E Devotion 08.16.17

August 16, 2017

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right… Galatians 6:9

A number of years ago I attended a conference where one workshop was titled “Leading the Church.” The speaker was a successful businessman and a dedicated Christian. He began his talk with these words: “Leadership is hard work.” And he had my attention immediately with those simple words.

In the same way, Paul wants to remind us that doing the right thing is hard work. In fact, it is hardest when it is needed the most – and Paul wanted to remind the Christians in Galatia of that fact. The truth of the matter was that they had grown weary of doing good and had lapsed back into lethargy in serving their community and sharing the truth of the Gospel.

I understand that. It takes energy to follow through on the difficult tasks of doing what is right. On the other hand, Paul knew that it takes more energy on the other side of not doing what is right. On the other side of not doing what is right comes guilt, explanations and excuses. I suspect we’ve all been there.

I have come to believe that if we take God’s grace seriously, this is not about being perfect. Instead, it’s about learning from those times when we, for whatever reasons, did not do the right thing. Learning from our mistakes, however, means taking responsibility for them. When we “own our stuff” we can learn from it. That takes the courage of self-reflection and changing our decision making. St. Paul, the letter to the Galatians is asking them to do that very thing.

The outcomes of this spiritual courage are that, receiving God’s forgiveness, I can more easily forgive myself. And I’ve noticed that those who can forgive themselves are more likely to forgive others. When I can accept that our Lord does not expect me to be perfect, I can more easily overlook the imperfections in others – especially when they offend or harm me. So, grace is multiplied and my energy to do what is right, as Paul says, increases!

This is amazing grace indeed. Amen

E Devotion 08.09.17

August 9, 2017

Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you. Luke 9:50

As usual, Jesus upends the way we usually see things. The disciples have found a man who is not among the followers of Jesus who is healing people in the name of Jesus – and they told him to stop. Assuming the Lord would affirm their actions, they reported the event to Jesus. Instead of affirming them, he criticizes them and declares that anyone who is doing good is to be commended – whether they recognize or agree with them or not. In other words, wherever good is being done by anyone, rejoice because God is at work.

So often we judge others’ actions based, not upon whether they are doing good or not, but on whether we agree with them or not; we decide, like the disciples, not on the merits of the deeds but on the opinions of those who do them. Without recognizing it, we are unconsciously setting ourselves over-against them… which is exactly what the disciples did.

In my own life, I have had to rethink my attitudes towards others because of this teaching of the Savior. It was easy to dismiss those who were more liberal than I theologically because they were not, in my opinion, established in the Bible – until I saw the good their efforts worked in the lives of others. I was eager to judge the more conservative “Bible bangers” as simplistic in their thinking until I realized that, sometimes, they were right. In embarrassment, I retreated to the position of looking for the good – especially when I disagreed with the position of others… I have tried to take this teaching of Jesus seriously.

The outcome has been that I see more good in the world. Perhaps that was our Lord’s purpose. We do tend to see what we are looking for and overlook the rest.

I invite you to join me in looking for and celebrating the good others do – especially those with whom we disagree.

E Devotion 08.02.17

August 2, 2017

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets…  Matthew 7:12

I get the joy and the privilege of working with middle school students all the way up through 30 something year olds. This keeps my job interesting, and gives me many different people to share life with. I love meeting new people and continuing to form relationships with those I know. My favorite way of doing so is by talking with them, and there is one common thread.

That common thread is one of tiredness, worry, judgement, and doubt. These can be common human emotions but are ones that are so prevalent today. Social media and mass media surround and consume us. These reports and stories are skewed when we read them and not looking at others in a good light, as right as it seems sometimes to look at some or all with a skeptical or negative light it is not healthy for us or the Body of Christ.

We see how teenagers struggle with bullying and say, “well I went through it and I was fine…” or “it will end.” Does it really end? From conversations and observation, I would say this negativity or bearing false witness against others doesn’t end. This can be for personal gain, making up for ones’ insecurities, or many other reasons.

In the 8th commandment we are called to look at our neighbor in the best possible light. “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray them, slander them, or hurt their reputation, but defend them, speak well of them, and explain everything in the kindest way.” This is super tough, even for an optimist who tries to see the best in all, when the world pulls us down to the condemning level, it is easy to get stuck in that place.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I urge you, I challenge you to be intentional in looking at all with the best possible light or intention of their actions. I know this is difficult, but it is not our place to judge, and we don’t know their story.

Think of a time when someone gave you the benefit of the doubt and looked at you in the best light. How did that make you feel? Our neighborhood, communities, country, and world would be a much better place if we looked at all in a positive manor and shared God’s love and grace with all, even those we don’t like or agree with.

Grace + Peace,

Tim Jacobsen
Minister to Youth and Young Adults

E Devotion 07.26.17

July 26, 2017

Jesus called a child, whom he put among the disciples, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-3

After worship last Sunday, I was greeting some visitors when a child came and, waiting patiently, stood near me. The visitors smiled and he said, “I think she wants to talk to you.” Turning to that child, she stepped forward and, very seriously, handed me a prayer card she had filled out. The person being prayed for line simply read: “Everyone.” Then there were some illegible pencil marks that filled in the space to identify the prayer request. Below, scrawled in the child’s own hand was her name: Harriet.

I’m not sure what she wanted me to pray for… but I am certain of the confidence she had that I would, indeed, pray. And I do. I thank God for such childlike faith.  I am touched by the heartfelt purpose that brought her to me and, even more impressive knowing the energy this girl has, enabled her to patiently wait to be noticed and give me her prayer card. She demonstrated the simple trust of a child – which is the point of our Lord’s teaching above.

A childlike faith is a trust in God that is complete. That little girl demonstrated that –  and then she ran around the pews and dashed to be with her mother and father.

The church is alive in one more generation! This is our confidence in the promise of Jesus that “even the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church.” And I had a glimpse of that promise being kept.

What wonderful possibilities! More than that, what a gracious and just God we have! Only the soul’s imagination can begin to fathom the God of scriptures who loves and acts from beyond time and space for our sakes; for the world’s sake. Worship is the only possible response to this. Amen

E Devotion 07.19.17

July 19, 2017

For this reason, the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead… 1 Peter 4:6

The sunset was spectacular: the gold hues mixed with deepening blues as the clouds began to blur in the mounting twilight. The sun seemed to move very slowly as it peeked from behind the hill to the west – as if not willing to let the day end. In my own limited way, I wanted to hold onto that beauty as long as possible as if I could reach out and delay the orb’s descent into darkness.

I am well acquainted with the physics of our planet. But there are times when physics gives way to wonder, and wonder to imagination, and imagination leads to reflection on time, space and the grace of God.

Can God move beyond the limits of time and space? If so, to what end? In 1st Peter we catch a glimpse of the timeless purpose of God – and it is good. The gospel, the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ, was proclaimed to those who had died. The obvious message is that these weren’t in heaven, as we would call it. These were those who died without hope, Peter tells us in chapter 3. That means that our God “skates across time and space like a hockey player on ice.” Eternity is a dimension, a realm of reality that exists apart from this box we experience as our four-dimensional world. The grace of God opens to our imagination the incredible: that time is suspended in eternity and can move backwards as well as forwards. Or, that God can recreate the dead and make them come alive again in order to hear the Good News of Jesus.

What wonderful possibilities! More than that, what a gracious and just God we have! Only the soul’s imagination can begin to fathom the God of scriptures who loves and acts from beyond time and space for our sakes; for the world’s sake. Worship is the only possible response to this. Amen

E devotion 07.12.2017

July 13, 2017

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want… Psalm 23:1

When I entered her room, she was propped up in bed and breathing hard. I greeted her and she welcomed me with a wan smile and asked if I could help her. I gently replied that I would try. Then I took out my Bible to read a passage only to find that there wasn’t enough light to read by. So, setting my travel Bible aside, I recited the 23rd Psalm by heart. As I began, she closed her eyes and, at least for a moment, seemed to be at peace. Then we prayed and I commended her into the car of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. As I drove away, I kept praying that our Savior would come and lead her into heaven so that her struggle would end and she would be at peace.

Dying is not always sudden or easy. For my friend, it hasn’t been. Her soul is longing for the green pastures and still waters of the psalmist – the healing touch of heaven. And those of us who stand with her, pray for her and look to the Good Shepherd. As he son told me, “I’m praying God takes her. But it’s not up to us, is it?” No, it’s not.

So, once again it comes down to trusting God with this wonderful woman. Faith is the bridge from here to eternity. Faith is the strong cord that binds us to hope which clings to the love of God – especially when that love seems absent. And, finally, faith is the courage to see it through with compassion and care.

Once again, I am reminded of the shepherd who leads his flock even where there isn’t an apparent path. And I trust that the Good Shepherd has her in his heart and mind. Amen

E Devotion 07.05.17

July 5, 2017

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume…  Matthew 6:19

For my wife’s 40th birthday I gave her a canoe. She has always loved canoeing and it was a wonderful surprise. Over the years we have moved and finally left that canoe at a relative’s for “safe keeping.” This past week I retrieved that canoe. Though my friend had safely stored the canoe, the time sitting outside left its mark on that vessel. I now have some work to do to make it sea-worthy: repair on the hull and replacing a couple of seats ought to do it.

Looking at that weather-worn canoe, reminded me of the wisdom of our Savior. Jesus understands that even our precious things wear out over time. Whether it is a canoe, a fine suit or dress or jewelry, over time, it will tarnish get moth eaten or just go out of style. Over time, what was valuable will, in essence, have that value compromised.

Unless it has eternal value, of course. That which has the value of heaven will not fade or rust or lose its value. Storing our treasures in heaven means investing in God’s will and work.

The problem is that God’s work is often intangible and far sighted. The treasures of this world can be touched and seen. Investing in the life of the Church or in the lives of others can bring an immediate reward but it really isn’t ours. Such work doesn’t belong to us and the value is often lost in the inner lives of those we serve. But Jesus tells us that these investments cannot be tarnished or stolen. These are investments in God’s eternal goodness. Though they cannot be ours to show, they will echo in the hearts and minds of others and be recognized by God.

Jesus knew how difficult this teaching would be for us.  He understood that we tend to look for the short-term gain and value the immediate. But he also understood that the long-term payoff of investing in the eternal would prove so much better over time than the short-term, immediate acquisition. What are these long-term payoffs? They are relationships that work; personal integrity; self-respect and the good regard of others. In short, the promise is for a life well-lived… and eternity is added to that as well.

When I think about it that way I’m reminded that I can’t out-give God.

Amen

E Devotion 06.28.17

June 28, 2017

Sing to the Lord with Thanksgiving… Psalm 147:7

There are times in worship that I just stop and listen. This is a habit I developed a number of years ago when my family was experiencing significant challenges. I found that the following Sunday, as we worshiped, I couldn’t speak during the Lord’s Prayer – I was too emotional. As I stood there, overcome by my feelings, a wonderful thing happened: I heard the sound of so many voices in prayer that, for just a moment, it was like all of the faithful throughout the ages had gathered around me to encourage me and strengthen my faith in Jesus Christ. Since that time, I have intentionally stopped praying aloud or singing so that I could hear the voices of others in worship.

Last Sunday, it happened again. I stopped singing one of my favorite faith songs and just listened as the voices of God’s people filled the worship space with the sounds of thanksgiving. It was a timeless moment: the clock stood still (or at least seemed to) and I could hear the voices of those who chanted from long ago combined with the simple, unaccompanied hymns of people of faith from yesterday. Then the music and voices were those of our worshipers.

The God we worship is beyond time and space in that dimension of reality we call eternity. For our God, yesterday and today and tomorrow are stepping stones to meet us. The risen Christ uses them to meet us in a manner we can understand and experience. But every now and again, we are lifted up into his sphere of reality. Time and space fade into the distance and forever touches our souls. When that happens for me, I am blessed to worship. In those moments, my heart sings with thanksgiving to the God who has come in grace through Jesus Christ.

I hope worship interrupts your life as well.

E Devotion 06.21.17

June 21, 2017

Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday. Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.  Do not fret — it leads only to evil. For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land. …Psalm 37:5-9

Each day it becomes more and more common for me to hear someone say: “I’m afraid to fly, travel by the train, or even go to the mall.  You don’t know if someone will set off a bomb or a terrorist will begin shooting.”   And, as you watch the news, somewhere in England, France, Holland, or Boston a terrorist has once again killed and injured dozens or hundreds of people.  People are living in fear, unable to enjoy the blessings of the present.  It is into such a moment that the words of the prophet Isaiah reverberate with hope and assurance.  Isaiah writes: “The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Is. 40:7-8).  Our Lord would have us live freely, not in fear but with hope and assurance.

Certainly, people have differing opinions and desires, but such never becomes the rationale for violence.  Conversation, debate, dialogue, seeking to understand, and listen should always be first and foremost in our thought.  Too many today seemingly believe that violent action should be our response.  It is horrifying to turn on the TV and see a 66-year-old man shoot and hurt a number of U.S. Senators while practicing for a baseball game.  How have we come to such a time, when we would believe that our freedom leads us to believe that violence is the best or only response?  God would have us live freely, but not use our freedom as a pretext for evil.  Freedom allows for many choices, but certainly has boundaries.

Fear can be both healthy and paralyzing.   We teach our children not to play with fire and to be very careful with sharp instruments, but we can be so afraid of fire that we would never know the joy of roasting marshmallows over a bon fire or sitting around a camp fire singing spirituals with our friends.  One cannot live in fear, for such handicaps the wonder of joyful experiences.  If we constantly live in fear, we’ll never experience the wonder of traveling to Yellowstone Park, wading in the Gulf of Mexico, or standing in a crowd watching a parade go by.  God would have us enjoy our days, knowing that we are the Lord’s children and God’s word has promised grace and assurance.  As the Psalmist says: “the grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.”

This past week I had the privilege to bury a gentleman of foreign birth and a different culture.  It was an awesome celebration of life.  I watched the family write their names and some even took time to write a message to the deceased on the pillow of his casket.   They shared some wonderful stories of their daily journey together and shed many a tear in love.  Even though we came from different cultures, we could share the love of a Lord who loved us so much that he could give us his son, that we might share life’s joy in the midst of grief.  It was a tremendously wonderful moment.  And after the funeral service, one of the family gave a rosary to each of the children.  The children opened the box, took the rosary out and put it around their neck.  God touched their lives with hope and assurance in the midst of their grief.

I would pray that we will not let the violence or differences that exist in our world lead us to build barriers but rather encourage us to understand, learn, and appreciate one another – for all are children of Almighty God.  May we not seek violence but rather take time to respect and listen to each other.  As Jesus always listened to those around him, may we be willing to listen to those around us.

Let us enjoy the days we have and live confidently that God is with us – not in fear, but with hope and assurance!  For the Lord truly endures forever.

Blessings to all of you!

Pastor Dick

E Devotion 06.14.17

June 14, 2017

By his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24

My friend, Mike, donated his body to a university. There, medical students will learn what happened and, hopefully, why. Mike was struck by an autoimmune disease that, over time, left his system powerless to fight off infection: what started as a simple cold, for example, almost always became life-threatening pneumonia. Any simple infection could become life threatening. How does this happen? What are the ramifications and possibilities for treating others who suffer from similar diseases? In a very real way, Mike’s “wounds” could become healing for someone else.

I thought of Mike as I read this wonderful passage from 1st Peter. Peter, of course, was speaking of Jesus’ crucifixion and our healing through his resurrection. The healing we have received in Jesus Christ is eternal and once for all – as the writer of Hebrews tells us. But it serves as a model for how suffering can have purpose in this life.

I do find it striking that often someone’s wounds become the source of healing for others. Years ago, I learned that often those who go into counselling or psychiatry do so in order to care for their own wounds… and in doing so, their wounds become sources of compassion and healing for countless others. Ordinary people often find, in their own pain, the care for others in similar circumstances becomes possible. Struggling with her own grieving, a woman becomes a grief counsellor; having been a victim of PTSD, a vet turns it around and becomes a support person for others with the same pain. The best AA sponsors are those whose own battle with alcoholism was substantial.

Peter reminds us that our wounds have been blessed by the wounds of Christ and our death has been healed through his eternal life. What Christ has done for us we are privileged to do for others to a lesser degree… and the world tilts just a bit more towards healing and hope