November 30, 2016
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered… Luke 2:1
“Is it really ok to pray like this? I mean, isn’t it selfish to ask God for what we want?” He was uncomfortable going to God with his deep desire.
“I think it’s what we are told to do. After all, Jesus teaches us to go to God in prayer persistently. And aren’t we being a bit phony when we don’t ask God for what we really want? Then, we trust the good will of God to shape how God answers our prayers.” I replied. Then, we prayed together.
I know of no other religion that so stresses the presence of God in our real lives. The coming of the Savior was into our world of time and place: it was an historic event. Few scholars dispute Luke’s testimony of birth of Jesus of Nazareth as part of the emperor’s decree – they only dispute which one. Then they usually date the event at about 4 B. C. The scriptures speak universally of our God as being beyond history (above time and space) but working his will within history.
This means that, in Jesus Christ, we see God’s desire to work in and through real people: not alabaster saints but real people with real hopes and desires. Since this is the case, the invitation of our faith is to be real with our real Savior Jesus Christ. We don’t have to hide our humanity from God. Instead, the Bible suggests that God’s patient love is for all of us because of our short comings, not in spite of them. The exercise of faith is not hiding our selfish desires – though not all are – but to trust God to answer our real prayers in a manner in keeping with the Savior’s real work as the Holy Spirit touches, heals and leads us.
This holy season, as we approach the birth of Christ, let us also approach God with what is real – what we most deeply desire. Then, let’s dare to leave it in the Lord’s hands knowing that our God only wants what is best for us and through us for others.
I thank God that we can be real with him. Amen
November 23, 2016
E Devotion November 23
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
Their community had been suffering through a draught. Croplands were parched and cattle had to be sold off. Yet, the heat was unrelenting. Finally, the pastor of a local congregation had had enough. He called for a special prayer meeting to pray for rain. At the designated time and day, the congregation began to assemble. As the pastor strode to the pulpit to lead the prayer service he looked down and was stopped in his tracks. There in the front row was a little girl who had brought a sign of great faith: she had carried her umbrella to church that night.
I don’t know if that story is true of not. What I do know is that for the writer of Hebrews, that would fit his definition of faith. Faith is being confident in what we pray for. Faith is clinging to the promise of God no matter what our circumstances. Faith is a radical trust in God’s power to make things right and bring blessings out of our most difficult experiences. Faith brings an umbrella to a prayer meeting called for rain in the midst of a severe drought!
There have been a few times in my life when faith was that certain. More often than not I experience an undefined anxiety that my prayers will not actually be effective, that my following what I believe is the leading of the Holy Spirit will end up being just another impulsive act. But there have been those moments when I was called into a venture unplanned but I knew, deeply and with certainty, that the Savior had both called me and equipped me for it. I knew that I would meet him in it. Faith was like high beams in the dark of night – I couldn’t see everything clearly but I could certainly see enough to keep going. Once you’ve had that experience, you know what Hebrews is talking about. And it makes it so much easier to trust the leading of God in the future.
When was the last time you experienced such heaven-sent faith? This week, will you take time to remember and give thanks to God for it? If you do, your next venture into the unknown of your future will be lit by the high-beam of the Holy Spirit. Amen
November 16, 2016
E Devotion November 16
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 1 John 4:7
When we hear the word love, we tend to think of the emotion we have for our children, spouse, parents, family or close friends, and yes the love that each of us have for our Heavenly Father. To love the people that are close to us and that we interact with almost daily is easy we don’t even think about how to love them it’s part of how God made us.
In Matthew 22:39 we are told to love our neighbor as ourselves. God wants us to love people we don’t know? Personally, I have struggled with this. It wasn’t that I don’t like people because I don’t know anything about them. How was I supposed to love someone I may never see again and may not have even muttered the word “hello” to?
I spent so much time trying to figure out how to let people I didn’t know and who didn’t know me, that I loved them. I could not come up with the answer. I was reading a devotion one day about Kindness, and I thought maybe that was it. I didn’t need to make everyone feel loved but I needed to show love. I understood. I needed to show love for all of God’s people.
What if we all made the decision to show love to others. It can be as simple as smiling and saying hello to a stranger, opening the door for someone who is carrying things into a building and telling the cashier at the store to have a good day. I needed to make the choice and take action. By showing people through, what we may call small acts of kindness, we are showing love to everyone and anyone we encounter.
Minister to Children and Families
November 9, 2016
If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. Mark 3:25
Division seems to be the word of our time. We have witnessed the upheaval of division between neighborhoods of color and police forces tasked to protect them. We have observed the growing rhetoric of division in a heated political climate egged on by extreme rhetoric. We have seen churches divided over practices and the application of Scriptures. And we continue to witness the tragedy of families divided by the desire of one member of the family over others.
The way of Jesus is very different. He calls us to come together. Unity is the spiritual way of forgiveness and mutual respect. Having been ridiculed by religious leaders of his time, Jesus reminds them, and us, that division ultimately destroys those divided one against another. Families fall apart when grievances lead to the silence of unforgiven wounds. Religious rectitude creates church conflict and no one wins – the Kingdom of God is lost as those outside the church watch bewildered. Democracy cannot stand when those holding passionate views no longer listen to one another and see the greater good. And when the protected and the protector are over against one another, the fragile necessity of justice is the only victim.
Blessed are the peace makers Jesus says. There are times when for the sake of the “house” we must come together. For the sake of the strength of our witness we set aside our disagreements, as real as they are, and come together. For the sake of the family, we forgive one another. This is the way of Jesus – and we are in a time when his way is the only clear path through the divisions that separate us. Let the church be that place where we come together beneath the blessing of the Prince of Peace.
November 2, 2016
E Devotion November 2
I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more. Jeremiah 31:34
Recent brain research has confirmed what so many of us experience. The human brain is wired in such a way that we remember the bad things we have done or have been done to us much more readily than the good things. The reality is that most of us will remember sin much more quickly than kindness or even forgiveness. We will remember disappointments and errors much more easily than our successes and achievements. The positive aspects of our lives dim in our memory over time while the negative seem to grow brighter.
Isn’t it wonderful that God thinks differently than we do?! God declares in a wonderful promise, that he will not even remember our sin. God will remember his forgiving instead of our sinning.
No wonder God sees us so differently than we often see ourselves. In Jesus Christ, God chooses to see us as beloved children, brothers and sisters of the Son of God. More than that, the Savior calls us his friends. And have you ever noticed how good friends tolerate much more from one another than otherwise? Have you noticed how healthy families can hold one another accountable for crazy behavior and still love one another? I think back on my relationships with my three brothers. We were an outspoken group of guys. We were not afraid of “telling like it is” to one another. But the love we shared was deeper than any misstep or conflict – and we knew it. We loved one another too much to let each other get away with anything.
I think it’s like that with Jesus Christ. God’s love holds us accountable and offers us forgiveness – without even remembering the grievance or sin! Now that’s grace. Thanks be to God for such love as this. Amen
October 26, 2016
E Devotion October 26
Let your light shine before others… Matthew 5:16
My friend Suman is from Bangladesh. He became a citizen of the United States in 2013. He loves his native land, where his family still resides, but he is thoroughly American.
Recently we were discussing the contentious presidential race. After a particularly rancorous debate between the contesting nominees, I made the comment that I was concerned about the divisions this election cycle seems to be perpetuating and their possible consequences for our democracy. With the confidence of a new citizen, Suman reminded me that our system was strong and had integrity and, no matter what the outcome, would self-correct over time. Having come from a country where corruption is a way of life, his light into our democratic system exposed the solid foundation upon which it is built. I was blessed by his optimism and struck by his historical realism.
That quiet conversation reminded me that each of us has opportunities to shed light into the world around us. That’s what Jesus was talking about in the above portion of the Sermon on the Mount. Good works are not always explicitly religious. Sometimes it is the unheralded act of kindness or simple word of hope that we of faith can not only speak but hear as well. The light of good works before the world is not only done by the followers of Christ but, like Jesus receiving the anointing of oil on his feet, to be graciously received. The spirit of openness that characterizes our hope in the Savior can be a refreshing alternative to always having to do something, always having to be in the right. As people of faith, we acknowledge God’s grace in our imperfections and, therefore, can receive the wisdom and gifts of others with gratitude.
Frankly, I was thankful for my friend, Suman’s response in our conversation. I hope that my faith will gently enter into how I respond to others as well. I pray my light will not only shine into the lives of others through the good I do but also in my eagerness to learn from them. This I believe reflects the spirit of Christ.
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.