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Daily Devotionals and Weekly Virtual Church Services

Special Immanuel Lutheran Church Page During the Coronavirus Outbreak

For the safety of all in our ILC community and beyond, we have decided to forego gathering on Sunday mornings and on Wednesday evenings until further notice. In the meantime, we will provide Daily Devotionals and Weekly Virtual Church Services through this webpage. We encourage the congregation to use the posted devotionals to "virtually join together" in prayer, daily, at 9:00am.


Maundy Thursday, April 9 Virtual Church Service ("Maundy Thursday Meditations")


Maundy Thursday, April 9 Devotional

Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, And to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
John 13:5

Behold the Servant of God! On this Maundy Thursday of Holy Week we see Jesus with His disciples in the Upper Room on what will be the last night before His death. He will share with His followers some of His last words, and they are words that will be cherished down through the centuries. But first, before anything else, Jesus acts, and He does so wordlessly. Those present in the room with Him watch - amazed, bewildered and changed. For the actions of Jesus involve them. In the presence of the Holy One, they cannot but catch the "good infection" He comes to bring. For it is He, their Lord, who is now bowing down before them. It is He, their Lord, who is now stooping to serve. It is He, their Lord, who is moving toward them, to wash their feet. He will act in humility, and He will show them the full extent of His love. There will be a time for words. There will be a time for His followers to act. But now it is time for His followers to receive. It is not their idea. They make no request. They never could have imagined this. It is Jesus who takes the initiative and, in turn, performs this act of loving service for them all. No one is left out. No one is exempt. He comes to serve. He comes to love. He comes to wash. And He's headed your way. You will be next.

Prayer
God of Wonder, tonight we join the disciples of Jesus, and we experience with them the events taking place in the Upper Room. And we share with them the same response: we are amazed, bewildered and changed. Help us to be willing recipients of all that You have come to accomplish in us. Wordlessly washed by You, may we be completely cleansed. And as we behold Your example of servant leadership, may we learn from You all that is good and true and beautiful. Be glorified in me today, as I willingly receive Your will and Your ways in my life.
Amen


Wednesday, April 8 Devotional

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, And saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18

The news was not just sad and surprising; it was shocking and surreal. For death had not come politely knocking. Not this time. This time it had brashly broken down the front door, done its destructive deed and left damaged lives dispassionately in its wake. It was unnatural. Unmerciful. Inexplicable. And it left a gaping hole in the lives that remained. An emptiness that was palpable. Sometimes words are not enough. Even when they're heartfelt and sincere, they feel inadequate and empty. Indeed, sometimes words need to become flesh; sometimes sentiments need to be become presence. And so God did, and so God does. Jesus wept, and Jesus weeps. With us, through others. With them, through you. When the bad gives way to the worst, the virtual and the philosophical simply won't suffice. The brokenhearted cry out for something real, something true. The very presence of God is needed. Those bereft of everything that matters need the assurance that what they are experiencing is not the Final Word. They need to know that there's a Sunday beyond the Friday, an empty tomb beyond the lifeless cross, a risen Savior beyond the crucified Christ. Ours is Good News that matters. Ours is Good News that's needed. Ours is Good News that must be spoken and shared, in and through you and me today. Lives depend upon it. Especially now.

Prayer
Eternal and Ever-present God: You chose to take upon Yourself our human flesh and to become incarnate in Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. You know firsthand the feelings of Your people. Both our fears and our sorrows. We long for Your closeness. We long for Your salvation. Here and now. Always and ever. Grant us faith and courage, that we might be conduits of Your incarnational presence for those who have nowhere else to turn. Grant us both the comfort of Your certain presence and the fullness of Your grace. Resurrect our spirits. Enliven our souls. Almighty God, we plead before You now: Lord, have mercy.
Amen


Tueday, April 7 Devotional

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.
Proverbs 3:5

I'm not sure which of the two halves of the verse above is more difficult to live by. This word of wisdom, spoken from parent to child, instructs the initiate where to direct his attention and in whom his thoughts and passions will find their satisfaction and peace. Trust in the LORD. I might do so on the advice of those who have gone before me, as I listen to their testimonies and observe the fruit that has been borne in them and through their lives. I might trust their guidance, as those who've experienced more than I have in my own journey. There are those who, upon hearing someone say the water is fine, are quick to jump. But others, like me, are more wary. They feel compelled to personally test the waters before they go all in. In order to trust in God with all your heart, it's likely that you'll first have to come to know the character of God and have some track record of God's faithfulness in your life. You'll have to have some history. It's been suggested during these unprecedented days that one keep a prayer journal. To make note of your heart's cries. To keep a record of how your life unfolds. Later, you'll be able to look back to see the tracks that have been made, the trail that has been traversed. And you'll find that God has been faithful. You'll find that God has been trustworthy. And in the LORD, your heart will have found its home. As for your own insight: it can be no better than second-best. A reflection of the Source is as good as it gets, and more often what you see is like looking into a foggy mirror. Open wide your eyes this day to the One who gently guides you. Trust in the path He takes. And tonight, when you close your eyes, your heart will be at peace.

Prayer
Thank You, loving Lord, for Your steadfast patience with me. I know that I am too quick to trust my own judgment and too slow to trust in You. Turn me around. Work repentance in my anxious and fickle heart. I long for my soul to truly be at rest. Help me to learn better in these moments that You are faithful, trustworthy and true. As I move forward into the dawning of this new day, may I do so with confidence, fully aware of Your good and gracious guiding presence.
Amen


Monday, April 6 Devotional

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:21

It's only natural, I suppose: after being hit, you hit back. Perhaps you do so to be "fair" or in the name of justice. Perhaps you do so reactively, with no thought given at all. It's just the way you are. The way you've allowed yourself to be trained to respond to such situations. Maybe you hit back harder (it was the other person who initiated, after all - and he deserves it). Foul is then called against you. Against you! Oh, the gall! You can hardly believe it! It wasn't you that started this thing! It was them! (Or him. Or he. Or her. Or she. Don't call me on my grammar here. Or on my punctuation. Or on my incomplete sentences. I'm not in the mood. And I myself can be quick to don the hat of the Grammar Police and get you back! But now I have revealed too much...) And so it goes. But the apostle bids you (and me) to take a higher road. It may be steeper and narrower and not without risk. Nevertheless, he calls us to it: Don't hit back. Don't play the evil game. The way to win the victory, the way to overcome, is by following the ways of Jesus. Quash evil with kindness. There's less fuel added to the fire when there's no resistance provided against the push. It will be argued that the bully doesn't care. That he'll simply claim victory as he toots his own horn and tramples you under foot. And then goes on to search for his next vulnerable victim. Still, it is the kindness of God - not His heavy hand - that leads us to repentance. And it will be so in overcoming evil. Remember: the victory has already been won. And the Victor has declared the way forward: we are to follow the steps He Himself has already taken. Humble steps of loving service. Humble steps we see magnified during this Holy Week. And it is by taking those humble steps that, we, too, shall overcome.

Prayer
Loving God, when You came to Earth in Jesus, Your Son, You endured the ill-treatment of many. You never returned evil for evil. You were the model of righteous behavior. Help me to learn Your ways and to follow Your steps. Grant me Your vision, so I can see through Your eyes and have Your perspective. And assure me that when I am the recipient of bad behavior and I do not respond in kind (or with faux martyr pride), I'm following the path You have laid out for me, and I win the victory in You. Help me to trust You for the final outcome, and to entrust my future into Your good and gracious hands. May You be gloried in me and through me this day for the honor of Your holy name.
Amen


Palm Sunday, April 5 Virtual Church Service ("Who Is This?")


Palm Sunday, April 5 Devotional

Remember those in prison, as if you were their fellow prisoners...
Hebrews 13:3

There's no avoiding it. It's the subject of every news channel, and it finds its way into almost every conversation. COVID-19 is sweeping our Planet, and the United States is now leading the world in cases. Still, fewer than 1/10 of 1% in our nation are presently afflicted. And although you may know someone who's plagued with the disease, the chances are slight that you yourself have it. But for the many who do: each one of them has a family and friends who are anxious and concerned. After nearly a month of sheltering in place, you might well feel that you're being held captive in your own home. But, of course, it doesn't compare with the imprisonment of those who are attached to ventilators upon which they depend for life itself. There, but for the grace of God, go I. And you. Those "in prison," referred to in the verse above from the letter to the Hebrews, were held captive and persecuted because of their faith in Christ, not because of a virus. But the words still encourage us today, even as they encouraged those in the community to which they were first written: Come alongside those imprisoned. Remember them in prayer. Do what you can to support them, to lobby for them, as if you were actually with them in their predicament, suffering their same fate. In these days of social distancing it's easy to feel isolated and alone. Let God shine on your spiritual solar panel - and then shine your light into the lives of everyone you can. There's hardly a better thing for you to do as you begin this Holy Week, during which you are invited to follow the Savior to the place where He will lay down His life in sacrifice for you.

Prayer
Good and gracious God: You have promised never to leave us or to forsake us but to be present with us always - to our last breath and beyond. Help us, then, to come alongside others who suffer. Comfort us, so that we can comfort them. Fill us with Your joy, that we might allow it to overflow into the lives of others. Open our eyes - especially this Holy Week - to Your passion, that we might extend our compassion to those who need the encouragement of someone with them at their side. Jesus, we join the Jerusalem crowds today as we shout our own Hosannas before You now: "Our Lord, we beseech Thee, save!"
Amen


Saturday, April 4 Devotional

And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, 'The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior.' Then Gideon said to him, 'O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about? But now the LORD has abandoned us...'
Judges 6:12-13

Gideon would prove to be one of the most memorable judges of the Hebrew people. He would deliver the people from their Midianite oppressors. But before this came to be, had Gideon been asked if he would serve in such a heroic role or bring about the liberation of his people, his answer surely would have been, "Absolutely not." When the messenger of the LORD meets him, he's beating out wheat in the wine press, slaving away in secret, lest his enemies discover his goods and plunder him. We see in these verses what Gideon thought about the part God played in the lives of the people. Although Gideon does not doubt the reality of God, it is the presence of God and His favor that he questions. Why has this happened to us? Where's the proof of God's power and presence? The only conclusion that makes sense is that God has abandoned him and his people... Gideon is not alone in his questioning. Every generation expresses its doubts. Every age questions. And if it's not the existence of God that is called into question, we wonder why God causes things to happen - or allows them. The questions can quickly turn into accusations and blame. Where is God in the midst of our own crisis? Has God abandoned us? Where's the proof of His power and presence? Gideon is not told why things have happened. He's given no explanation. God simply tells him to move forward. To go, to act, and to deliver. God will empower him, and God will work in him and through him to bring about good in the midst of the bad and accomplish salvation for the people God so treasures.

Prayer
Ever-Faithful God, the generations before me have testified to Your goodness and grace. They have borne witness that You will never abandon or forsake Your creation. Help me to recognize Your presence in the midst of this crisis. Help me to see that You are intimately and intricately involved in the good that rises up in the midst of the challenges we face, granting strength, insight, patience, and courage to confront these days. And grant us the assurance that You are faithfully for us in this global crisis. Bless us with confident courage and the fortitude to do what must be done for the good of all Your people.
Amen


Friday, April 3 Devotional

Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.
Psalm 46:10

Have you seen them around: cars with bumper stickers stuck wherever they could stick? Plastered on every surface, save the windows? I've seen religious cars and freedom cars and cars that have neither rhyme nor reason, trying to say so much that no unified theme could per perceived. I was never one to have many bumper stickers on my car or posters in my room. But I did have one in my younger years. On the wall across from my bed. About eye-level when I lay down in the upper bunk in the room my brother and I shared. It was a scene both simple and serene: a white seagull flying on a bright blue background with words printed below: Let go. Let God. I must have read those words hundreds of times. Probably thousands. Not a bad message for one going through the tumultuous teen years of adolescence. Not a bad message for us now. Cease striving, says God in our Scripture for today. Ah, many of us are good at striving. Like Jacob, we try to wrestle a blessing out of God. But what we might hear in the Word today is God telling us: Relax. Let go. I'm God - which means you don't have to be. Trust me. I've got this. Perhaps this a time for all God's children to learn to recognize His presence and position. That although we don't have all the answers or all the power, there is One who does. We need not wrestle blessings out of God - God gives them freely and in abundance. God will inspire. God will reveal. May it be that the nations will be surprised at the simple solution. May it be that all the earth will bow down in humble worship and praise - before the God who saves.

Prayer
Almighty God, I am good at striving; help me learn to relax in You. Help me learn to appreciate the beauty of each new sunrise and to know that I cannot rush it. Help me simply enjoy what You bring in Your good time. Help me let go of my anxiety and worry and know that You are faithful and will faithfully provide for me in every way. Lift my eyes to You, and may all who inhabit Planet Earth be moved to give You praise and to learn to work together, sharing in the abundance You have provided.
Amen


Thursday, April 2 Devotional

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Romans 12:1

Paul, the author of the above-quoted words, spends eleven chapters outlining the human predicament and the gracious salvation worked for us all in Christ Jesus our Lord. In God's love for us, He sent His Son on a rescue mission to redeem us poor sinners - and to show us the way to live our lives, the way God designed for us to live them since the beginning. Jesus is both Savior and Example. And now, in this twelfth chapter, Paul turns the corner and gives his readers the so what. Now that God has done this for us, now that we have considered the extent to which God has gone - to sacrifice Himself on our behalf - how are we to respond to such goodness and grace? The apostle's response: "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice." But sacrifice is not something we are prone to do as human beings. Each of us has to fight the selfish urge within (we are, in fact, called to die to it), to humble ourselves (as did Christ), and to lay down our lives in sacrifice for others. In our day and in this current crisis, people are rising up, expressing indignation, taking offense at having their rights challenged, held in abeyance, or removed altogether. They are resistant to sacrifice that which is theirs - by right of birth, by dint of citizenship. Jesus calls us to take a higher road and challenges us to follow His lead, as the One who lays down His life in sacrifice for others. To willingly give up our rights and freedoms if doing so will bring life and health to others. For government authorities to mandate or legislate such sacrifice cannot but provoke resistance to it. But God calls us to a higher way and to make our ultimate sacrifice before the throne of Him who first sacrificed everything for us all.

Prayer
Good and Gracious God: I confess that I am too quickly reactive - that I rise up to resist restrictions placed upon me. Help me to fix my eyes upon Jesus and to contemplate that which He has done for me upon Calvary's Cross. Work in me a willingness to sacrifice on behalf of my brothers and sisters - Your created, beloved and redeemed children. Having been called upon to make sacrifices at this time of crisis, help me to do so willingly, as unto You. May my thoughts, words and actions this day be reflective of the One who laid down His life for me. And may the ways I interact with others be pleasing in Your sight and bring glory to Your name.
Amen


Wednesday, April 1 Devotional

For the LORD will not abandon His people on account of His great name, Because the LORD has been pleased to make you a people for Himself.
1 Samuel 12:22

The crowds had clamored for a king. Someone to fight their battles for them. And in Saul they found a powerful and promising presence. Yet when Scripture first introduces him, we see him sent on a fool's errand - a mission to find his father's lost donkeys. Samuel the seer warned the people that to put their highest hopes in any earthly leader was to misplace their trust. That this particular king would not serve them but would instead serve himself at their expense. Saul would step into arenas outside his auspices. And he would defend his actions with a long list of justifications, ever at the ready. Later in his reign he would show himself to be mentally unstable, plagued with bouts of paranoia, oppressed with fears of conspiracy to take him down. Some will see in Saul striking similarities to our present day. Others will resent the suggestion. But the good word in this biblical illustration is twofold: Even in the worst of times, even with the most unfit leadership, God will not abandon His people. God is and remains ever faithful. And God is constantly at work, bringing good out of bad situations. In addition, we read of King Saul that the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, and he was changed into a new man. Although he was a flawed human being, this did not hinder God from working in him and through him to bring about good for His people. No one is beyond hope. No one is beyond redemption. No one is so unfit that God is unable to work in him and through him to bring about a change of heart and ultimate good. This is not only a hope we might have for any of our leaders in any season of history; it is a hope we can have for each one of us today.

Prayer
Almighty and Ever-Faithful God: We pray for all those in leadership positions. While we might bemoan the adjustments we have to make in our daily routines due to the present crisis, we know that the weight our leaders carry does not compare with the sacrifices most of us have been asked to make. And so we pray that You would bless them with strength and energy and health. Grant humility and wisdom to those who make decisions that will impact us all. We look to You to change our hearts and the hearts of all of our leaders, to bring about Your ultimate good for Your people. And grant us, Your beloved children, obedient spirits, faithful hearts and the courage to speak the truth to power. In this worldwide crisis, help us to work together as a global community for the good of all. And draw us all to You, for the honor and glory of Your great name.
Amen


Tuesday, March 31 Devotional

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Psalm 46:1

Martin Luther, drawing upon the words of this psalm, wrote, "A mighty fortress is our God." For almost everyone living in our country, we've never seen days like this: a pandemic affecting all fifty states so significant and severe that we've been told to take refuge in our homes and leave them only if necessary. And as much as we're told that sheltering-in-place is safe, it's perhaps more often the case that we are not biding our time in peace, but cowering behind closed doors in fear. Still anxious, still afraid, that somehow, some way, as safe as we attempt to make things we will bring the virus home and play host to it. Surely this is an unrealistic fear, and for many the anxiety level is reduced when regulations are obeyed and extra precautions are taken. But, finally, the safety we seek is not assured to our satisfaction, even after doing what we're told. We feel the need for something more, something greater, something certain. The psalmist finds that assurance in God. And you, also, can find in God the refuge, the strength, the fortress your soul longs for. And while the refuge of God is unassailable by all who would besiege it or break in, God welcomes in all who want in. Only God can shelter you with this certainty; where you are sheltering in place now is but a shadow of the safety God provides. He is there for you, and He is ever faithful. He has been the source of help for generations past, and He is your present help in trouble today.

Prayer
Great and Mighty God, our Place of Refuge and Source of Strength: we pray that our restless souls would, today, find their rest and contentment in You. Assure us of Your faithful presence. Put us at ease in knowing that You are in control and that no matter what comes our way, today or in future days, You will be there - with us, for us, ever faithful. And having found our refuge in You, may we also welcome others into the place of safety we have discovered, behind the unassailable walls of Your mercy and grace.
Amen


Monday, March 30 Devotional

Then He said to me, 'Son of Man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; Behold, they say, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off."'
Ezekiel 37:11

Many of us have been used to being on the winning team. So much so that we've come to expect it. Plagues, hunger, famine and drought - these are foreign phenomena, things that happen there not here, around the world, not in our own backyards. And so, it's perhaps not surprising that some thought that this disease called novel would not touch us either. It was something that would strike other nations, something would affect other people. But not us. We're used to being on the winning team, to having an abundance, not suffering lack. We're a nation with a history of growth, conquest, leadership and winning. We're not a people that bows before anyone or anything. We're independent and free. Which is perhaps why we're so stunned. The virus is not virtual, it's real; it's not relegated to others, it's come to us. The United States now leads the world as hosts of COVID-19. And a recent newsflash: it doesn't appear to afflict only the aged; the young are not exempt. It's not something that could be held at bay by oceans or walls. And while we may have thought that we were immune, we now know we are susceptible. And the challenge has now come to us all: To bow our pride and to change our ways. If we do not do so, the numbers will only continue to increase. It's an opportunity for us all to grow: in our love, in our faith, in our perspective before God and others. The hope was floated of Easter gatherings and rapid recovery. And of course, we all wanted it to be true. But now we're looking at another month of behaving differently. Many wonder if we can survive it. Many wonder if we can we hold out that long. Is it possible to recover financially? This problem is bigger than any one of us. Let us then look to the One who is higher than any one of us. Let us consider His ways and order our lives according to His will. And let us do what we can do: encourage one another, show kindness to each other, be gracious, generous and patient and hopeful. Our hope has indeed not perished if it is, in fact, properly placed - in the One who has all things in His hands.

Prayer
Almighty God, lift our eyes to You and help us to order our thoughts and our ways according to Your will. Help us to use these days in ways that open our eyes to Your goodness and to the security we find in You - presently and eternally, now and forever. Draw us to You and bless us with the strength and patience we need to gain proper perspective, to care for ourselves and for each other. Grant safety to those fighting on the front lines; grant wisdom and insight to scientists, that they might soon discover effective treatments and safe vaccines. We all look forward to the day when this crisis will be behind us. But until then - and after then - let us always and ever fix our eyes upon You, our certainty and our hope.
Amen


Sunday, March 29 Virtual Church Service ("Looking In On Lazarus")


Sunday, March 29 Devotional

Today is the day the LORD has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118:24

A few days ago, I was out for a walk in our neighborhood. A brief reprieve from the haven of home that had threatened to become place of imprisonment. The air was crisp, and the sky was clear and blue and brilliant. Even in early spring, the strength of the sun was warm on my back. Across the street a woman older than my mom emerged from her front door. She walked the footpath to the sidewalk, and as she did, she wind-milled her arms in their full range of motion. I greeted her from across the street, but apparently, she did not hear me, for she did not immediately acknowledge my salutation. So I was not sure if the words she uttered a few moments later were directed toward me or if they were simply an exclamation: "A perfect day!" Was she unaware that we are in the midst of unprecedented days? That our individual freedoms have been seriously scaled back? That trouble surrounds us? No, what she communicated to me in her three words was that in the midst of these things her eyes were opened to the goodness that more than compensated for them. She saw that health surrounded her more than sickness. Beauty more than blight. She had perspective. Far from "losing it," this woman had indeed "found it." And, for me, the rest of the day looked different from that point on. Today is the day the LORD has made. And I will rejoice with all that is in me. I invite you to join me, that we might raise our voices together in praise.

Prayer
Gracious God, Giver of all that is good: Open my eyes to the heavenly blessings that surround me in the gift of this day. Help me to hear the sundry sounds of nature, responding in chorus to the gift of life. Let me take in the full bouquet of the scents of spring, even if it makes me sneeze. Let me savor the sweetness of fresh fruit, all manner of amazing ambrosia from Your bounteous banquet table. And in my appreciation of the grace the surrounds me, may my whole being offer up to You the fullness of my praise, for this is the day that You have made.
Amen


Saturday, March 28 Devotional

Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, For the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9

Joshua is entering into new territory. For forty years he has been the assistant to Moses; for forty years he has played a supporting role. But now that Moses has died, Joshua steps in to fill shoes he does not feel qualified to try on. Others had challenged Moses along the way, but never Joshua. He was satisfied with the leadership of Moses and with the role he himself had played, as Moses' right-hand man. He was content to follow. But now the mantle has been passed to him. Now he has become the decision-maker. And he is terrified. Of the unknown. Of the challenges ahead. Of the complaints that will be lodged against him. The disappointments that will be expressed: "You're nothing like Moses! You don't even know what you're doing!" And they would be true accusations, Joshua thought. So many anxious thoughts were swirling around in his head, he could not get them to stop. Such turmoil filled his troubled heart, he questioned whether or not he could even take the first step. He was paralyzed with fear. But... he was not alone, as he worried. There was Someone bigger that Moses who was right there with him. The LORD Himself promised to be by his side - to be with him, wherever he went. And the presence of God gave him courage that would quiet his anxious mind and would still his troubled heart. And for you, today? These days are new, unprecedented and filled with the unknown. But you need not walk through them alone. Even as the LORD promised to be with Joshua, so God promises to be with you. In these circumstances and in all others that tempt you to anxiety and fear. God will embolden you and encourage you. And His faithful presence can bring peace, because there are no troubles that He cannot overcome. Your victory is assured in the One who is right there at your side.

Prayer
Abiding Savior, open my eyes to Your presence with me now. Help me to see that the things that surround and frighten me are no match for You. Help me to trust in Your faithfulness to be with me, this day and every day. Embolden me and fill me with love and joy and hope. And help me to rest in the certainly that when I am weak, You remain strong.
Amen


Friday, March 27 Devotional

But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!"
Isaiah 43:1

I remember well first coming to the realization that God was not just a philosophical construct but a real being (the Real Being). That God was not only the reason for my existence but that He knew my name. That realization rocked my world! Like fog dispersing so I could see clearly at last. Like the sun breaking through the clouds, bringing almost immediate warmth. I awakened as if from a dream; I came alive! Hear the LORD of all creation speak to you today: "Do not fear... I have called you by name; you are Mine!" God is well acquainted with your circumstances. And He knows (better than you yourself) the depths of your heart. He knows your fears, your doubts, your sins, your regrets. He knows the best you inside you, the person you want to be all the time, the good you seek to do but too often find it difficult to carry out. YOU are precious in God's sight. Beloved. Worth redeeming. May your eyes be fully opened this day to the reality of God's knowledge of you, His personal claim upon you, the redemption worked with you in mind, and His inclusion of YOU into His family. And may God's declaration upon you fill you with joy and give you the confident assurance of hope in the midst of these trying times.

Prayer
Loving God, our Creator and Redeemer, we hear Your Word spoken upon us today - that You know us intimately and claim us as Your own. And this message seems simply too good to be true. With the psalmist we exclaim, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it" (Psalm 139:6). Settle our hearts, we pray. Help us to hear Your declaration upon us, which is more powerful that our protests and more dependable than our doubts. Grant us faith to trust Your Word. Open our eyes to the fullness of Your goodness and grace, revealed to us in our Redeemer, Jesus Christ our Lord, in Whom You have demonstrated Your love for us while we were yet sinners.
Amen


Thursday, March 26 Devotional

Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Psalm 96:1

Residents sheltering in place in a small town in Italy, unable to leave their homes, stepped out onto their balconies and began to sing. On the same day, on the other side of world, residents in a San Jose neighborhood stepped out of their homes and onto their front lawns, turned on music, and began to dance. Perhaps it was the same spirit that moved people in the Baltic States, back in the late 80's and early 90's, to literally sing their way into their independence. Joy wells up, leaks out and springs forth. The human spirit is not so easily quenched. Surely one day soon the eastern sky will lighten and the sun will rise in fullness of strength - and with it will come renewal and restoration. A new day will dawn. But let us not wait for that Day to come to take action: Let us help usher in the Day. Let us sing for joy even now, in the midst of darkness, disease and despair. And let our songs be as new and as fresh as the brightening of this day. Let our songs be sung with voices, with smiles and with loving actions toward our neighbors. Let them sung so all the world can hear and join with us in the chorus. And let our songs be filled with praise and directed to the One who gives life, restores life and is Life itself. God has given you a voice; make full use of it and sing to Him a new song this day.

Prayer
Gracious God, in joy You have imagined us and in joy You have created. We are humbled to hear the testimony of those who have gone before us, bearing witness to us that You delight in all that You have made. How blessed we are to be alive! How blessed we are to be partakers of Your divine touch! Open our eyes anew this day to the beauty of Your creation and to the abundant grace You have bestowed. May our hearts overflow in praise to You and our voices be lifted in song. And may our chorus of worship be a fitting response to Your goodness and grace, faithfulness and love.
Amen


Wednesday, March 25 Devotional

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13

And there it is. The reason, the how by which the apostle was able to arrive at the contentment he found in each and every circumstance (the subject of yesterday's devotion). Paul was able to be at peace no matter what because he knew the presence and strength of Christ in each and every challenge he faced. This oft-quoted verse brings to mind two others akin to it. "God helps those who help themselves." Nope. Not exactly. You won't find this one in the Bible. Although there is some truth in it, it misses the mark. Indeed, Christians are to give their best to bring glory to God and to benefit neighbor - not just lift prayers to God and passively sit back and wait for God to act. And yet God is the One who sends a Savior to come to the rescue of those who find that they can do nothing to help themselves. Another oft-quoted, non-biblical proverb: "God will not give you more than you can handle." Again, there is some truth in this: God cares for His people; God is kind and gentle and loving. God is not overbearing; God is no taskmaster. However, there are times - times like now - when you feel it is all just too much, overwhelming, that you are in waters too deep, well over your head. It is then that, like the apostle Paul, you can make the good confession: "I'm not in this alone. Christ is with me - and that makes all the difference." In Him and through Him you will be able to courageously and successfully navigate these treacherous waters. One day at a time, with eyes fixed on Jesus. Arise. Take courage. Do not be afraid. He will give you the strength that you need.

Prayer
Gracious and Faithful God, use these days to lift my eyes to You. Help me to see You as never before: as the One who loves me, the One who is present with me, the One who gives me strength to face these days with confidence and hope. Grow my dependence in You and help me to know that it is not weakness to do so, but strength. May You be glorified in me and through me this day.
Amen


Tuesday, March 24 Devotional

I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am... In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.
Philippians 4:11-12

Flexibility. Adaptability. Accommodation. These are all good qualities to have in these days of unchosen change. But contentment in the midst of change is even more commendable, admirable - and difficult to attain. Over and again I have seen it happen; it occurs so often and so regularly it makes me wonder if it is not some sort of spiritual law. I wonder if you have experienced it, too? When you come to the point of surrendering your will for a desired outcome, not only to a place of surrender but to a place where you are content if things never change, it is then that the closed door opens (or an altogether new door opens that you did not even recognize was there). And the new situation that arises, as you enter that new space and walk into that new experience, is more gratifying than any you originally desired. You cannot play games with this law. You cannot pretend. Real and complete surrender of will is necessary to find the contentment that satisfies. But when you get there - to that place of true contentment - more often than not: serendipity is just around the corner. And there, I pray, you will also come to the realization that God has been with you all the while, unseen, and yet faithfully guiding you into this moment.

Prayer
Loving Heavenly Father, in these days of uncertainty, unrest and discomfort, it's easy for us to behave as ornery infants, tantrum-throwing toddlers, complaining children who cry out, "Are we there yet?!" We do not desire to surrender our wills or to be content in these circumstances. So take us in Your loving arms, hold us gently and securely, until our tantrums cease, our anger and bitterness subside, and we can rest peacefully in Your arms that hold us and find that place of contentment. Work gratitude in our hearts for the gift of this day and open our eyes to recognize Your presence with us here and now.
Amen


Monday, March 23 Devotional

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, For Thou art with me...
Psalm 23:4

The pundits make their prophecies. The prognosticators make their predictions. We hear of best-case scenarios and worst-case scenarios - and all of them involve death. Even while the numbers rise, we continue to hope and pray that it will not come to us or to our families. We continue to pray that we will be spared. Is this our sinfully selfish nature showing itself, or it is merely the self-preservation instinct in all of us? The truth we all know is that each and every one of us will, one day, walk through the Valley of which David speaks in this psalm. COVID-19 merely brings it to our attention; it places it before us, front and center. Death will, one day, come to us all. Still, this is not the Final Word. David confidently expresses that he will have no fear. Why? Because he trusts God to be with him as he walks through the Valley. And that is no small comfort. Even so, God promises to be with you. Now and always. Through the difficult days ahead and when it is your turn to walk through the Valley. Notice: there can be no shadows without the presence of light. The fear that COVID-19 brings is met by God's promise that can overcome all fears: I am with you, and not even death will be able to separate you from My love.

Prayer
Almighty God, You have the whole world in Your hands. Give us the confident hope that no matter how dark we find these days, You are faithful and You faithfully accompany us on this journey. We give You thanks for the precious gift of life. And we pray that the remedy we are all waiting for - which will surely come - will come sooner than later. Have mercy upon Your people, we pray. And instill in us the deep faith and confident conviction to trust, that when it is our turn to walk through the Valley, Your faithful presence will still our fears and allow us to take even those unfamiliar steps with peace and joy, assured of the destination that awaits us beyond our last breath, because of Your amazing grace.
Amen


Sunday, March 22 Virtual Church Service ("When How Becomes Who")

Patience
This too shall pass
We are all in this together

Perspective, focus, compliance
Social distancing
Community connection


Sunday, March 22 Devotional

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Psalm 23:1

One of the first things I learned in my religious training is that the Bible is holy. Special. Unlike any other. It stands apart from the rest. And so, as a boy, I read the words of the beloved 23rd Psalm with utmost reverence - even though I understood neither the importance of punctuation nor the verbiage of 1611 King James English. The verse bewildered me, and I did not understand why others deemed it precious. For it seemed to me that these words were speaking of the shepherd I should not want. But of course, the intent is just the opposite... King David had humble beginnings: he was a shepherd boy. Before he is anointed King he is found out in the fields, tending his sheep. Three things rise up in this opening verse. First, the subject of the sentence: The LORD. It is the LORD who shepherds David, and it is the LORD who shepherds you. It is the LORD who provides you with all that is good and protects you from all that is evil. Secondly, David's personal confession: The LORD is his shepherd. So, too, the apostle Paul will claim Jesus as his LORD. It's when faith becomes personal that it becomes truly powerful. Finally, because the LORD is your Shepherd, you will not be in want of any good thing. You will find in Him everything you need. In these days of widespread concern of scarcity, absence and lack, may you know the fulness of satisfaction and contentment that can be found in the LORD, who is your Shepherd.

Prayer
Almighty God, You are the Author, the Creator, the Initiator, the Source of all things. Help us look to You as the Subject of our lives. In Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, You have made known to us that You are the Good Shepherd, the One who loves and lays down Your life for Your sheep. In our time of need, fix our thoughts upon You. What grace You have poured out upon us, that we may look to You as our Shepherd, the One in whom we find the very fulness and satisfaction of all our needs. For these things, we bow down before You in thanks and praise.
Amen


Saturday, March 21 Devotional

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
Matthew 6:26-27

In recent days many have shared photos of nature or told of walks and hikes and renewal. True re-creation. Sometimes (like today) we need a break. To step away from the rush and the noise. To unplug. And to observe. Who had a greater mission than Jesus? Who had more important things to do than He? Yet He was never rushed or anxious or hurried. He took time to look at the birds of the air and to observe the lilies of field - and He reminded others of the abundant blessings they could find all around them. Any day. Every day. Now. Open your eyes to the striking beauty that surrounds you. Open your ears to the sounds of the birds, chirping their short melodies, repeated over and over, just of the joy of it. Step outside and fill your lungs with air. Breathe deeply. Rejoice in the refreshment. Savor the smells. And know that your heavenly Father, who extravagantly adorns nature in beauty, looks upon you as even more valuable. For Jesus tells us that even as God cares for them, so much more does He care for you. Rest easy and rejoice in His presence, dearly beloved of God. He is both your Creator and Provider.

Prayer
Sovereign God, the more we feel things spinning and slipping away the tighter we grip the controls and the more frantic we become. Assure us of Your ultimate authority and loving care over all. Grant us the deep peace of knowing that even as You have wondrously created in Your majesty, so You faithfully provide and sustain Your creation. Thank you for the beauty of nature that surrounds us each day. Open our eyes and our ears to the blessings all around us. And as we observe Your fingerprints in all of Your creation, evidences of Your glory, may we be reminded of Your love and care for us and lift our thanks and praise to You alone.
Amen


Friday, March 20 Devotional

Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.
Philippians 4:8

Persistent political promos have been replaced by incessant chatter about COVID-19. Our ears and our eyes and our minds are full of it. And in these days when we're literally a captive audience, it's often hard to think of anything else. "Crazy times, eh?" is all we have to say, and everyone knows what we're talking about. When the input we receive at full volume is nothing but the latest news about the present pandemic, it's all but impossible not to be anxious, worried and fearful. But the apostle urges us to focus our thoughts in a different direction. Read his words again... Mediate on them... Paul does not put his head in the sand; he does not disregard his surroundings. He writes these words from his prison cell, where all manner of political plotting and jail jabber surrounds him. He cannot escape his surroundings, but he can focus on the spiritual blessings of his good and gracious God - in the midst of his storm. Follow the apostle's counsel. And nothing can prevent you from hearing the words of life spoken by the One who is present for you now, in the midst.

Prayer
Ever-Present and Ever-Faithful God, in the midst of cacophonous chatter, help us to hear Your voice. Let Your words fill our minds and still our hearts. Direct our thoughts to all that is good and positive and helpful and true - to all that comes from You - that we might be strong and settled in the midst of the storm. May the peace we experience in You allow us to be a source of comfort and strength to others. This day we pray for all those who are stepping it up to serve those in need. With their increased workload, fix their thoughts on You. We also pray for those who are bored and restless, that they, too, might attend to Your voice above all others. Assure us, as we fix our attention on all that is good, that You are dwelling in our midst. For Your presence and Your faithfulness we give You thanks.
Amen


Thursday, March 19 Devotional

The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in Thee.
Isaiah 26:3

Perfect peace. Who doesn't want that? Who doesn't need that? Especially at this time, particularly in these days. A settled heart. A stilled soul. Perfect peace. How is it attained? How do you get there? Stop, take a breath and focus your mind on God, the Source of your safety. Attend to the One present for you, present with you. Let your thoughts be fixed there: upon the One who is trust-worthy. And your mind will no longer be anxious or racing, but alert, centered and at rest. Perfect peace. It's the gift in God for you, today.

Prayer
Compassionate God, Creator of us all: Fill us with the fullness of Your comforting Spirit in these days. When our minds become restless and unsettled, anxious because of the dangers that surround us, draw our minds back to You and keep our thoughts centered on Your goodness, Your grace and the safe place we find only in You. Today we specifically pray for the mentally ill, those who find it difficult or impossible to control their minds. Grant them - grant us all - the gift of Your grace and the blessing of Your perfect peace.
Amen


Wednesday, March 18 Devotional

... the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear ... Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you."
John 20:19

We read these words with greater appreciation as we see them in light of COVID-19. Many of us find ourselves, like the post-crucifixion disciples, shrinking behind shut doors, as we follow the unprecedented "Shelter In-Place" mandates. But in these words we find life in the midst of death. Hope in the midst of despair. Light in the midst of darkness. The presence of Jesus would not bring an end to the consequences the frightened men faced because they were His followers. But His very presence - a surprising presence indeed - brought them great peace. Even so, to trust in Christ's presence with you right now, right where you are, can bring you deep peace that will dispel your fear. God is still sovereign. And we will make it through these days. May we grow strong in faith and passionate in our care for each other and for our neighbors.

Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank You for Your faithful, abiding presence that brings us the peace that disperses our anxiety. May the peace we receive from You show itself in the way we interact with our neighbors, that we might contribute calm spirits in the midst of our common storm. We pray that Your comforting words would echo in our minds and accompany us throughout this blessed day. In Your holy name we pray.
Amen


Tuesday, March 17 Devotional

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.
John 14:1

The words of our Lord come as welcome words in these days. It appears that our world is unraveling and spinning out of control. As greater restrictions are placed upon us with each passing day, we are challenged to control our emotions and to keep our heads about ourselves. Our anxious spirits can rest secure when we place our trust in the One who is completely trustworthy. Trust in God, and your heart will find the peace for which it cries out.

Prayer
Almighty God, you are the One in whom our troubled hearts find their rest. Draw our hearts to You, fix our eyes upon Jesus Your Son, and grant us confident faith to trust in His promises. Today we lift up to You all healthcare workers. Keep them healthy, strong and alert. Grant them patience in their work, wisdom in their art, and vitality in their spirits, that they might continue to be a source of care and positive encouragement to others.
Amen


Monday, March 16 Devotional

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I still strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

We are not the only generation to encounter anxious times. We are not the only people to experience an uncertain future. These days may be replete with all that is new and unsettling to you, but this is familiar terrain for our good and gracious God. In these words spoken through His prophet the Lord calms our anxious hearts and reminds us that we need look no farther for our salvation. God is right there. With you. Even now. Especially now. Relax and feel the gentle but firm embrace of your Savior and your God.

Prayer
Loving and Ever-Present God, in these days filled with uncertainty, help us to fix our eyes on You and rest secure in the certain promises You give us in Your holy Word. Strengthen our spirits, still our souls, grant us serenity. Assure us of Your faithful presence, and navigate us through these treacherous waters.
Amen


Sunday, March 15 Virtual Church Service ("Satisfying Words for an Anxious World")

Don't panic, have perspective
God is still in control
We are all in this together

Be prudent, maintain safety
Communicate, let us know if you have needs
Consider a neighbor in need



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