The house of the Lord…

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Psalm 27: 3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. 4 One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. 

Once again David is under threat. It’s hard to know if he is referring to an actual army from outside or enemies within Israel. In any event, it’s clear that the temple in Jerusalem is a special place for David. It’s the “house of the Lord” where David can be found when being pressed from without or within. It’s his sanctuary of peace in the midst of turmoil.

Holy spaces, houses of worship, are important to people of faith. Unfortunately, our house of worship in Texas experienced busted water pipes during the recent extreme cold (-2 degrees!). I realize for those of you in northern climes below zero is not unusual, but it hasn’t happened here in the Dallas area since 1949. Anyway, we have significant water damage and will be in a long line of households and businesses seeking repairs. Prayers are appreciated.

That said, like every other church, we’ve discovered a new virtual house of worship on the internet during the pandemic. God shows up for us even when we’re not physically together, so being without a building for a while isn’t the shock it would have been otherwise. Our God is faithful and will find you wherever you are. Thanks be to God!

Do not sweep me away…

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Psalm 26: 8 O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides. 9 Do not sweep me away with sinners, nor my life with the bloodthirsty, 10 those in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes. 11 But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. 

First, sorry to have been absent in this space for a few days. You may have heard that we in Texas have had power outages for several days. And of course, when there’s no power, there’s no Internet service. We are doing okay in my household so no worries – but it has been frustrating not being able to get on-line much.

This psalm is attributed to David who is asking for the Lord to intervene on his behalf. When I read “Do not sweep me away…” I get the impression things are not looking good. And, as is often the case, God has not immediately brought relief to David. He must wait for the Lord.

After enduring a year of pandemic, racial tensions, political division, the last thing we needed was to be without power. It’s like being kicked when we’re down. Lord, we’ve had enough. Do not sweep us away, but save us. Amen.

Better than we found it…

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2 Chronicles 21:16–20 (NRSV): 16 The Lord aroused against Jehoram the anger of the Philistines and of the Arabs who are near the Ethiopians. 17 They came up against Judah, invaded it, and carried away all the possessions they found that belonged to the king’s house, along with his sons and his wives, so that no son was left to him except Jehoahaz, his youngest son. 18 After all this the Lord struck him in his bowels with an incurable disease. 19 In course of time, at the end of two years, his bowels came out because of the disease, and he died in great agony. His people made no fire in his honor, like the fires made for his ancestors. 20 He was thirty-two years old when he began to reign; he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. He departed with no one’s regret. They buried him in the city of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.

Here we have the tragic end to King Jehoram‘s reign. If you read earlier in this chapter you will see he was a terrible king. He led the people poorly, encouraging them to embrace idolatry and all manner of evil. V.19 got my attention:

“In course of time, at the end of two years, his bowels came out because of the disease, and he died in great agony.”

Ouch. Then there is v.20:

“He was thirty-two years old when he began to reign; he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. He departed with no one’s regret. They buried him in the city of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.”

Our passage tells us the Philistines ravaged Judah and its people. I can only imagine the pain and loss from this kind of invasion. And it’s clear, from what the people did with Jeroham once he died, they blamed him for their great misfortune.

Jehoram left Judah in worse shape than when he started.

An important question for any leader is if you leave an organization in better shape than you found it. I’m in my 8th year serving as pastor of Rejoice Lutheran Church. I have no plans to leave, but one day I will. And when I do my deepest hope is that I will leave the church in a better place than when I found it.

Not that it was in bad shape when I arrived or anything. Pastor Phil Gileske was my predecessor and did a terrific job. But we are in a time of unprecedented change which is unfolding very quickly. I believe the next 2-3 years will be crucial to determining if Rejoice, or any other church/business/organization, will have a sustainable future.

Lord Jesus, you are the Shepherd and we are the sheep of your flock. By the Holy Spirit you have led the church through all kinds of change and adversity for 2,000 years and I have no doubt you will continue to do so. Lead us, guide us, show us the path you would have us follow. Help us to leave our places better than we found them. We pray this in your most holy name. Amen.

We do not go alone…

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Psalm 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me. 

I can’t say how many times I’ve read this psalm, but it has to be in the hundreds of times. As is true of any VERY familiar text, it can be difficult to see something new. But today I did, perhaps because of the era of time we’re in (Covid time). I particularly noticed v.4:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me…

The writer (King David) does not deny the need to walk through the “darkest valley”, which I would prefer to avoid altogether. Right? But that’s not how life works is it? There are seasons of danger, uncertainty, fear. Many of us are in such a season now. The bad news is that we don’t get a pass because we are children of God. The good news is that the Lord our God walks with us through the dark valleys of life. We do not go alone. Let me say that again.

WE DO NOT GO ALONE.

Lord of Life, reveal yourself to those of us in the dark places, that we may know we are not alone. For you walk with us every step of the way. Amen.

An astounding strategy of God….

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Acts 22: 27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd. They seized him, 28 shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place; more than that, he has actually brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place”… 30 Then all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. 31 While they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 Immediately he took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. When they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the tribune came, arrested him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; he inquired who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd shouted one thing, some another; and as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 When Paul came to the steps, the violence of the mob was so great that he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36 The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Away with him!” 37 Just as Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” The tribune replied, “Do you know Greek? 38 Then you are not the Egyptian who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of an important city; I beg you, let me speak to the people.” 40 When he had given him permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the people for silence; and when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language…

There is an extraordinary pattern we see in the book of Acts. As Paul travels from place to place proclaiming the gospel and planting churches, he is often accused of wrongdoing, apprehended by the authorities, beaten, jailed, and then brought before a local authority figure (in this case, the “tribune”) for questioning and judgment. It’s as Paul states in Acts 20:22-23:

22 And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I (Paul) am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. 

The “imprisonment and persecutions” are not a punishment, but an intentional strategy for getting Paul before the local authorities – where he can give his testimony about Jesus “in every city”. And the Church grows one city at a time.

Wow.

Lord Jesus, I realize this strategy was not something Paul devised, but You. From my perspective it seems almost impossible that Paul went along with this. Willingly. And yet you not only gave Paul a method for sharing the gospel, you gave Paul the grace needed to follow through with such a difficult task. Give me grace, dear Lord, to faithfully follow where you lead, trusting that you will meet me in that space. However painful and difficult it may be. I pray this in your most holy name. Amen.

Trusting in the Lord… First.

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Acts 16:At that time the seer Hanani came to King Asa of Judah, and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Aram, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with exceedingly many chariots and cavalry? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the entire earth, to strengthen those whose heart is true to him. You have done foolishly in this; for from now on you will have wars.” 10 Then Asa was angry with the seer, and put him in the stocks, in prison, for he was in a rage with him because of this. And Asa inflicted cruelties on some of the people at the same time. 

King Asa was doing so well, relying on the Lord God to give him victory over enemies of Israel. But then he went sideways, placing his trust in the king and army of Aram rather than God. This is resonating for me this morning because I’m connecting this story with Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” My tendency is to rely on something or someone other than the Lord when I’m struggling.

Lord teach me to trust in you. First. Amen.

The gift of peace…

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2 Chronicles 14:Asa (the new king of Judah) did what was good and right in the sight of the Lord his God. He took away the foreign altars and the high places, broke down the pillars, hewed down the sacred poles, and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and to keep the law and the commandment. He also removed from all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars. And the kingdom had rest under him. He built fortified cities in Judah while the land had rest. He had no war in those years, for the Lord gave him peace.

What strikes me this morning is the reward Asa received for his faithfulness. We are told he was given the gift of peace all around. Not wealth. Not additional territory. Not fame. Peace.

Peace is a precious thing isn’t it? Whether we’re talking about peace among nations, or peace among loved ones and friends, or peace within the church, or in the workplace – or wherever. Conflict is so common and so pervasive. Left to ourselves we are continually at war in some way or other. But the Lord can break through all of that and bring peace.

Lord let it be so today. Amen.

“imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me”…

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Acts 20: (the apostle Paul writes) 20 I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus. 22 And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me.

I don’t always agree with Paul in his writings, particularly his commentary on the role of women in the church, but one cannot doubt his commitment to the gospel. In our passage above it is v.23 really strikes me. The Spirit gave Paul warning that he would face “imprisonment and persecutions”. And yet Paul went anyway. Wow.

Lord this morning I thank you for all the saints who have gone before us. It is by their sacrifice that everlasting life in Jesus is made available to those of us now living. I pray, Lord, that I will be found faithful in passing on the good news of Jesus to the next generation. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Now is the time…

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Acts 20:On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. 12 Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted. 

Two things strike me about this story. First, I’m glad I’m not the only one who can put people to sleep while speaking. 🙂 Second is the perceived importance of Paul’s teaching and direction that people were willing to stay up all night so as not to miss anything. In fact, I’m guessing the young man was sitting in the window because the room was so packed there was nowhere else to sit!

There is an urgency about this story – focused around the mission they shared in the gospel – that gets my attention. The last couple of days I’ve gathered online with Lutheran church leaders from our synod (region) to discuss the goings-on in this part of the world and the challenges/opportunities before us. These gatherings can be less than exciting, but this meeting was different. There was a palpable sense of urgency in our conversation. We know that our world is changing rapidly – which is nothing new – and the time for action is now.

What does it look like for the church to faithfully proclaim the gospel in this emerging world? Where do we retain practices of the past? Where do try new practices reflecting our new reality? Where do we need to let go of practices that no longer serve our mission? How do we know the difference?

Lord Jesus you are the Shepherd and we are the sheep of your fold. We don’t know the way forward. Left to ourselves we will likely go astray. Give us grace to watch for your leading and the faithfulness to follow. We pray this in your holy name. Amen.

Walking in the light of life…

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Psalm 56:13 You have delivered my soul from death, and my feet from falling, so that I may walk before God in the light of life.

If you look at the graphic I’ve attached to this blog post you’ll notice there are a number of things going on here. This is an example of the daily emails I get from the Moravian Church which provides readings for the day from the Moravian Daily Texts (a reading plan that guides the user through the entire bible every two years). In case you’re not familiar with the Moravian Church it is a Protestant denomination akin to the Lutheran Church.

There are three different passages cited for each day, one from the psalms (in this case Psalm 56:13), Old Testament (2 Chronicles 9:13-10:19), and the New Testament (Acts 19:32-20:3). The texts for these passages are not provided so the user looks them up in whatever bible is preferred. Then there are two single verses (referred to as doctrinal texts) which do have the text provided – followed by a brief prayer connected to the single verses. Anyway, I generally choose one of the three cited passages to write about, but today (as you can see) it was one of the doctrinal texts that got my attention.

Over these months of coronavirus I’ve encountered many, many people who are deeply weary. And I don’t mean just tired, I mean depleted at their very core. It’s what I’ve been describing as “weariness of the soul”. I’m not excluded from this, I can assure you. Lately I’ve been really leaning into some spiritual disciples which are helping me come out of the darkness – scripture reading, reflection, prayer, fasting, Sabbath, and such. I’ll be honest, I’m not a naturally disciplined person so anything described as a “discipline” does not come easily for me. But, by the grace of God, I’ve been experiencing some breakthrough – a strengthening of my soul little by little.

Relief for a weary soul is something only God can do. And fortunately there are some things we know about which are part of the Christian tradition and can address this need in the deepest part of our being. If you’d like to know more, please message me or email me ernie@rejoicelutheran.org. I’d be delighted to share with you the practices which have restored Christians for over 2,000 years now.

Lord Jesus, give us grace to turn back from the darkness to walk with our God in the light of life. Amen.