|Daily Devotionals and Weekly Virtual Church Services|
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.
For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.
For as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated with numbers. On one particular occasion my parents gifted me a clock radio that dropped digital metal cards in rolodex-type fashion. I was mesmerized by it, as I watched the numbers increase, minute by minute. There was something comforting about knowing what was coming next, and then observing it in action. My world made sense. I loved math in elementary school. One of the aspects that resonated with me then and now is that there was only one right answer to a problem. Guessing played no part in the process. I was taught to learn the rules, think logically, do careful work - and then check my work when I was finished. And when the problem was completed, I knew it was right. There was something deeply satisfying and fulfilling for me about that. And then things became more complicated. Word problems. We all hated them. Give me numbers, and I was fine. But ask me to apply the numbers to people and objects, require me to make these attributions on my own - that was much more challenging. There were examples given in the textbook at the beginning of every section. Studying the models was supposed to provide all that was needed to complete the word problems that followed. QED. Quod erat demonstrandum. Those letters would be listed at the end of the example, as if to affirm that the instructors had faithfully completed their part - and that it was now up to me to come up with the solution. Just follow the example. But it was never as easy as they made it sound. As more variables came into play, things became more complex - and I didn't like it. It made me uneasy. It was like reading a mystery novel with too many characters and too many possibilities. But life is often not as simple and easy as we'd like it to be. Jesus tells His followers in the above verse that He's given them an example. Having witnessed it, they were to go and do likewise. QED. What Jesus had done for them was to wash their feet. So… what did Jesus mean? How were they to follow suit? What were they supposed to do? Did Jesus intend that from now on they should be the basin-and-towel brigade? That they should literally wash each other's feet? If so, how often? And was this rule to extend beyond their group of twelve? Silly questions, I know. Questions a young math student might ask in frustration when given a real-life problem that wasn't as clear cut as he wanted it to be. But as the followers of Jesus continued to watch Him in action, they'd come to know His heart. They'd learn it was not just what He did but how He did it. His humility, His willingness to serve, His compassionate mercy, His love. His insistence on speaking the truth, defending the weak, calling out hypocrisy. Jesus would give them plenty of examples from which they could learn and after which they could model their lives. As I continue to listen and watch, I'm fascinated with the consistency of His words and ways, and I come to know the heart of God. And as I come to realize more fully that His actions were done also for me, I'm plugged into the power the propels me to follow the example I've been given by the One who always knew how best to address the situation before Him.
Good and gracious God, thank You for the living examples You've given Your people, that we might learn of Your will and Your ways. Open my eyes today to see Your actions working in the lives of others. Open my ears to hear Your voice speaking in and through Your people. And may my words and actions serve to expand Your kingdom purposes, that Your love and grace might be extended to all Your beloved children, especially, this day, to the isolated, sad and lonely, to the honor and glory of Your holy name.
And Israel said to Joseph, "I never expected to see your face,
and behold, God has let me see your children as well."
Feelings run deep in families. Emotions become impassioned. And the best and the worst can come out in them. We can find no better advocates than big brothers who stand up for us against the bullies in life. And yet siblings can be a source of jealously and a cause of contention. Israel was the new name given by God to Jacob. You may remember Jacob's early years, which included the betrayal of his brother, stealing both birthright and blessing. It caused a rift between them that separated the two for decades and infused deep mistrust that continued well beyond that. But the struggle between the brothers didn't come out of nowhere. Their parents had each had their favorite son, and the boys grew up in that unstable and divisive family. No surprise, then, that Jacob, woven into that same pattern, is unable to extricate himself from it and incorporates his own children into the same family quilt. He, too, will have his own favorite among his sons - and far from hiding it, he'll make it obvious to all the others. This serves to create envy among them, and deception and betrayal will continue their course in the next generation. Jacob's special son goes missing, and when evidence is brought to him, he quickly (and mistakenly) concludes the cause of his disappearance. His sons, knowing the truth, allow their dear father to believe that the prized son of his old age had been devoured by a wild animal. Years go by, and the sons who remain with their father see the grievous effects upon him and yet do nothing to break the bond of their brotherly secret. Things happen beyond their control, which results in a big family reunion in a foreign country that would become their new home. Not exactly what the brothers had envisioned in their retirement plans. And not at all what old man Israel expected to take place. But in this outcome, he sees the hand of God at work and the undeserved blessings bestowed upon him. Israel is graced with seeing his long-lost son again - and his children as well. He's comforted by his son's success, as every parent would be. And he's finally at peace. Israel bears witness that God is good, faithful and is always working to graciously bring good out of bad. We can expect the same to be the case when we're finally able to look back on this current crisis from the other side. We will see, as when turning over a tapestry, the wondrous work that God is making of this mess, and we'll be amazed at the finished product of God's creation. Will we ever be able to call what is happening now a beautiful thing? It's hard - if not impossible - to perceive it now. But God has the ability to work things out in ways that exceed our expectations; and, in His grace, He gives us much more (and much better) than we deserve. God brings renewal and redemption. As you invest yourself in that work today, you can be confident that no matter how things appear, your efforts are not and will not be in vain.
Good and gracious God, You're always working to bring good out of bad, to renew and to redeem, for the sake of the people You call Your own. Thank You for Your faithfulness and Your grace. Help me to learn from the families of faith recorded in Scripture, that I might not repeat their mistakes but take with me the very best of what they've left in their legacies. Grant me an understanding of Your faithful and loving heart, for as I come to know Your good intentions, I will live in the sure confidence that Your good plans for me will finally come to fruition. May Your will be done in me and through me this day.
For what thanks can we render to God for you
in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account?
1 Thessalonians 3:9
If it is a humble honor to have someone pray to God on your behalf in your time of need, it's a great delight when you're the reason for someone's celebration in God's presence. It's been said that the happiest people on earth are those who are filled with gratitude, and I don't doubt it for a moment. Their joy cannot be contained. And as it is expressed to those for whom and because of whom they are grateful, they create joy in those who receive the gift of their thanksgiving. In the great economy of God's kingdom, goodness is celebrated by all who invest in it. Is this not a helpful response to the widespread negativity and overwhelming dejection so many of us are experiencing in the public arena today? If goodness is given and gratitude for it is expressed, both donor and recipient are blessed. Moreover, the returning of thanks encourages the donor to continue to give. Having received a meaningful gift, one's heart is touched, softened, and moved to some extent in a positive direction. What life-giving words we read in the above verse. The occasion for it hardly matters. The expression of thanks is inspiring, even for outsiders not involved in whatever transaction has taken place. Witnessing such an event - even reading about it - stirs up the very best in us. It's easy to perceive that the author of these words cannot refrain from expressing himself. And words are hardly adequate to convey the joy he's experiencing. You can easily imagine what it would be like to open this letter and to read within it these words of thanks. They affirm that the gift given has hit its target; it was meaningful and well- received. The appreciation received brings satisfaction and blessing, and it serves as an encouragement to continue to find ways to further enhance the relationship. And love grows. Perhaps the evangelists can be excused for neglecting to include the teaching of Jesus on this subject, for they had different purposes and intentions in their writing. But Paul, the author of the above words, was well-acquainted with Jesus' instruction, and he shared them with others: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The expression of gratitude is no small part of that blessing. Perhaps you'll be inspired today to be a donor. Or maybe you'll be the recipient of a gift. Or it may be that you'll participate in both ends of the enterprise. Whichever the case, may these words remind you of the power of giving thanks. Far beyond merely recognizing the gift, it encourages the one who has given it to carry on similar activity. And in in your expression of gratitude you remind yourself of the grace you've received, and you starve any selfish sense of entitlement. Employing these words and actions will assist in making our world a better place. How will you allow God to work in you and through you today?
Good and gracious God, thank You for the many blessings You have poured out upon me. Thank You for the loving community that surrounds me and for the wonderful encouragement I've received from them. Make known to me the power that lies within me to encourage others. Teach me that I can bestow as much blessing as I've received, as I grow in my gift of gratitude. Keep my eyes ever fixed on Your grace. For as I'm reminded of Your goodness so freely given, how can I respond otherwise, except to pass it on? May Your rich blessings flow in me and through me today to affect the lives of others, for the honor of Your holy name.
Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
I'm not one to frequent theme parks, but I well remember the anticipation that built within me the first time I got to experience Walt Disney's vision of the Happiest Place on Earth. I was impressed when our bus (not just any bus, mind you, but one of those fancy buses rented by the school district for this special occasion) exited the freeway and lumbered up to the massive parking lot. Then came the walk - better called a trek - so far from the entrance there were trams coursing through the acreage now and again to assist those who had difficulty managing the distance. And when we finally made our way within sight of the Magic Kingdom portal, we encountered something else the park was famous for: its lines. But this, too, added to our excitement. That mandatory wait gave us a chance to take it all in: we had finally arrived, surrounded by hordes of people, all wanting, like us, to get inside. Although I was not yet admitted, I knew I soon would be. I felt as lucky as Charlie, waiting to meet Willy Wonka and to be given a tour through the Chocolate Factory. But first I had to procure that coveted golden ticket. And once that was completed, we pushed through the turnstiles and our feet were finally standing on the inside. We were admitted. And now the exploration could begin! I trust you've had similar experiences and can identify with the emotions that fill your being on such occasions. Even so, those who made their way to the Holy City of Jerusalem, built on mountain heights, marked the completion of a sacred pilgrimage. Indeed, the people well know that God's dwelling place is in heaven. But the temple (located within the city gates) had been built for His name, and God had promised that His eyes would be on it forever. And although God could certainly not be contained, the people were confident they could have an encounter with the divine in that sacred space. What joy to enter behind the walls of the Holy City! What elation to pass beyond the gates of the temple courts! What a sacred honor! What a special privilege! A person could not help but be humbled by the grandeur and majesty of it all. It was an overwhelming experience to enter this holy space, to take their place where their ancestors had once come generations before them, and to bow themselves down before the Almighty in humble adoration. I firmly believe God is not tied to any one locality. And I firmly trust that I can meet God in our local congregational setting just as easily as I could meet God in that land called holy. But there's indeed something special about entering into that sacred worship space - and I miss it. I miss the gathering of people whose hearts are dedicated to the same purpose and mission. I miss the fellowship of family and friends and the memories of shared stories. Standing within those gates is to be in a safe and sacred space. When this present crisis concludes, place will have a deeper meaning for me. Because, of course, it's what happens in that space that makes it so special. God meets us there with His Word. God touches our physical being in water, bread and wine. And it's there that we take our united stand, to participate in the good work God has called us to do. How blessed we are that He has so graciously given us access into His holy presence. What joy to explore the riches of His kingdom together!
Almighty God, thank You for the grace that You've extended to Your people - that You welcome us into Your loving presence. You not only richly bless us with Your goodness, You keep us safe from all harm and danger. As we await our entry into the heavenly Jerusalem and our eternal dwellings, remind us always of your faithful presence and provision in our midst. Your people rejoice this day, for You have claimed us as Your own. Strengthen us for service, that Your good and gracious will might be accomplished in us and through us this day, to the honor and glory of Your holy name.
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.
Actions speak louder than words. This expression is sometimes taken up as a rejoinder to someone who's said something but doesn't follow through with his words or acts inconsistently with previous promises made. In biblical language: A tree without fruit is fit for the fire; faith without works is dead. There's been sharp disagreement throughout church history about the part works plays in our relationship with God. As vital as they are to responsible living in God's sight, it's supremely important to put them in perspective. We're not saved by good works; we are saved for them. We don't perform good deeds so that God will look favorably upon us and adopt us into His family; we do them because God has already claimed us as His own. God is the great initiator. God always acts first, and God acts in grace. We respond to God's grace by living our lives in accordance with God Word. This is not just a New Testament idea. God did not interact with His people in a certain way initially and then later change His mind in Jesus. This has always been God's modus operandi. The rescue of God's people from their bondage comes before the covenant at Sinai. The liberation comes before the law. The declaration of God that the children of Israel are His beloved treasure comes before God tells them how He expects them to live as a community in His sight. Indicative comes before imperative. God has set you free to do good works. God is not a taskmaster who loads you down with onerous burdens and compels you to do them in some vain attempt to earn your way into heaven. Rather, God has called you to engage in good works for the good of His creation and to benefit and bless others in need. When the apostle writes to the congregation in Colossae, he reminds them of what a faithful response to God's grace means and looks like. He encourages them to put their heart and soul into their work - to give it all they've got. To give their best efforts in whatever ways they're employed, as if God were their boss. He bids them to be a blessing of good example to their coworkers, to be responsible laborers who give no cause for concern but who can be counted on by their company to do their work well and lead the way for others. Your dedication should not be made for any earthly advancement, award or accolade. Instead, always present in your mind is the recognition that it is the Lord Himself you are serving in your work. Your responsible behavior, your good attitude, your ethics - others will see them and take note. And when your heart is in the right place, they'll not only see you, they'll see beyond you, through you, to the One who inspires you and in whose employment you are so actively engaged. Luther recognized the validity of serving God in all walks of life. One needn't be a priest to deal with sacred matters. Therefore, whatever you do, whether you're employed formally or informally, inside the home or out in the world, know that your work is truly essential in God's sight, and give it your all for His glory. As you do so, you'll be amazed at how quickly the hours pass by, and you'll accomplish your very best work. Most importantly, you'll honor the name of the One you've taken upon yourself.
Good and gracious God, thank You for the work You've placed before me today. Help me to apply myself with a good attitude and with fullness of heart. May the grace by which I have been saved inspire me to give my very best in response to what You have first done for me. May my actions be consistent with my words, and may the example I give to others help them to see You more clearly and to be drawn to You and Your ways, for the honor and glory of Your holy name.
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