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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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Friday, May 29 Devotional

And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace... will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.
1 Peter 5:10

Had someone told you before all this began that it would last as long as it has, you would not have believed it possible. Nor would you have believed you would have been able to endure it for as long as you have. But you've made it this far. One day and one step at a time. You've learned to cope. You've learned to cut back. You've learned to do with less. You've adapted. And these are no small things. Looking back on how far you've come in the past few months, it's remarkable, is it not? You've made it through: you've lasted longer, endured with more tenacity, accomplished so much more than was expected. You've progressed! And you will be better for having gone through it. At least that's the hope. But the fact is: tough times can serve to make people better or bitter. I'm sure you've seen examples of both in your life. Some grow through the difficulties they experience and become more mature. They develop a heartier constitution. And they're somehow able to incorporate the lessons they've learned in and through the challenges they experienced to grow in their character. They're tried and tested and they emerge stronger than when they started. Others do not fare as well. The difficult days only serve to affirm their negative outlook on life. They continue on the trajectory their attitude was headed at the outset, and they become even more critical and caustic, gloomy and galling. Their outlook on life congeals, settles and solidifies. They're quick to give their final and firm verdict: Life is unfair and unjust. And it's plainly evident to all who are really honest that there's no designated purpose or divine reason for either human existence or human enterprise. In the end, there's little doubt that the tack you take going into an ordeal influences your outcome. But it doesn't have to determine it completely; it doesn't have to control it. For there are other factors at work. Including the intentions and activity of God. The apostle speaks to it in the words above. God is at work in your life to use your suffering for good purpose - to complete the good work He's begun in you. He's not using this time of suffering to tear you down, but to build you up and to confirm your character. For muscles to build, they must resist pressure placed upon them. So, too, God is using the pressure of these days to strengthen your spirit. He does not intend to break you. Instead, His desire, His purpose, is to use these challenges to bring about your good. You can trust Him to faithfully watch over you in these days, to see to it that the load you're carrying does not become burdensome. You're not alone. God's presence is closer that you realize, and He's gifted you with loving and caring community. You need not endure these days alone. God is at work in you, so that, in the end, you will emerge better, not bitter.

Prayer
Good and gracious God, I thank You for faithfully watching over me. You always work to build me up and to preserve me from those things that would bring me down. You are the One who creates life and continues to bring life to your beloved. You have triumphed over the power of death and You continue to work for good in our world and to thwart all the powers of evil. And as You bring about good in my life, You also invite me to be about Your good work. Help me to encourage Your people, to build them up, to speak Your word and to demonstrate Your acts of kindness and care. In all that I do and say this day, may I bear witness to Your goodness and grace.
Amen


Thursday, May 28 Devotional

Casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.
1 Peter 5:7

It's one of the most well-known hymn classics. Simple melody. Straightforward words. Sung at many a funeral to bring comfort to the gathered and grieving. What a Friend We Have in Jesus. It's a hymn of intimacy and connection and belonging. It's soulful. And I do not think it claims too much - for it was Jesus Himself who called His disciples friends. It was He who welcomed them into close fellowship with Himself. He was Immanuel, after all - the One who chose to draw near and to be with us. Although He was the only One of whom it could rightly be said that He was self-righteous (in the most positive sense of the expression), He did not look down His nose upon anyone, but rather welcomed the company of sinners. He was not affected or infected or lessened in any way by them. Rather, more potent than any virus, His goodness radiated and spread to bring blessing to those into whose midst He appeared. His was a magnetic and charismatic presence. One could not be the same after having been with Him. It was never a humdrum affair, approaching this One heaven had sent. It can be a frightful and terrifying experience to be fully seen and fully known. Unless the One who has the power to see and to know is also the One who loves is your Friend - in which case there's no greater blessing. It's powerfully therapeutic to share your feelings with someone who really listens, understands and cares. This is the sine qua non of any effective counselor. Can you see, then, how powerful an experience it can be to pour out your anxiety before the One who created you in love and who poured out His life for you in merciful redemption? In the above verse, the apostle writes to a fellowship of believers that is experiencing extreme hardship. They're a community that's undergoing great suffering. Peter urges them then as God would urge you today: open your heart and lift your eyes heavenward. Cry out to the Lord and express in the way you know best what you're feeling and thinking. Let it all out. Know that you're in the presence of the One who cares for you more than any other. And when you release all that has been repressed, when you pour out all that's been pent up, when you unleash the raucous rabble rousers within your soul that are preventing you from hearing the counsel of that still, small voice, you'll experience a great serendipity. For you'll find yourself beside quiet waters. You'll discover the peace that passes all understanding. And you'll be blessed with the grace of serenity. The One who is your Friend will faithfully guide you on your journey. And His accompanying presence will help you see and experience the world in a whole new light.

Prayer
Good and gracious God, what a gift You've given me in granting me the invitation to pray. You welcome me into Your presence where You are ever-attentive to my pleas. As I pour out my heart before You, I experience the release of anxiety and fear and heaviness. You faithfully bless me with peace that both refreshes and revives my soul. You graciously provide me with joy that is abundant and overflowing. Help me to release my anxiety before You today. And grant me the deep conviction of knowing Your loving care. Thank You for the grace You've poured out upon me and for the redemption that is mine, because of the mercies bestowed upon me by my Savior and my Friend, Your Son, Jesus my Lord.
Amen


Wednesday, May 27 Devotional

For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.
Luke 19:10

I cannot begin to count the number of times I've heard it recently from others or have felt it myself: One day is no different from the next. Each day is indistinguishable from another. Like ocean tides, the days just keep coming, rolling in, melding one into the other, crashing onto the shore and hardly dissolving before the next one comes to take its place. A friend refers to these days generically as Mergedays. In this season some find it hard to take a break from their work. Others find it difficult to establish routines. Many have fallen into habits they hope to change once this is all over. And yet some (surprisingly to the rest of us) have found their sweet spot. They're versatile and positive; they've adjusted their approach and accommodated to new ways of performing tasks and doing life. I'm happy for them, and I rejoice that they've been blessed with such hearty constitution, determination and drive. That they've been able to navigate these wavering waters on an such an even keel. But as I'm lifted up on the swells of this storm, what I see on the whole is many clutching onto rafts or free-floating in keelless lifeboats. Drifting. To who knows where. Lost without a compass on an ocean at a location from which no land is visible. Wondering where these waters will take them. Hoping help will arrive soon... Many years ago, when the Babe of Bethlehem was born, his stepfather Joseph was told to name Him Jesus. Salvation. He was the One born to save God's people. And as the Babe grew in years, He would come to know the fulness of His purpose: to seek and save the lost. Which is many of us now. Which is all of us at one time or another. But notice: being lost has everything to do with perspective. Your location at this moment in time may be unknown to you. You scan your surroundings and, recognizing nothing, you're overcome with a sense of disorientation and declare that you are lost. But you've never escaped the eyes of the One who sees above the swells. You are known, loved - and located. And it's when you come to comprehend that Your Savior is not only coming to rescue you some day in the far and distant future - but that He's already come to your rescue and is present with you now - it's then that you experience the wonder of His love; it's then that you realize that you've been grasped by His grace. You may still be adrift for some time. But you can take comfort in knowing that you're not alone. The One who's with you knows right where you are. He knows the way where you're going. And, until you get there, He'll continue to sing to you His songs of hope.

Prayer
Almighty God, faithful and true, help me to find my security in You. Although I often lose my way in this life, knowing that You are with me gives me courage to rise up and face each new day with hope. Although at times I find myself adrift through troubling waters and unsettled seas, help me to find my safety in You. For You've promised that You are always with me. You've promised never to leave or to abandon me. You are my safety, my strength and my hope. Have mercy upon me and upon all Your people, and show us the way to shore. And never ever let us forget that You are our refuge - that You are our Home.
Amen


Tuesday, May 26 Devotional

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.
Galatians 6:7

With all that's going on, I got a late start in the garden this year. I know several whose gardens are already flourishing. They are cultivators who are more adept at the art than I, and these days have provided them with even more opportunity to hone their skills and perfect their craft. But as for me: I'm still waiting for the seeds to sprout. And this is a time filled with apprehension: Will the seeds, in fact, grow? Is the soil in which I have planted them rich enough? Have I provided them with enough water? Too much? Are they getting enough sun? Or should I have planted in an area that provided more shade? With the many concerns that fill my mind at this early stage - when any and all growth is taking place underground, out of sight - there's one thing I'm not worried about: that corn will grow. Or tomatoes or radishes or okra (which I would never plant, no matter how much my family might beg me). I'm not at all concerned that these things will grow, and you already know the reason why: because I know the sort of seed I planted. And unless someone committed a crafty caper and put other seeds in the packet I purchased, I know full well what will be pushing up through the soil in days to come - if, in fact, anything does at all. That which I've sown I can well expect I will reap. And the apostle claims that this truth extends well beyond the garden. We've also seen it played out in this season when COVID-19 has come up close and personal. While many things are still unknown, there's much we've learned about it. One of the most concerning characteristics is its insidious nature. You can have it without knowing it and pass it on unaware. This factor makes it so very hard to control. Our human nature is such that if we do not see the immediate effects of our actions taken, we think we've gotten away with it. If you race home from work, breaking speed records, rolling stop signs, running lights that are more red than yellow, and make it home without being pulled over by law enforcement, you might think that you're in the clear. That you made it through unscathed. That you beat the system. Until the mailing arrives with a photo of your car, your license plate, and your mug in the middle. Although it may seem that there's been no detection, there's no end run on these matters. You will reap what you sow. In matters of morality, in developing your character, in reaching your goals. God is not mocked and will not be fooled. The only fool is the one who thinks otherwise (which, I'm afraid, is all of us at one time or another). Great care is needed in these days not to be flippant with this virus which has proved its fatal power. Saying enough already, reverting too quickly to previous habits and lifestyles, carrying on with nonchalance is dangerously disrespectful, foolish bravado, and pretense that will be exposed. It's expecting corn to grown where potatoes were planted. Do not be deceived. Do not relax your vigilance. Not now. Not yet. Be patient and prudent. Let's not dig up what we've planted to see if our work has been effective. If we move forward in faithfulness, we'll reap a good harvest. To do otherwise could be disastrous.

Prayer
Almighty God, in my pride I sometimes think I can find a way to bypass Your established rule, an alternative that's easier or quicker, an avenue that will provide what I want when I want it. Will I never learn? Forgive me for thinking I know better than You. Your laws cannot be broken with impunity. When I go against the order that You have ordained, it's not You who punish me as much as it is I who punish myself. Help me to trust that You are good, that the laws which you have fixed by Your own authority are unassailable and that Your intentions for Your people are always for their good. Grant me wisdom and grace and keep me steadfast on Your perfect path - the one that leads to life.
Amen


Monday, May 25 Devotional (Memorial Day)

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13

I don't come from a military family. And I don't think there's been a single moment in my life when I seriously considered signing up for military service. Even saying these things in certain circles can leave me feeling less than a man and can cause me to question my own patriotism. And, whether it is justified or not, I feel judged and found wanting. Surely those who enlist or are commissioned for service, sign up or answer the call for different reasons. Some do so whole-heartedly; others, with reservations. Some are outwardly haughty, proud and brave; others are inwardly timid, anxious and fearful. And then there's the whole question of war: whether it is just or unjust, morally right to fight and kill or morally reprehensible to stand by and do nothing while evil is on the loose and threatens the well-being of others. Setting aside personal views, the reasons for service and the ethics of serving, the truth is that there are many men and women who do serve and who have committed themselves to service; and, having done so, have put their lives on the line. They have offered themselves up as living sacrifices and they're willing to lay their lives down, if necessary. And there are hundreds of thousands of others who have done just that. Some may have done so for expected heavenly reward; others conscientiously carried through on their commitment and as part of their duty. Each and every one of them sacrificed for the sake of others. And we are the beneficiaries of their sacrifice. To honor them and to show appreciation for their willingness to serve and to sacrifice is good and right and proper. To do so recognizes the magnitude of their sacrifice as well as our own personal benefit because of it. They had one life to live and one life to give - and they did both. And we are here, living on, recipients of the freedom they fought to defend. As I go about this Memorial Day Monday, I intend to do so more mindfully than years before. Today's holiday will be more than a day off, more than a day to barbeque and to indulge in the things I enjoy because of freedom that is mine. It will be a true holy day - a day set apart from all others. It will be a day to remember the sacrifices of the multitudes of men and women whose names I do not know, whose stories I have not been told, but to whom I owe a debt of gratitude, because... they were willing to sacrifice that which I continue to enjoy: the gift of life. The Lord I follow tells me there's no greater love that can be expressed, no greater sacrifice that can be made. Blessed be the memory in our midst of those who have done so. And may we grow in our recognition and appreciation of the achievements and sacrifices of others who've enriched the quality of life we enjoy today.

Prayer
Almighty God, too often I mindlessly go about my day, enjoying the freedom I call my own without giving much thought about where it came from or how privileged I am to enjoy it: to live where I do, to have what I do, and to make use of the myriad opportunities before me. Thank You for Your divine provision. Open my heart and mind that I might grow in my appreciation, this day and every day, for the gift of community and for the sacrifices of unknown multitudes whose lives have benefited my own. May their memories be blessed in the families that cherished them and in the families that grieve for them, especially this day. Comfort them all with Your faithful presence and grant them grace to trust in Your good promises of everlasting life and eternal security, given in and though our Lord Jesus the Christ.
Amen


Sunday, May 24 Virtual Church Service ("What To Do While We Wait")

Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed!


Sunday, May 24 Devotional

And the LORD God planted a garden...
Genesis 3:8

When I was a boy, after what must have been quite an effort on my part to convince my parents the addition would not be too disruptive, I was allowed to add a hamster to our household. (My best friend had already gotten one, so I just had to have one, too.) There were options in those days to purchase rather spacious compartments in which your rodent could abide, and there was more: You could acquire extensions of tubes and turns and construct a veritable playground for your pet. It was good training for my hamster's young owner, prepping him to one day become a Lego Master or a designer of McDonald's play yards. I was excited to fashion a fun environment in which my new pet could thrive; I would make it a hamster heaven, a habitat in which it could scurry and squirm about and fill its cheeks with sunflower seeds to its fast-beating heart's content. After all my planning and preparations were finished, what joy was mine to watch my whiskered and furry friend explore and discover his new haunt - the abode I had assembled for him. I delighted in the thought that my efforts would somehow bring pleasure to this little creature and increase his joie de vivre... But, of course, I was simply anthropomorphizing. Endowing this simple-minded scurrier with the thoughts of an over-zealous and wide-eyed boy. I suppose some of that is also happening in the first Book of Holy Scripture. Perhaps there's a little projection going when one envisions the LORD God of all creation, stooping down and scooching about on hands and knees, planting a garden of paradise and fashioning beauty in which those created in Him image would be able to take pleasure and find joy. But then again, if it's true that we are created in His image, then it just might also be true that some of the creative nature within us is akin to the One from whom we derived it. I like to think so. I like to think that God Himself delights in His craft, that God was smiling and whistling a happy tune as He fashioned a place of beauty in which His beloved creation could rejoice and thrive. And so perhaps it is true that for me to say so is not to endow God with human characteristics, but rather to reflect the character of the One who designed me. I'm convinced that in the very best that is discovered in the human being and in the very best that is displayed in the human doing, we find hints of our marvelous and majestic heavenly Father, who dons overalls, gets down and dirty, and delights in His role as the earthly Gardener. Yes, I like to think so.

Prayer
Good, gracious and imaginative God: Open my eyes to see Your fingerprints in all of Your creation. I rejoice to think that in addition to Your creative design there was also loving intention - that You willed beauty as a gift to those created in Your image. Even as you called our first parents, so You have commissioned me - to be a steward of Your earth, a cultivator who cares for Your garden. As such, empower me to apply my efforts to tend to those things that bring about beauty and to root out all that is contrary to Your desires. Help me to be such a steward of that held within my trust, that I might one day hear the words, "Well done."
Amen


Saturday, May 23 Devotional

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable.
1 Corinthians 6:12

Just because I can doesn't mean I should. I could paint my house purple, but it would be an eyesore to my neighbors and an embarrassment to my family. I could park my cars in front of other people's houses to leave my driveway open and clear, but neither would that be advisable. I could buy up all the toilet paper and hand sanitizer at my local store (or at least there was a time that I could do so) to relieve my family of anxiety and to help them stay safe (or just because having a stockpile would ease my mind). That, too, would not be a good idea. Although it would be legal for me to do all of these things, although it would be allowed according to the letter of the law, it would profit and pleasure only me (if I really wanted a purple house, a clear driveway, or a room full of toiletries). And doing these things would be an annoyance - even a hindrance - to my neighbors. To do so would not serve to build my relationship with them or to strengthen my standing in the community. And more importantly, it would not exemplify the Spirit of my Savior, nor would it increase His reputation in the world. It would not honor and bring glory to His name. Our circumstances influence how we consider our options. Or at least they should. Even so, the apostle was not against marriage per se, but "in view of the present distress" he suggested to this same Church in this same letter that it was better not to marry. The present situation influenced his decisions about how to move forward, as he considered his options both in the light of Christ and in the light of the ever-changing circumstances that surrounded him. Always in mind was how to serve his neighbor and how to honor the Lord Christ who was at the center of their community. There are many things to consider before the doors our religious facilities open. The most important ones have to do with those who will fill them - if they can do so in a safe and secure setting. Religious leaders will call together others in the community to help them think through how and when to open the doors for the Church to gather safely. They'll do so with due consideration and input of sober reason and sound science. Always in mind will be the good of the neighbor, the safety of all, and the guidance of the One to whom the Church belongs. Just because we can doesn't mean we should. Until then, we'll continue to be the Church, loving each other and caring for each other from a distance, rejoicing that we have the technology that allows us to communicate, to share, and to glory in our shared faith in the One whose coming fulfilled the demands of the law and won for us a freedom which can never be wrested away. In all things, we will proceed for the good of the Body of Christ and for the glory of the One whom we worship and serve.

Prayer
Ever-present and Ever-living God, when the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed, Your faithful presence with Your people persisted. Even so, when houses of worship are closed, the worship of Your people continues. I give You thanks for meeting places that bear witness to Your beauty and hold many good memories for those who attend of joyful times shared in faithful community. And I'm equally grateful that we're not dependent upon them to continue to live our lives of faith. You continue to work in the midst of Your people, Your Church. You've called us out of the world to fill us with the goodness of Your Word, so that You can send us back into the world to make Your presence known and to shine the light of Your grace. May we do so faithfully and effectively, for the honor and glory of Your holy name.
Amen


Friday, May 22 Devotional

And my God shall supply all your needs, according to His riches in glory...
Philippians 4:19

The conclusion is easy to come to if you're thinking theologically, philosophically or theoretically: If God is the Source of all that exists and has caused all things to come into being, and if God looked upon His creation at the close and declared that it was good, and if God loves that which He has made and those whom He has made, surely the One who created it all is able to sustain it all - and to supply all their needs. The conviction is also easy to reach if you consider the biblical account, the history and memories passed down: God has consistently and faithfully provided for His people throughout time, sending rain to end droughts, rescuing people from their oppressors, raining down manna from heaven, granting the people He loves daily bread in the desert. And it comes even closer to home when the author of these words bears witness to how God has taken care of him personally, how God has protected and provided for him in all kinds of situations. Not just theory, this is praxis. Not just communal, this is personal. The apostle has experienced it in his own life. All three measures - theology/philosophy, history/tradition, personal testimony - can be placed into evidence to substantiate the claim that God will provide for you. And all three principles can be persuasive, to some extent, in and of themselves. But, of course, it becomes most meaningful to you when you experience it personally. When God supplies your needs. When you're convinced that God has shown you His care in your life. Of course, you won't be able to prove it; but that doesn't mean your account isn't true or that it won't be meaningful to others who hear your story. We humans are prone to forget. To compensate, we take pictures and record journals to help us remember and retain our memories. Regular mental tours of the past serve us well to appreciate what God has given and encourage our trust that God is with us and that we will make it through these days. Have you made a record of the God Moments in your life? Those occasions when you were convinced God was present with you and was providing for you personally? How encouraging it will be to you in days to come, how meaningful it will be to those who come after you, to peruse the account you leave of the faithfulness of God and of His personal provision in your life! How powerful your words will be, when you tell others God will supply all their needs - because they'll be words backed by your own personal experience. They'll be words of hope and encouragement. They'll serve to lift others up from their anxiety and worry, as you assure them that God loves them and cares for them. Your personal account can add to the corporate record of God's faithfulness and work in the world. Let it begin today. Open your eyes to see God at work in your midst. And when you see it, make a note. It will help you personally when occasions arise that your vision is occluded. Your faith will increase. You'll find courage to face the dreary days that come with the certain conviction that God is ever present and ever faithful. And your witness will be persuasive and powerful.

Prayer
Good and gracious God: I thank You for bringing me into existence and for continuing to care for me and provide for me faithfully each day. Thank You for the words of witness written down, the accounts of Your faithfulness. They encourage me and buoy my faith when times get tough. Help me never to forget what You've done for me. And may my personal witness persuade others to look to You in trust, to learn that You are good, to recognize that You are present, and to rejoice that You have been, are, and ever will be: faithful.
Amen


Thursday, May 21 Devotional

Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?
Acts 1:6

It's deep, deep down in our human nature, and it more than sometimes surfaces for all the world to see: we'd rather wield power than cede it. We'd rather rule than be ruled. We'd rather be in charge than have someone take charge over us. And that quest for power can cause us to be blind to the deficiencies in us and in those we support and move us to demonize our opponents who vie with us for the positions of power to which we aspire. The followers of Jesus had listened to His words and learned of His ways. They had witnessed His suffering. They were appalled and dismayed by His crucifixion. And then, for forty days, they beheld Him resurrected. They did their best to make sense of it all and to understand this Friend of Sinners, this Man of Integrity, their Master and their Lord. But still, they could not get it. Still, they failed to understand. Still, they could not reconcile the Messiah they wanted with the Christ they had been given. As much as Jesus had spoken to them about heavenly things and about the kingdom of God, their eyes were firmly fixed on the kingdoms of this earth. Foreigners, overlords, were still ruling over their land. And their nation of Israel had been waiting and wanting a new king - the Son of David - to appear and to set up His earthly throne, to return proper power to the people of God. And they were loath to settle for less. But, of course, that's exactly what would have happened, had Jesus succumbed to their wishes and taken up an earthly scepter. His kingdom was not of this world; He had told them as much. His was a kingdom that was over and above it. And the power that was His and the power He would bestow was a power that could effectively infiltrate any earthly power, to correct and to guide, to protect and to provide, for a good and just society. But government was not the answer, for government was only provisionary. In it, the people would not find their salvation. The freedom they longed for would be found only in the One who had come to save them not from their oppressive overlords but from their sinful selves. And in His parting words, Jesus would tell them plainly God's sights were set well beyond the borders of Israel. It was God's will that His kingdom be established throughout the earthly globe and find its way into every inhabited land. God does not align Himself with any political party. God does not align Himself with any earthly nation. To make such a claim is to create God in our own image. Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords before whom every knee in heaven and on earth will one day bow. In Him alone will you find a safe and certain home for your trust. For His is an everlasting kingdom that cannot be besieged and will never be destroyed. Until then, He calls you to work for His good in the ways that you can, for the benefit of all His beloved.

Prayer
Almighty and Everlasting God, Lord of Heaven and Earth: Never let my soul be satisfied with any earthly rule or power. To give my allegiance to anyone but You is misplaced devotion that will never deliver the goods for the deepest needs of my being. In Your grace, You accomplish Your purposes through sinful and frail humanity. Help me to recognize Your faithful presence and to know that in me and through me - in and through all Your people - You work out all things for Your glory and for the good of Your beloved people.
Amen


Wednesday, May 20 Devotional

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
1 Peter 3:8

Peter packs much into these few and final words. He writes to the people of God, followers of the Way, those he calls strangers in the world, those whose true and ultimate home is heaven. They've been scattered throughout the empire because of the present persecution, and they're experiencing great suffering because of it. Scattered? Sheltered? Suffering? Strangers to this world? You might feel you know something about those things in these days. And It's into this mix and milieu that the apostle pens these words to the people of God. To them then and to us now. They're some of his final words in this writing. He leaves to the last that which is most important and primary, and he addresses his words to all the people of God. None is excluded. He begins with unity of spirit. Strive to this end, he urges them. Other translators use the words, "Be harmonious." Musicians know this does not mean monotone. Not everyone is to sing the same note. Peter does not call the people to uniformity. He realizes that each person is a precious creation of God with unique particularities. Each is to come into the fulness of their individuality and to share the sounds they've been given. And they're to do so with respect for each other as unique beings in the one body of believers. Individual contributors sing with one harmonious voice, and the unity and richness that arise will impart blessing and bear witness to all. Sympathy comes next, which is another togetherness word meaning to suffer with. In our context today, the impact of the virus is greater on some than it is on others; some are suffering deeply while others do not suffer at all. The community of God's people dare not neglect those who suffer; instead they're called by God to come alongside them. Love each other - with the servant, sacrificial love of your Lord; you've seen and you've learned it from Him in living example. Be tenderhearted, kind-hearted, compassionate, moved to take action on behalf of those who are suffering in your midst. And be humble. Know your place. Don't claim too much for yourself. If you've been blessed with more, that's only more you have to share with others in the community to build up the entire body. These are all good, godly and precious words. But, of course, the reason they're written at all is precisely because the community does not always act accordingly. In each one, the selfish sinful nature rises up with each new day. The leader in their midst is thus compelled to remind them all of the daily need to repent - to turn from their selfish ambition and to die to it yet again. And then to rise up to new life, to allow the rush of God's Spirit to fill your entire being and empower you to live according to God's Way. Precious words, appropriate words, both then and now. Good reminders for all of God's people on this bright and glorious, God-given day.

Prayer
Loving God, You've created me uniquely and You've called me into community. Help me to rejoice before You in the fullness of my being. Help me not to compete or to compare myself to others with thoughts of being better or worse, or with any consideration of winning or losing. Rather, help me to remember that we're all on the same team - called, chosen and beloved by You. Fill me with Your Spirit and empower me to encourage those within my circle of influence. Warm me with the light of Your love and help me to reflect it in all that I say and do, for Your glory and for the upbuilding of Your precious people.
Amen


Tuesday, May 19 Devotional

For you were called to freedom... through love, be servants of one another.
Galatians 5:13

When I first heard it said, the words made me smile: There are many things you can do for yourself, but giving birth is not one of them. Indeed, life is a gift bestowed upon you - by a loving God and by parents who were either intentional, surprised, or both. You had no say in the matter whatsoever. You did not choose to be born: you just were. And now you're here, taking your place upon this blue and green globe, spinning through space. Even the least bit of self-examination and pondering can fill your soul with wonder. And the more deeply you consider, the more important the questions become: Why am I here? And what is my purpose? But, of course, these philosophical questions came late in the game. For by the time you asked them you were thoroughly convinced that you had a right to be here and to take up space. Before you had any reasoned sense of self, you learned the word and said it with insistence and conviction: Mine! This is the toddler's word, but it's categorically carried on into the teenage years, morphing into its more grown-up cousin: entitlement. And if you were born in this country, or if you landed here later and learned of its history, you were taught about certain inalienable rights - no foreign, strange, outside freedoms, but freedoms that are inherent, personal, part and parcel of your being, owned by you by virtue your birth: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These are words you remember and upon which you take your stand. But there's a context in that claim; there's a part that precedes it: these gifts have been endowed to you by your Creator. And, as if providing commentary to these words almost two millennia before Jefferson had declared them, the apostle Paul weighs in, considering the call of Christ: the freedom you've been given is not to be used for personal gain or to fuel selfish ambition. You've been granted release from restrictions not so that you can go and do as you please, but so that you can go and do that which pleases God. In our current context: Now is not the time to protest that your personal liberties are being limited or locked up or held captive or removed. Now is the time to use the freedoms you do have for the good of all God's people. Jesus told His followers He did not come to be served but to serve. And of course, if they were to be His true disciples, they must necessarily follow Him in this most fundamental and foundational way. Indeed, you have a place on this earthly stage. You have a voice, you have power, you have ability. You matter. God calls you, as one of His own, to bring benefit and blessing to those beside you. God calls you to consider and to care for those who are weighed down and beat down. God has graced you with these precious gifts. To use them to serve others is nothing less that to follow the road divine and to walk the path of greatness. For Jesus did say: the one who is greatest is the one who serves.

Prayer
Almighty God, Creator of all: In grace You have breathed into me the gift of life. How eager I am to live out my freedom, frantic as the Energizer Bunny. But help me be mindful of the purpose You've laid out before me: to use my time, my talents and my treasure in humble service before You. Help me to evaluate my actions with others in mind. Remind me that I do not occupy this space alone and that the world is not mine to do with as I please. Continue to create in me a heart that hurts with those things that bring you pain and rejoices in the matters that delight You. Be glorified in me and through me this day.
Amen


Monday, May 18 Devotional

Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:2

We're all in this together. I'm sure you've heard those words repeated often in the past few months. One aspect of the aphorism is certainly true. For COVID-19 has indeed touched all of our lives in one way or another. The Shelter in Place order has impacted everyone in our City, County and State. It's affected our entire nation and spread throughout the whole world. In that sense, we are indeed all in this together. It is a global pandemic, affecting all the people. And it's been a good lesson - or at least it could be - of the meaning of community: how deeply we're connected to each other and how many ways we're mutually dependent. But while we're all in this together, the burdens borne are not equal. Some are suffering more than others. Those who are vulnerable, due to age or comorbidities, have greater concerns about this disease taking their lives, while many of those who are young and healthy have little anxiety. Many not considered essential workers have lost their jobs - and some of them will not have jobs to go back to as our world begins to apprehensively emerge from its shelter. Others who are considered essential must continue to work - and in many cases put themselves at greater risk than those who are staying home. For some, their anxiety level will not be much assuaged when restrictions are relaxed, simply because permission is given to them to go out into the world again. They will be tentative; they will test the waters before jumping into a pool whose bottom they cannot see. The pandemic will continue to plague, even after its initial sweep through our communities has concluded. The responsibility of us all as the people of God is to open our eyes wider that we might have a more expansive and inclusive vision. To act not with personal interest and intention, but to move forward with consideration for the welfare of others. Now is not the time to insist on our own rights. Now is the time to exercise our energies in righteous behavior. Jesus calls us as the people of God to humble ourselves and to follow His example of loving service. He calls us as the people of God to use our feet not to trample others down, but to venture forth to the sides of those whose burdens are greater than our own. To help them in their time of need. To assist them in the ways that we are able. To lift up those who are weighed down. This is the work of God. And when you offer yourself to that end and with that attitude, in whatever little way, you're participating in something great. You're doing the deeds of the divine.

Prayer
Loving God, abundant in grace: You have poured out Your love upon me and You have preserved me in these days. I confess that too often I have become mesmerized by looking in the mirror. Avert my eyes from my own self-interest, that I might better perceive the needs of others. Help me to see Your loving actions in the world and to align myself with Your ways. Work Your will in me and through me today, as I offer to You all that I have in humble service for Your good purpose and for the sake of the people beloved in Your eyes. For the honor of Your holy Name.
Amen


Sunday, May 17 Virtual Church Service ("Insider Information")

Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed!


Sunday, May 17 Devotional

I press on toward the goal for the prize.
Philippians 3:14

On my boyhood bookshelf was a gift my parents purchased. They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but I can attest that in this case even the title was inspirational. In those days I wasn't much of a reader, and I can't truly say that I read even a few pages from the book. But I saw its spine almost every night before going to bed, and in this way the message was massaged into my memory. It was all about the mental side of sports. The physical aspect - the training, the technique, the diet - goes without saying. But the strategies involved and the training of the mind are just as important. For example, setting one's sights on attainable and manageable segments of a course can help an athlete persevere and accomplish more than was thought possible. Just twenty more pedal strokes - then you can rest. Just around the next bend - then the road will flatten out. You're making progress! You're almost there! You can do it! This kind of self-talk, this sort of coaching directive, can prod and embolden a competitor and make the difference between giving up or going on. Every trained racer knows about pacing and holding something in reserve for that final kick. And you've probably seen racers reach the finish line, straining and stretching, arching their backs, propelling their torsos forward to touch the tape a split second sooner. One can also see this "manageable chunks perspective" if you look back on any major accomplishment or life challenge you've completed. Even examining last month's calendar, you might be surprised and startled: How in the world was I able to complete so much? It might make you tired just looking at it! You were able to do it because you did it one day at a time. Had you known what it would take when you started, you might not have begun the work at all. The apostle uses sports terminology as a sort of self-talk to buoy himself up for his final days, as well as to encourage the community to whom he writes. This is not a man who's coasting to the finish line. He presses on. He has his goal always in mind. He has his eyes set on the prize to come. Manageable chunks. Attainable objectives. One step at a time. You'll make it through the challenges you're facing today. If the destination you seek is a worthy one, and if your intentions are good and true, you'll get there. Press on, and listen to that still, small voice cheering you onward. The end is just around the bend. It'll be worth the effort you expend. And someday soon, you'll look back upon your labors with gratifying satisfaction. Best of all, your Coach will be there to greet you with welcome words: "Well done!"

Prayer
O God of strength, it's easy for weariness to settle upon me and weigh me down. One day stretches into the next without any apparent progress and without any end in sight. Sometimes everything inside me cries out to call it quits. Thank You for Your sustaining Spirit. Thank You for Your abiding presence. Thank You for peaceful rest. Thank You for placing challenges before me one day at a time. And thank You for Your promise that the effort I expend in the work You've placed before me will well be worth the investment of my energies. May You be glorified this day in and through my words and ways. And may Your kingdom come.
Amen


Saturday, May 16 Devotional

You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.
Luke 10:41-42

Perhaps you remember the scene that includes the Sisters M - Mary & Martha. Martha was the one who opened her home to Jesus and His disciples. She was the one who was busy about her preparations, intent on extending hospitality to her guests and providing the very best she had to offer. Mary chose instead to sit at the feet of Jesus and to devote her attention to Him. Martha's tasks - again, taken with good intention - became overwhelming. Although she may well have protested early on that she needed no assistance and could do it all on her own, it was more than a one-woman job. Her errands became all-consuming, and she was stretched beyond her capabilities. Her spirit became sour and resentful. She could no longer keep her angst to herself, but blurted out her bother before her guests, laying into her sister and accusing Jesus of showing no concern. Easy now, says Jesus. Perhaps Martha's table was overcrowded with dishes, even as her house was overcrowded with disciples. Was it like Thanksgiving, when there was so much food on the table it couldn't possibly fit on anyone's plate, even if everyone had only a taste? It was all so overwhelming. The scene was losing its serenity. And the anxiety that filled Martha's heart overflowed and permeated the atmosphere of her guests. Whoa! Take a breath. Your intentions are good. Your efforts are appreciated. But in the end, there are few things that are really needed. Mary is doing no wrong. She has chosen well - and it will not be taken away from her. She is giving Me her full attention. Her ears are open, her concentration is focused, and her heart is pure. Now: where do you find yourself in this scene? In this modern age you have so many options to spend your time. There are so many books to read, articles to peruse, websites to visit and emails to wade through. There's Facebook and Netflix and cable TV. But there's only so much time. And your table is only so long. Perhaps it's become overcrowded with dishes. How are you ordering your time? It's now more important than ever to sit at the feet of Jesus and to give Him your full intention. For in the end, His desire is not to be served by you. His intention, finally, is to provide for you all that you need - call it daily bread - to keep your wits about you in this harried world and to teach you His ways of navigating through it. His Word satisfies and brings peace to the soul. There's no better way to begin your day than to sit at the feet of Jesus. As you make it your regular practice, your anxiety will dissipate, your soul will find its needed rest, and your spirit will be strengthened to serve in ways that will benefit those around you. For you'll be sharing the joy that you've discovered in the presence of Jesus, during your time of devotion at His feet.

Prayer
Lord Jesus, You well know how easy it is for me to allow my table to become so overcrowded that there's little room for anything else. Help me not to let my good works push others to the outside. Help me to be focused in my energies. But more than anything else: help me to be intentional about sitting at Your feet each day. For it is there that I will hear Your words of truth and consolation. It is there that I will learn of Your wisdom and receive Your guidance. And it is there that I will be infused with energy, to carry out the work You've placed before me this day. May all that I do be pleasing in Your sight and bring honor to Your name.
Amen


Friday, May 15 Devotional

Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
Habakkuk 3:18

Even so. Still. No matter what. So concludes the prophet with the obscure name that causes pronouncers to take pause. Habakkuk is deemed a minor prophet. Not because his work is less important than the others. And not because he sings his song with a somber tune less joyful. He is dubbed minor only because his words are few. But the prophet of formidable name doesn't need to preach a long sermon to get his message across. He's living through a period of time when not a whole lot makes sense. Evil appears to have the upper hand. And no matter what he says, no matter how hard he tries, his people just would not listen - and they continued on in their stubborn ways. The prophet finally gives up and gives over all his concerns to God, and he takes his stand: if nothing changes, if it all goes to pot, if it's all taken away and the good ol' days never return: STILL... He will lift his voice in praise to the God who has saved and to the only One he knows he can turn to who has the saving power to do so again. In His time and according to His will. The prophet offers his best with a humble and honest heart. He rails against the people even as he laments alongside them. He is of kindred spirit with another sad and sorry lamenter smack dab in the center of the Hebrew Scriptures - Old Man Job. Although all may be removed, although I might experience a loss from which I can never hope to recover, even so, still, no matter what: I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. His stubborn insistence is admirable and exemplary. YET. It just may be the short word that defines this pithy prophet. For to use the words of Jesus: this one is no reed shaken by the wind. This one has backbone. And his fortitude and faith - not in the circumstances surrounding him but in the God who has saved him - are worthy of our contemplation as we live in and live out these unwelcome days. Rise above your present position and sing your praises to the One who is preeminent. His intentions for you are good, and His will for you is to rescue and to redeem. He is the God of your salvation. No matter how things look at the moment and no matter how you feel about them, even so, still, no matter what: God is worthy of your praise. And when you do just that, when you open your heart and lift your voice in fulness of praise, the spirit within you will be set free to soar above all the concerns that are getting you down. You will see your circumstances with fresh and new perspective - even through the eyes of God.

Prayer
Gracious God of my salvation: Assure me today of the victory I have in You. You know well my human predicament, for You yourself became a man of sorrows who knew suffering and pain. You even succumbed to death. But in wondrous power You rose again in glorious resurrection. Instruct my soul, that I might learn well that death is not decisive, but that after death You have the power to bring about new life. Here and now in these days, as well as in the life to come. Breathe into me the spirit of stubborn insistence, that my whole being might rejoice in You. As You have done in the past, so I pray that You will do once again in my day: look upon the humble estate of Your people and mercifully come to save.
Amen


Thursday, May 14 Devotional

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.
Philippians 1:9

The aged apostle writes from his prison cell in Rome to a community of Christ followers, encouraging them to progress in their discipleship. He's commended them for their participation in the Lord's work, and he's rejoiced in their partnership. He urges them not to become stagnant, but to press on! For the truth is, no matter how many years you've accumulated, no matter how far you have advanced in the ways of God, there's always room for you to grow in love. Retirement is not part of the vocabulary of the people of God. Your rest here on earth is for the purpose of maintaining good health and renewing your energy, so that you might fully live into this new day and effectively accomplish the purposes of God that He has laid out before you. Your eternal rest will come when you breathe your last. But even then, don't imagine heaven to be a place where you'll be sipping Mai Tais poolside. Although eternal reward may well inspire hope for your living today, heaven is best left in the hands of God. For now, fix your eyes on Jesus and be fully devoted to the tasks before you. And whatever those may be, love should be at the center of them all. The new command Jesus gave to His followers was to love as He had loved them. With fullness of heart. Sacrificially. With no self-interest in mind but rather with full intention to serve and to bring benefit to others. To grow in the knowledge of love is to come to know better those to whom you will show love. Who are they? What are their needs? Love listens and learns; love acquires knowledge so that it can better discern how best to serve and to communicate that love in ways that will be understood and welcomed by its recipients. Even as there will always be need in the world, so there will always be opportunity for you to abound still more and more in works of love, when you engage with others in community. May these apostolic words of encouragement inspire your own commitment to seize the moments of this day for good. Perhaps you'll include a prayer for those you serve, that their love, too, might abound still more and more. And when you close your eyes tonight, you'll sleep well, knowing that it was a day well lived. And when you close your eyes for good, God will awaken you again with words of grace and commendation: Well done, thou good and faithful servant!

Prayer
Good and gracious God, Creator of us all: You breathed into me the spirit of life and sent me forth to be an active participant on this earthy stage. Inspire me to do more than merely observe. Refresh, renew and energize me today to be about Your good work in the world and to commit myself to the loving service of others. Open my eyes to better learn the needs of those You've brought into my sphere of influence. And open my mind, that I might better learn how to love and serve them according to Your good will. May all that I do this day be pleasing in Your sight, and may Your name be glorified in me and through me.
Amen


Wednesday, May 13 Devotional

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation...
Psalm 51:12

It's all too easy to fall into a funk. To become discouraged. Confused. To lose your way, to become disoriented, to lose perspective. Especially in these days - which, for many of us, have become so wearisome and unsettling. But sometimes you don't have far to look to find the answer that will awaken you to a higher reality and get you back on track. Sometimes even a simple reminder of the best of the past is no small thing. You might think of it as a re-mind, as if you were to reinstall some software on that computer brain of yours to reinstate a brand-new beginning. A restoration of sanity. A complete refresh. David, the author of this psalm had just gone through some of the most difficult, dark and disastrous days of his life. I need not delve into the details. Suffice it to say that David was in danger of losing all that he had gained - of losing himself - and his future was filled with fear and uncertainty. It's in the midst of this time that he writes these humble words of appeal to the One who had never let him down. The tragedy began when David had forgotten. He had become distracted by the busy-ness of his life, and he had lost his way. His pure and simple life with his pure and simple faith had become obscured, and his clear vision had become obliterated. He needed a full reboot. And so he pleaded with God to set him straight and to remind him of the bigger and greater things. He needed to be reminded of what God had done for him and his people. The great rescue from their bondage in Egypt - the freedom, the release, the liberation. God had brought it about for His people in grace and with lovingkindness. God was, is and ever would be: faithful. "Never again let me forget Your great salvation which You have brought about. I've let the joy of my personal rescue dissipate. Restore unto me that joy." Is this not a re-joicing? What God had done for David and his people is what God has done for you on Calvary's cross. It was The Great Rescue - of you and of the world. Accomplished in grace and with the lovingkindness that comes from the very center of the character of God. God is the One who has saved, who does save, and who will save again. Back then, with us now, and in the new normal into which we are living. There is a reason to rejoice today. You just need to look in the right place.

Prayer
Good and gracious God, I too easily allow the busy-ness of my life to distract and drain me from that which is most important and life-giving. Re-mind me today of Your great salvation. Re-store to me the fullness of joy that I've allowed to become mundane. Help me not get so inundated in the ordinary things around me that I lose sight of the extraordinary work that You have done. Set Calvary's cross before my eyes, that I might grow in gratitude for Your sacrifice made there, and that joy might well up within me once again at the rescue mission You've accomplished upon it for the sake of the world. Once more, I pray: take the fragments of my life and fashion them into something beautiful for You today, to the praise of Your glorious grace.
Amen


Tuesday, May 12 Devotional

He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.
Psalm 1:3

Where there's life, there's a good chance you'll find water nearby. My father taught me this on the backpacking trails of the Sierras, as we looked down from above the tree-line: See that strip of trees in the valley below? They grow there because there's a stream running through that gorge. Where there is water, there is life. Those living in the biblical world knew the importance of water in the arid landscape that surrounded them. They were dependent upon the rains. And the fear of drought was very real. The Children of Israel discovered that those living in their land before them practiced a religion that centered around rain, for the fertility of the land was crucial for survival. The psalmist knew well that a tree growing in a stream's proximity was an indication of health and vitality and thus a dependable source of fruit when its season had come. And he uses that image to describe a person who maintains close proximity to the life-giving Word of God. This is the one who receives nourishment from God's Word on a daily basis. This is the one who meditates on the Word, contemplates it carefully, muses in the mind as a dog worries a bone and considers its application to the words and ways that will be spoken and taken that day. Those who make a practice of welcoming the Word of God as recorded in Holy Scripture and allowing its power to pulse through their being will not only be healthy in themselves. They will bear fruit that will bring benefit to all who will draw near. God blesses you because God loves you. But it does not end there. God blesses you so that you might be a blessing to others. The choices you make today will not only impact you, they will affect all those with whom you come into contact today and from now on. Your decisions, then, are not only personal. They are communal. When you're done reading this meditation and praying the prayer below, take a moment to pause. Don't just rush on to the next thing on your to-do list. Stop and thank God for who you are and where you are today. Thank God for the blessing of this day and for the opportunities God will present to you. Offer yourself to God as a living sacrifice, to be used by Him as His willing instrument for His good and faithful purposes. Let His life flow into you now. And then: live!

Prayer
Almighty God, You are the Source of life and the Bestower of every earthly blessing. You spoke life into Your world and You speak life into Your people today. Help me take root next to the stream of your life- giving Word and to be attentive to it. Your Word courses through my entire being like good medicine, healing me from hurtful thoughts and errant ways. Your Word brings me health of mind, spirit and body. Grace me with Your goodness, that the joie de vivre inherent in Your blessings may well up within me and overflow into the lives of others. Help me to faithfully devote myself to listen to Your Word and to apply myself to Your guidance. And always remind me that doing so not only brings me benefit but affects the well-being of others planted in the grove with me. Be glorified in me and through me this day.
Amen


Monday, May 11 Devotional

It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
1 Timothy 1:15

Imagine a wizened minister, his mind scanning through his years of experience, sifting through the lessons he's learned, seeking to distill all that was of value - the very best of the best - that he might pass it on to one who would assume his mantle and carry on his work with the souls he had come to cherish. Now visualize a young and eager vicar, called to his sacred duties and with his whole career before him, seeking wisdom for the work that lay ahead. This is the setting for the words above, composed by the aged apostle to guide the gifted servant whose divine appointment had been clearly recognized and collectively affirmed. "Here's a truth you can trust," he writes, "something upon which you can build as one of your foundational convictions. So listen up: you can take this one to the bank. The reason God sent His Son into the world was to save sinners. His purpose was not to judge, to correct or to condemn sinners. It was to save them. Never forget it. That is the attitude you, too, must take as you assume this ministry. And as His Spirit works in you, your heart will be conformed to this selfsame purpose. Should you ever have self-doubt (and you will) regarding your own worthiness to receive this calling or concerning your ability to accomplish the service entrusted to you, let me assure you of that which I claim for myself: I am the chief of sinners. If there's anyone who would be counted as unworthy or unfit for this heavenly calling, it is I. Never ever forget that you are a sinner - just like the people you are called to serve. If you remember that you yourself are undeserving, if you are cognizant that you yourself have been saved by grace, you won't be tempted to look down your nose at others with self- righteous indignation. You'll be saved from a judgmental and condemnatory attitude, and you'll be reminded of your participation in this saving work to which your Lord has called you. But don't beat yourself up about your sin; don't wallow in it. Know that Jesus came to save you, too - and that He fully accomplished His mission. It's when this message of Good News becomes personal that it becomes powerful. Continue to fix your eyes on Jesus and remember what He's done for you. Then do your very best to convey this Good News of God's grace to others. It's something I've devoted my life to doing, and I commend this work to you as most worthy of your own life's commitment." Good words. Powerful words. Encouraging words. For all of God's beloved today.

Prayer
Good and gracious God, thank You for what You have done for me in Christ Jesus my Lord. I confess that my sin scares me. I'm tempted to fear that my sin severs me from Your grace, disqualifies me from my calling, excludes me from Your eternal kingdom. Help me to trust in the deeper truth of Your work of salvation, which you accomplished for me and for the world upon Calvary's cross. And use this poor sinner to bear your message to other sinners, as one beggar showing others where I have found food.
Amen


Sunday, May 10 Virtual Church Service ("Two Earthly Tasks and One Big Picture")

Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed!


Sunday, May 10 Devotional

Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
Matthew 6:8

Sometimes it's innate; other times it takes some practice. But moms can usually come to learn what their infant needs. Early on, the needs of their little ones are pretty basic. Infantile. They're either hungry, dirty or tired. Then they develop and grow and begin to speak. Their wants and needs are not so simple anymore; they seem to grow disproportionately in comparison to the size of their owner. Toddlers make demands and will not be dismissed without a hearing. They will not be appeased without making their case insistently and persistently. But moms see the bigger picture. They see beyond the moment and find options that will satisfy their little tyrants. They can give them what they really need - not just what they think they need. And when those toddlers reach their teens, life can become very complicated indeed. It's sometimes hard enough for adolescents to figure out what it is they really want, let alone asking someone else to satisfy them. It takes an expert to get inside the minds of these temperamental tornadoes. Enter mom. With her compassionate, listening ear and her patient tender loving care. Hers is the needed presence that can help restore the confused adolescent from their place of temporary insanity. But then there are those situations that arise that even Mom can't fix. Trouble comes when even she is stumped and has to look outside herself to the One who's been faithfully blessing her with insight and wisdom all through her parenting years. She looks to One who sees, the One who knows. Even before she asks. Even when she doesn't understand what's going on and what it is that's really needed. What glorious wonder that God is so sensitive to her needs (and yours)! That He's so caring. So attentive. That He knows before you bring it to His attention. But if God already knows before you ask Him, if God is already present and working to answer your prayers before you give voice to them, then... why even pray at all? Because it changes your heart. And strengthens your faith. And because God wants to hear from you. God hears your prayers but is not dependent upon them. This should not discourage you from praying; instead, it should embolden you to pray with confidence. God is your ever-present help in time of trouble. And if you've been blessed as I have, you're received a wonderful example of His loving care, tender compassion and uncanny sensitivity... in your Mom. Happy Mother's Day to all moms out there. And thank you especially for the things you've done - and the things you do - to help us come to know our heavenly Father's heart.

Prayer
Almighty God, loving heavenly Father: I thank You for Your tender mercies poured out upon me this day and so faithfully throughout my years. Thank You for the ways You've revealed your grace to me. I especially thank You for my mom, who communicates so well Your love and Your ways in her own acts of caring. Comfort her with Your abiding presence and encourage her with Your certain promises of everlasting life. Thank You for the gift You've given to me in her. I entrust her to Your loving care.
Amen


Saturday, May 9 Devotional

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!
Psalm 133:1

Where there are people there are opinions, and where there are opinions there is disagreement. In order for an agreeable resolution to be reached, there must be respectful listening, kindness and consideration. For civil discourse to occur, all parties must recognize the foundational convictions held in common and look for an answer that will bring benefit to all. What gets in the way are personal privilege, pride and selfish interest. On their coattails come blame and judgment. They are uncaringly cast on those who've done wrong, not with concern in an effort to correct, but with self-righteous braggadocio with the intention to condemn. And sometimes blame is cast on others undeservingly, merely to deflect and divert attention away from the truly responsible party: the speaker. Such is the lot of the human race. And when we're challenged with something that affects us all (like COVID-19), it's more important than ever to be respectful and civil in our interactions with others. To affirm our common goals and to work together to achieve them. This is no time to cast aspersions on those with whom we disagree. Followers of the One who taught us to love our enemies should take no part in these proceedings. As your mom taught you when you were young: "If you don't have anything nice to say..." (You know the rest). And speaking of mom, tomorrow we heartfully (or dutifully) express thanks - to our living mothers directly or to God for them. Many of us will be taken back to our childhood days, and we'll remember with nostalgic appreciation. We'll be reminded of the simple but important lessons taught us. The cherished legacy of values passed down to us. The heart's cry of many a mom is that their children get along. And I can't help but believe that this is not also the desire of our heavenly Father for His children. Jesus gave us an example of the greatest love when He laid down His life for others. And He bid everyone who would follow in His steps to go and do likewise. When you live your life with the other in mind, your perspective will change. Your words will change. Your conversation will change. Jesus prayed for the unity of His followers, and He taught them to pray in this seam vein. So how will you build up those around you today? How will you encourage them? It all begins with respectful listening. Engaging in these practices is effort exerted toward unity. And it warms the heart of God.

Prayer
Good and gracious God, You are so very patient with Your people, You are so very patient with me. Contrariwise, I am too quick to speak, too fast to judge, too eager to affix blame and to condemn. Lord, have mercy! Remind me of Your abundant love poured out in Jesus, Your Son. Fix my eyes on Him, that I might learn His ways. Empower me to work with others for Your good purposes. And may my sight be set not on what is good for me personally, but on that which brings benefit to all. Accomplish Your purposes in me and through me today, that You may be honored and glorified in my every thought and action.
Amen


Friday, May 8 Devotional

The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear, or be dismayed.
Deuteronomy 31:8

He had gone up that mysterious mountain with Moses and was there to hear the voice of God. For decades he experienced the highs and lows of wilderness life, accompanying this great leader as he shepherded God's people from the Land of Bondage to the Land of Promise. They could now see the New Land from where they stood together. And these would be some of the last words Moses would speak to the man who had been at his side throughout the last third of his life. The words were shared as part of his legacy, and they would not be forgotten. But Joshua, who was about to receive the mantle of leadership from Moses, was nervously shaking in his dusty sandals. His confidence had been strong - as long as Moses was there with him. But now, with Moses leaving, he would be alone. And in charge. And this was, for him, uncharted territory. To him would be given the responsibility of leading this stubborn, tired and rebellious people to their new home. He had scouted out this land forty years earlier - when he was but a young man. And he was getting another glimpse of it now. But surely things had changed within it. And certainly, things had changed within him. It would be a brand-new chapter in his life. And he would be going it alone. He was terrified. And that's when Moses turns his eyes heavenward and points his younger protégé to the Strength that had sustained him since his experience at the burning bush. "You will not be alone, Joshua. Although I will not be at your side, there is One who is greater than us both, One who sees more than we do and One whose wisdom is without limit. He is ever faithful and will not fail you or forsake you. There is no need to fear. You will not be alone!" How important were these words for the new leader to hear. You may not have been laden with the responsibilities of a Joshua today, but you may well wonder how you'll be able to handle the "new normal" of your future life. That which is unknown can cause anxiety. And it's all too easy to feel isolated in these days. But you have a Savior who's promised to be with you through it all. You are not alone. You can be sure that God will go ahead of you to lead you, behind you to protect you, and at your side to guide and accompany you. This day, tomorrow and forever. Do not fear or be dismayed. God is bigger than any battle you're facing today. You are safe and secure in His good and gracious hands.

Prayer
Loving Heavenly Father, I know what comfort was mine as a child, assured that no matter what our family was facing, I felt safe, secure and at peace with my father in the house. Thank you for that gift of grace You've given in my life, for it's made it easier for me to understand Your good and faithful provision and protection. Bless me with a heart full of faith today. Inspire within me confidence in Your loving care. Grant me courage, that I might encourage others. And give me the wisdom of Moses, that I might persuade those who are fearful and dismayed to lift their eyes heavenward to You, in whom they will find their present and eternal hope.
Amen


Thursday, May 7 Devotional

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?' Then I said, 'Here am I. Send me!'
Isaiah 6:8

Lead, follow, or get out of the way. You've probably heard these words before. God calls you to do the first two, but bids you to avoid the third. In the above verse the prophet steps forward to respond to God's missional invitation. There's work to be done, and Isaiah does not wait for others to do it. He takes the initiative. He responds to God's call, and in this way he leads. But there's more to the story. For at the outset the prophet, like a great many other characters in the Holy Writ, could not imagine himself ever doing what he would do. He was overcome with his own sin, his own unworthiness and his inability to faithfully carry out God's calling on his life. He was filled with self-doubt. It was only after God assured him that his sins were forgiven and that God would be with him that the prophet received the courage to step up to the task. You may very well feel the same way today. You may not feel you have it in you to make much of a difference in this world. You may feel unworthy, incapable, unfit to serve God in any meaningful way. If that is so, you just might be in the perfect place for God to use you for His purposes. A humble heart is a good place to start, for you will be compelled to look to the One who calls you and to depend upon Him for wisdom and guidance and power to carry out your calling. You may not have it in you, but you have it all in God. How then is God calling you, today, to take the initiative? To act first in reaching out to others with His love and grace? God is not as interested in your failures or successes as He is in your faithfulness. You can be sure that He will be with you as you step out in faith to answer the call that is uniquely yours. Your simple acts of love can motivate others, who may very well perpetuate that same good work by investing themselves in the lives of still others. When you step up to answer God's call to be His willing servant in the world, you initiate a work that can accomplish much good and bring glory to His name. Pause for a moment. Open your heart to God in prayer. Listen. What is God's Spirit prompting you to do? What is the errand on which God is sending you? The role you play in God's kingdom is vital, for there's only one of you and no one can fulfill your role but you. You've been invited into a great adventure called today. God is with you now, and God will be with you to empower you as you step forward to volunteer to be His servant to advance His good purposes in the world. God smiles upon you as you step forward to say yes to His call. You can do so with confidence, and you won't regret it.

Prayer
Almighty God, I sometimes doubt my value and my ability to impact the world in any meaningful way. I question my capacity to make any real difference in Your kingdom work. Help me to trust that You have created me individually and uniquely for Your own purposes. He me to come into the fullness of who You have created me to be and to offer myself to Your service today. Help me see more clearly the magnitude of what You've done for me. For I know that as I become more aware of Your abundant grace, You will instill in me the confidence I need to answer Your call on my life to carry out the good works You've prepared for me to do. May my efforts bring glory to Your name and extend Your kingdom's purpose.
Amen


Wednesday, May 6 Devotional

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28

In our world there is good and evil, joy and suffering, justice and corruption, fairness and inequity. Sometimes it's easy to see the law at work: "You reap what you sow." Other times, those who seem most undeserving are the ones who get all the lucky breaks and reap abundance with little effort, while others more qualified and deserving are overlooked, miss out, and lose out. And sometimes those who do their level best to live righteous and holy lives and to follow the example of Jesus are persecuted and punished. Sometimes it just doesn't make sense. And you can be tempted to throw in the towel, give up, and question if the way you live really matters. Into this milieu the apostle speaks a word of comfort and hope. God is at work, he writes, to bring good results out of bad situations. God is sovereign. He is the Great Orchestrator, the One who organizes all the sundry segments of this life for His good purposes and ours. Jesus puts it this way: "Your reward will be great in heaven." God will settle accounts and bring it all to good conclusion. Not only does God work all things together for good in the end, when all is said and done. God is at work even now, in the midst of injustice and oppression. Even as we may confidently say that God works (and so should we) to bring an end to systems and structures that subjugate and stifle, God also brings freedom to those who suffer, even while they are caught up in it. God brings life to the exploited, even in the midst of their entrapment. With spiritually sensitive discernment, we can see this work of God even now: good is born out of bad, as people rise up and respond to crisis with sacrificial service and with acts of kindness and grace. In these actions we not only see the hand of God, we get a glimpse of the final reckoning and summation of all things. With these words Paul aims to inspire confidence and hope in those who follow the steps of the Lord. "He's got your back, and He's at work in and through all the events and occurrences of your life to create a work of beauty." Such is the confidence of those who love the Lord and His ways. Some desire to take these words and limit them to the faithful. They wish to say that God brings about good for those who believe, but for those who do not: too bad for you. But it's never wise to limit God's grace. Just ask Jonah. And Jesus reminds us that God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. God is good, and God's grace is lavish and lush: it is superabundant - more than enough for all. Can you hear God beckoning you to join Him in this work today?

Prayer
Good and gracious God, I often live my life with the illusion of control and competency. But when I'm thinking most clearly, I know how easily all can be taken away. I rejoice that You are my God and that You are faithful and true. I rejoice that You are at work, bringing good out of bad situations - even now, even here - and that the final culmination of all things will be more beautiful than I can imagine and much better than I deserve. Shape my heart in Your grace, and strengthen my resolve to work for the good of Your whole creation, for all those You claim as Your own. Be glorified in me and through me this day.
Amen


Tuesday, May 5 Devotional

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God...
Psalm 42:5

It's amazing what an adjustment in attitude can do. An alteration of tack. A change of perspective. Ask any aircraft pilot or ship captain. The way a vessel is oriented with respect to its surroundings is the difference between working with the elements or against them. It can determine the outcome of the craft and all those on board, as well as whether the intended destination will be reached sooner, later or never. Even minor adjustments can have surprising and significant results. Anyone who drives a car knows this so well it often becomes an unconscious activity. As a boy I remember riding with my father on the freeway, fascinated by his steering. Why was he so regularly moving the steering wheel when the road ahead was straight as an arrow? We were maintaining course, not swerving in the least. I wondered if what he was doing was really necessary, or if he was just playing around. Now, of course, I know better. So, too, one of the main benefits counselors can bring us is to help us expand our horizons, to see other options, and to acquire a new and fresh perspective toward the challenges life throws at us. In the psalm above the writer takes part in a little self-talk. He knows he needs an attitude adjustment, and he advises his soul. Certainly his thoughts and feelings had justification. It wasn't for no reason that he responded to events in his life the way he did. His emotions, his mood, his despair - it was all warranted. But there was a greater truth. A deeper reality. Something that would give him reason to keep his head about himself in the midst of the winds and waves of life, to see his way clear out of the storm - even to know that he was safe within it. Lift your eyes to the God who created you! Remember His good promises! Recall His great power and the tender mercies He has poured out upon you! Remember His faithfulness! Do not despair, O my soul! For God is your hope. And He will not let you down. These current conflicts will come to a close. These horrors will end. The darkness of this night will not last forever. A new day will come, bursting forth with light. Look to God, O my soul, and your despair will give way to hope and joy and peace.

Prayer
Gracious God of hope, although the sky above me be filled with thick, dark clouds that turn my day to night, remind me that the sun is always shining above them. Even so, You are ever faithful. Lift my eyes to You. Never let me forget Your faithful presence, even when I cannot perceive it. Help me to trust in Your good promises, for You are the lover of my soul and in Your hands my soul can be at rest. O God, You are my hope. May my spirit rejoice in You this day, and may my perspective be informed by Your faithful, accompanying presence and Your gracious provision.
Amen


Monday, May 4 Devotional

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Romans 12:15

It's just one part of the everyday pastoral experience. The nature of my ministerial calling is such that I'm invited into the lives of others. I hear their stories; and, in part, I share in their experiences. The big events in their lives are condensed and incorporated into my own. Both their highs and their lows. In the early afternoon I'm in the presence of a woman who has said goodbye to her husband of more than fifty years. Her loss has plummeted her to a place heretofore unknown; it's left her bereaved of her loved one and bereft of all that they had shared. She's confused and depressed. She doesn't know what comes next or what remains of her life or even why she's still here. Then, in the late afternoon, I receive news that a COVID-19 victim for whom our community has been praying for months, has finally been taken off the ventilator and is now breathing on his own. My heart rejoices at this news, and I share in the celebration. We live with our hope firmly fixed in God that the trajectory of this man's recovery continues... This component of my calling is not mine alone. It belongs to all the people of God. We are those who've been called to a ministry of witness and with-ness. Sometimes we commiserate with others and, prompted by God Spirit, bear witness with words that come to us from the outside. And sometimes we sit in silence, in a ministry of with-ness. God has chosen to be with us in Jesus, our Lord Immanuel. And God has called us to be with others and to share with them in their times of need. Our presence brings comfort in times of sorrow and joy in times of celebration. There are no easy answers. We pray to God on another's behalf. Sometimes God brings healing; other times not. The reasons are above and beyond us, to be revealed in the last days by the One who has promised His beloved and treasured people that He will never abandon or forsake them. Until then, we answer God's call to enter into others' lives and share with them in their experiences. And we give thanks to God for the gift of caring community, the blessed communion of saints.

Prayer
Good and gracious God, bestower of every earthly and heavenly blessing, I thank You for the gift of this day. I praise You that You are a God who has chosen to be with Your people - and to be with me today. Grant me a distinct awareness of Your loving care and provision. And give me a sensitive spirit, that I might enter into the lives of others to be a bearer of Your blessing. You've surrounded me with caring community and You've called me to a ministry of witness and with-ness. Grant me divine discernment, to know when and what to speak, and when to say nothing, but simply to sit with others in silence. Thank You for Your promise that You will never leave me, but that You will abide with me forever.
Amen


Sunday, May 3 Virtual Church Service ("Safe With The Shepherd")


Sunday, May 3 Devotional

O LORD, Thou hast searched me and known me.
Psalm 139:1

This psalm, attributed to David and one of my favorites, is an expression of David's fascination and awe, as he stands before the LORD he serves and recognizes that God is mighty and majestic. David is astounded at God's complete knowledge of him. When you envision a person being searched, you might think of someone being patted down for weapons or scanned in an airport terminal. You might think of authorities seeking something that's been secreted away, purposely hidden to elude detection or discovery. But God does not search you to arrest, judge and condemn. Instead, God corrects and reorients, and God calls you back to the path that leads to life. Although there may well be some anxiety within you to know that God sees all, David is more amazed than he is concerned. What is it like to be fully known and fully loved? Isn't that one of your deepest longings? For if others knew the thoughts that have gone through your head - and those you've allowed to make a home in your heart - what then? What if they knew the things you've said in the privacy of your own personal space or the thoughts you've had that are so scary even you would not give voice to them? What then? You're not alone if you wonder if there is anyone who exists who would accept and love you still. But God knows the human predicament perfectly and personally. Because God became incarnate and took upon Himself our human flesh, in the very deepest sense: God knows. To be fully known and fully loved. That's what David rejoices over in this psalm. By the end of it, David invites God to take another look into his life and to examine his heart and soul. I suppose that since David was persuaded that God already knows everything, this was more of a self-examination than it was a real request for God give him a good scan. As you come into the presence of Almighty God on this holy day and realize that you're exposed and fully known before Him, self-examination and confession are good practices to make. Indeed, taking an honest look at who you are and what you have done can be downright frightening. But you can be sure that when you do, when you lay it all out before the One who already sees, God will meet you there with mercy. And God will beckon you to follow Him, as He leads you on to His good and perfect way. It is the path that leads to life.

Prayer
Holy God, almighty and omniscient, with David I bow before You in amazement that You have created my intricate component parts and that You know me intimately. Although I often try, I know there's no hiding from You. You see all. I rejoice before You this day that I am both fully known and fully loved. Bring me back from the paths that I have taken that have led me away from You. Redirect my steps onto the road that leads to life, that I might join the adventure of those who faithfully walk in Your ways.
Amen


Saturday, May 2 Devotional

But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:31

Many throughout the years have taken great comfort in these words of promise. Downcast spirits, the weary, the faint of heart - these and still others have revived in hope, as they've meditated on these images of strength, energy and vitality. As much as I'm getting used to the shelter-in-place restrictions (now extended in our State for yet another month), the weight of weariness continues to settle in upon me, as I wait for the end of this pandemic. But the words of the prophet remind me that even as I do my best to bear through these days and long for better times to come, I'm not without hope right now - even in the midst of it all. For the One who is powerful is also present, and He will not only come to my rescue at some unknown and future date. The LORD is with me now and will empower and equip me for all that this day demands. It is the LORD who provides for me my daily bread. Even as I need food to physically sustain me, so I need to look to the One in whom I find the spiritual and psychical and emotional strength I need to rise up and invest myself into the tasks of today. There's great promise in these words: they assure me that I can do better than merely muddle through this season and wait it out. For as I lift my eyes to the heavens and wait upon the LORD, it's possible for me to soar above the struggles I face, even as I fully apply myself to work through them. And in these days, I may well find a strength I never before realized. I dare not depend on my own strength of will. I know that even with my best efforts, I will run out of steam. Even the Little Engine that Could had its limits. I'm foolish to think I can go it alone. Even as my phone needs a daily recharging from a power source outside itself, so I need to look beyond myself to my Creator and Sustainer, who is ever faithful. I can count on Him to refresh me with the renewal I need.

Prayer
God of strength and hope, in You I find a constant source of wisdom and power. Help me to meditate daily upon Your promises in holy Scripture. I know that I quickly run out of resource if I depend solely upon myself. But You are the One who faithfully provides all that I need. You bless me with grace upon grace. In You I discover surprising strength and sufficient supply, more than I need to manage all that confronts me. Endow me with eagle energy, as I endeavor to carry out the commission You've given me, to promote Your good purposes in the world. May Your Kingdom may come this day, on earth as it is in heaven.
Amen


Friday, May 1 Devotional

And it shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud...
Genesis 9:14

It is a surprising and serendipitous symbol of hope. It comes after the storm and brings with it the promise of a new and brighter day. It's refreshing, it's peaceful, and it not only lifts your eyes to the skies but your spirit within. The rainbow is a reminder of the presence and promises of God. Its message: although God sometimes comes in judgment, His intention is not finally to bring destruction, but redemption. I've heard a good many people bear witness of their own rainbow experiences and that in them they've sensed the assurance of God's presence and received the gifts of peace and hope. Here in the Bay Area of northern California the long-term forecast is nothing but sunny skies. The most we can expect in future days are a few clouds and some light winds. We're done seeing rainbows for a while. At least until summer comes and goes and fall arrives once again to refresh and renew us with rain. I expect that the first rainbow seen then will bring great delight. And, of course, even if the symbol is absent, the truth remains: God is indeed present in our midst. And with the presence of God there's the real possibility of peace, joy and hope. I find it interesting that the Scriptures testify that the rainbow is first meant to be a reminder to God - of the promises He's made to every living creature on earth - not to harm, but to nourish, to sustain, and to bless. And if I may wonder if God really needs this reminder (or any others), I know that I need it. For I can too easily be overwhelmed with the circumstances that surround me. I can too easily lose my perspective. And when that happens, I'm tempted to become anxious, downcast, and lose joy and hope. I need regular reminders that I'm not alone but that God is present with me and that God is good. Like you, I know about the refraction of light and the science behind it; still, it does not, for me, explain away the mystery. It does not remove the glory. And my spirit rejoices when I see the rainbow of colors in the sky. So much so that I've been known to interrupt others nearby - knocking on doors and yelling at neighbors - not only for rainbows, but for sunsets, moon-risings and more: Hurry up! Look! You don't want to miss this! For beyond the glorious display stands your Almighty Creator with His glorious promises of grace. And my soul rejoices in hope!

Prayer
Good, gracious and glorious God, thank You for filling Your earth with manifold displays of beauty. Open my eyes, that I might take in the fullness of the splendors I discover in Your world and recognize Your fingerprints in them. Forgive me for the times I've not acted in good stewardship of Your creation. Heal the brokenness in Your world, that all of creation might cry aloud in praise before You. And may I see in all that You have made the evidence of Your faithful presence and the promises of Your gracious provision.
Amen


Continue to April



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