October 19, 2016
E Devotion October 19
… give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over… Luke 6:38
A number of years ago I was serving a congregation in the Pacific Northwest. We were doing well but hit a rough patch where the giving lagged behind our spending plan. This was understandable because the local economy had taken a major hit when a large manufacturing firm closed its doors. The leadership of that congregation and I were working to bring spending into line with the adjusted giving when a major disaster occurred in the southern United States. This was a devastating flood that wiped out a considerable number of homes and caused many deaths. The national appeal was great. Then our Lutheran churches got involved nationally and I was asked if we could have a special offering taken to help others in their time of need. I prayed over it and, after discussion with our leaders, we decided to offer our congregation members the opportunity to give.
The results were astonishing. First, the giving to that real need was larger than any of us expected. Second, the giving to our congregation turned around and grew! Instead of taking money away from our church, the appeal actually added to our revenues!
And I thought of this teaching of Jesus.
We live in a world of competing needs. I understand that. But when a very real crisis of devastating proportion occurs, how can we refuse the opportunity to give? Jesus had a world-view of abundance: what we give is multiplied by God. That’s what we discovered in that experience at that church. You can’t out-give God. And the promise in this teaching of Jesus is real.
Of course, we are to exercise good judgment. Of course, we are to manage our resources wisely. But when our hearts are moved to give, the Holy Spirit is up to something and we need to pay attention to the work of the Spirit. Generosity births greater giving as we are blessed. Thanks be to God!
October 12, 2016
E Devotion October 12
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? Psalm 27:1
We awakened in the middle of the night. My wife sat up in bed and I rolled over listening intently. Every light in the house was off but we heard voices! “I think that’s the TV,” she said. And, turning on the light by my bed, I agreed and assured her that we’d turned the sound off before retiring.
There is an unwritten law in our household that men and women are equal – but they have different roles. My role is to get up in the middle of the night when we are disturbed! So, I turned on the hall light and then entered the hallway. Walking into the living room, the sound of the television set was on and, turning on all the lights, no one was there. I walked through the entire house turning on the lights before I entered a room. No one was there. Returning to the bedroom, I told my wife that it must have been a power surge because I had no other explanation for how the television sound simply came on.
When I began reading Psalm 27 that experience came back to me. The light was my friend. The light minimized my fear every time it illuminated a room I needed to enter. The light chased away my fear.
It’s like that in life, the psalmist declares. When we rely on our God, he exposes all the things of which we are afraid. Even death has been illuminated by the light of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Faith replaces fear like walking into a lit room replaced anxiety with confidence. Having walked through the house and into every lighted room I slept well. I was confident in my own home.
Faith is like that. We can trust in our God. Jesus Christ has lighted up our world with the promises of forever. What shall we be afraid of?
October 5, 2016
E Devotion October 5
Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you shall wear… Luke 12:22
I couldn’t help but think of this teaching of Jesus as I took my shirt off Sunday morning between services. I had spilled coffee on my shirt and my tie was old and not hanging well so I called my wife and asked her to bring me a new shirt and tie. The first service was traditional, so I had covered the stained shirt and ill-fitting tie beneath my robe. Now, before going into our Contemporary service, where I did not wear a robe, I was changing and I thought, “This isn’t what Jesus was talking about when he said not to worry about what to wear.” And it isn’t.
I think there are times, like that Sunday morning, when worrying about our apparel is appropriate. Invited to a special event, we need to dress appropriate to that event: perhaps a suit for that wedding or jeans and plaid shirt for that western music concert. Knowing we are dressed in a manner fitting to the occasion allows us to fully engage with the event and those with whom we share that occasion.
But I have witnessed individuals so consumed by their concern over what they had to wear that they didn’t go to the event at all. Nothing in their closets was sufficient to help them feel at ease attending. And I have seen men and women give in to an over-riding concern for their clothing that they have spent too much money, too often – leaving them deeply in debt.
Jesus is inviting us to set boundaries for our anxieties. Knowing what the limits for our worries are is smart and sets us free from undue anxiety. The text above must be set along-side our Lord’s promise: If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. That’s the point. We are not free when worry consumes us. We are not free to engage with others or our circumstances if we are so self-conscious that we can’t think of anything other than what people may be thinking about us.
Worst of all, of course, is that we cannot experience the provision of God when such anxieties overwhelm us. That’s where this teaching of Jesus goes – to the wonderful provision of God for us.
Isn’t it true that more often than not our worries never happen? Isn’t it also true that, more often than not, God provides abundantly for us? Amen
September 28, 2016
E Devotion September 28
Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand… Isaiah 6:9
I was out golfing the other day. The weather was incredible: the morning started out crisp and clear with the temperature at about 55 degrees Fahrenheit; the sun was shining and it was warming up nicely. The company was good with the banter of adult men enjoying the sport. Then I hit an errant ball. After a brief search, I found it, dropped it and swung again – a nice shot! At the next tee box, I hit another errant ball, found it and hit again… another shot off to the right and into the trees!
I searched for that ball and couldn’t find it. I was confused because I had seen where it went – it just wasn’t there! And I couldn’t figure out why I was hitting the ball to the left either! The problem with golf is that confusion leads to wondering and wondering leads to trying harder, and trying harder leads to worse play. Only after I stepped back from my next drive, took a deep breath and, as one of my partners reminded me, told myself it was just a game to be enjoyed, could I strike the ball well.
When things go awry in our lives, when decisions we have made lead to consequences unimagined and we find ourselves struggling just to make sense of it all, it’s good to remember that there are some things we cannot figure out by ourselves. That’s what our God reminds us of through the prophet Isaiah. In fact, there are some realities of life where the harder we try to make sense out of them, the worse they get.
I have watched as individuals have struggled with the “why” questions so hard that it came to dominate everything else in their lives – like trying to figure out why I hit those errant balls came to dominate the game itself. I have witnessed the searching for answers that left families lost in the woods, like my searching for a ball that I was sure I could find only to be left empty handed.
I suspect that the grace in the prophet’s words above is that in all of our flailing about, we have a God who comes to us in love – not with answers. The God who comes is less interested in providing us with solutions as with a relationship that stands the test of time. And have you ever noticed that when we get past the need for answers we enter into life fully again? I have.
September 21, 2016
E Devotion September 21
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus… Hebrews 12:1-2
It’s football season and once again I have watched as the fans in the stadium cheer on the players. And occasionally, a player will wave his arms as a sign for the crowd to make noise in encouragement for the players at a critical moment in the game. In fact, in one stadium, the sounds of the crowd are literally so significant that the fans are called the “12th player” – eleven men play on a side and the crowd is the extra player that can make a huge difference!
When I read these words from the Book of Hebrews, I think of the crowd in a football stadium. The author clearly has a sporting event in mind when he seeks to encourage our faith by speaking of the saints in eternity cheering us on in this spiritual journey we call life. In fact, the previous chapter is a partial listing of those who have gone before us into heaven and whose lives ought to encourage us.
There are two significant reminders to us in this wonderful text. The first is that the life of faith is not always easy. We are to “run with perseverance”. We are meant to persist in our faith in the face of difficulties and resistance. The author assumes what we all know: life can be filled with the weight of challenges and tragedy and sin is ever present. This is the startling realism of this passage.
Close on its heels, however, comes the marvelous assurance that we are not alone. We live in faith surrounded by the encouragement of others, living and dead. We look to Jesus who has already gone before us and endured all of what we face – and so much more! And we know that there will come a time when we will join the crowd in heaven cheering on those of faith who labor in this life. We will be called to be “the 12th player” for those of faith who come after us.
So, let’s begin now. I encourage you to reach out in support to someone who simply needs encouragement in their faith. You have no idea how much it may mean to them.
September 14, 2016
E Devotion September 14
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me. Psalm 23:4
He looked exhausted, which was understandable. He had been up for about 22 hours. He had not left his wife’s side to go home to shower or change clothes. When I entered the Intensive Care room he stood up and hugged me. “Thank you so much for coming. I can’t tell you how much this means to me – and to her,” he said, nodding to his wife laying in the hospital bed.
We walked together to her bedside. I looked at her unresponsive form and recalled her vibrant smile and the easy conversation we had shared just a few days before after worship. That was before the stroke. That was before the dark valley that had engulfed him as he followed the ambulance to the hospital, sat in the waiting area overwhelmed by the emotional numbness that left him alternating between worry and hope; left him counting the minutes until he could be with her again. Having no family near them, once he had seen her in the ICU and realized it wasn’t all a bad dream that was going away, he had called me.
Now, standing by her bedside, I read Psalm 23. Placing my hand on her brow, I prayed while he quietly wept. Then, we walked out of the room and spoke quietly of faith and the presence of Jesus. The dark valley in which he walked was bearable, he said, because he knew her faith and he knew God would not be absent from her or him. He would make it, he said, because he knew the Good Shepherd.
We sat together in that room for a long time in silence, only rarely speaking. But we were not alone. The Good Shepherd had entered. And that made all the difference in the world… to him and to me.
Today, know that you are walking with Jesus Christ. In the bright sunshine of life or in the shadows, The Shepherd is always present.
September 7, 2016
E Devotion September 7
…even the darkness is not dark to you, Lord; the night is as bright as the day. Psalm 139:12
Sitting on the deck in the back of our home, I watched as the shadows of dusk gave way to the darkness of night. Illuminated only by the small porch light, the colors of the houses behind us, the gray-green of the hills slowly became indistinct black forms. I could no longer see the fields or geese that I knew were just yards away. And I thought of these words of the psalmist.
I have come to trust in the vision of God. There are times in our lives when, no matter what time of day or night, we cannot see what lies before us. What may have seemed a clear path forward has become a blurred path at best. We are unsure of the next steps, the next decision to be made or the next event that will overtake us. The psalmist reminds us that when we cannot see clearly, our God can. Trusting in God’s vision, we can continue in hope and confidence.
I think of a shepherd in Israel at the time of the psalmist. In the field at night with his flock of sheep, the darkness obscuring any clear pathway, he must still lead his flock. And if one becomes lost or stranded among the rocks or gullies, the shepherd must seek it out. Otherwise the sheep is left to the wolves. So the shepherd, saying a prayer, relies on the leading of God – the Lord of night and day for whom there is no darkness.
We too are called to trust in the God of all times when darkness and confusion blur our sight. Our ever-seeing God has given us the Savior Jesus Christ so that we can trust that we will not be abandoned or led astray. We can trust in God’s eternal vision when our temporal sight proves inadequate. The God who sees us, loves us. This love then meets us no matter how great the darkness seems… and we can place our confidence in him and his promise. Amen
August 31, 2016
E Devotion August 31
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope. Psalm 130:5
Recently I was heading to my office at my usual time when I, am, along with many other drivers, was forced to stop and wait for the longest train in the history of Des Moines – or so it seemed! At first, I admit, I stewed and fussed about the lack of wisdom of the train schedulers who would allow such a long train to pass through a busy intersection at a time when so many were commuting to work. I wondered at the city officials who must have signed off on this crossing and assumed that they must live just walking distance from their offices! Waiting is not easy in circumstances like that.
Then, for some reason, I remembered how, as a boy, I would stop in wonder at trains just like this one. I remembered how I would patiently wait for the last car so that I could be certain I had counted each and every one of them. As a boy growing up in Eastern Washington State, trains were a marvel – not a nuisance.
As my memory worked its way into my heart, I found myself calming down. And then the wonder of it came to me: the marvel of an engine pulling all those railroad cars – tankers, grain cars, box cars and flat beds. And I started counting for the sheer enjoyment of it – all because of a childhood memory.
The psalmist reminds us that we wait in hope. The hope we have is not found in our circumstances but in the word of God. The Word of God speaks and we are reminded of all the promises of God that we have already experienced. The Word of God ignites our memories of faith. These memories draw us in gratitude to God, in the marvel of God’s love in our past. And our waiting changes from anxiety and impatience to the waiting of the soul: a quiet, inner confidence.
Today, I will choose to remember a previous waiting time that ended in faith’s hope realized – the answer from heaven. How about you?
August 24, 2016
I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith… Philippians 1:25
“I don’t know how I’ll get it all in,” my father said with a smile. “I have three ball games and one soccer match today – and I have to water the flowers too!” The games were activities in which one or more of his grandchildren were involved in – and he couldn’t go to one without attending the others. Retired and widowed, my father filled his life with loving his family. And that meant that each grandchild expected “grandpa” to show up and cheer them on.
I had come with concern that my father’s recent retirement had left him without a focus in life, without a purpose that would motivate him to get out of the house he’d lived in for over forty years. I was wrong to worry. Dad was investing his life in the progress and joy of his family. This purpose not only enriched his life but, I am convinced, gave him more years of life.
St. Paul, struggling with his imprisonment, shares with us that his desire to be with the Lord is counter balanced by his desire to continue to invest the Gospel in the progress and joy of the faith of the Philippian Christians. For that reason, Paul believes he will eventually be set free and visit his friends there. And, in fact, that is what happened. Purpose called St. Paul to hope and extended life.
The power of purpose, of having something important to do, cannot be over rated. Our Heavenly Father has created each person with the deep desire to be about something, to contribute to something. Whatever our age or circumstance, this compulsion calls us into life and relationship.
What’s your purpose today? Who will you invest your time and attention in today? Whose progress and joy is your heaven sent opportunity? The treasure of this day can only be claimed if we, like St. Paul, bless others with the love we have received from God in Jesus Christ.
Lord Jesus Christ, let me be the touch of heaven for someone today. Amen
August 17, 2016
E Devotion August 17
Now during those days Jesus went out to the mountain to pray; he spent the night in prayer to God. Luke 6:12
I stood at the elevator at the care center and saw a sea of seniors: white hair and black wheelchairs. I don’t know why they had gathered together. I heard music but didn’t know if that was the cause of their gathering or not. What I wasn’t expecting was my own inner response to this scene.
I suddenly thought of all the lives before me. I thought of the experiences they might have had, and as those thoughts passed through my mind, I thought that these were people that God loved; people that God was calling forward, at each individual pace, towards heaven. And that’s when I prayed for them. I don’t know how long I watched and prayed. Time seemed to stand still as I placed them each into God’s care, trusting that Jesus was already there: knowing each one and loving each one.
Luke records that Jesus, on the way to Jerusalem and the cross, prayed all night. I wonder what he prayed for? I suspect he prayed for strength to see his mission through. If he did, I wonder if our Heavenly Father lifted Jesus into the realm of eternity to show him the gathering saints throughout time- me and you – that would be saved by his sacrifice. I wonder if the Savior looked at us and saw the stories of our lives, the hopes and dreams that were fulfilled as well as those left in the dust of our pasts. If God lifted the Savior above time and space and he saw those whose lives would be blessed, healed and saved – I am confident that he saw us and loved us. And in that moment, surely his will was strengthened and his mission made clear.
Love has a way of clarifying our decisions. Before real love, fantasy and false options fade away and we are left with the decision to act on our love or cast it aside. Jesus, during that long night with our Father, chose to act on his love. He surely was compelled to continue the journey – through a cross and out the other side by way of an empty tomb.
Whatever your circumstance, know that God loves you. And may your prayers connect you to this undeniable and uncompromising love in Jesus.