|Pastor Derek's Daily Bread||ILC YouTube Livestream|
We encourage the congregation to use the posted devotionals to "virtually join together" in prayer, daily, at 9:00am.
But for you who revere My name the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings;
and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.
Malachi is the last prophet of the LORD to speak to the people of God. The Jews had returned from their captivity and had reestablished their homeland. The temple had been rebuilt, and the priests had been reinstated. The community had suffered through a time of great turmoil, and now, finally, things were getting back to normal. We who have endured the long days of this pandemic might well empathize with the people in their experience. For we, too, long to get back to normal. But there were some in the community who insisted they should not be too quick to do so. They should instead proceed with caution. The end of their time of trial ought to be celebrated well. (For our part, we’ve not yet reached that end, and we dare not relax our vigilance.) The people in Malachi’s day had good reason to rejoice: Their hardship had reached the fullness of days, and their travails had come to completion. A new day had come, and more should be done with it than simply getting back to normal. This was a new day with fresh opportunity. Having learned well the lessons from the past, they could now more forward to do things differently. They could take care to do it right this time, so they would not be caught up in the same cycle and reap the same consequences. There were those who sought to convince the others in the community that they must order their lives around the LORD and walk in His ways of righteousness, lest they end up in exile again. And yet, how easy it is, after so many weary days, to let out a big sigh of relief and simply settle back into the familiar and comfortable… In the end, the prophet shares words of promise: The LORD will visit His people. The day of the LORD was coming. This certain hope the people could count on and order their lives around. The LORD would destroy wickedness altogether. His holy fire would reduce it – and those connected to it – to ashes. Certainly not good news for those intent on turning their backs on God, forsaking His holy path, and going their own way. But the prophet held out hope for those who would humble themselves before God, take God’s Word seriously, and take care to order their days and their deeds according to God’s prescribed instructions. To them is given the promise: Their long night was over, and a new day was dawning. The sun of righteousness was about to rise in the eastern sky, and the light of God’s holy Word would soon dispel all darkness and remove every shadow of doubt. As the sun moves across the sky (relatively speaking), so God’s powerful righteousness would take on wings to propel it forward – and it would bring healing, wholeness and peace to all the people of God. What effect would this have? They would be like calves made to skip, leap and jump, finally released from the confinement of their stalls to gambol about. They would be set free to be all God created them to be, and they would demonstrate that alignment of action and purpose by expressing themselves in what we must call joy. This is what God wants for all people. A cleric’s arrival at a social event might suppress the sounds of mirth, turn the mood somber, or even end the celebration altogether. But when God shows up, it’s then that the party really begins. For God brings life and love and joy – and He wants all people to exult in His presence.
Almighty God, holy, righteous and true: May Your sun of righteousness rise with certainty and strength, to disperse the mist of our weariness and shine forth with power and warmth and healing. Set us free from all that holds us captive. Release us from those things that bind us, that we might leap about like calves loosed from their stalls, to fully express the joy and renewal You come to bring us. On this new day, let us order our lives according to Your will, that all Your people might rejoice and Your name be honored and revered above all other names. Work Your will in us and through us for Your glory alone.
For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one,
but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.
The Book of Hebrews stands apart in the New Testament as having an unidentified author. Various scripters have been suggested. Several have been credited with its contents, but no one has been identified with certainty. However, one thing is clear: The author takes pains to present to a Hebrew audience Jesus as thoroughly Jewish and Christianity not as a competing religion, but one that complements and fulfills the Jewish faith. What had up to that time been seen only in the shadows had finally come into the fullness of light. When Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the law, he had been given instructions to procure components to assemble a worship space called a tabernacle. This structure served as a visible sign of God’s faithful presence among the people. God had given Moses a vision of the tabernacle, and he was told to pattern the one for the people after what he had seen. The author to the Hebrews compares the earthly, provisional tabernacle with the eternal, heavenly dwelling of God. More than that, he presents Jesus as the perfect High Priest, the ideal intercessor and mediator between God and humankind. Earthly priests went about their sacrificial work on behalf of the people – but also on behalf of themselves. For they, too, were sinful. They, too, needed atonement. Jesus – the pure, sinless, spotless Lamb of God – did not need to make satisfaction for His own sin. Neither did He need the blood of animals to effect His perfect sacrifice. For He would offer Himself – pure and unblemished – upon the heavenly altar, once: For all time and for all people. This is the work of Christ. This is the labor of the Messiah. This is the sacrifice made in fullness for you. The price of your redemption has been completely paid. There’s no additional penance required. You need not add to what Christ has already done, through any good works of your own or by borrowing the good works of others. Jesus has taken you all the way there. Your Redeemer has brought you all the way home. You need not worry about making satisfaction for your own sin. And this frees you up to fully invest yourself as God’s servant, through whom God might perform His work of service in the lives of others. You can present yourself as a whole offering before God, to be used by Him as His conduit through which He will pour forth His blessing to others. God so loved the world that He gave… the fullness of Himself. And God continues to love the world through you and through me. The great power of God is revealed in the last two words of this verse. For us. This is the identity and character of God – the One who gives all for His beloved. As you present yourself to be used by God for others, the holy work of Almighty God will be done in you and through you to reveal His glory. Many may have trouble following the reasoned argument of the writer to the Hebrews. And many, frankly, might not care to figure it out. But they will surely recognize the power of a life laid down in love. It is within your capacity to help others see and understand the grace of God that has been poured out – perfectly, completely, wholly – for all those who inhabit this world God so loves. And as you do so, God will use you to serve as His priest, to mediate His love and to intercede on their behalf before the God who loves them.
Almighty God of love and grace, in Your Son Jesus, You offered Yourself in sacred sacrifice on our behalf. How blessed we are to have such a Redeemer! As You make known Your perfect truth, You set us free from bondage to sin and death and grant us fullness of peace and joy. Continue to transform us by that truth, that we might lay down own lives in loving service to others. Help them to see Your grace working through us and come to the full understanding of the salvation that is theirs in Christ Jesus the Lord.
"Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion;
for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst," declares the LORD.
The people had experienced exile and recently returned to the land of their ancestors. Now the prophet encourages them with words of great hope. The time of their suffering has ended, their penance is paid. God would reestablish them in their homeland and guard them against all enemies. The LORD promises not only that He will come to be with them. God assures them that He will stay: He will dwell in their midst. What a wonderful promise! What glorious hope! Was the prophet speaking metaphorically? Would God be present with them spiritually? Or did God have something else in mind? Something that would exceed even their greatest expectations, surpass even their wildest imaginings? Indeed, God would make good on His promise in a way that was both majestic and humble, extraordinary and yet as plain as plain could be. For very soon the confession would be made that God Himself had landed on Planet Earth. The LORD of all creation had become incarnate in their midst. God would not be found in an ornate palace, clothed in royal robes. He would become part of an ordinary family and be born in humble circumstances. The eternal Word of God would become flesh – and the prophet’s words would come to full fruition and take on new meaning. God would not only make an appearance. God would linger. And God would make His marvelous appeal in Jesus: Abide with Me. Even as Zechariah reports that God’s abiding presence would bring about a joyful response among the people, so the incarnation of God will bring joy to all the earth. God is good – and God comes to save. This is no small thing. For over and over again throughout history, the people were afraid of God’s presence and power – that if God would draw near, it would only be to unleash His wrath on a sinful people who deserved all that was coming to them. But God is faithful to His people, and God will come to rescue and to save, not to condemn. God in intent to deal with His people in grace – which is to say that God interacts with them not according to what is in them or by what they deserve, but according to God’s character and His goodwill toward us. The prophet laid out the hope that God’s presence would mean safety, security and sustenance, as they settled in to the home of their ancestors. Indeed, they were given the promise that God would abide with them. But the prophets would also make their appeal and insist that the people also determine to abide with God, to walk in His ways, to order their lives in the world according to God’s intentions. That God comes to be with us and to abide with us is good news from beginning to end. God’s presence ought to produce in us joy unlike any other. Even so, as we determine to align ourselves with God and to live according to His purposes, our presence will also be met with joy in the communities we enter. God’s coming and God’s abiding presence in our midst: This is good news, through and through. Let us faithfully bear witness to God’s amazing grace in the words that we speak. And let our own presence in others’ lives bear out this truth. May we, the people of God, demonstrate to all, in the lives that we live and in our interactions with them, that God’s abiding presence is not something from which we should cower and or something that should cause us to hide away in fear. Rather, we may rejoice with all that is in us at the nearness of our God, who is strong to save.
Holy God, faithful and true, we give You thanks that You drawn near to Your people in grace. You do not come to condemn. You have determined to come to our rescue and to bring us salvation. Open our eyes fully to Your goodness, and help us to faithfully communicate all that we discover, in the witness that we bear and in our every interaction with others. May we live our lives in a manner that is consistent with Your character and the good intentions You have demonstrated for us, to the glory of Your name.
Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.
I receive many letters of appeal from an assortment of organizations for a variety of good causes. I’ll bet you do, too. I’ve also written my fair share of them, for endeavors I believe in. If you’re ever presented with the task of asking for support from others for a project that is larger than you, one you know you cannot complete apart from the assistance of others, Paul’s short letter to Philemon is worth reading and studying. Not only because it addresses everything that should go into a letter of appeal, but because it puts you in the right frame of mind to write one. In this section of his letter, we gain insight into several aspects of the apostle’s appeal. Let’s break it down… Yes. The word is not superfluous. It’s both positive and reiterative. By using this word of affirmation, the apostle stresses and repeats what he’s already laid out, even as he continues to build his case. To repeat oneself need not come across as a persistent nagging that will continue until a desired answer is received. In this case, Paul emphasizes the importance of the matter about which he writes, and he accentuates how much it means to him. Paul’s persuasion is commensurate with his message. Brother. Here the partnership between Paul and Philemon and the close relationship they share is recognized and affirmed. Paul will bring out the best in Philemon and spur him on to live into the fullness of the brotherhood they share. Benefit. Literally: To do or to make good. Paul’s appeal is for a good cause, and he assures Philemon that if he takes action, he will not regret his decision. It’s a good matter he places before him, and Philemon can be assured that much good will come out of it. The central cause which moves Paul to write this letter will not be the only thing that benefits. By rising up to the task, Paul assures Philemon that he will also bring benefit to Paul personally. Refresh my heart. Paul has already commended Philemon for refreshing the hearts of others. He has affirmed his past faithfulness, the joy he has brought to others, and the meaningful effect he has had in those areas that matter most. For Paul, the matter of which he speaks is important to him personally; it is heartfelt. He as much as says: It will really mean a lot to me if you step up to do this good thing. In the Lord… in Christ. Finally, by using these words, Paul communicates that he’s convinced it is God’s will for this to happen. Paul makes his appeal not only because of his own personal desires. He writes as an apostle, an emissary of God, one who feels compelled, by God, to carry out the work God has set before him. And by these words Paul inasmuch asks Philemon if he would be the conduit of the blessings God seeks to pour out. Consider who wins if Philemon responds positively: God’s purposes will be accomplished, Paul’s heart will be refreshed, a runaway slave will be forgiven and received into full fellowship (the particular matter about which Paul writes), and the Christian community will rejoice when they learn of the grace of God that has been demonstrated. And there’s more: For Philemon, too, will benefit by responding to the apostle’s initiative. He will discover the truth of Jesus’ statement: It is more blessed to give than to receive.
Good and gracious God, open my eyes and grant me vision to see what You would to accomplish in Your world. Capture my heart and inspire me to get fully on board with Your purposes and intentions. Help me articulate well Your mission – in ways persuasive, not coercive – to the end that the workers in the fields of Your kingdom would increase and a full harvest might be gathered. May all come to know the joy of being useful conduits of Your blessing, for the benefit of Your people and the glory of Your name.
Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts,
"Consider your ways!"
To the wise Socrates was attributed the statement, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” As long as he had life left in him, he was intent on seeking wisdom, and he preferred death over any kind of life that would prevent him from continuing this pursuit. We humans are blessed with the ability to make reasoned decisions and to reflect upon them. Having been created with such aptitude, we do not live into the fullness of our being if we do not use the mind God has given us and consider our ways. The prophet has a particular reason he speaks the words God put in his mouth. His people had been engaged in individual pursuits: They were spending time and energy building themselves the best houses money could buy – all while the house of God lay in ruins. They had chosen their own well-being over and above the welfare of the community. Their lives were focused on personal gain, instead of aiming to please the LORD who made them. The Scriptures are consistent in their witness that God created all humanity good. Of all that God has made, we humans are unique in having been created in the image of God. Some will say this is the rational aspect of our nature, as described above: We are self-reflective creatures. Others will say that to be created in God’s image means we have been created to love – as God has loved us. The Scriptures are also univocal in telling us that we have all gone wrong. We have been infected by sin. What does that look like from the outside? Having been created in love, to love God and neighbor in return, we have, instead, focused our attention on self-centered goals. Love for God and neighbor is instead turned back in on itself – and this is sin at its core. Those who returned from exile had a chance to do it right this time. And the prophet knew that the proper orientation of life was to recognize that God was the reason for their existence and every good thing that came their way – and that God should be acknowledged and worshiped at the center of their community… How might these sobering words call us to reflect upon our own lives before God? Because sin has infected us just as much as it did them, we too are prone to make some of the same mistakes. We want to be first in line, and a voice inside tells us no one deserves it more. We come up with all kinds of reasons to justify our thoughts and behavior: “I can’t live another person’s life. And I won’t take responsibility for them.” “To each his own; if everyone did their own thing, it would all equal out in the end – and life would be as it should be.” “Some people are ambitious, others are lazy: Everyone gets what he deserves.” The sinful self in each of us can use these words to justify our selfish decisions and pacify any misgivings we have about them. And we close our ears to the Voice that tells us otherwise. As we consider our ways before God, we will, as Luther counseled, die to our sinful ourselves and come alive to the ways of God. Jesus showed us how to live godly lives in community and pleasing lives before God. He presented Himself before His Father in faithful service, and He demonstrated how to love others and how to reflect the image of God. Let us also consider our ways before God – this day and every day. It’s then, with eyes fixed on Jesus, our perfect example, that we will live lives truly worth living.
Almighty and everlasting God, You have created us in love and for love. All too often we take the rich and abundant blessings You pour out upon us – to be enjoyed and shared with others – and we hoard them. Teach us that we need not be anxious or concerned about Your goodness and grace. Help us truly learn of Your character – that You are good and that You will never cease to be good to us. Transform our hearts, that we might not be so consumed by self that we neglect our neighbor in need. Help us to rightly consider our ways in light of Your will, that our lives might be lived in fidelity and truth, and bring You glory.
... to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for every person.
Titus had been left behind on Crete, about 250 miles south of Athens by sea. His responsibility on that Greek island was to set in order the church of God, to identify leaders he might leave in charge of the Christian community, to carry on the ministry of the Lord. The apostle lists many characteristics of acceptable candidates for service, including those in the verse above. These qualities make for good leaders, and they also serve to bear witness to the character of God, consistent as they are with the way of Christ. This list not only served Titus well in his endeavor to choose responsible leaders in the first century church, it is worthy of consideration for all who desire to emulate Jesus and walk in the path of godliness. Malign may not be a word you use often. But its cognate is surely familiar: malignant. That’s a word you don’t want to hear from your doctor. It signifies active and evil power. A force that’s dangerous and destructive. To malign another person is to criticize and defame them with the intent of bringing them down. We see examples of this in political debates when things get ugly. A candidate’s attention turns away from policies and programs to attack an opponent’s character. Words are spoken to put others in the worst possible light. They’re unfairly critical, headstrong in their effort to ruin another’s reputation. They’re mean, nasty, cancerous. Steer clear of this spirit, says the apostle. This kind of leader is not representative of Jesus, and it won’t serve the people of the church well. Besides, it will serve as a poor witness to unbelievers, blinding them to the grace of God manifested in Jesus. Contentious is another characteristic to be avoided. And again, its meaning becomes clear when we consider its cognate: contend. While some might want a fighter on their team, a warrior at the helm, this spirit, too, is to be avoided. There’s more than enough conflict that arises without having a leader intent on creating more of it. Some are wont to seek this kind of pushy leader, who won’t take no for an answer and will leave no one standing in their take-no-prisoners endeavor to get their own way. But this is not the way of Jesus. And it would be misguided for Titus to choose someone of this spirit to serve as a representative of God’s Church. Instead, Titus should seek those of gentle spirit, those who show consideration for every person. Those who will not seek to quench the spirit in others or shut them down. Instead, raise up leaders who will take the time to listen carefully to the reticent. Those who will allow everyone a fair hearing. Those who will exclude none. Those will seek to bring out the best in all. Titus was to look for servant leaders – those who had come to learn the ways of Jesus and had His Spirit living in them. They wouldn’t seek to consolidate or usurp power. Instead, they’d recognize the Holy Spirit of God as the real power behind the Church, and do all that they could to empower the body of Christ to do the work God had commissioned it to do. It was important for Titus to begin well and to raise up leaders who would show believers how to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of their Christian calling. And it behooves the church today to rise up to follow this same example. Indeed, nothing less than the future of the Church is at stake. For if we expect those on the outside looking in to regain their trust in God’s Church, we must be intent to faithfully bear witness to the redemption our Lord has brought us. And there is no other way to do that than by being consistent with its essence – in the words we speak, in the actions we carry out, and in the attitude by which we serve. To do otherwise is unconscionable and would be unfaithful to our calling as God’s Church.
Good and gracious God, thank You for the faithful leaders You’ve inspired and raised up before us, those who’ve helped us to see You clearly and to learn of Your ways. Help us to recognize those in whom Your Spirit resides and to choose our future leaders carefully. Grant each of them the humility to seek You out each day, that their hearts and minds might be sanctified by You, so that they might, in a worthy manner, guide others in Your holy ways. To You alone, most holy God, be all honor, glory and praise, forever.
Give us this day our daily bread.
It sure has been a very hard and long road. When I heard these words spoken I did not doubt them for a moment, for I had heard enough of her story to know that her words were true. This life is not always easy. To put it the other way around: This life is often very hard. And it is not always understandable. Bad things happen to good people, and since the human mind has been able to consider the question, theologians – who insist on believing in a God who is good – have struggled to make sense of it. Even sacred scripture bears witness to prayers that are not answered by God according to the desire of the one who prays. The apostle Paul testifies that he entreated the Lord three times to remove what he called a thorn in his flesh, but God had said No. Even Jesus Himself pleaded with His Father to remove the cup He knew He had to drink, and His Father denied Him. But in these particular cases, God did not forsake those who sought Him in prayer. And He does not forsake those who seek him in prayer today. Instead, He promises sufficient grace to handle what is before you in the present. Enough strength to handle the challenge you’re facing now. Jesus teaches us to pray that God would supply what is needed for this day. In so doing, He fosters in His followers an ongoing relationship with the living God. God has proved to be faithful. And there are times in our lives when we are humbled to the extent of a baby bird with mouth wide open, trusting that its mother, in her good care, will provide all that is needed. Grace sufficient for today – that is the promise of God. And let it be your humble prayer. As you bow yourself before God’s presence each day, you will learn to live in God’s faithful love. You’ll come to know the care of the One who created you in love and redeemed you in love and has promised in love that you will enjoy His presence forever. Not only will God provide for your spiritual needs, God will also work through others to support you in your time of difficulty. Be not ashamed to share your struggles. God will empower others to come to your aid. The inspired community has been given to you for that very purpose. Hang on. Hold on. And know that God is holding onto you – and He has promised to walk with you every step of the way.
Lord God, faithful Creator and loving Savior, in Your goodness and grace You provide for Your people all that they need from day to day. Open my eyes to Your loving grace. Thank you for sustaining my spirit and strengthening me through the loving community of Your Church. Help me be open to the care of others, knowing that it is You who are working through them to support me in my time of need. Teach me to live in daily dependence upon You, that I might thereby learn of Your faithfulness. And empower me to come alongside those who are hurting, that I might encourage them to trust that You are faithfully abiding with them in their time of need and will grant Your abundant grace, sufficient for the cares of this day.
For then I will give to the peoples purified lips,
that all of them may call on the name of the LORD,
to serve Him shoulder to shoulder.
What groups do you belong to? You’re a member of many of them, to be sure. You have a nation to which you belong, and you are a citizen in it. You lay claim to some heritage and culture. You may belong to a book club, a wine group, a health association, a medical group. You may be a member of a team at work, a religious organization, or a neighborhood committee. Each of belongs to several different affiliations. And every one you’re part of has those that belong and those that don’t. The included and the excluded. It’s what happens when we draw a circle around those of us who are on the inside to form a group in the first place… The Israelites saw themselves as the people of God. Even more than that: The center of their identity is that they were God’s the chosen ones. What, then, does that say about others? And what can be said about the LORD who had formed them in the first place and set them apart from all other nations? Is God provincial? Particular? Picky? Is God partial to a choice few, dismissive of all others? The prophet reminds the people of God’s greater vision. The people did claim, after all, that the LORD was the God of all the earth, the One and Only. And the one to whom they looked as the father of their nation, Abraham himself, was told by God from the get-go that through his descendants God would bring blessing to all nations. It was always God’s intention to include everyone, Jew and Gentile. Abraham and his descendants were to play a significant and special role in achieving that purpose. And although the prophet could not yet see it, One would come who would claim both Abraham and David as His ancestor, and He would later offer Himself in a new covenant, as the Lamb of God, to take away the sins of the world. Others would later write about Him that He is our peace – not only between us and God, but between us and each other. He would thus bring Jew and Gentile together and fulfill God’s original intention. Zephaniah recognizes a time when God will give to the peoples (nations) purified lips – by which he means that they will forsake all false and foolish idols and worship the LORD alone. Then all the LORD’s people will serve Him as one, shoulder to shoulder, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Jew and Gentile will serve God, side by side, and bow before God’s holy throne together. They will willingly join forces, to bring about God’s good and perfect will… After being part of a group for some time, we will form an identity and enjoy a sense of belonging. We relish each other’s company, and we rejoice in the place we have within the body. But there’s a spirit that tends to creep in, leading us to seal our groups tightly from any outside, contaminating influence, to shut and lock our doors, keeping out those who do not belong. Those we do let in are looked upon with quiet suspicion. The newly inducted are given provisional status, made to go through a time of trial and testing, a probationary period, during which they must prove themselves. Rules are written to maintain identity and to distinguish ourselves from those who do not belong. The prophet sees God wipe the slate clean and fling the doors of His house wide open. We may well rejoice that the LORD claims us as His own, but we dare not claim possession of God. He will be owned by no one. His truth will ring forth to be heard by all nations, and His steadfast love will endure forever. Let us bow down together in humble adoration and offer ourselves, with willing hearts and minds, to be conduits of God’s mercy and grace.
Almighty God, heavenly Father, You alone are Lord of heaven and earth. You have created all who inhabit the nations of the world, and You lay claim to each and every one of us. Help us be faithful in our worship, to offer our praise and gratitude to You alone. May Your good and perfect will be done in us and through us, as we carry out Your purposes as one people, excluding no one and including all. Transform us until our hearts beat according to Your holy rhythm and intention, to the glory of Your blessed name.
Continue to April 2021