more than to respond to the needs of His people. But we have to ask. 

Reflecting on what happened in Las Vegas, and the current rhetoric and division all across our nation, it hit me like a ton of bricks. We are all standing in Egypt. And we are oppressing ourselves! We are weighed down by the chains of hatred, bigotry, self-righteousness, anger and fear. All of us are struggling under the weight of those chains and, friends, we need to be delivered.

So, please. Join me. Let’s cry out to our God for deliverance. But beware. When God acted in response to cries of the Hebrews, they weren’t so happy about the way He responded. Freedom was not handed to them. Oh no. Deliverance required something from them — lot’s of changes and a long, hard journey. I suspect freedom from our chains will require something from us, too. So let’s pray about that as well.

Prayer: We too are groaning Oh God — under the weight this new act of violence, under the divisive rhetoric that surrounds us, under constant criticism, self-righteousness, anger and fear. Hear our cry, O Lord and deliver us from these chains of slavery. And, then use us, your people, once again to be a true light to the nations making known your name through all the earth. May we be able to recognize you at work among us and respond to your wisdom, guidance and love. Amen

Thought for the Day: The chains of the present are no match for the power of our God.

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God’s Chosen Relationship

This week we focus on the 2nd Biblical Fence Post — Covenant. Covenant is an extremely important theme that winds its way through scripture — From Noah’s Rainbow to Malachi’s prediction of the coming Messiah. Covenant is God’s chosen way of being in relationship with His people. It’s not a word we use in our everyday language but it is use very often in the Old Testament. In fact the word covenant or “berith” (meaning cut) shows up more often than the word sin. That should give us a hint about what is most important to God. God longs to be in relationship with His people — including you and me.  God is far more focused on that than He is on catching us or punishing us. And this idea of covenant does not end with the Old Testament. It shows up in the New Testament too — right at the very beginning — in Zechariah’s song of praise. When Zechariah raises his voice in praise of the coming Messiah this is what he says:

Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. Luke 1:72-75

Amazing, isn’t it? Even before Jesus was born, he was already recognized by the faithful as part of God’s Covenant with his people. Jesus was coming to rescue God’s people from their enemies. What enemy threatens you today? And remember enemies do not always take human form. Enemies can be anything that prevents us from being all that God calls us to be and from doing all that God calls us to do. Good News! God remembers His Covenant. Jesus can still rescue us from our enemies.

And then what? Well, just as the Hebrews, rescued from slavery, were to be a light to other nations, so we, rescued from our enemies, are meant to serve God through our witness in word and action. Has God rescued you? Have you received salvation through Jesus? Then … it’s time to serve, friend, without fear, in holiness and righteousness. And that too is good news, for us and our whole world.

Thought for today — I have been saved to serve. 

Prayer: Thank you God for remembering your covenant and saving me. Strengthen me God that I might serve you in word and action.

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Redemption of Creation

We usually think about the story of Creation being found in the Old Testament. But the truth is that Creation weaves its way throughout the whole of scripture. Consider this teaching from the New Testament.

Romans 8:19-23 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Now I do not claim to understand the whole of this teaching but this much is clear. Just like us — the human creatures — Creation itself is broken and is longing for redemption. With all the recent natural disasters, many people wonder why a good God would allow such things to happen.

Think about this:   Hurricanes and Earthquakes are part of the creative process. Hurricanes enable the rain we need. Without them, we’d be in perpetual drought. Earthquakes have always been part of the creation process —- enabling the mountain ranges that we find so inspiring. These things — earthquakes and hurricanes were part of this world before we were and yet — we humans have decided to fight against them rather than choose to live in ways and places that would recognize their power and offer greater protection. I do not believe that God sends these things anymore than I believe that God sends disease and premature death. I believe that disaster and disease and death are part of this fallen world we live in. God does not send them but God can use them, if we let Him, to achieve good. That’s redemption on this side of the grave. And like us — all creation longs for it.

Thought for the Day:  Creation longs for redemption, too.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to offer all things to you — disaster, death, disease — so that you might redeem them and use them for good in and through me. Amen.

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Fence Posts of the Bible

Engaging God’s Word Fully! That’s the current challenge at our church — Williamson’s Chapel UMC in Mooresville N.C. Since I’m asking others to go deeper into the word, I thought I should make the same effort. And I’ve learned that writing in this blog helps me to do that. So, this is really for me and my faith journey as I attempt to more fully engage God by engaging His word. But — if you find it helpful, that’s an added blessing. Thanks for taking the time to read.

So here we go. The first Fence Post in the Bible is Creation. As Genesis says … In the beginning … But creation continues to be an important theological reality throughout the Bible even into the New Testament. Consider these words from the Gospel of John.

In the beginning, was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him and without not one thing came into being…..     John 1:1-3

Think about these words and the echo sounding down from the words of Genesis. John was being very intentional in his choice of words. Why? John wanted his readers to know that Jesus and the divine act of creation are all tied up together. The one who created the universe and all it’s wonders, was still at work creating. With Jesus comes the chance for us all to experience that creative power and through the saving act of Jesus be made into the creatures we were meant to be. Creator creates creation. And Good News! The creator never stops. In the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

Thought for the day. God’s still working on me! (and on the others around me, too!)

Prayer: Oh Jesus, create in me new heart and spirit that I might be all I am meant to be and do all I am meant to do. Amen

 

 

 

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SABBATH KEEPING — A Privilege and a Choice

Hebrews 4:9-11

This is the last mention of the word “Sabbath” in the scripture. I’m going to be honest. I find the Book of Hebrews to be one of the most difficult books in the Bible to understand and apply to our lives. It has been called by some scholars, the riddle or mystery book of the New Testament and I would agree. I find William Barclay’s introduction to this book helpful when he points out that to the writer of Hebrews, religion is all about “access to God.” Read through that lens, the Book of Hebrews is a bit easier to understand. In this passage … the opportunity to enter into a “Sabbath rest” with God is a privilege that many have rejected. It remains our choice. But to embrace and enter that rest is a choice we make. That seems a pretty good place to end our study of what the Bible says about Sabbath. Resting in the company of God is a command, it’s a privilege, it’s a gift and finally — it is our choice.

Thought for the Day: Sabbath rest is a privilege.

Prayer: I know, Oh God, that your motivation is always love. When you ask us to do something, it is for our own good and blessing. May I be obedient so that I might obtain the full blessing of Sabbath and enter into rest with you. Amen

Hebrews 4:9-11 So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; 10 for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

 

 

 

 

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SABBATH KEEPING – Old and New

Acts 17:1-5, Acts 18:4

Paul and Silas take their message to the people. Knowing Jews will gather in the synagogue, that’s where they go on the Sabbath. And they begin to talk about Jesus, to tell the story of what God was doing through Jesus and how. This happens three Sabbaths in a row. Obviously some folks were very interested. But Paul and Silas begin to encounter the same kind of resistance Jesus met. The authorities begin to cause trouble. It’s just so hard, isn’t it, to believe that God might actually be doing something new? It’s easy to criticize the religious leaders of that day but truth be told, we have the same problem. We are so much more comfortable when God just stays in a box of our making. But think about it —- Wouldn’t it be great if we gathered for worship expecting to hear of something new and wonderful God was doing? What if every time we met as a community of faith, we were changed in some new and wonderful way? It could happen. I think it could. What do you think?

Thought for the Day: God is always doing something new.

Prayer: O Lord, some days I’m the folks who hear of what new things you are doing and I am excited and changed. Some days I am the ones who resist the idea. Open my eyes that I might see! Amen

Acts 17:1-5 17 After Paul and Silas[a] had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah[b] to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah,[c] Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.” Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. …

Acts 18:4 Every Sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks

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