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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.

Thursday, April 30 Devotional

Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think...
Ephesians 3:20

The verse above is the beginning of a doxology (glorifying words of praise) found in the heart and center of the apostle's letter to a congregation in Asia Minor. There's much that can be said about God and what God has done. But in the end, the character of God and the ways of God are mysterious. Too great to fathom, too wondrous for words, outside our ability to properly capture and communicate. Notice the writer uses three descriptors in succession to relate just how grand and majestic God is. Exceeding abundantly beyond. Although the writer's description falls short of a complete characterization, I love the attempt he makes at doing so. What an encouragement these words bring to us with respect to prayer. They stop us in our tracks and cause us to pause - and to consider just who it is we're praying to. God is not only the Source and Cause of all that exists. God is also the One who has the power to do so much more than our limited human minds can conceive. When you bow down before the Almighty in prayer, you do so with great and reverent humility. But do not these words also encourage you to come before Him boldly? Do you not honor God when you ask for things that no one else but God can deliver? This is not about ordering God around - a terribly foolish endeavor. But it's all about recognizing God as the One who is greater than your human mind can ever completely capture. What an amazing claim: that you have an Advocate with this kind of power! That you have One who loves you, who is for you, and who is able to respond to your prayers in ways that will rock your world! How do you respond to a Being such as this? What comes next? I'll bet you can complete the dots. For the One who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that you ask or think, well... the only appropriate and faithful response is supreme gratitude and praise - which is exactly what the apostle will do in the words that follow. I'm sure you can find your own words to offer to God, who is wondrous and beyond adjectival description. And as you do so, as you allow your heart to overflow with praise to the Almighty One, you will also arrive in a very surprising and sacred place - where you will discover just how cherished and treasured you are. The adventure awaits...

Almighty, Eternal and Loving God, words are not sufficient to describe You. Your ability and power and grace are inconceivable. When I come before You with reverent humility, may I also approach You boldly and with confidence. Forgive me for underestimating You. For being satisfied with whatever box I put you in, so that I might in some way describe You or understand You. May Your vastness inspire Me to expand my vision and to increase my hope of what is possible because of You. To You alone belong all glory and honor and praise. May the fullness of my life serve to that end and purpose.

Wednesday, April 29 Devotional

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
Romans 8:32

If there's ever any doubt in your mind about your inherent value, your essential worth, or God's intention toward you, these are good words to contemplate. God gave it all. So says the apostle. For you. For me. That thought is worth more than a cursory contemplation. Could this declaration really be true? Or is it just wishful longing? The height of arrogance? Consistent with a geocentric conception of our existence - that we're all that matters and that all of the multiverse revolves around us? Childish thinking? What the apostle in fact states is nothing less than religion turned on its head. Or at least religion put in a whole new light, in a completely different perspective. As opposed to the idea of negating or balancing out any evil you've done by remorse, repentance and the performance of good deeds (so that any existing evaluative forces will look upon you favorably and you will progress, save yourself, and make it to heaven), Paul is convinced that that sort of thinking is all wrong. Never - on your own - will you be able to bridge the gap between sinner and saint or between earth and heaven. But the surprise of grace is this: It is God Himself who does so on your behalf. Like a parent who stands behind you, reaches over your shoulders, soaps up your dirty hands and washes you clean. But, of course, God does so much more. He loves you so much that He was willing to sacrifice Himself for your well-being. This is parental instinct extrapolated exponentially. If you're a parent, you may well have inside knowledge of this godly characteristic. For you may well have experienced the uncanny and illogical desire within you to sacrifice yourself for your children. When my firstborn was but an infant, even before she could babble, I would have willingly taken into myself any pain she experienced - if it would have saved her from it. Indeed, I would have laid down my life for her, had the need arisen. Even as I would have done (and would do so still) for any one of my children. Without thinking about it twice. Because Christianity bears witness that God is Trinity (and the Trinity exists in unity), we confess that God's sacrifice of His Son is at the very same time the sacrifice of Himself. Would God really go to such an extreme? Did God do so in the Man of Nazareth, in the Babe of Bethlehem? That is the Biblical witness. And if God was willing to act in such a way, do you think there's anything He wouldn't be willing to give you today? Do you think there's anything He wouldn't be willing to do for you today? May the ramifications of this astounding truth shape your perspective and inform your prayers. Childish thinking? Maybe so. But Jesus did say that the one who will not receive the kingdom as a child will never enter it at all. Maybe seeing things through the eyes of a child isn't so bad after all.

Good, gracious and glorious God, I'm in awe of the biblical witness of Your love for me. But You've given me an inkling of Your love in my own parental experience. My personal willingness to sacrifice for my children has caused me to consider if, before I had any awareness of it whatsoever, my parents might have harbored in their hearts that same fierce love for me. And to think that You love me like that - magnified a million times over! Your amazing grace continues to transform my heart. I pray that You will continue to do Your work in me until my dying breath. And may all the days of my life serve to extend and increase Your Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven, to the honor and glory of Your holy name.

Tuesday, April 28 Devotional

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.
John 3:17

You've probably seen the signs. Held up by football fanatics who are also fans of Jesus. Or Jesus fanatics who are fans of football. They appear in the endzones of football stadia around the country and can sometimes be seen after the extra point attempt. The entirety of the sign reads this: John 3:16. A reminder to believers of what is perhaps the most recognized and beloved verse in all of Scripture. Intriguing enough to the ignorant that they are moved to Google it, to find out what is means. And although the verse is memorized by multitudes, few are able to recite the verse immediately following it - the one cited above - which is, I submit to you, just as powerful, equally as important. For it's here that the heart of God and the intention of God are made known. And it's here that's found a message so many need to hear. For there's a widespread view of God as an Almighty Judge who wields in His almighty hand the sacred gavel, specially set apart to hammer home the impending and ultimate and everlasting verdict, to punctuate the decisive proclamation with finality. The image brings to mind a righteous and unyielding Being - One to be feared, One with little compassion for the human predicament, One bereft of mercy, One who is itching to bang down His gavel and to show sinners who's boss. One whose divine decision cannot be challenged and before whose final throne of judgement there can be no chance of recourse. However, this is not the description Jesus gives us here in this verse of His Father and ours. Jesus tells us that His Father did not send Him into the world to judge the world, but to save it. This is indeed at the very center of the character of God. This is the very substance of His heart and will. And this is absolutely Good News. For this means God is ultimately not against you, but for you. This means God created you in love and interacts with you in love. This means God wants you to be in His presence - and He wants to be in yours. No one is left out. No one is exempt. God sends Jesus into the world to save the world. And the last words He will speak from the cross are words of completion: "It is finished!" How's that for a final verdict? A job well done. A mission accomplished. With all the i's dotted and t's crossed. The mission of the Son of God included saving you. It is Jesus Himself who said so. And you can believe it.

Eternal God, it's sometimes difficult for me to believe that I'm worthy of Your attention and love. It's beyond my understanding that in Your grace You have suffered and sacrificed for my salvation. Having come to learn of Your amazing grace for me, how can I live any other way than to humbly devote the remainder of my days to Your service? May Your grace poured out continue to do its work in me, that I might grow in dedicated discipleship and follow in the words and ways of Jesus. Because of who You are and because of what You've done for me, may I not seek to judge others but always to interact with them with Your saving purposes in mind. May You be glorified in me and honored through me today.

Monday, April 27 Devotional

"For I know the plans that I have for you" declares the LORD, "plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope."
Jeremiah 29:11

The prophet proclaims a positive message in these words. And the context makes the message all the more powerful - both for the people in the 6 th century BC and for us today. For these words are spoken during a time of devastation and loss. They're spoken at a time of upheaval and grief, when the people were in danger of despair. Their capital city had been destroyed, their land taken, and they would soon be led captive to a land far away and foreign, where their freedoms would be severely limited. Having experienced what we have in the past several months, some of us might be able to empathize a bit more with God's people in what they were going through more than two and a half millennia ago. And we might well dare to hope that the message the prophet spoke to them then is also God's Word for us now. Reason being: the message arises from the heart and character of God, who is immutable and is ever faithful to His people. Jeremiah told the people not to lose heart. To look beyond their traumatic experience - no matter how dreadful it appeared, no matter how devasting it was. For the LORD was surely with them, and this crisis would not be their final experience. The people should not become mired in this event; they should not define themselves by it. Yes, they were a captive people, but more than that: they were the people beloved by God. Yes, they were a grieving people, but more than that: they were the people over which the LORD rejoiced. Yes, they were a conquered people that had been carted away from all that they loved and all that was familiar, but more than that: they were the people in the care of the LORD of all creation, who had good plans for their future. The character of God is such that He wants good things for His people. God acts for their welfare. And He works through their circumstances - and ours - to infuse good in it and to bring good out of it in ways that will both surprise and delight. With God the Story ends well. Always. Even death cannot claim the final victory, for death does not have the final word. The Final Word belongs to God - and God's Word is a word of Life. This is what the Easter season is all about. Rejoice in the LORD this day, for He has plans for your welfare, and in Him you will find your future and your hope.

Gracious God of hope, if I look too long at the things that surround me, I can easily become overwhelmed and despair. Help me come to know You and Your character more certainly this day. For as I come to know You, I will come to trust more deeply in Your good intentions for me. How I rejoice to know that Your plans for me are good and that You do not endeavor to bring calamity upon me but to rescue me from it. Help me to fix my heart and mind on You, for by doing so I know that I will find that You are my hope. In You I will find my confidence in the future. In You I will walk forward into this day with assurance. In You I will rejoice - even in the midst of suffering.

Sunday, April 26 Virtual Church Service ("Surprises on the Way")

Sunday, April 26 Devotional

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1

What inspires faith? What moves you, persuades you, assures you, convinces you - to believe or to put your trust in another? Faith is outside yourself. It's placed in someone else. And if it's to be faith properly placed, there must be certain characteristics present in the one in whom you're trusting - lest you be let down and lose faith. The one in whom you put your faith must have a good track-record. He or she must be experienced, reliable, consistent, tried and true, if you would be moved to entrust your future to their care. Integrity is a must. Whole, dependable, stable - with a sure foundation on which their character is based. No chink in their armor. Staying power must be present: you need to know they'll be there for you tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. And with these essential qualities integral to their being and doing, they must exude confidence and express assurance that no matter what the vicissitudes of life throws at them, they're able to adjust and to handle whatever comes their way. Moreover, you must be convinced that they have your best interests in mind, that they're not seeking in their relationship with you any personal or selfish gain, and that they'll not take advantage of your inexperience or ignorance. This is the stuff that inspires faith. And if these qualities are present, you just may be persuaded to throw any remaining hesitancies of caution to the wind and throw in your lot with such a being. But who is worthy of this kind of trust? Where can you find one such as this? Don't let your heart be troubled, anxious or afraid, Jesus tells you. "Trust in God; trust also in Me." Jesus claims to be worthy of your faith. To Him you can well entrust your future well-being. To Him you can entrust your family, your friends, and all that is for you most meaningful and treasured. Scripture is chock full of accounts of the reliability of God. And in Jesus, Immanuel, this God who has come-to-be- with-us-in-flesh knows firsthand the fullness of your life experience. Whatever your concerns, your anxieties, your hopes, your fears - you can entrust them to Him today. He is present with you now, and He will be present - with you and for you - in all of your tomorrows. He is faithful, trustworthy and true. And in Him, your hope will not be disappointed.

Almighty and Eternal God, our world is fractured as are the people who inhabit it. I know firsthand the brokenness within myself and I see evidence of it in others. There are those who, with pride and pretense, claim to be above the fray; but I fear they are just as fragmented as I am. You come to me and surprise me with Your loving grace. You come to me promising restoration and redemption. You come to me and assure me that all is well, because I'm in Your faithful care. You come to me as One who washes this poor sinner clean and heals all that is broken within me. You come to me as One who inspires within me faith - that I might put my life and my future in Your good and gracious care. I humbly bow before You this day with grateful adoration.

Special Note

In this Sunday's service, you will have an opportunity to participate in Holy Communion at-a-distance. You can participate in two ways: First, you can, in your home, reserve bread and "fruit of the vine" before the service begins. You will received detailed instructions during the service how to participate. Alternatively, you can swing by the church Saturday April 25 between 12:00-1:00pm, during which time Alyssa McCoy, our Youth Ministry Leader, will have communion servings available. Simply drive into the church parking lot and roll down your window. Alyssa will be seated in the church courtyard. Tell her how many communion servings are needed for your household. She will then, with gloved hands, apportion the number of servings into a Ziploc bag and hand them to you through your car window.

Saturday, April 25 Devotional

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven... A time to embrace, and a time to shun embracing.
Ecclesiastes 3:1,5b

My son has been in town for the past two weeks, here to support his dear friend and his family as they go through a time of great loss. Not a member of our present household, when he's come home to visit on a few occasions, we've sat on chairs in the driveway - separated from one another, keeping a safe distance. There are air-hugs upon departure... My parents have not been able to hug their grandkids. My mom my has been like a second mother to them, and I know it pains her - and them - not to be able to embrace... Several of you will offer me hugs upon leaving church after Sunday services. This, too, has taken a hiatus... Families have been separated, and the gift of human presence and touch has been limited. It may feel like you're enduring inhumane punishment. Or at least that you're experiencing something subhuman. But this is what love does. It gives up personal desire. It sacrifices for the greater good. It is patient and kind. And this is just a season, after all. A time of fasting. We know that this season will end, and there will come a day when it is once again safe to embrace. How much more will you appreciate it then? How much will your gratitude have grown? The gift of physical touch will be celebrated to a greater extent because you've gone through these days... There are competing voices that escalate in volume as the length of this season extends. This is no surprise. Impatience grows. And for many, when they look around and see that things appear to be safe, that this terror has not fallen upon them personally, they're anxious to move on and to recover some of what has been lost. But as long as those who are able to see the bigger picture tell us that, for the greater good - of the community, the nation, the world - it behooves us to stay sheltered-in-place, we must wait this out and make the very best of these days. It is our moral obligation to do so. For to willingly give of yourself and to sacrifice: this is what Christ did, and this is what Christ would do now. And He bids you to stay the course and do likewise. This is a season that will come to an end. Hang in there. Hold on. You will not look back upon these days with regret. Rather, you'll be grateful that you did the right thing, the honorable thing, that which was required of you for the good of God's beloved.

God of time and eternity, grant me wisdom and perspective in these days. Assure me that this time of trial will come to an end and, if I stay the course, that I will be better for having gone through it. Help me to act according to Your will, never compromising my integrity, but doing my best to comply to the small sacrifices I've been asked to make for the greater good. Help me think and act beyond myself, as You would have me do. And may my commitment to do so inspire others to press on in Your good and righteous ways. Assure me that by keeping my commitment to sacrifice my own desires I play a part in limiting the devastation this disease would bring. Bring an end to this season and restore the health of Your beloved creation. This I humbly ask for the good of all Your people. Lord, have mercy.

Friday, April 24 Devotional

And since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned.
Acts 27:20

The apostle Paul, held captive by Roman authorities, was being transported by ship from Caesarea on the eastern Mediterranean coast, to Rome, in the west. It was a treacherous journey, especially as they neared the end of it. The environment was unfavorable, and the scientific indicators that might have helped them navigate the dangerous waters were obliterated by the storm that surrounded them. As the hours and days passed, so did their hope of making it through the storm. It was too much and for too long. Those on the ship were disheartened, dejected and despaired of their lives - even the sailors who knew these waters well and for whom this was not their first squall. They had come to the end of themselves. But into this death scene came a word of divine hope. Into the darkness of night came the heavenly light of God's encouraging word: "Do not be afraid." And buoyed by this word, the imprisoned apostle encourages his shipmates, and a new and refreshing breeze of hope begins to stir among them. Jesus had told His disciples that they be would His witnesses to the ends of the earth. And one of Paul's driving forces was to get to Rome. Sometimes there are struggles you must go through to get to where you want to go. And sometimes these struggles take you to a destination you never wanted to reach. But the destination could not be reached by any other means. As you experience this current storm and wonder if it will never end - or if you will even survive it - listen for that heavenly voice of hope that tells you: "Do not be afraid." Let the words encourage you as you wait out the remainder of the storm, and may you encourage others who are in the boat with you. It matters how you handle these days. The courage you exhibit and the encouragement you bring can be a great testimony to those who are watching you (more closely than you think). Do not be surprised if this present crisis does not result in a return to normal. For we will move forward into a new normal, with lives forever changed. There will be a deeper appreciation of life and community, a more apt perspective, and opportunities for good will abound. Although our itinerary has changed, there are divine discoveries for the finding. I pray that the day will soon come, when we can all look back upon these days with deep sense of gratitude, especially thankful for those who have experienced them with us.

Almighty and Eternal God, this season of life seems interminable. I'm restless as I endure it, and I anxiously look for a break in the storm. Help me to be buoyed by Your good word in the midst of it all, that I might not just wait out these days, but make the most of them and find in them great meaning. Encouraged by Your promises, inspire me to encourage others. And open my eyes to the wonders of the world that will be, as well as to the opportunities You will place before me and others in the community that surrounds me. Work in me to make the very best of what I find when this storm ceases, to advance Your work in the world, for Your honor and glory.

Thursday, April 23 Devotional

... who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Exodus 20:2b

Moses has gone up to Mt. Sinai, having been summoned there by God Himself. Moses will be quarantined on that mountain for forty days and forty nights. Alone with God. The LORD would impart to Moses, the servant of God, a whole host of instructions for how God's people were to live. These rules would help them remember and revere the LORD the God; these rules would help them get along in community. The Ten Commandments would be at the top of the list. But even before that: these words, today's portion of daily bread. And important words they are. They are words that tell us about the heart and character of God; they are words that put things in proper perspective. That Moses and the people are at Mt. Sinai means that the Red Sea, the Passover, the bondage in Egypt - all these events are behind them. God reminds Moses that He had orchestrated it all. He reminds the people that He is their God and that they are His cherished people. And now, the LORD who would command, first reminds the people of what He had done. The rescue came before the requirements, the deliverance before the directives, the liberation before the law. God did not order the people to live a certain way to test them - so that, if they passed the test, if they behaved, if they proved faithful, God would then rescue, save and redeem. The people would not earn their salvation. Rather, the heart and character of God is one of love for His people, a desire to rescue, save and redeem. God does not discard the broken. He does not abandon the orphan, berate the widow, or take advantage of the poor and powerless. God binds them up with healing power and organizes a community to care for those who cannot care for themselves. Even so, Scripture declares that God sent Messiah Jesus into the world when God's people were undeserving, poor sinners. God does not come to redeem the righteous. He comes to rescue reprobates and to work repentance in the hearts of the rebellious. Jesus is the good physician who comes to heal - not those who are healthy, but those who are sick. He will say from the place of sacrifice (which would also become the symbol of human sin and rebellion against the divine), "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Words of grace. Pure and undefiled grace. Ours is a God of salvation. Never forget it: the rescue comes before the regulations. It is to this LORD that you can look to, with a hope that will not be disappointed. For He is the God of grace and power, initiating emancipation on behalf of His treasured people.

Almighty God, You are the LORD of heaven and earth; You are the God of rescue and redemption. I thank You that in Your goodness and grace, You did not wait for me to get my act together before pouring out Your love on my behalf. Time and time again, You have acted in grace and forgiveness for the undeserving - for me. May my experience of Your grace work repentance in my heart and life. And may I live in such a way as to be consistent with the grace I have received - by extending the same love and grace toward others. For the honor of Your holy name.

Wednesday, April 22 Devotional

The earth is the LORD's, and all it contains, The world and those who dwell in it.
Psalm 24:1

Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It's a day marked by almost 200 countries around the world to focus our collective attention and efforts on environmental protection. Call it good stewardship of the Earth, our global Home. It's one more thing that serves to bring us together for the common good, something we're learning a lot about in our day. We're invited to think beyond ourselves to our neighbors around the world and to those who will come after us. We recognize to a greater extent our common connection, and we're reminded that we're to share, not to usurp; to use what we need, not to hoard; to preserve and to conserve - even as we partake and enjoy. The psalmist in the verse above takes it one step further, declaring that the whole lot belongs to God. The beauties of the earth and all its inhabitants - all are the precious possessions of our Almighty Creator. Which means that whatever we claim as our own, no matter how little the stake, is ours only in stewardship. We use that which belongs to Another. This understanding can serve to help us take greater care of that which we too often arrogantly and pridefully call our own. "This land is my land; this land is your land." Indeed, we're called to share this land. That's a step in the right direction. But more than that, this: it is God's land. God fiercely loves that which He has created. The scriptural witness is that after God had finished creating, He looked upon all that He had made and declared that it was "very good." God was pleased with His creation. He took delight in it. And He does so still. He delights in you today. He looks upon you with favor and grace. You are one of His own unique creations, bearing the image of God Himself. And you're invited to take your place in God's world today and to offer your own unique contribution. Exult in your existence! Rejoice in your participation! Give praise to your Creator when you delight in the beauty you see! Give thanks to the Author of life and all that sustains it! Leave the place you're in cleaner than when you found it, in better condition because you've been there. Your contributions matter. When you keep your room in good order,

Lord of all creation, open my eyes anew to the manifold beauty around me. May my spirit rejoice before You in all that I experience, and may my life be one of praise before You, my glorious Creator. Thank You for the unique privilege of existence, for taking my part on this global stage. Help me to make good use of my time on Earth and to be a responsible steward of all that You've entrusted to me. Help me to make Your world a better place for my having been in it, that I might honor You, my Creator, and advance Your good purposes. I shamefully confess my own contributions to the destruction of Your creation, my arrogant misuse of that which is Yours, and my disregard for others who share this sacred space. And so I pray that in Your grace, You would bring healing and restoration to Your earth and all who dwell in it.

Tuesday, April 21 Devotional

I am the LORD your God...
Exodus 20:2a

The words have been framed and hung in prominent places in many a home. They've been permanently affixed to public monuments. They've been etched in stone. They've served as the foundation of the moral code for multitudes of people, religious and otherwise. And their removal from their reserved and revered place in public schools has caused debate, dismay and disgust. Of course, I'm referring to the Ten Commandments. Even if you cannot name them all or recite them in their proper order, you know that there are ten of them. These are the highest of the holy, the commands that made the original Top Ten List (for there are 603 others that have been identified in the Hebrew Scriptures). And before you find them delineated in the Holy Writ, you will find these words above. Call it the preface - you know, the part of the book you often pass right over to get to the good stuff, the real stuff, the important stuff. But in this case, in this preface, you find what are perhaps the most important words of all. For here the Giver of the commandments speaks. And here the Commander-in-Chief utters no words of law, but words of gospel and grace. For with these words the LORD declares to the people that they are His people and that He is their God. The LORD declares relationship. The commandments were never given with the intention of being hurdles placed in front of us, tasks to be accomplished, rules to be kept in order for us to become God's people. They've not been given as a test to determine whether you are heaven-bound or will end up in the Other Place. Rather, the LORD first and above all declared: "You are My people. You're part of My family. Now, I'm going to tell you how to get along and how to live as My children." Can you hear Him speaking to you in the words of the verse above? Can you hear the relationship He declares? Can you feel the peace that comes from knowing that God claims you as one of His own beloved children? Do nothing else today until you meditate on these words long enough to trust that they are true. You have a great God. You belong in His family. Jesus came to help you see just that - to open your eyes to the extent to which God would go to help you understand that reality. Indeed, keep the Top Ten holy and inviolable. Keep them in sacred religious places and in the secular public square. Keep them in your home. But above all, never forget the One who gave them. It is Him you are to keep in Your heart.

Good and gracious God, before I came to believe and trust in You, You claimed me as Your own. Even as I was born into my human family - in which I gradually came to realize the blessing I had been given, as one cared for, nurtured and loved - even so I have been born into Yours. Open my eyes more and more each day to the wonders of belonging to You. And help me to be fully involved in the stewardship and redemption of this earth, while always keeping my eyes fixed on my heavenly Home. May the relationship You have declared with me fill me with courage and strength to face the trials of this day.

Monday, April 20 Devotional

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
2 Peter 3:18

These are the last recorded words attributed to Peter. They're written at a time of great upheaval - especially for those who follow Jesus. Life was uncertain, the pressure was severe, and the expectations were high that the apocalypse was coming, that the heavens and the earth would be shaken, and that life as they knew it would cease to be. That the end was near. Of course, it did not happen. But the circumstances were such that the anticipations were high that it would. Those who lived those days had never experienced anything like them before. Hmm. Sound familiar? What to do in the meantime? What to do now? The last word of instruction given by the author is a rather surprising one, I think: grow. This is not the time to call it quits, pack your bags, and close up shop. It's not the time to wither and be done. It's the time to grow. Specifically: in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. In the grace Jesus displayed in every single interaction He had with others; in the knowledge He exhibited with each spoken word. You grow in this grace and knowledge by coming to know Him and learning His ways. By reading and meditating on His teachings on a daily basis. It's nothing less than growing up in your life of discipleship, maturing as a follower of the Lord. These are challenging days, to be sure. Cooped up and limited days. But what you do with your time matters immensely. Now is the time for you to interact with others with the same grace you've received from Jesus. Now is the time for you to listen to His words more intently and to learn His ways more carefully, so that you will know how to best live out these days in the challenges you're facing. How will you grow in His grace and knowledge today? Luther was purportedly asked what he would do if he knew the end of the world was coming tomorrow. His response: I would plant a tree. Christianity is not about giving up on this world so you can get to heaven as soon as possible. Ours is a faith that is all about redemption; it's all about action and movement and life. Never hesitate to do the right thing. The possibilities before you today are plentiful. Choose well, that in all you do, you will bring to your Lord and Savior the glory deserving His name.

Lord Jesus, stir the spirit within me. Rouse me out of my complacency. Awaken me out of my boredom. Open my eyes to the endless possibilities that lay before me today, to extend Your kingdom by interacting with others as You have exemplified. Help me to learn well Your ways, that my every action might abound in grace. Inspire me to make the most of every opportunity and to grow in my ability to serve You in all that I do. May You be glorified in me and through me, this day and every day.

Sunday, April 19 Virtual Church Service ("The Living Breathing Jesus")

Sunday, April 19 Devotional

Great is Thy faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:23b

What security the prophet has because of God's ever-present goodness. What trust he has that all things are in God's hands, and that God is working out His good purposes for His people. What confidence he has that no matter how bad things look, God will not abandon His people, but that God is sovereignly guiding their lives into ways of life and hope. Surely the prophet had listened to his forebears when they told him about the wondrous works of God. He could not remember a time when he did not know the story of God's rescue of His people from their bondage to a foreign people in a foreign land. The knowledge of the faithful acts of God had grown in Jeremiah as he had grown in years. And he came to know personally the faithfulness of God, experiencing, time and time again, God's goodness and grace in His life. When he was called by God at a young age to be God's prophet, Jeremiah expressed great doubts that he was worthy of such a calling, that he could serve in such a way. But God had promised to be with him. And God had never let him down. Jeremiah listened to the stories of God's faithful acts in the past, and he learned of God's faithfulness in his own day. Now, as he and his people were enduring a catastrophic event, he was not only able to lead the people in their grieving and lamentation, he was able to instill in them confidence and encourage them to place their hope in the One who had proved Himself faithful and was surely present in their current conflict. "Great is Thy faithfulness!" Jeremiah honors and praises God. Even in the midst of devastation and destruction, he knows that because the LORD their God is in their midst, they will not, in the end, be defeated. Even so, God is present with us in our days. God is still good and faithful and true. You can take full confidence that you will make it through these days. For God has never abandoned, and will never forsake, His people. You are beloved and precious in His sight. He has you in His good and strong hands. Be at peace, dear child. Be still. And know that He is your faithful God.

Good and gracious God, great is Thy faithfulness! You have been there for Your people throughout history, and You have never let them down. Even so, You are present with me today, and You will surely not forsake me. Grant me the confidence of knowing that even in the stormiest days, the sun is still shining above the clouds. Grant me the wisdom of knowing that my perception is not the fulness of reality. I praise You that You have chosen not remain above the fray, untouched; instead You are Immanuel, the One present with Your people. You are the Incarnate One, who leads us through these dangerous days. Thank You for Your abiding and comforting presence. May Your faithfulness inspire confidence and hope in me, that I might inspire that same confidence and hope in others, to the honor of Your holy name.

Saturday, April 18 Devotional

They are new every morning...
Lamentations 3:23a

So says the prophet of the lovingkindnesses and compassions of God. New. Fresh. Flowing. Present. Alive and active and moving. God's goodness is not just a thing of the past. Not just something to tell stories about. God is active in the world and in your life today. Every day. Your faith is not something to commemorate; it is something to celebrate. We are wrong to speak of God as if we are dissecting a dead deity. Rather, we speak of God filled with awe and wonder because God lives and, says Jeremiah, He continues to pour out His lovingkindnesses each day. The Lord continues to walk with you, suffer with you, work in you and through you in this present moment. A reminder: Jeremiah speaks these words in the midst of great catastrophe. At a time when people have lost their homes, their jobs, their city, their freedom. A time like this. When grief is deep. When lamentation is universal. But still, says Jeremiah, still: God is present and God brings the fullness of Himself into this day to be with you - right where you are. I have often given an assignment to people who join me in group travel: be on the lookout for "God sightings" - acts of care and compassion, expressions of grace, in which you see evidence of God at work. I don't mean to attribute every serendipitous experience to God. But the Lord's love and compassion is surely present more than we recognize. New every morning, says Jeremiah. Like this one. I check the app on my phone for weather predictions. I look out my window to see walkers and joggers, trees with more leaves this morning than yesterday. I anticipate what this day will bring. May I also have eyes to see the lovingkindnesses and compassions of God. For they will surely dawn with this new day. Because God lives.

Almighty God, forgive me for speaking about You in the past tense. As much as I remember the things You have done, may I equally recognize Your activity in the world today and rejoice in the promises of what You will do in the future. In this season of Easter, as I read of the appearances of the resurrected Christ, may I be reminded of Your presence for good in my life, this day and every day. I praise You for Your grace poured out upon me. I anticipate Your care and compassion that will sustain me, as You grant me my daily bread. Because You are the Lord who watches over me, I know I shall not be in want of any good thing. Thank You for Your lovingkindnesses and compassions that will be graciously given to me today.

Friday, April 17 Devotional

For His compassions never fail...
Lamentations 3:22b

Today is Friday. It's the one day of the week I don't need to set my alarm. I suppose because of where our home is located, we're at the beginning of the "pick-up route." And, like clockwork, at 6:00 AM on Fridays (except for the few holidays that pushes it back a day), I hear the trash truck revving high and lumbering down our street. Rain or shine, in the light of gathering summer or in the deep darkness of winter, the drivers prove dependable. It's one of the strangely comforting regularities of routine in my life, especially in these days when it's been anything but routine. And we've recently been reminded that theirs is an essential business. Their faces may be hidden up high, behind windows and mirrors, and they may not receive many accolades, but the work they do is critical to our health and safety. Jeremiah speaks about God's compassions in the midst of calamity. That God "suffers with" his people. That God does not abandon or forsake them - especially in their times of need. Over and over again, we're reminded in sacred Scripture that the LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Over and over again, the testimony is told that we have a Creator who cares for the well-being of His creation. And in the act of incarnation, we discover God's ultimate act of compassion. God knows our human situation. In the very deepest sense, God understands. Even as in the Hebrew Scriptures, where God's compassions are affirmed time and time again, so we see in Jesus One who consistently has compassion of God's people. When others turn aside, wondering what possibly could be done, Jesus steps forward, moved with compassion, and asks, "What do you have to share?" He turns something small into an abundance, something mundane and minor into a remembered and miraculous event. Even in His last words, He expresses care, compassion and forgiveness to those in His presence. Without fail. Like clockwork. Through good times and bad. Today, and in all your days to come. His compassions never fail. This is the essential business of God.

Compassionate God, like a caring parent, You continue to watch over Your beloved children, often tending to their needs in ways beyond their recognition or acknowledgement. Your compassions never fail. Help me this day to be more aware of Your constant care, to know that I am loved, and to know that no matter what I face in this life, You will never abandon or forsake me. May my heart be filled with that confident assurance today, that I might extend Your compassion to others. May Your will be done in me and through me this day, for the honor of Your name.

Thursday, April 16 Devotional

The LORD's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease...
Lamentations 3:22a

Worldview matters. A lot. The perspective you have. The way you process your life experiences, the way you assess and judge them, the way you tell your story. Some can capture the moment with such precision of insight that when others hear the account, they resonate with it, as if to say: I see it, too! You put into words what was in my heart and mind but did not know how to express. You summed up the situation perfectly. Or, more simply: I never thought of it that way. But I like very much what you've helped me to see. The prophet Jeremiah has such perspective in the words he shares above. He sees evidences of God's lovingkindness all around him. The Hebrew word he uses here is described by other translators as unfailing love, loyal love, or steadfast love. The prophet declares that God's love never stops. You might remark from where you sit today, "Well, that's easy for him to say!" But notice where these words are found: smack dab in middle of the Book of Lamentations. They are words included in the midst of a great lament, written after the devastation and destruction of the beloved city of Jerusalem. A funeral sermon of sorts. They might have been spoken just after the Twin Towers fell. Or even in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Jeremiah bears witness that even in the midst of such calamity, God is still present, and God's lovingkindnesses never cease. The words testify that God is good, beneficent, and that He takes personal interest in the lives of His people - in your life today. Some are quick to see these evidences of God's love. Others are all but blind to it. But Jeremiah recognizes the insistent and persistent good that rises up even in the worst of times. I delight in hearing stories of bravery, courage and sacrifice in the midst of these days. For in them I see the LORD's lovingkindnesses, springing up with grace abounding. And I wonder: do you see them, too?

Loving God, I can sometimes be overwhelmed with the challenges that surround me. I'm tempted to fear, to lose my composure, to give up hope and to give into despair. Even so, I do not ask You to take me out of my present situation, but to give me proper perspective within it. Help me to recognize Your powerful and loving presence - with me and for me today. Bless me, I pray, with the divine determination to make the very best of my circumstances, to know You are my greatest advocate, and to bear witness to Your lovingkindnesses that will surely be evidenced in my life today. Be glorified in me, now and always.

Wednesday, April 15 Devotional

Now may the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

I see it all around me, and others have testified to the same: individuals, couples or families out for walks, strolls, with or without their animals, enjoying the outdoors and the beautiful days that have come upon us here in northern California. I've never seen more of it. Every day seems like a Saturday. The spring season shouts hope all around us. With the warmer days come open windows and fresh air (save the pollen). The cool evenings are equally welcome. Birds are active, singing their songs, flying through the air, hopping on the ground, relishing all that each new day brings. And in our congregation, our Easter Goose - for the fourth straight year (or is it five?) nesting high above in a centuries old Giant Stone Pine - has just welcomed into the world her young goslings. Her presence in the tree has been a visible symbol of hope to our congregation called Immanuel. She's become symbolic of the presence and faithfulness of God in our midst - perhaps this year more than ever. God continues to bring good into the world. And perhaps our senses are better attuned to it now, as the limitations that have been placed upon us have lessened the distractions and helped us to focus. True hope - different from wishful thinking or fanciful desire - is a confidence in what will surely come to pass but has not yet arrived. The apostolic claim in the Scripture above is that this hope is found in your Creator, your Source of being, the One who loves you more than you know. Putting your confidence in the God of hope, you will find the fullness of joy and peace. And as you continue to open your heart to Him, you will abound in hope - and you will be a conduit through which God will encourage and lift the spirits of those around you. Signs of life and hope - they're all around you. Evidences and expressions of Immanuel, God-with-us, the One ever-present for you; and they're sometimes seen brooding high above in the branches of a tree, framed in a church's glass window.

Good and gracious God, signs of life and hope surround me. In them I sense Your presence, Your goodness, Your grace. Draw my heart to you. Fix my eyes on Your present goodness. Help me appreciate the kindness of strangers and the hope that is welling up in the community around me, in the face of this ongoing crisis. In these days and always, help me to find my hope in You, the One who has been and always will be - ever faithful. As you fill me today with the hope that abounds, may I be a conduit of hope to those in despair, that You might work through me to accomplish Your good purposes on earth as it is in heaven.

Tuesday, April 14 Devotional

Greet one another with a holy kiss.
2 Corinthians 13:12

Well, maybe not. At least in these days. Even handshakes are on hiatus for a while. But maybe there are better ways to share sacred salutations. At least for now. When I pastored two small-town churches in rural South Dakota, I learned two things soon after arriving. First, people waved. You'd see it on the rural roads or state highways - everyone who passed waved to those going the opposite way. Sometimes their hand rose just a bit from the top of the steering wheel. Other times it might be just a few fingers. But everyone waved. The other thing I learned was the pastor who proceeded me did not. He did not wave. Since I was told this early on in my ministry, I learned an immediate and important lesson: don't do that! After all, it was a simple extension of brotherly love in rural America. And it would be, for me, an important entrée into the community. As I've been out walking in my neighborhood in recent days, I've begun to wave to almost every passing car (I walk facing traffic). And to my delight, most people wave back, even though they might find it a bit surprising that a stranger is initiating such a salutation. But in these days of COVID-19, there's a remarkable sense of community. Human community. As I'm sure you have heard it many times over: we're all in this together. Even a simple act of reaching out, of gap-bridging, can serve to build bonds of brotherhood. One additional lesson learned from my small- town experience: Although everyone in town was new to me, I was almost immediately recognizable to everyone. They quickly notice the stranger. I came to understand that people are watching. Always. What this means is every action you take, every word you speak, matters more than you know. Make them count today. Doing so will build up of God's beloved and serve as an offering of praise to the One who greeted you, in Jesus Christ the Lord.

Loving God, thank You for the gift of this day! Thank You for the gift of community! Through it we can support and be supported by one another. How I long to be reunited with my brothers and sisters in Christ. How I yearn to be in their company and to share in their physical presence. Help me, today, to be creative in the ways I communicate kindness and express Your love. Help me to serve You by building community, in whatever ways I can. And assure me that even the little things I do can make a big difference to some. May these small actions be pleasing in Your sight and may Your name be lifted high.

Monday, April 13 Devotional

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, Forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Ephesians 4:32

These trying times bring out the best in us and the worst in us. I was out for an Easter morning walk when a couple of cyclists sailed by on the other side of the street, out for a leisurely ride of respite. As they passed, I overheard some of their casual conversation, including this, in reference to a political leader: "He is the personification of evil. I pray that he would just die." In the face of an Easter morning, after having so recently joined with my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world to celebrate the wonder of the resurrection and the defeat of the power of death, the slap of these words smarted. Indeed, Jesus died to defeat evil in all of its manifestations - evil evident in some political leaders who abuse the power given them (by selfishly serving themselves instead of others), and equally evident in those who quickly accuse them and nonchalantly speak of (or pray for) their demise and death. Jesus does not condone evil; He defeats it - in all of its displays. But the way He does so is by overcoming evil with good. He teaches us to be kind to all, even to love our enemies. This does not mean we are to line up behind them, pledging our support. This does not mean we are to stand by passively, despite unjust practices or legislative laziness. Indeed, we are to speak truth to power, advocate for justice and walk in God's righteous ways. But included in our response to evil - lest we be complicit in it and perpetuate it - is to pray that God would work repentance in every heart that is set against His will - His will to love, save and redeem. In the Scripture above the apostle urges us to follow in the steps of Christ, who was our prime example as One who was kind, tenderhearted and forgiving. May the Spirit of the living Lord work in us and through us today in the words we speak and in the actions we take. Welcoming the Spirit's work in our lives, we will make the best of these trying times, bring benefit to God's people, extend God's kingdom, and honor the One who sacrificed Himself for our sins life and rose from the dead to give us everlasting life.

Lord Jesus, You gave Your life on Calvary's cross and rose again from the dead to put to death the sin within us all and to raise us again to new life in You. Help me die to sin today and come alive to the ways Your Spirit would lead me, ways that that loving and kind and promote goodness in Your world. Work in me to right the wrongs that I see, in myself and in others. May I do so motivated by Your love and seasoned by Your grace. And may my actions this day align with your perfect will, to the honor and glory of Your holy name.

Easter Sunday, April 12 Virtual Church Service ("It Must Be Easter")

Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed!

Easter Sunday, April 12 Devotional

He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.
Matthew 28:6

The announcement was even more stunning than the appearance. The violent earthquake. The like- lightning angel, the shaking guards, the pervasive fear, the rolled-away stone. It was a striking scene, to be sure. But none of it compared to the news the heavenly messenger proclaimed: He is risen! When Jesus had told His disciples (three times!) how His life would play out in Jerusalem - that He would be rejected, that He would suffer, die, and on the third day be raised to life - His words were resisted and misunderstood. The disciples could not reconcile these words, because their idea of Messiah ran completely counter to this description. Their expectation of Messiah was one who would overcome and rule, not one who would suffer and die. But now, on this Easter Sunday, with this unprecedented revelation, everything begins to unfold. As the day dawns, so the realization of the truth Jesus had spoken begins to grow. This day would become the Lord's Day, the Christian Sabbath, when followers of Jesus everywhere would gather together to worship, praise, give thanks and commune with Him. Like we are today! That Christ is risen means that the power of death has been conquered. That death does not have the final word. That the final word belongs to God - and it is a word of life! What does that mean for you today? The living Christ is present - with you and for you. And because He lives, so, too, will you live, in Him. His resurrection life is shared with you today. And as the angel invited the women, so the invitation is extended to you today, "Come and see." Jesus turns no one away who comes to Him with humble faith. The living Lord speaks to you on this Easter Sunday: "Do not be afraid. I am with you. Now go and tell."

Lord Jesus, today we rejoice before You with great thanksgiving! We hear the news of Your resurrection, and our hearts are filled with joy! We are amazed at the announcement that You have overcome the power of death - and that You live, never to die again! You are not simply a great teacher who lived and died and left behind words of truth. You are the living Lord, present with us today. And You promise those You call Your beloved, to those You call Your own, an eternal home in heaven, that where You are, there we may be also. Until that glorious day, grant us confidence of Your faithful, accompanying presence, that we might live out the remainder of our days with joy, peace and love, and accomplish Your will on earth and it is in heaven.

Holy Saturday, April 11 Devotional

Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD.
Psalm 27:14

Waiting can sometimes be the hardest thing to do. Contrariwise, it's so easy to become impatient. When I'm told to wait, I know there's nothing I can do to change the situation or to move it forward. It's out of my hands - and I'm uncomfortable with that feeling. I want to get there - to leave this tiresome place and to bridge this meaningless gap. If I cannot change the situation, I then try to avoid thinking about it. Busy myself with other things. Preoccupy myself, so that it will not seem that I've been waiting so long... for the test results to come back... for the update from the hospital... for the curve to flatten... for the shelter-in-place restrictions to be removed. How heavy and tiresome and uncomfortable it is to wait. How impatient I am for the word to be spoken: "All-clear! It's safe to come out now and to resume normal activities!" But then, when it is finally spoken, will I be hesitant to do so? Will I wonder if I'm able to believe it when I hear it? If the words were not, in fact, spoken too hastily? Spoken because they, too, were just plain sick and tired of waiting? Oh, this waiting is not easy... On this Holy Saturday we find ourselves stuck between Good Friday and... the Surprise that comes tomorrow. We're pressed to push forward. To get there already. To be done with the waiting. How many people (with good intention, to be sure) wished me a Happy Easter - on Good Friday. I understand that it's not easy to contemplate the cross (of Jesus or our own). I understand that it's not easy to be stuck in this in-between time. But I know that I cannot simply spin the hour-hand forward and speed up time. I'm called upon to wait - and to recognize that this day is a Holy Sabbath, a time to turn my thoughts toward God. And to know that as I do so, my heart will become strong and courageous. And that as I do so, I will grow in all the ways that are truly important, in this silent interim. For it is then that I will be full prepared and ready for the Surprise... that is just around the corner.

Almighty God, the times and seasons are in Your good hands. Help me to be patient and to be fully present in the moment. Help me to be at peace, trusting that You are with me in this in-between time. Strengthen and encourage my heart on this Holy Saturday, that I might rest in the knowledge that while there is nothing I can do, You are faithfully acting behind the scenes for the good of Your beloved people. Grant me the faith to trust, as I wait upon You, that You are good. That You are my Healer, Redeemer, and Author of life. While I fix my eyes upon You, grant me the confidence to know that You are hard at work, overcoming all the powers of death and destruction, and that in You I will find my ultimate victory.

Good Friday, April 10 Virtual Church Service ("Christ's Work on Calvary's Cross")

Good Friday, April 10 Devotional

And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.' And having said this, He breathed His last.
Luke 23:46

Today we kneel at the foot of the cross and humbly consider what took place upon it. As much as we try, we cannot mine the depths of the grace given, the sacrifice made, the love poured out. The event of the cross was both active and passive. Jesus willingly took upon Himself the complete and utter rejection by sinful humanity, even as He intentionally offered the fullness of Himself for the salvation of God's beloved. In His last Good Friday words recorded by the evangelist Luke, Jesus speaks words that are deeply personal. He also gives us a glimpse into the mystery of the Godhead. In one God is Trinity. Here, the Son commends Himself into the care of the Father. And here, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are working in unison for the redemption of God's people. On the cross we find the all-sufficient sacrifice. Nothing more is needed. God has done it all. For you. And as Jesus commends Himself into His Father's care, He shows the way for us today: Let us follow His lead and commend our days, our deeds, our every breath, into the good and gracious hands of God. There is no better thing to do. There is no better place to be.

Holy Jesus, I bow before You in humble adoration this day at what You have done on Calvary's cross. Help me to see more fully the glory of the grace poured out, there, for me. May Your sacrifice on my behalf move me and change me. Our senses have been heightened in these days to the precious gift of life. Help me to hear Your last words today and follow Your example, that I might commend myself and all my days into the hands of my loving heavenly Father, who is faithful to me now, and will be to all eternity.

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

Maundy Thursday, April 9 Devotional

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 8 Devotional

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

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

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

Tueday, April 7 Devotional

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

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

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

Monday, April 6 Devotional

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

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

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

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

Palm Sunday, April 5 Devotional

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

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

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

Saturday, April 4 Devotional

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

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

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

Friday, April 3 Devotional

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

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

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

Thursday, April 2 Devotional

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 1 Devotional

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

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

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

Continue to March

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