Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Devotion for Tuesday, June 6

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends (John 15:13)

On this date in 1944, during the height of World War II, the Allied forces stormed the beaches at Normany, France -  Utah and Omaha (USA), Gold and Sword (Great Britain) and Juno (Canada) -- in what has come down to us in history as D-Day.  

The sacrifices that were made on that day by so many lives on as a reminder that freedom comes with a price.  

Just as our freedom in Christ comes with a cross, the values and freedom of our democracy comes with a price.

Let us remember the brave men and women of D-Day today who paid that price and give thanks for their sacrifice.

And lets us always give thanks and offer support for the brave men and women who serve our values today! 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Devotion for Thursday, May 25

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! (Psalm 84)

I've been in any number of church buildings and sanctuaries.  I've seen some that were large and gorgeous (like the cathedrals in Europe).  I've been small churches on the North Dakota plains.  I've been in open air churches in Africa and the Bahamas.  I've been in churches with a high ceiling and beautiful natural light and I've been in churches with expensive stain glass windows that kept the natural light out.  I've been in old churches and new churches that meet in auditoriums and movie theaters. As I imagine you have, my worship of God has been in all manner of settings and sizes.

What I have found is that while I may prefer a particular style or decor over others, the one constant in all of these places is the Word of God.  The promise that where "two or more are gathered" then Jesus is with us.  This makes each and every place that I have worshiped in my life a "lovely dwelling place."  

Indeed, where I worship matters little when compared to the promise inherent in worship.  God comes to us in all manner of ways and in all manner of sanctuaries.  And it is this realization that allows me to find holiness in the most humble or ornate setting.  

The next time you find yourself worshiping in a setting not particularly to your liking, remember that God dwells there too.  And does so with the same powerful Word as a sanctuary more to your liking. Remember that the people who worship with you on any given Sunday in any given sanctuary are loved children of God just like you.

As we focus on this, we will most definitely come to find that lovely dwelling places of the Lord of hosts abound.  And how precious and awesome is this!

Dwelling God, may we experience your beauty and blessing wherever and whenever we worship. Amen.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Devotion for Wednesday, May 24

You have turned my mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11)

The following song is one that I believe speaks to the tragic and heartbreaking realities of our world with the promise of Jesus.  Whether it was the recent death of a loved one, a time of difficulty in a relationship, or even an atrocity like what happened in Manchester, England.  The Lord will work to bringing healing, restoration, and hope.

Mourning into Dancing

You've turned my mourning
Into dancing again
You've lifted my sorrows
And I can't stay silent
I must sing, for your joy has come

Where there once was only hurt
You gave Your healing hand
Where the once was only pain
You brought comfort like a friend

I feel the sweetness of Your love
Piercing my darkness
I see the bright qnd morning sun
As it ushers in your joyful gladness

You're anger lasts for a moment in time
But Your favor is here
And will be on me for
All my life time

"Mouring into Dancing" by Ron Kenoly

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Devotion for Tuesday, May 23

Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes ..." (Psalm 113:5-8)

With all due respect to the great Bette Midler, ours is not a God who "looks down from a distance" on us our lives.  I can understand the thought and the image, yes.  However, if the Christian faith says anything about God, it is that God is not aloof nor removed from the world God created.  Instead, our God is the one not only dwelt with us Jesus, but dwells with us still in the Spirit of Jesus.

In doing so, God is able to do quite a remarkable thing:  God lifts us from our struggles and pains and raises us to new life and renewed life time and time again.  This is at the heart of the witness of Jesus. This is the central aspect of His ministry and teaching.  It remains the most vital confession and profession that we make as followers of Jesus.

My dad says it this way:  God is "God-enough" for our sin, shame, sufferings, and pain.  Through the Spirit of Jesus, and activated amidst our faithful response to the promise, we come to find that our lives are redeemed and restored no matter the circumstance and no matter the brokenness.

As we know, this can be and often times will be a long and winding road.  Still, it is the primary work of God to raise us up from our moments and experiences of desperation, to offer us hope beyond hope for each and every struggle and each and every shame.

Our God is "God-enough" to help us face our trials and "God enough" to not only offer us comfort amidst our trials and see us through them, but to hasten the time when peace and restoration will once again reign in our lives, and prayerfully, in our world.

God-Enough, may we cling to your promised presence always and in all ways. Amen.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Devotion for Monday, May 22

Love one another with mutual affection (Romans 12:10)

About this verse, Martin Luther writes, "No feeble love is demanded here, but a love that comes from the heart, so that our heart bears witness that the sorrow of others hurts us as much as if it were our own and their prosperity cheers us as much as if it were our own."

This is the goal of "loving your neighbor as yourself" and it is a daunting task.  Our sin, our shame, our fear, and our jealousies can keep us from fully embracing this vision of Jesus.  Still, it is our goal and a call to change our hearts.

How then do we do this? I believe that as we come to experience and internalize our own worthiness, our own value as defined by God's love for us, we are best able to love with our whole hearts. Perhaps it is only for a time, a moment even. Still, we can, through the grace and strength of Jesus, dare to love in such a divine way.  

Know this, that you are a blessing and gift.  You need not define yourself over and against another, but can find solace and strength in knowing that you are a chosen, beloved child of God. Period.

So dare to to love others with all your hearts. Dare to celebrate with others in their joy. Dare to bless others and support others in their sorrow. Dare to be the people God has created you to be!

Lord Jesus, inspire us to love and see ourselves as you love and see us so that we might love and see others as you love and see them. Amen.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Devotion for Thursday, May 18 (A Week with 1 Corinithians)

If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain (I Corinthians 15:14)

At the heart of the Christian faith is this very sensational claim: that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead!

I have known many people who could buy Jesus as a great teacher, or even a healer of some kind but did not by that he was raised from the dead.  Their rational sensibilities hold sway.  

I admit that I can understand why someone may not believe in the resurrection of Jesus.  Resurrection does not happen in our everyday lives.  But I do believe it happened.  I absolutely believe it had to happen.

I came to faith through my head.  At some point I came to the rational belief that if there is a God (and I was pretty sure that there was), then the kind of God that I could believe in and give my life to would be a God who came down to experience all that we experience in life, even experiencing death.  And if that could happen, then Jesus, God-incarnate in the world, could absolutely be raised, proving that life trumps death.  

Paul writes that if there is no resurrection, then all that we are doing is for naught.  I agree.  Our central Christian witness is that God in Christ brings life out of death -- not simply at the end of our lives, but amidst all the "mini-deaths" that we experience in this world (i.e. death of a dream, relationship, professional goal, sickness, etc.).

I believe that "resurrection" happens all the time, that God is forever in the "resurrection business" in our lives and the lives of the people of world.  May we have the faith and the eyes to see it!

Ever-living God, open us to your life-giving and life-changing ways. Amen.   

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Devotion for Wednesday, May 17 (A Week with 1 Corinthians)

For as often as you eat of this bread and drink from this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes (I Corinthians 11:26)

We share the sacrament of Holy Communion every Sunday at Bethel.  I am so glad that we do and that it has become commonplace to do so in most Lutheran congregations.  For what we believe about Holy Communion is actually quite awesome.

For Lutherans, Holy Communion is more than a memory exercise.  Neither is it a full-blown transformation of bread and wine.  Instead, Lutherans walk a middle path if you will.

We believe that while the elements remain bread/wine, we also strongly believe that the mysterious presence of Jesus is "in, with, and under" the elements as spiritual nourishment.  We call this the "real presence".  Therefore, Holy Communion is something we desire and need each week.

When my daughter Leah celebrated her "First Communion", I remember so vividly is that leading up to that Sunday, she kept saying "Is this the Sunday that I get to do the cup?"  Her joy in participating in worship in this new way was infections for our family.  I so hope that she does not lose that joy for the remainder of her life.

I have seen the power of Holy Communion in the lives of many people, particularly older people who are unable to attend worship with any regularity, if at all.  They value receiving the bread/wine because it connects them to their church but also to a life-long promise of Jesus' presence, forgiveness, and grace.

And isn't that feeling something we need to experience as much as possible?

Nourishing Lord, may our lives be filled by your Spirit, sustaining us and energizing us for faith. Amen.