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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 all gatherings 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.

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Saturday, July 4 Devotional

Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, "O LORD, why hast Thou brought harm to this people? Why didst Thou ever send me?"
Exodus 5:22

This is not the first time Moses questioned his commission. Nor would it be the last. At this point he's still convinced it was the LORD who had called him and sent him to speak to the Pharaoh on His behalf to insist that he set the Hebrews free from their slavery. The burning bush incident was too extreme for Moses to wonder if this was really God's idea or if he had just been hearing voices in his head and suffering from hallucinations. But if God was behind this venture, it wasn't looking good. Things didn't appear to be heading in the right direction. Pharaoh had not heeded the initial request. He resisted, and he flippantly questioned the authority of Moses' God. And he responded to Moses' request of release by pressing the people even harder. Get your own straw! Keep making those bricks! Life wasn't getting any easier for the people of God, and it wouldn't for some time. Their suffering was only getting worse. And Moses is not in a good place. He knew he alone couldn't fight the Pharaoh, and his approval rating couldn't get much lower from the people he was seeking to help. He's in a bind. And he feels like he's been set up. God had promised to save, but the Hebrews were losing the battle. All indicators were pointing in the wrong direction. And in his frustration and fear, Moses lashes out against God and accuses Him of bringing harm and not help. If he thought it would make a difference, he'd have his resignation papers in hand, written and signed. But there was no saying No to the LORD of all creation. Perspective. It's what Moses was lacking at this point in the game. And things would get worse before they'd get better. Moses, filled with anxiety, had become profoundly nearsighted. He couldn't see beyond his present predicament. For us, our nation and our world are, in a sense, enslaved by COVID-19. And there's no easy solution. While there was an initial hope that we were making progress and we had things under control, it appears that things may well get worse before they get any better. And those who are doing their best to tell us the hard truths are only accused of bringing harm. There's resistance. The severity of the disease is called into question. You're making too much of this! The cure is worse than the sickness! You're making matters worse! There's vehement and venomous invective voiced before the authorities about the unjust removal of rights; there are accusations of religious persecution. All of these reactions are understandable, and there are reasons for the response. For Moses, he wasn't experiencing high job satisfaction. (Little did he know, but there were forty years of wilderness in front of him.) And it looked like he was losing. However, God knew what was coming, and God could see the outcome. We need to have a long-view look at these days and seek to see them with some perspective. It's by no means an easy price to pay, but the alternative could mean losing everything. We'd all prefer a quick fix and an easy answer. Doing the right thing and taking the higher road is almost always more taxing. But the perspective from those heights will help us to see that we're on the right track. For Moses, this would not be his last encounter with Pharaoh. And he would learn that because he stayed the course and trusted God's plan, freedom was assured, albeit on the far end of the horizon. They would get there in the end, and the present pain would be worth it all.

Prayer
Good, gracious and sovereign God, You are able to see above all the obstacles that limit our vision. Although we cannot see the end of these days, help us to trust that You do and that You're faithfully guiding Your people to a better place. Grant us patience and perspective. Give us wisdom to discern truth. Help us to do the right thing, even when it's hard. And empower those who are committed to leading and serving Your people with humility, wisdom and strength, that even as they confront resistance, mockery and accusation, they might not give up the good fight. May Your good will be done in us and through us this day. And save us, gracious LORD!
Amen


Friday, July 3 Devotional

Your Father in heaven... makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Mathew 5:45

"Better than I deserve." This is the usual answer given by a television journalist whenever his colleague asks him how he's doing. I like to think it is a humble acknowledgement of grace received from the throne room of God. Because of course, he's right. Jesus reveals to us the nature and character of our loving heavenly Father - who indiscriminately blesses His beloved creation, simply because they are His. Call it lavish and abundant grace. Goodness overflowing to the farthest reaches of creation, emanating from the Creator and Sustainer of all. Grace is at the very heart and center of the character of God. And it's a good thing. For apart from this, there would be no forgiveness - only judgment, rejection and dismissal. Not that God doesn't care about good and evil, right and wrong, justice and inequity. God cares very much. Absolutely, God does. God's grace should in no way be seen as God giving us license to be lax about law, order and fairness or that God's grace somehow lowers the bar for the behavior He expects from His people. Absolutely, not. Not one iota. There is certainly cause and effect; there are indeed consequences for actions taken. There is reward, and there is punishment. But over and above it all is God's lavish grace and indiscriminate love. And Jesus bids us to go and do likewise. To see the rich diversity of all God's people and to rejoice in them all and to be respectful of them all - because they are God's and because that's how God treats them. To live into the image of God in which you have been created (that, although tarnished by sin is still present within you), you're called by God to let this be your default mode. To be positive in spirit and to overflow with blessing to all people. For those on the good and right path, their passionate commitment to God's way will be encouraged by the blessing you give. And for those who are lost and unaware, leaving behind them in their wake lives full of sadness, grief and pain, how will they ever come to their senses unless they're confronted with unmerited kindness? When your blessing of grace is extended, it has power to effectively change not only the life of the recipient but the lives of all those with whom they interact. This is the life to which God has called you - a life of lavish grace and indiscriminate love. Of course, there will be those who take it and run. On one occasion Jesus healed ten lepers, and, as far as we know, nine of them went on their merry way without acknowledging the Giver. But the grace we receive has more power than we know, and surprises may well come, as the future unfolds. I trust that God knows what He's doing. And although we may wish that God would send rain only on the fields of the deserving and that He would let the fields of the unrighteous go dry, this is not God's way. (In the end, this is, of course, good news for us all.) Mercy wins. We might not see its effects for some time, but they're sure to come. For that is the power of lavish grace and indiscriminate love. Prayer

Prayer
Good and gracious God, it's been deeply ingrained within me that those who are deserving should be rewarded and that those who do wrong should face the consequences of their actions and get what's coming to them. May this keen sense of justice within me not lead to vindictiveness. Rather, as I commit myself to work for what is right, help me to share Your goodness, grace and love with all - deserving and undeserving alike. For I know that because You treat me so much better than I deserve, my life has been transformed. Give me eyes to see Your transformative power working through me when I extend Your lavish grace and indiscriminate love to others. May Your be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Amen


Thursday, July 2 Devotional

So teach us to number our days, That we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12

And on it goes. Spring has been consumed with the novel coronavirus, and it's now spilled over into summer. One day leaks into the next, and it's become too easy to lose track of time - or even the day of the week. There's yet no end in sight, and it's become wearisome for many. But the new days keep coming, and we add them to the tally. We're not standing still, after all; some progress is being made. We're not on a treadmill; we're going somewhere. We just don't know exactly how long this journey is going to last. But such is the case with all of life, isn't it? We hardly notice the transitions from day to day. And we can be quite taken aback when we look upon those photos taken years ago, in which we can easily see the changes that have taken place. And we wonder: where has the time has gone? Why is it that I still feel eighteen inside, after this body has left that time behind almost forty years ago? I now measure my life not by how far I've come, but by how much of it is left in front of me. Knowing how quickly time passes, it's sobering to think of how precious few the days are ahead of me. Life ebbs away. And too soon, I will be gone. And so will you. I don't mean by these thoughts to drag you down into depression. Because, in fact, it is good (occasionally, at least) to look into the mirror and to consider the gift of this life - and its limits. When there's an endless supply of money, what's the value of a dollar? But when there's a cap on your resources, it's then that you begin to learn their value. And so with the days of your life: To know that there will be an end to them can sober you up and help you to cherish those that remain. Considering your mortality also gives you a serendipitous clue as to why you might yearn for something more. Scripture bears witness that God has set eternity in the hearts of His people. God has given you an appetizer of the feast to come. Earthly hints of your heavenly longing. It can be quite terrifying to think of the alternative - that when you take your last breath it's the end of everything - the end of your consciousness, the end of you. Jesus assures you that you have a future in your Father's house. An eternal dwelling place. A heavenly address. There's no need to fear the end, for Jesus assures you that He will usher you into a new beginning. And as for these precious days on earth: treasure those that remain. Be wise about making the best of them. Live gratefully before your God, who imparts these days to you and who faithfully joins you on the journey. God has blessed you with the gift of this day. He's awakened you into this earthly adventure, once again. Rejoice in His presence. Express appreciation to those who accompany you. And make the best of this God-given, unrepeatable day.

Prayer
Eternal and ever-living God: I give You thanks for the gift and miracle of life. For extending to me the blessing of participating in this earthly experiment. Teach me to value each day that You impart to me. Help me to entrust my future into Your care. Fill my heart with faith, that I might live out these days full of the joy that You bring. Aware of Your constant presence, I will not live in fear. Trusting in Your faithful promises, I will live in perfect peace. Thank You for the heavenly hope You've placed within me. As I fix my eyes on those things that are eternal, help me to make a meaningful difference in this day that You've set before me, that I might honor and glorify Your name and bring benefit to the people You love.
Amen


Wednesday, July 1 Devotional

But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD...
Jonah 1:3

The "book" of Jonah - a mere four, one-page chapters - is perhaps the most familiar and least understood work included in Holy Scripture. The message it contains is underrated by most, because they think they get it - but they don't. In it one can find humor, surprise and profound insight into human nature and into the heart of God. And I'm convinced that its message is most appropriate for the Church today. How would you relate the story in your own words to a child? Give it a try. And then take ten minutes to read it again, as if for the first time, to discover what you overlooked, what you got right, and what you never realized was there before. Early on in the account, in the verse I've made reference to above, Jonah is pictured running away from God - a foolish endeavor by any account and in any setting. It hearkens back to Genesis 3, where we find Adam and Eve attempting to hide themselves from God in the Garden of Paradise. Good luck with that! The Edenic inhabitants have their own reasons for hiding (guilt and shame), but that's not why Jonah hightails it from the Most High. Jonah's reason for running is that he doesn't like the assignment he's been given. Because of this, he's sometimes referred to as the anti-prophet, a rebel against God. Nevertheless, God will use him in a powerful and dramatic way, to get His message across and to get His job done. Even during Jonah's brief sideline activity as a fugitive, people who come into contact with him also come to faith in the LORD. Despite Jonah's own words and actions, he cannot help but be a witness, and God works through it all to bring the people He loves to Himself. The prophet experiences a number of human emotions, and by the end of the account of this open-ended story, he's not a happy camper; he's pouting and petulant, annoyed and angry at what his witness has produced. Most of the biblical prophets go unheeded by the people who hear their message. The recipients persist in their stubborn ways, unmoved by the pleadings of the heralds of God. Not so with Jonah. He is heard. And he's not at all pleased about it. There's good news in this short work that simply cannot be contained. God is gracious, compassionate, abounding in steadfast love for all of His precious but pugnacious people. There's a great discrepancy between the heart of God and the heart of His prophet. God's ways are not our ways. Which is one of the reasons repentance needs to happen - a work of the LORD in our hardened hearts - to bring us around to the merciful ways of our loving God. May God grant that our hearts and wills be aligned with His own, that we might rejoice in His redemption of sinners of all shapes and sizes.

Prayer
Loving and Eternal God, I rejoice in Your grace poured out for me, and yet too often I resent Your grace extended to others. It's hard for me to realize just how deeply I maintain my own deserving and just how certain I am of others' unworthiness. Wretched and resistant heart within me! So self-assured and so needful of reform! Faithful Redeemer, work repentance in my deceitful and duplicitous heart, that it might respond to Your loving intentions for me and for all those You call Your own, that my heart would break with the things that cause You pain and be moved with the compassion of Your extravagant grace.
Amen


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