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Sometimes God is like a love-struck adolescent. God pursues and pursues God’s beloved and just won’t quit. God tries to pass notes in class and gets the eye-roll. God even runs after the beloved as they run the other way!
The metaphor may be a bit of a stretch but when it comes to fickle, unfaithful, often disinterested, always imperfect, beloved humanity, God pursues us without wearying. And to push the metaphor a little further, it is safe to say in these next four weeks we encounter a God who will not stop calling. God leaves voice mail after voice mail but is far too impatient with overflowing love to wait for a response. God will just keep calling until SOMEONE picks up! Thanks be to God some do.
This Sunday we enter the continuing adventure of God’s pursuing us with the call of Samuel in 1 Samuel 3. God calls again and again until Samuel answers. God has work that needs to be done and refuses to wait around for humanity to get our act together. New life must happen. Love must be given out. God will settle for nothing less. Now is the time.
It is stunning to hear this text and the ones in the weeks to come at this particular moment. For many of us, NOW is the perfect time for new life to happen and love to be poured out. God will not settle for anything less. Could it be God is calling and calling and calling US, YOU AND ME, in these upcoming weeks? Could it be NOW is the time for God’s love to overflow in our classrooms, offices, homes, grocery stores, streets, parking lots, and churches?
SOMEONE’s gotta pick up! Will it be you?
See you Sunday…
In a recent poll, internet news readers were asked “What word or phrase do you find MOST annoying?” Second only to “like” was the ubiquitous, “It is what it is.”
As annoying as that phrase may be, I get it. So many structures and systems in the world seem so clearly beyond our ability to change. We can’t make world leaders care about the people they lead. We can’t cure every illness and disease. I can’t even figure out how to use my cell phone voice mail! It is what it is. Except when it isn’t.
At the beginning of the book of Exodus, God’s people are enslaved. They are viciously oppressed by a fearful Pharaoh who believes the Israelites might, sometime soon, find their strength in numbers and threaten Pharaoh’s power. Perhaps some of the Israelites despaired of their oppression and concluded of their circumstances, ‘It is what it is.’ But many didn’t.
In Exodus 2, the people cry out to God. Somehow, in all their suffering, they find the strength to lift their heads and imagine another way. Maybe it doesn’t have to be the way it is. Maybe new life is possible. And, upon hearing their cries, God comes. God shows up. God makes a way through Pharaoh’s hardened heart and a great sea into a land of promise.
Perhaps life for you right now is what it is. Perhaps you can’t imagine breaking free from the despair and powerlessness you feel in this moment. Perhaps you don’t even have the strength to lift your head. Whatever life is for you right now, God’s work in Exodus 2 is for you. God sees you. God hears you. God knows you. God will show up.
See you Sunday…
The reading this week is tough. In Genesis 22 God tells Abraham to offer his son, Isaac, as a burnt offering. I’d rather that story not appear in the bible, but there it is. It brings to mind the confident sufferer, Job, at the very beginning of his sufferings, when he says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). He’s not singing that tune later.
Maybe I need to get my heart right with God to understand this whole, “God gives and God takes away” business. But after being in ministry for over 13 years I don’t so quickly buy the notion that God is responsible for taking away what is dear to us. God doesn’t take away children through disease or catastrophe so God can have another angel in heaven. God doesn’t take away property or lives in natural disasters to prove a point about sinfulness. God doesn’t take away my mental health to get my attention. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that God gives and gives and gives. End of story.
God gives a beautiful, “good” creation. God gives life and breath. God gives us one another in relationship. God gives Godself as Lord, Savior, Redeemer, and Friend. God gives hope. God gives restoration. God gives forgiveness. God gives life everlasting. God gives love without condition or restriction.
Many people – faith-filled Bible commentators, colleagues, seminary professors, and friends, have offered me their perspectives on why Isaac needed to go through what he did. I’ve never been satisfied with the answers.
I guess I need to keep praying about it. What about you?
See you Sunday…
Catastrophic flooding in Texas, Niger, Nepal, Bangladesh, and India; violent demonstrations in Berkley and Cameroon; a maniacal dictator in North Korea; millions displaced from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and on and on; migrant minors from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala exploited in America; the opioid epidemic in New Mexico and throughout the U.S.; a listing of worldwide and local suffering, violence, hatred, and fear could easily take me to my 300-word limit.
It’s suffocating, the despair we witness close up and at a distance daily. What can be said in the face of this daily reality? How and where can we take a deep breath?
This Sunday, we’ll hear from the book of Acts. Acts recalls all sorts of suffering, violence, hatred, and fear, too. It’s familiar territory. Yet, in the midst of it all, the book makes a claim that must be made. It must be made clearly. It must be made now:
The word of God continued to spread… (Acts 6:7a)
The word of the Lord spread throughout the region. (Acts 13:49)
The word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed. (Acts 19:20)
Over and over again, the word of the Lord endures. God, as the defining agent in the world, keeps coming. God’s love, forgiveness, healing, and gift of new life will not be thwarted. God is unrelenting. God will not let go of us. Ever. Where can we take a deep breath? In the persistent love of God. How can we do it? Because the word of the Lord prevails!
What can I say? With the communion of saints who have received all hope, sustenance, and assurance in the unrelenting word of God, I can say with boldness, “God’s purposes will prevail!”
Will you join me?
We had a great summer vacation! We indulged in Wisconsin cheese curds, Sheboygan brats, and Indiana sweetcorn. While eating our way through the Midwest, we enjoyed blessed time with family and friends, and lingered in beautiful fields of green. We’re chock full of great memories.
In Psalm 84 this Sunday, we’ll hear someone else recalling a blessed “vacation.” Yet, it’s quickly revealed this isn’t just one memory among many. The Psalmist describes a journey that is transcendent, glorious, and defining: A trip to the holy temple in Jerusalem.
His awe and joy pour out. The travel to and from Jerusalem is arduous, but his strength never fails. The smallest detail is brilliantly vivid – a sparrow finds a home in God’s great dwelling place. Summing up he declares, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (v. 10). For this pilgrim, a day in the Lord’s temple is everything. It’s the best day ever.
As people of faith, we confess God is everywhere. God is in everyone, everything, and every moment. God is with us always. AND, we have been given the extraordinary gift of setting aside one day, one Sabbath each week, to rest in the grace of God’s loving presence. On that day we gather, intentionally, to worship and receive the fullness of God’s gift of life in Christ. Truth be told, for me, it’s the best day ever.
As you arrive for worship this Sunday, whether it’s in a storefront or ancient cathedral, take a moment and remember GOD IS THERE. Breathe in God’s mercy, hope, forgiveness, and healing. Listen to the stories of your struggling, celebrating, and faith-filled brothers and sisters. Pray with passion. Sing boldly.
It may just be the best day ever.
See you Sunday…
“Be nice!” How many times have you said that? How many times have people said that to you? Growing up in the Midwest, I learned “being nice” was not just a good idea it was a way of life. If someone was 30 minutes late for a lunch meeting I may be seething inside, but the proper, nice response was always, “That’s O.K. Don’t worry about it.” Of course, my response would necessarily be accompanied by a reassuring smile. Thanks be to God the Psalm writers didn’t master that way of life!
Consider the author of Psalm 13, the Psalm we’ll hear in worship this Sunday. The Psalmist is done being nice. Sure, God is the creator of all. Yes, God became human and endured unspeakable suffering for all humanity. Absolutely, God is with us. AND, sometimes knowing all of that just…doesn’t…help. Sometimes life is so hard, and suffering is so great, that ‘nice’ is not only inappropriate but soul-destroying. Sometimes, you’ve gotta cry out to God, tell the painful truth, and let the chips fall where they may. That’s Psalm 13.
While genuine kindness is a life-giving way to interact with God’s creation most of the time (especially nowadays!), God’s call goes much deeper. God calls us to love, build up, proclaim Christ, and tell it like it is. God wants all of us – not just the nice stuff. God knows the depth of suffering in the world, and God is big enough to handle ours. God invites our honesty and calls upon us to lay everything before God.
So, let it out! God knows you want to…
See you Sunday!
I’d like to think I’m strong. I try to be. I was raised to keep a stiff upper lip, to stand on my own two feet, to develop strength of character and will. Still, in my now (gulp) 41 years of life I’ve discovered something: The call to be a strong disciple has nothing to do with stiff lips. The writer of Ephesians exhorts us this week to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power” (6:10). There’s talk of armor, swords, arrows and the forces of evil. Clearly, standing on my own two feet will not be enough. Will I ever be strong enough to save myself and others from such devastating threats? Perhaps God is calling me to sign up for a boot-camp-style fitness regimen (Lord, help me). Or, maybe I just need to read through verse 20.
With all of the talk of battle in this passage, it’s fascinating and quite Kingdom-of-God-like to recognize where we end up in Ephesians 6:10-20. We’re not left with a victorious disciple, waving the flag of God’s vengeance on a battlefield strewn with fallen warriors. In the last three verses, we’re told to do one thing over and over again: PRAY. “Pray, pray, pray” God’s Word exclaims (Ephesians 6:18, 19, 20)! Pray in the Spirit, pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and pray that we can keep on praying come what may!
What we hear this week is incredibly counter-intuitive and exceedingly Christ-like: When we feel the need to be strong, God calls us to fall to our knees.
A timely Word, don’t you think? Might we, as beloved, flawed and forgiven children of God, be called to a demonstration of strength in the Lord right about now?
See you Sunday…