The power of weakness…

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Luke 10:After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.

There are several things about this text that grab me today. The one I’ll focus on here is the vulnerability required of the disciples as they are sent. They will literally be in need as they travel about, having no money, no food, no extra clothing – nothing. As such, they will enter a town hungry and tired, not powerful. They will be in obvious need and so will be looking for people in a town who will respond to their obvious need with hospitality. That is the sign, the “tell”, that Jesus is naming which will reveal which towns he should visit and which he should not.

I’m pretty sure that when people see me they don’t see someone in need. And, to be honest, I’ve been conditioned to hide such things even when they’re true. I’ve been taught to be in command, in charge, capable, self-reliant – not vulnerable. But there is great power in vulnerability. People are surprised when I tell them, “I need your help with this.” It is disarming as long as it’s authentic. And the posture of people shifts and they are ready to help in whatever way they can, just because I asked.

So today the Lord is showing me that, despite what I’ve been taught my entire life, that vulnerability and weakness are actually powerful tools/resources in the Kingdom of God. Power is made perfect in weakness as the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9. That’s not something you’ll often hear in our secular culture. It’s a counter-intuitive reality of the Kingdom of God.

Lord, teach me to be weak so that, in you, I might be strong. Amen.

Starvation… as punishment…

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Deuteronomy 28:53 In the desperate straits to which the enemy siege reduces you, you will eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your own sons and daughters whom the LORD your God has given you. 54 Even the most refined and gentle of men among you will begrudge food to his own brother, to the wife whom he embraces, and to the last of his remaining children, 55 giving to none of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because nothing else remains to him, in the desperate straits to which the enemy siege will reduce you in all your towns. 56 She who is the most refined and gentle among you, so gentle and refined that she does not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground, will begrudge food to the husband whom she embraces, to her own son, and to her own daughter, 57 begrudging even the afterbirth that comes out from between her thighs, and the children that she bears, because she is eating them in secret for lack of anything else, in the desperate straits to which the enemy siege will reduce you in your towns. 58 If you do not diligently observe all the words of this law that are written in this book, fearing this glorious and awesome name, the LORD your God, 59 then the LORD will overwhelm both you and your offspring with severe and lasting afflictions and grievous and lasting maladies.

Wow. Just, wow. This is a warning God is giving to the Israelites before they set foot into the promised land. God has given them commandments and statutes to follow. The passage above is only a small portion of the lengthy list of consequences should the people fail to obey the Lord. If you just glanced over the passage, read it again. More slowly. Take in what is written here. It is horrific.

I may sound like a broken record to those of you who read this blog consistently, but the God I’m reading about here just doesn’t square with the God I read about in the New Testament, in the teachings of Jesus in particular as he instructs his disciples to refer to God as “Abba” – which means “Daddy”. Jesus reveals a God who is merciful and gracious to his people when they fall short of righteousness. The passage above reveals none of this. The graphic imagery of cannibalism as a result of siege, which is the result of unfaithfulness to God, is unimaginable. Yet much of what is written actually did come to pass, which you can read for yourself later in the Old Testament.

What are we to take from this passage? That’s hard to say. Mostly it just confuses me.

Lord, have mercy upon us sinners. For Jesus’ sake, withhold your wrath and accept us as your own beloved children. Amen.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul…

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Psalm 86: 1 Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. 2 Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God; 3 be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all day long. 4 Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. 

Here the psalmist, King David, describes himself as “poor and needy”. Of course, as a king we know he’s not referring to an economic need, but a spiritual one. I’m struck by the following verse:

“Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.”

David is a king with many servants at his beck and call. He gives commands, people act accordingly. But David doesn’t describe himself as king before the Lord, but rather “your servant”. In his relationship with God he doesn’t give commands, but receives them and acts on them. He depends on God as David’s servants depend on him. And so, as a servant of God, David turns to God in his our of need. “…for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul”. This is what a servant does – appeals to his master.

David’s petition of humility is an action borne of identity.

Lord, this very day there are many with troubled souls. Desperate souls. In some ways I can be counted among them. I too am poor and needy. Like David, we are your servants. Lift our spirits, dear God, as we lift our souls to you. Amen.

Voices from our history…

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Luke 9:28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. 

Moses and Elijah were two of the central leaders of Israel’s past. Any good Jew would have great respect for them both, which is important despite the fact that Luke was writing to a mostly Gentile audience. The fact that they are bearing witness to Jesus with their presence and discussion of his departure is a big deal.

I’ve been in my current call as senior pastor of Rejoice for five years as of August 1st, a time in which there’s been a lot of change. There are many new people here, in part because Dallas/Ft. Worth is a growing area. Lots of people are moving into the north suburbs all the time. And, of course, having a new senior leader to go along with lots of new church members means we’re becoming a new church altogether. What exists today is not the Rejoice of 2013.

To me “new” is good, but that’s not true of everyone. Thus, there are many former members who have moved on – some because of natural transitions like relocations, but others because this is no longer a church they feel called to be part of. I don’t like that, but I get it. Things change and people move on. I never try to talk people out of leaving. By the time they’re making it known they intend to move on, that decision is pretty firm. No sense in fighting it.

That said, I also understand that voices of long-time church members are important. They bear witness to our past while helping us navigate our way into the future. Moses and Elijah remind me of that today.

Heavenly Father, teach me to listen to voices from the past. They are a gift and treasure to us. Amen.

Daily…

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Luke 9:23–24 (NRSV): 23 Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.

Like Cheryl, the thing that stood out for me in this passage is the word “daily” in verse 23. Matthew and Mark do not include that word, but to me it makes a big difference. I understand that the call to follow Jesus is to take up the cross. To die to self. To surrender my agenda and invite the Holy Spirit to lead me according to God’s will and purposes.

But if I’m honest, I’ve tended not to think of the cross as something to be taken up each day, but rather on occasion. I get to do my thing most days, but once in a while I have to submit to the way of Jesus and the cross. The word “daily” changes that.

Dear Lord, we are a stubborn bunch. Especially me. Give me grace to take up my cross “daily”, so that in losing my life I may find it. Amen.

Alone…

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Acts 17:27 God is not far from each one of us.

I don’t often read the separate doctrinal texts we get each day from the Moravian Daily Texts but this one spoke to me today. It’s been a difficult week. There are people close to me, family, who are struggling with end of life issues. Others I know have one sort of crisis or another. I have questions to which I don’t know answers. It’s been a tough week.

And sometimes it seems God isn’t very close at all. God is experienced as distant. Silent. Passive. Out to lunch. On vacation. Whatever. I know this isn’t true, but the heart doesn’t always catch up with the mind. Lord reveal yourself to your children who need you desperately. Amen.

Trees…

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Deuteronomy 20:19 If you besiege a town for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. Although you may take food from them, you must not cut them down. Are trees in the field human beings that they should come under siege from you? 20 You may destroy only the trees that you know do not produce food; you may cut them down for use in building siege works against the town that makes war with you, until it falls. 

** Quick reminder – I’m intentionally trying to make these reflections brief for the summer. You might think writing less is easier. It is not. Thanks for hanging with me. **

God the environmentalist! God created the heavens and earth and commanded people to be stewards of creation, so this passage is not terribly surprising.

Why particular mention of trees? Well, God doesn’t steer the people away from using all trees, just the ones that bear fruit for food. Nonetheless, God’s directive makes clear that trees and other treasures of the promised land are intended to be a gift – a gift for which we have respect and gratitude.

I’m no greenie environmentalist per se, but it’s hard not to notice that some of the wonderful gifts in creation are eroding. I was at a reef in Cabo San Lucas a month ago and noted the amount of dead coral. The water is getting too warm. No, it’s not a tree, but it’s precious. Time to take climate change seriously.

Lord teach us to be stewards of the incredible gift you give us in creation. Amen.