Devotions

Devotions for 12-1-22 “Saint Andrew”  

Yesterday in the church calendar was the festival of St Andrew the Apostle. So, our gospel reading was from John 1:35-42. Listen:

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus.

So often the seemingly little things in life turn out to have great meaning. While we never hear much regarding Andrew, what we do hear of him is significant. And this reading shows us that.

Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. And it was John who pointed his followers, including Andrew, to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And Andrew listened to John, believed John, and then acted on what John had declared.

Andrew acted by doing for his own brother, Simon Peter, what John the Baptist had done for him. He pointed Simon to Jesus. He brought Simon to Jesus. And so begins the course that changes history with Simon Peter following Jesus.

Andrew acts because he believed that Jesus was the Promised One, the Messiah, the Christ. We like Andrew also believe John’s words of declaration and so we also like Andrew seek to bring others to Christ Jesus. Especially our family members, and the people we love.

We give thanks to God for Andrew and his example of faith that lives and moves and acts to bring people to Jesus Christ. It’s an act of love that Andrew does which we do well to emulate. Perhaps you could bring a loved one or close friend with you to Sunday worship or to the mid-week Advent service next Wednesday and let them hear of the good news of Jesus Christ in that way.

Who knows what might come of such a simple act of faith?

In Jesus’ name. Amen, and goodbye.

Devotions for 11-29-22  “O Wisdom”  

A quick reminder that we have midweek advent services on Wednesdays starting tomorrow at 7PM. We are following the theme, Wreath, Creche Carols, Tree – Christ was born for you and me.

Now, today’s devotions come from the little Advent devotional booklet we sent out by email that came from the seminary in Fort Wayne. In the introduction on how to use the devotional it says this. This devotional is structured around the ancient O Antiphons. The  antiphons were sung before the Magnificat at Vespers (in) December. They date back to the 5th and 6th century, and the most familiar use of them … is found in the hymn O Come O Come Emmanuel. These antiphons, demonstrate the continual prayer of the Church as well as the Lord’s constant response.

Todays O Antiphon is addressed to Wisdom. It’s written by Seminarian Isaac Spangler. That antiphon reads – O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, mightily ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

Seminarian Spangler begins with a quote from psalm 119 which reads in part: Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. You are good and do good; teach me your statutes… I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant. Seminarian Spangler then writes:

Wisdom, a peace-bringer amidst suffering, rests on those who know and love

God’s commands. A person of peace blesses those in the midst of suffering and can,

through their words and actions, dispel the consternations, fears, and pains of those in

the midst of affliction. When in our deepest afflictions, the devil quickly pulls our eyes away from the cross and through fear or pain can steal from our hearts the Words of God’s peace, much like the ravens snatching the seed scattered by our Lord. How we long for someone to bring us God’s peace when we suffer so!

Peace comes with Wisdom. Through our sufferings God teaches us His statutes.

Through learning His statutes we receive His peace. Those who bring us peace lift our

eyes to the cross; they point us to our Savior who suffers beside us always. The

peace-bringers are servants of Wisdom, letter-bringers of our God, and sufferers as are we. Through their sufferings God has taught them His statutes—His suffering with them has healed them. They now lift our eyes in the hope taught them by the Lord, hope in His Word. Both affix their gaze to the cross, the culminated picture of God’s Law.

 When in suffering seek after Wisdom. Wisdom looks forward to Christ’s birth.

Wisdom rejoices in Christ’s life. Wisdom mourns with thanksgiving Christ’s death. Wisdom takes joy in Christ’s resurrection. The Christian sealed by God’s Word suffers not in silence but in songs of thanksgiving. -Thus our devotional. In Jesus’ name. Amen and goodbye.

Devotions for 11-23-22  “Thanksgiving”  

First off, let me wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving and a reminder that we are thankful to God for one another and for our togetherness as His people here at Zion Lutheran Church. So, with this Sunday being the beginning of Advent and we are now at the end of this church year, it’s a good time to be reminded that we are now one year closer to the Lords return and our resurrection to God in heaven! Indeed that is reason to give God hearty and heartfelt thanks today, tomorrow (especially!) and every day!

And for Thanksgiving Day I want to share the Thanksgiving Day  prayer from a little devotional called the Lutheran Book of Prayer but first, hear the words of Psalm 100. Perhaps you can use this psalm and prayer around your table tomorrow. Listen.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

2     Serve the Lord with gladness!

    Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the Lord, he is God!

    It is he who made us, and we are his;

    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

    and his courts with praise!

    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the Lord is good;

    his steadfast love endures forever,

    and his faithfulness to all generations.

And now the prayer for Thanksgiving Day from the Lutheran Book of Prayer.

Oh, give thanks to the Lord for He is good and His mercy endures forever. Lord God, heavenly Father, You have created me and endowed me with all that I am or have as a pure gift of Your “fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.” You sustain me from day to day with the gifts of daily bread in the food that I eat, the family that surrounds me, the friends I enjoy, the country where I live, and the countless other benefits that I constantly receive from Your open hand.

On this Day of Thanksgiving, cause me to gratefully remember the good gifts that You shower upon me. Deepen in me the knowledge of Your goodness, and awaken my heart to praise You for all of Your gifts, especially the forgiveness of sins that You have purchased and won for me and the whole world in the atoning death of Your Son, Jesus Christ.

Keep me mindful of Your mercies every day, and grant that I may thank, praise, serve, and obey You not only with my lips but also with a life dedicated to the service of my neighbor. To You, O Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, praise and thanksgiving, now and forever. in Jesus’ name. Amen. Again…

A Happy Thanksgiving to us all, goodbye.

Devotions for 11-18-22 “Scorn”

Today’s reading is from Matthew 26: 42-43 as Jesus is hanging on the cross dying.  Listen; “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.”

This is said by the chief priest, scribes, and elders. These are the official office holders of the leadership of Israel. This is official Israel heaping scorn and derision on her true King as He dies. And don’t forget: Jesus knows this is the will of God and He takes it all onto Himself. Jesus knows this scorn and derision is but one more part of God’s punishment on sin. So, Jesus endures and suffers this abuse though He is totally innocent.

Not only do these leaders taunt Jesus but, they taunt God as well. All the unfaithfulness toward God by Israel seen in the Old Testament comes to its most damning in these few words. They’re telling God, telling God,  IF He’s Yours, then bring Him down. What utter arrogance on their part! They’re saying to Jesus, that ‘if God does not take You off the cross then You’re forsaken by God and nothing but a fool’. And in saying this they are speaking the truth and simply don’t know it. Jesus IS indeed forsaken of God on the cross, because Jesus has become sin, in our place. He IS a fool; according to the ways of this earth. But, He’s a fool in love with His heavenly Father and His people.

And so, He will suffer these pangs of hell thrown at Him, in order to reveal and establish His love for all people and to redeem His creation. Jesus’ focus on the cross is the will of the Father only. It’s for the love of God that kept Jesus from replying to these taunts, jeers, and expressions of scorn. Luther said, ‘Jesus does not argue with His foes; He acts as though He does not hear or see them and makes no reply… He is so completely devoted to the dearest will of His father that He forgets about His own death.’

Jesus is hearing all this derision – from those He is dying to save. Jesus, dying on the cross, is mocked for this ultimate act of love, by those whom He loves. What the elders, scribes and chief priests say here, by the way they say it in the Greek, makes it very clear they are calling Jesus ‘the king’ a phony. You hear in their taunt their outright refusal to believe. And, they’re not even being honest.

Even if Jesus came down from the cross, they’d still refuse to believe Him. They know He healed the eyes of a man born blind, they know He raised Lazarus from the dead, they know all that He’s done and taught and still they refuse to believe. So, now, at the cross, they’re lying through their scorn! They say, He saved others, He cannot save Himself. Here again their dishonesty is exposed while at the same time they preach truth. They acknowledge, without any degree of faith or trust that – Jesus saved others! They know it’s all true that Jesus saved others, but He can-not save Himself. And that’s true also! He cannot save Himself. To do so would be to refuse the will of His Father. To save Himself would mean no one else, none of us, would ever be saved. He saved others, He saved us; by not saving Himself. Thanks be to God! In Jesus name.  Amen… and goodbye.

Devotions for 11-15-22 “Curses”

Today’s reading is from Matthew 26 vss 59-68. It contains the first use of a very familiar curse that’s often heard. We’ve heard it so often that you may miss it. Listen:

Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?”63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”

Did you catch it? Did you hear the curse? It’s right there at the very end, when the council and chief priests were striking Jesus. They taunted Him by using His title against Him. And thus Satan begins what has become such a common curse, ‘Jesus Christ’.

They use the title of Christ, meaning ‘Messiah’ or ‘God’s anointed one’, in a sarcastic fashion. They’re taking the title that Jesus bears in truth and turn it into mockery. And Satan laughs. Here the so-called religious leaders are using their own religious words to scorn and deride their own Savoir. And again, Satan laughs. He laughs right along with those who are mocking, striking, and spitting on Jesus.

It’s always Satan’s way to lie and cheat to try and separate God’s creation from God. And in these verses, we see the beginning of how Satan tries to make a lie out of Jesus’ true title of Christ, God’s anointed one, the savior sent by God to redeem mankind from sin and restore to God His creation by dying on the cross and rising again to new life. Here the religious leaders indeed sentence Jesus to death – and that is the very death that God’s anointed one, Christ, came to fulfill.

And here we see that title being abused as it is still abused today! How often have you read or heard the name Jesus and His title Christ, used to swear with. And again Satan laughs. He laughs as God’s own people use the Lord’s name and title to curse their circumstances or events or injuries. Friends we should not give the devil so much joy!

Rather let us honor and revere the Lord by keeping His name and title holy. We do so by using it as intended by God. In John 3:18 Jesus gives us the proper and right use of His name. Listen: Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. We go forward to proclaim salvation, In Jesus name.  Amen…  and goodbye.

Devotions for 11-11-22 “Veterans Day”

With today being Veterans Day I thought it appropriate to read the story from Matthew 8 of the Roman centurion who comes to Jesus asking for healing for his servant. Listen: 5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith… 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

This soldier, this veteran in the Roman army, sets us a high standard to follow as soldiers of Christ. There is another Roman army veteran from the history of the Christian church who we can also learn from and who has a bearing on our denomination’s founder, Luther. In my devotional app, Pray Now, we’re reminded that today is when we honor St Martin, the pastor (the bishop) of Tours. Let me read you the brief paragraph on him from that devotional.

Born into a pagan family in what is now Hungary around 316 AD, Martin grew up in Italy (Lombardy). Coming to the Christian faith as a young person, he began a career in the Roman army. But sensing a call to a church vocation, Martin left the military and became a monk, affirming that he was “Christ’s soldier.” Eventually, Martin was named bishop of Tours in western France (Gaul). He is remembered for his simple lifestyle and his determination to share the gospel throughout rural France.

Incidentally, on St Martin’s Day in 1483, the one-day-old son of Hans and Margarette Luther was baptized and given the name “Martin” Luther!

So says the devotional.

Today we honor St Martin of Tours for his honorable career in both the roman and Christian armies. We also pay honor and respect to the veterans who have served us through their military service to our country. And who, by their sacrifice and efforts, we remain free here to give worship and praise to the God who has called each of us into His service.

In Jesus name, Amen…  and goodbye.

Devotions for 11-9-22 “Asking for Forgiveness”

In last Saturday’s devotion from Luther’s writings in the book, “By Faith Alone” was this gem that I wanted to share with you. It speaks so well of what we know to be true in our lives regarding sin and forgiveness. It always is encouraging to be reminded of God’s great compassion for us, His children in Christ. It starts by quoting John 3:19. Listen:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

Luther writes:

Suppose you’re a homeowner and something in your home is damaged. You become angry about it but soon discover that “No One” did it. Even though nobody admits to it, the damage remains, and it bothers you.

Every so often, a servant is caught in the act of damaging property but still denies doing it. If only the servant would confess, the master could easily forgive the servant.

The devil and death have brought “No One” into the world. People today are so bad, evil, and full of sin that they place their own guilt on other people’s shoulders. If only they would admit their sin, they could be forgiven and would find that God is merciful. God wouldn’t deny us anything if only we would crawl to his cross.

But we don’t do it, and in the process, we pile seven other sins on top of one sin. Yes, we multiply our sins to no end and beyond all measure! The devil does the same.

He denies everything and makes many sins out of one sin. If a child were to say, “O Father, I have done wrong. Forgive me,” she would be forgiven. But the child stubbornly says no and refuses to admit any wrongdoing. She adds a lie to the sin and to the damage she has already caused. Once again, more sins spring from the first sin. On the other hand, if she were to confess the sin and say, “I have done it,” she would remain in the light and would be like an angel.

Thus Luther. Thanks be to God for this reminder that in the cross of Jesus Christ we see our forgiveness in His flesh. There on that cross is the atonement for all our sins and trespasses. Let us be found there and from there receive the grace of God’s forgiveness. In Jesus name, Amen…  and goodbye.

Devotions for 11-4-22 “Hope For All Saints”

So you don’t miss our service celebrating All Saints Sunday, let me give you a quick reminder that daylight savings time ends this Saturday night.

And in keeping with the theme of All Saints Day, I’m sharing with you this week’s devotional from our District president, Pastor Lee Hagan. His words of encouragement help us to focus clearly on the eternal hope of our promise in Christ. He begins with a reading from Revelation 7:9-10, listen.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 

As many advances as medical science has made, it still cannot prevent death from occurring.  In 2017, an Indonesian man by the name of Sodimedjo died at the reported age of 146.  Reportedly born in 1870, he had outlived four wives and all of his children.  He had 12 grandchildren, 17 great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.  But nothing or no one could stop Sodimedjo’s death from happening.

While we may be powerless to do anything about death, Jesus is not.  The sole reason that our Lord Jesus Christ descended from His throne in heaven was to come down to earth and keep God’s Law perfectly because He was without sin and then to offer His life as the perfect sacrifice on the altar of the cross for our place.  The way that Jesus could give us life was by His own death.  All Saints Day is the date on which the Church celebrates the hope that we have that because Jesus died and rose again, all who die in faith will one day rise again in the resurrection on the last day.  We have a hope that will not disappoint us, but a hope that sustains and strengthens us.  Many people are afraid of funerals, but not us.  We are not afraid because we have something to say at funerals.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  We have something to sing at funerals – I know that my redeemer lives.

The glorious picture that St. John describes of heaven is one of the ways that God gives us hope.  We can look forward to angels and archangels and all the company of heaven gathered around Jesus and singing praise to the Lamb who was slain.  Imagine for a moment all the people who have received the gift of faith in Jesus from every place and from every age, a great multitude that no one could number, will be gathered around Jesus and singing a hymn of victory as we enter into the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end. We pray –  Almighty and everlasting God, You knit together Your faithful people of all times and places into one holy communion, the mystical body of Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Grant us so to follow Your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that, together with them, we may come to the unspeakable joys You have prepared for those who love You; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen…  and goodbye.

Devotions for 11-1-22 “All Saints Day”

A blessed All Saints Day to you! When you hear of it being all saint’s day, who comes to mind for you? Who in your life would you consider to be a saint?  Who has passed to glory from your life that you have no doubt that they stand with all the saints of God in Heaven? When we talk of saints we do so in the context of death.

For someone to be called a ‘saint’ we have a general idea that this is someone whose life reflected God and His glory in some way while they lived on this earth. A saint is also someone we think of as being beyond death. Someone who has been given the gift of Jesus victory over death and who stands before the throne of God giving continued thanks and praise. We like to think of our loved ones that way, as being in that number with all the saints of scripture.

Those saints are an easy category to fill with names, St Paul, St Peter and all the disciples of Jesus would be on that list. And there’s the Old Testament saints like Abraham Isaac and Jacob. But one that stands out all on his own would be Moses.

Listen to the account Moses’ death from Deuteronomy 34.

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo… And the Lord showed him all the land, …4 And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” 5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, 6 and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab … but no one knows the place of his burial to this day.

Since I was old enough to understand this passage, it has always captured my interest. That this man who brought salvation, rescue, and freedom for the nation of Israel should be buried in some unknown place. Buried in a place known only to God who buried him Himself. This is Moses after all! Their leader, teacher, and provider. And they know only that God buried him in a valley in the land of Moab.

That reminds us of another Man buried in a valley where a new tomb had been carved out of rock in the side of that valley. Jesus too was buried after being put to death, according to God’s will, on the cross. And it is His death that makes atonement for all sin. Even the sin of Moses that kept him from going over the Jordan to the promised land.

Our sin and the sin of the whole world is paid for in Jesus’ death. And unlike Moses we know where Jesus was buried. But we also know that the grave, the tomb could not hold Him! He is not here the angels told the women when they came to anoint Jesus body. He was not there as Jesus was raised from the dead to bring victory over death and to grant new life to all who trust in Him. Yes, Moses body has decayed where God put it, but Moses is also with Jesus beyond the grave and awaiting the resurrection in Christ that will come on the last day when Jesus returns in triumph!

Till that day, today we continue to remember with joy the saints who have preceded us to heaven with our Lord. In Jesus name we say, Amen… and goodbye.

Devotions for 10-28-22 “Today”

I don’t recall where I got this from, but I found this in a file I save of stories and anecdotes for sermons and such. As we’re heading into a busy time of year, we can get overwhelmed by all the things and stuff we put on our calendars. And it can be easy to be lulled into sometimes overlooking the important in favor of what is only urgent. With that in mind, please take this reminder to heart.

There are two days in every week about which we should not worry, two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension.

One of these days is Yesterday, with all its mistakes and cares, its faults and blunders, its aches and pains. Yesterday has passed forever beyond our control. All the money in the world cannot bring back Yesterday. We cannot undo a single act we performed; we cannot erase a single word we said. Yesterday is gone forever.

The other day we should not worry about is Tomorrow, with all its possible adversities, its burdens, its large promise, and its poor performance. Tomorrow is also beyond our immediate control. Tomorrow’s sun will rise, either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds, but it will rise. Until it does, we have no stake in Tomorrow, for it is yet to be born.

This leaves only one day, TODAY. Any person can fight the battle of just one day. It’s when you and I add the burdens of those two awful eternities, Yesterday and Tomorrow that we break down. It’s not the experience of Today that drives a person mad, it’s the remorse or bitterness of something which happened Yesterday, and the dread of what Tomorrow may bring.

Let us, therefore, live but one day at a time. As Jesus has told us; “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

And “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

With the peace of Christ that dwells in us each and every Today, we say, Amen… and goodbye.

Devotions for 10-26-22 “Hiding from God”

I couldn’t pass up on sharing this devotion from Luther’s writings in the book, ‘By Faith Alone.’ He starts by quoting Genesis 3:10 which reads:

 [Adam] answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

Luther says: We need to realize that hiding from God is the essence of sin. Unless God immediately sends help and calls back sinners, they will keep on trying to hide from God. And because sinners try to justify themselves with lies, they pile one sin on top of another. In the end they reach the point of open hypocrisy and deep despair.

As a result, one sin leads to another, until the weight of their sin pulls them down into the pit. Ultimately, the sinners accuse God of causing the sin rather than placing the blame on themselves. Adam should have said, “Lord, I’ve sinned!” But he didn’t do this.

Instead, he blamed God, saying in effect, “Lord, you sinned. I would have enjoyed a holy life in Paradise in spite of eating the apple if you hadn’t said anything.”

Adam’s thoughts and feelings were revealed when he implied that he wouldn’t have hidden if God’s voice hadn’t frightened him. Even though all people are guilty of sin, they don’t acknowledge it. Rather, they place the blame on their Creator. This only increases the burden of sin to infinite proportions unless God shows his mercy and comes to help. Adam believed that his wicked and foolish thoughts were the highest wisdom.

He was so overcome by his fear that he was barely aware of what he was saying or doing. As he tried to excuse himself, he actually condemned himself over and over and increased his burden of sin proportionately. At any rate, we must not think that these things happened to Adam alone. Every one of us does the same. Our human nature allows us to do nothing else, especially after we have committed a sin. We all prefer to put the blame on God rather than admit that we are sinners. Thus says Luther.

This hits very close to home for me. How often in my own mind have I both hidden myself from God thinking I was hiding my sin? And then also I’ve accused God of being at fault for my sin. ‘O, if only You’d created me differently God, I wouldn’t have done thus and so! Yet Luther makes it clear that we’re all this way trying to hide ourselves and our sin from God.

But for everyone there is hope, by the grace of God, when in confession we also receive absolution. When God asked aloud where Adam was, that is what God was wanting from Adam, confession! By His grace God hears our confession for the sake of Jesus and by that same Jesus dying on the cross and rising to new life, we receive the grace of God’s forgiveness and redemption. That is what changes us, God’s grace alone, so that we are made new in Him and no longer do we either think we can or do we want – to hide from God!

In Jesus name, Amen… and goodbye.

Devotions for 10-21-22 “Crossing from Death Into Life”

Today’s devotions take us back into the book “A Day in Your Presence” from Bethany House: readings from St Francis of Assisi arranged by David Hazard. This meditation is titled Crossing From Death Into Life and begins with two scripture quotes. The first is from chapter 22 of Matthew and reads:

The pharisees got together… and tested [Jesus] with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… And love your neighbor as yourself.”

And the second quote is John 5:22

Jesus also said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

St Francis writes:

The Lord spoke to our forefather Adam, saying: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16)

Adam was given freedom to eat of every tree in that earthly paradise since it was not sin – as long as he did not go against this one word from the Lord. In light of the tremendous love and provision and blessing, disobedience in this one thing can be seen for the true evil it was!

Now here is the message that comes down to us, through our forefathers fall: We “eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ when we take it upon ourselves to determine our own will. In so doing, we life up ourselves – our desires, opinions, and plans – above all the good things that the Lord would say and do through us.

Thus we must be conscious of two evil voices within. One is the whispering, suggestive voice of the Devil. The other is the voice of our own self-willed arguments as to why the Lord’s commands are “too hard,” and our many reasons why it will not harm us to transgress them.

Beware! When we obey either of these voices, and not the Word of the Lord, then what we “eat” becomes for us the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.

Therefore, it is necessary for us to bear hardships, in order to subdue our fleshly nature.

St Francis closes with this prayer

My Father, the only thing that loads a deadly burden on me is my own self-will, which so often keep me in conflict and turmoil with you. Forgive me, Father! Help me to walk again in a paradise of peace with you. I know I can trust completely in your good will. I can have confidence that nothing you ask will bring evil to me. To this we say

In Jesus name, Amen… and goodbye.

Devotions for 10-18-22 “the viciousness and awfulness of God ”

Again today’s devotions come from Deuteronomy, this time chapter 17 vss 1-7. Because our sense of sin can be dulled and diminished by both our familiarity with tolerating sin in our lives, as well as the graciousness of God in covering our sin with the blood of Jesus Christ, when sin and its grave cost is spoken of in plain terms it can be upsetting, confusing and offensive to us. Seeing sin in this way can make us fearful and wonder at the viciousness and awfulness of God in meeting out such terrible consequences.  We might begin to think, is this really who we want to worship and give praise too? In this lesson from Deuteronomy we are confronted with a glimpse of how our sin offends God and what the guilt of that offense requires in recompense. Listen:

“You shall not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep in which is a blemish, any defect whatever, for that is an abomination to the Lord your God.

2 “If there is found among you…a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, 3 and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, 4 and …if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, 5 then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. 6 On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death… 7… So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

God does not tolerate sin! This lesson shows us that fact very plainly. It also points us to Christ and His cross. Among the many things that connect this passage to the passion of Christ we take note that the sacrifice to God in vs 1 is to be without any defect. It is to be a perfect sacrifice. Such is Jesus for us. And further the punishment for false worship, worship of other gods, or of nature, is to be carried out beyond the city limits, just as Jesus was taken outside the limits of Jerusalem and killed on the hill of Golgotha.

And the lesson tells us that the punishment for those who engaged in false worship was only to take place on the testimony of 2 or more witnesses. Again, Jesus had such false witnesses that the religious leaders brought forward at His trial.

Still this seems to us so very hard and harsh on God’s part. But that is what sin is. It is hard and harsh, and it can only be expunged by such terrible and drastic measures.

If we wish to worship God, and give Him praise, we must do so first realizing that He alone has paid this terrible cost in our place on the cross of His son Jesus Christ. Jesus is the perfect and spotless sacrifice that was made that purges all evil from us. We cannot do that for ourselves, it He who does that for us. We can then give proper thanks and worship to God for His great kindness in paying that tremendous cost that is granted to us by grace alone. This glimpse of sin and its consequences helps to make real for us , the wrath of God that Jesus bore in our place. This, this gives us reason for joyful worship to God since He has paid in full the price for our sin. In Jesus name, Amen, and goodbye.

Devotions for 10-13-22 “Lay up these words of Mine

Today’s devotions come from Deuteronomy 11:18-20. This list of things Moses gives the people of Israel to do regarding God’s word give us something to consider in our own sojourn here on earth that might be useful. Listen to what God says through Moses:

18 “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 19 You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 20 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…

That’s quite a lot of places and events where God’s word is be on display or spoken or used. It isn’t the doing of those things that ‘earns points’ with God. Nor are those things done to fulfill a list of accomplishments so we can point to them as having earned God’s favor. These things do not give us any credit toward our own righteousness. That is foolish thinking.

No, these things are done so that, so that, we lay up God’s word in our heart and mind and soul. These are things to help us, and not demanded of us by some bean counting deity. These are things that we do as a means of taking in God’s grace through His holy word.

By doing these things we receive an inoculation, so to speak, against the temptation of this world, our fallen natures and the devil. God’s word then becomes part of how we live each day. It becomes our pattern or habit for daily life. God’s word by being surrounded by it, becomes the air we breathe in and out.

It’s so easy to be distracted from God’s word. And not that there’s any sort of malicious distraction on our part, but rather God’s word is simply given less and less time in our lives. Again, not that we plan such a thing, in fact we often give the idea of God’s word much thought. However we take false comfort in that idea, rather than actually spending time in that Word that we’re merely thinking about.

By taking these admonitions from Moses and adapting them into practice in our lives, we give ourselves the benefit of God’s holy word seeping into more and more areas of our life. In the doing of these things, the holy word becomes the main ingredient to our day without it being a ‘big deal’.

It then becomes our personal culture, our way of living. Rather than time in the word being a ‘special’ thing that we have to work at, we’re changed by that Word so it takes on, in one sense, an ordinariness. But it’s an ordinariness that is healthy and good. As God’s word becomes ‘ordinary’ in our lives, we are constantly surprised by the extraordinariness of God’s grace that is infused into our daily life. May we find ourselves growing more and more Christ-like by the power of God’s holy word as it surrounds us day by day! In Jesus name, Amen and goodbye.

Devotions for 10-11-22 “Trust Not in Princes

Today’s devotions come from a devotional that our district president, Dr. Lee Hagan wrote. I found his call for us to remain focused on God’s provision and protection rather than on politics and policies to be a good reminder that we are only sojourners and travelers on this earth and that our true home is with God above. Listen as he begins by quoting Psalm 146:3-5

Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.  When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.  Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God.

Pastor Hagan writes:  The first presidential election that I remember was 1976, when Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford.  As a political junkie, I remember the Robert Bork Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1987, watching NBC’s Tim Russert writing on his small white board, “Florida, Florida, Florida” in 2000 and now the leaking of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft of the Supreme Court majority opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade.  As a young man, I was invested in every election and every Supreme Court justice confirmation.  While I still follow such matters with keen interest and the sanctity of life is a critical issue, I have learned over time to not put my trust in any party, in any branch of government, or any public servant.

Psalm 146 is a beautiful expression of praise to God who frees prisoners, gives sight to the blind, watches over the sojourners and sustains the widowed and orphaned.  Within this hymn of hope, the Psalmist cautions God’s people, “Put not your trust in princes.”  Too often, we have trusted campaign promises and party rhetoric rather than the Word of God.  We have been far more invested in getting more votes than the other side than looking to the God who made heaven and earth.  We have thought if only our side was in power, then everything will get better.

The Psalmist comforts us with the assurance, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord, His God.” Christians should still vote and even be involved in public service.  However, the Scripture’s teaching about original sin means that we are not surprised when promises are broken, vows are shattered, and our public servants are found to be ineffective or despicable.  May you find comfort in the Psalmist’s closing promise, “The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations.” Dear friends, our side is in power because the almighty God of heaven and earth will reign forever.  That is a promise on which you can always count!

We pray – Many times have You, O Lord, our God, been our help in the time of need.  Many times You have guarded us in danger and kept us from evil.  Thanks and praise to You for Your merciful kindness.  Withdraw not Your hand from us because of our sins, but remember Your great mercy and let your grace and help be with us at all times, through Jesus Christ.  Amen.  

Amen indeed, and goodbye.

Devotions for 10-7-22 “Christ didn’t come to Judge

Today’s devotions come out of the Luther devotional book By Faith Alone. I couldn’t resist this one from a few days ago as Luther uses an illustration similar to one I just used in a sermon regarding what physicians do for people. But I like how he fleshes it out a bit more.

It’s based on John 8:15 which reads:

You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.

Luther writes:

Christ doesn’t want to judge. He wants to help. So don’t picture Christ as a judge for whom you must do this or that to be reconciled. No, he is the Light of the World. He judges no one. Whoever follows him will no longer walk in darkness.

Christ says, “If you feel your sin and admit it, and if you’re terrified by it, then hold tightly to me, follow me, and believe in me. Think of me as the Light. Then you won’t have to be afraid of being brought to court and being convicted. I have come to save the world. However, those who reject my help will bring judgment on themselves because they don’t want to be saved.”

Christ’s words are similar to what a physician would say to a patient: “I haven’t come to poison you. I want to help you. If you follow my advice, you won’t need to worry. If you refuse my advice and call me a scoundrel, if you hate me and reject my medicine, then you are willfully sentencing yourself to death. Then it’s your own fault. Certainly I am not putting you to death. No, I’ll have to let you to die because you despise and reject my medicine.”

We’re in the same situation. Christ will certainly keep his promise to us: “I pass judgment on no one. So don’t judge yourselves. You aren’t condemned in my eyes, for I am the Light that illumines the way to eternal life and salvation.”

Thus says Luther. We give thanks for the healing light of Jesus that is our life and salvation. In Jesus name, amen and goodbye.

Devotions for 10-4-22 “What sort of man is this?

Today’s devotions come from Matthew 8:23-27. This is a familiar story to us, and we might think it seems to be fairly ‘routine’ as far as Jesus’ miracles go. Thinking that way, however, shortchanges us of the cosmic significance of this 3-line story. Within this story we can see Jesus as both incarnate human man and sovereign Lord of all creation; the lost condition of humanity; and how Jesus alone is both judge and savior. Listen:

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

How often do we ever think of Jesus asleep? That’s just not how we picture Him is it? But doing so reminds us that Jesus bore in Himself both human and divine natures. In His human nature, in this event, Jesus is tired. In the previous verses we see Jesus healing and teaching and healing some more. And, as people often do when tired out, they sleep.

And so we see the human nature of Jesus in evidence by His having to be awakened even though He was asleep in the midst of a storm. And that storm shows us just how powerless is human nature against the natural forces of this earth, as created. The disciples show us our condition of needing to be saved, as they come to Jesus in fear of perishing. That is a good thing for us to see. It reminds us that we have no power to save ourselves, and that we can only plead our lost and perishing condition and beg for rescue. And that appeal should be made only to Jesus as the disciples show us.

Jesus meets that appeal with judgment – O you of little faith – He says. And again we are given a right picture of the lostness of trying to depend on ourselves, even for faith! We have been judged as not only fearful, but of lacking any sort of hope in ourselves! Having given out His judgment on their, and our, condition, Jesus turns and rebukes the storm and calms the seas. And in so doing He reveals to us His divine, sovereign, and Godly nature.

When the disciples ask their question, they also make confession and declaration of Jesus as both God and man. They ask,  “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” Many of these men were fishermen. And never, in all their years of experience on the water, have they witnessed a man doing what only the God of creation could do, bringing calm out of the chaos of a deadly storm. With their question is revealed their salvation and ours. Our salvation is only from the man Jesus Christ to whom all creation bows and obeys. Only in Jesus is our deadly condition of sin removed and instead we are given the calming reassurance of having been saved by the gift of faith in His word alone.

In Jesus name, amen and goodbye.

Devotions for 9-29-22 “The law of the Lord

Today’s devotions include verses 7-17 of Psalm 19. Some of these are familiar and comforting words and they will stand out to your ear, I’m sure. But what caught my attention was how the Law of the Lord, in all its various iterations is fortification for our very lives! It describes how good are the precepts of God for our health and vitality, both earthly and eternal. This enrichment is seen in how God’s law affects our soul, our mind and its wisdom, our heart, our eyes and our gift of the righteousness that God grants us. Listen to these words and be uplifted.

The law of the Lord is perfect,

    reviving the soul;

the testimony of the Lord is sure,

    making wise the simple;

8 the precepts of the Lord are right,

    rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the Lord is pure,

    enlightening the eyes;

9 the fear of the Lord is clean,

    enduring forever;

the rules of the Lord are true,

    and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold,

    even much fine gold;

sweeter also than honey

    and drippings of the honeycomb.

11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;

    in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?

    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.

13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;

    let them not have dominion over me!

Then I shall be blameless,

    and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

    be acceptable in your sight,

    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

It’s Jesus who fulfills the promise of the Lord being our rock and redeemer. It’s He that grants us wisdom and all things needful for life. He is the source of our being declared innocent of hidden faults and presumptuous sins. We rejoice in the law of the Lord being completed for us by our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. In His amen and goodbye.

Devotions for 9-27-22 “Honoring God

Such great words of comfort and peace come from Luther’s pen in yesterday’s devotional out of the book By Faith Alone. The change of life that can be had when these words of Luther are reflected on and given free reign in our lives is nothing short of miraculous. Only God, by His gift of faith to us can work such a miracle in us.

We have not the power, wisdom, or capacity to perform this act of grace ourselves. Only by the gift of faith do we honor God and live a new life. Not a life of fear or estrangement, but a life full of grace and engagement so that others may know how great and intimate God is to us. Listen to Luther’s words based on Galatians 3:6 which read:

Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Luther writes:

With these words, “He believed God,” Paul shows us that faith in God is the highest worship, the greatest allegiance, the ultimate obedience, and the most pleasing sacrifice. Whoever has a way with words should expand on this topic. That person will discover that faith is all-powerful. Its power is immeasurable and infinite. Faith gives God the greatest honor anyone can give him. Giving God honor is believing him, considering him truthful, wise, righteous, merciful, and all-powerful. In short, it’s recognizing that he is the Creator and Giver of every good thing. Reason doesn’t do this; only faith does.

Faith makes God real to us and real in us. Without faith, God’s honor, glory, wisdom, righteousness, truth, and mercy cannot be in us. Where there is no faith, God has no majesty and divinity. God doesn’t require anything more from us than to acknowledge his divinity and give him the glory and honor he deserves. We should think of him, not as an idol, but as God—the God who accepts us and hears us, who is merciful to us, and who stands by us. When we honor God, his divinity remains complete and intact—he has everything that a believing heart can give him. When we honor God in this way, we are showing the greatest wisdom, the highest justice, and the best worship, while offering the most pleasing sacrifice.

Thus says Luther. In Jesus’ name we say, Amen! And goodbye.

Devotions for 9-22-22 “fight the good fight of the faith

I was struck by the phrase “fight the good fight of the faith when I read 1 Timothy 6:11-12 in my devotions today. I know we’ve all heard it, and it becomes a sort of catch phrase for living a good Christian life. But it was the meaning of the words themselves that caught my attention. Fight and faith. These almost seem to be antithetical when taken at their face value.

I mean, faith is what God gifts us with to believe that Jesus’ name is the only name by which we are saved. And it’s the gift, the gift of faith through God’s word that reveals to us the incarnation, holy life, sacred death, and awesome resurrection from the grave of Jesus Christ to redeem the world back to God The Father. All of this is gift, not reward. Nor is faith earned, achieved, or taken by force. Again it is gift.

Fight, on the other hand, is what we do to gain a victory. Fighting is a personal event that pits us against an enemy. We fight to win. We fight to succeed. We fight to overcome. When we fight, we’re either forced to do so as a matter of protection in response to an attack, or we fight to preserve others from a tyranny that can only be stopped by force.

But the phrase fight the good fight of the faith, has that one word which reconciles fight and faith, the word good! It’s the good fight that results in the good confession of faith. Good as we all know comes from God alone. And it’s He that calls us into this good fight of the faith. That faith is what we confess. And it’s the good confession that we make of the gift of faith from God. So what do we use in this good fight?

Paul tells us in vs. 11. Listen to these verses together from 1 Timothy 6:11-12 which read:  11 But as for you, O man of God… Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession…

There are our weapons for the good fight, righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness! And we’re given these weapons by God’s grace to use. These are the tools for us to employ each day as we’re confronted by sin and its perils from without and fears and failings from within.

Make no mistake, we are called to fight, but not on our own, nor in any sort of strength apart from God’s good, good gifts! Those are the good things given us, by which we overcome the slings and arrows of the evil one. As we make the good confession of faith of Christ being our Lord and Savior, we have the assurance that God’s victory is made ours by His grace alone. In that assurance then, fight! Fight the good fight of the faith that’s ours, in Jesus’ name. Amen and Goodbye.

Devotions for 9-20-22 “A Compassionate God, A Compassionate People ”

I wanted to share with you all a recent devotional written by our District President, Rev. Dr. Lee Hagan for today’s devotions. What he writes dovetails so well with our statement of Hearing, Sharing and Living the Gospel. And it reminds us that part of that ‘sharing’ goes beyond the walls of our singular congregation. It’s good to be reminded that as part of the synod and district, our sharing and living the gospel is much much larger than just us. He first quotes Exodus 34:6 which reads:

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” 

President Hagan writes: This verse is how God describes Himself to Moses after Moses has broken the two stone tablets in anger.  It is the classic description of God that is found throughout the Old Testament.  God is not an angry judge, who takes delight in chastising His creation.  Rather, He is slow to anger, full of love, grace, and mercy.  Since God had been merciful towards us, we show that same mercy to others in their need.

The fourth objective of the Synod is to “Provide opportunities through which its members may express their Christian concern, love, and compassion in meeting human needs.”  As six thousand congregations we are able to address human care needs on a larger scale in ways that one congregation cannot.  Such examples would include disaster response work and human care projects done in conjunction with international mission work.  Here in the Missouri District, a great example of an opportunity to express such compassion has been our  SHINE! Servant Events.  Over the last two years, more than 13,000 people from 250 groups were involved in mercy work in their communities.

St. Luke’s Gospel recounts Jesus’ walking up on the funeral procession for a young boy in the tiny town of Nain.  Jesus looked upon the widow and had compassion on her.  Feeling empathy for her was not the end of the story though.  Jesus’ compassion moved Him to action, and He raised the boy and gave him back to his mother.  From Lutheran Women’s Missionary League groups banding together to the LCMS Youth Gathering, from Lutheran Early Response Teams to circuit servant events, together we show love and compassion to our neighbor because our Lord has shown love and compassion to us.  May our congregations reflect our Lord’s love for us in showing mercy to our communities and neighbors in need.            

We pray –  Almighty and ever-living God, You make us both to will and to do those things that are good and acceptable in Your sight.  Let Your fatherly hand ever guide us and Your Holy Spirit ever be with us to direct us in the knowledge and obedience of Your Word that we may obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

… and Goodbye.

Devotions for 9-13-22 “Inner Fire ”

 

Today I’m returning to the devotional book “A Day in Your Presence” from Bethany House: readings from St Francis of Assisi arranged by David Hazard. This one begins with two verses of scripture. The first is Hebrews 1:7 which reads

“He makes… His servants flames of fire” The second is Matthew 5:16 which reads “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

St Francis writes: “We should all ‘preach,’ but do so by our deeds.

Therefore, in the love of God – whether you actually do preach, or pray, or do works in secret, whether clergy or laity – I beg all of you: Strive to be humble in all you do.

Take this as a warning: Do not allow yourself to take pride in anything you have, in anything you are, or in anything you do. If you become ‘puffed up’ inwardly about good works, you will push right out of yourself the knowledge that, in fact, God has first had to do a work in you, so that He may occasionally do or say anything through you.

If you remember this at all times, you will be in keeping with what the Lord says: ‘Do not rejoice, even if the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

We pray: My father, thank you for writing my name, with your own hand, in the Book of Life! Help me to keep you before me… bright-burning, pure and clear… as my highest vision . ”

Thus says St Francis, to this we say Amen and Goodbye.

Devotions for 9-8-22 “Making God less than ”

Today’s devotions come from the Old Testament reading from 2 Kings 5: 9-14. Listen : 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

This passage is often used when teaching about baptism and how it’s God’s word combined with water that provide the healing we all need from our sinful condition. The word of God spoken by Elisha that directs Naaman to the Jordan, parallels our Lord’s instructions to us to baptize with water for our cleansing in the name of The Father and of The Son and of the Holy Spirit. Those are the instructions we obey and honor in order to receive the benefits of new life, faith, and forgiveness that God delivers in baptism.

But in this passage, we hear Naaman refusing to listen, refusing to follow the word of Lord spoken through Elisha. And more so, it seems Naaman wanted a ‘magic show’ of sorts thinking that, rather than sending a messenger, the ‘star’ of the show, Elisha himself, would come out and perform some hand waving trick. How much we can learn from Naaman!

First off, like Naaman and most people, we want God’s blessings and healing kindness, but we want those things our way! And that’s never good. Our way does not accomplish the grace of God in our lives. Naaman learned this through his servants who led him to listen and obey the word of God given by Elisha. And in so doing, God granted Naaman the healing from leprosy that he sought.

And that’s another thing we learn that Naaman did. He obeyed the proclamation of God through his own and Elisha’s servants. His initial refusal of God’s word would have left him leprous and diseased.

Like Naaman, when we seek to change the ways of God, we seek to make God less than He is. But God does not forget His promise in the face of our refusals. He pursues us with His Word and as we receive that gift of proclamation, we receive all that God in His grace wants us to have: New life in Christ. In Jesus name, amen and goodbye.

Devotions for 9-6-22 “PRAYING FOR GOD’S MERCY”

For today’s devotions we turn once again to Luther in the book By Faith Alone. And again his topic is prayer. But this time, speaking of our desperate need to pray, he comes at it from the perspective of Psalm 51:1 which reads:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

About this Luther writes:

We naturally think, “I’m frightened by the sight of God, so I can’t look to heaven for help. I know that I’m a sinner and that God hates sin. How can I pray?

With these thoughts, an intense battle begins inside us. Because we know we are sinners, we may think we have to postpone praying until we feel worthy. Or we look for other people to assure us that we have done enough good works to have confidence in our own worthiness. Only then do we pray, “God, have mercy on me.”

But we were born in sin. If we had to wait until we felt pure and free from all sin before we prayed, we would never pray. We must shake off these kinds of unchristian thoughts. When surrounded by our own sinfulness—even while drowning in our sins—we should cry out to God, just as David did in this psalm. Then we won’t have to postpone our prayer.

What purpose do the words “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love” serve if the only people who pray them are pure and don’t need any mercy? No matter how sinful we feel, we must encourage ourselves to cry out to God, “Have mercy!” I have learned from my own experience that praying is often the most difficult thing to do.

I don’t hold myself up as a master of prayer. In fact, I admit that I have often said these words coldly: “God, have mercy on me.” I prayed that way because I was worried about my own unworthiness. Yet ultimately the Holy Spirit convinced me, “No matter how you feel, you must pray!” God wants us to pray, and he wants to hear our prayers—not because we are worthy, but because he is merciful.

Thus says Luther! And once again, he so very well summarizes our condition and God’s grace in that last line – listen to it again, God wants us to pray, and he wants to hear our prayers—not because we are worthy, but because he is merciful.

In Jesus name, amen and goodbye.

Devotions for 9-1-22 “God’s will and plan”

In my recent time in the hospital, I had occasion to ponder what was God’s will and plan for me? What was I meant to learn from all this? Besides the need to significantly change my diet and increase my water intake, what did God want me to learn?

I know we all have times when we ask these questions. And sometimes God gives specific direction and guidance. However it seems more often the case is, no such specific directive is received. And it’s in times like that when today’s epistle lesson, Ephesians 1: 1-23, is important to keep in mind. We’re going to focus on just vss 7-10 which read,

In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Paul tells us here the mystery of God’s will. It is God’s will that we know and understand that we have the forgiveness of our sins, from the riches of His grace, through the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ. More than any other need that I have to know what God’s plan for me is, is to first and foremost be firmly grounded in this revelation of God’s gospel. Without that, anything else I may see to do, or wish to do, has no value.

What great comfort this is in times of distress, confusion, or pain. To be given this knowledge of God’s will for me to know and be assured of His gracious redemption and forgiveness provides me with the assurance that whatever else may come, God’s will, will  always abide. And that holds true for God’s plan for my life as well.

God’s plan, we’re told, is that in Christ all things are to be united in Him. When the fullness of time is filled, all things in heaven and on earth will be revealed to be complete in Jesus. There will be nothing from our lives that is left missing or undone.

This all sounds like a rather foregone conclusion for a Christian. However true that may be, how often do we live that truth day by day? It can be easy to take for granted that God’s plan of salvation and His will for His creation is redemption through Jesus Christ. But when we encounter various trials and or crossroads in life, we seem to often want more. More specifics.  And yet in these verses we’re given specifics. We’re told that God plan is that all things, even the things for which I have questions and concerns, all these things, are part of the fullness of God’s plan.

As we hold onto that, and give that specific thought free reign in our thinking, it helps us to see that whatever is facing us, in terms of decisions or choices, we have the assurance here of God’s will being done. After all, we’ve seen God’s will fulfilled in the cross of Christ and His resurrection! These things, God’s will and plan, are what give us hope and direction in the face of whatever comes our way. In Jesus name, amen and goodbye.

Devotions for 8-30-22 “TAKING TIME TO PRAY”

For today’s devotional I want to share with you something from a few days ago in the devotional book By Faith Alone from the writings of Luther. This particular one is something we all need to hear and be reminded of as it can be easy to become lazy regarding this subject. The title is Taking Time to Pray.

It’s based on 1 Thessalonians 5: 17–18 which says,

Pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus that you do this.

Luther writes:

It’s good to let prayer be the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night. Be on guard against false, deceitful thoughts that say, “Wait awhile; you can pray in an hour. First, you must finish this or that.” For with such thoughts, you turn away from prayer toward the business at hand, which surrounds you and holds you back so that you never get around to praying that day.

Of course, some tasks are as good as or better than prayer, especially during an emergency. Nevertheless, we should pray continually. Christ says to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking (Luke 11: 9–11). And Paul says that we should never stop praying (1 Thessalonians 5: 17). Likewise, we should continually guard against sin and wrongdoing, which can’t happen if we don’t fear God and keep his commandments in mind at all times.

In Psalm 1 we read about the one who is blessed: “His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (v. 2). We shouldn’t neglect the habit of true prayer and get caught up in necessary work—which usually isn’t all that necessary anyway. We can end up becoming lazy about prayer, cold toward it, and tired of it, but the devil doesn’t get lazy around us.

Thus says Luther. A good reminder of our call to be diligent and remain in an attitude of prayer to our gracious and loving heavenly Father.

In Jesus name, amen and goodbye.

Devotions for 8-25-22 “Heavy Handed”

Apologies for not getting the devotional to everyone on Tuesday. We had some technical difficulties with the phone tree software that, gratefully Sonya was able to fix!

Now on to today’s devotional from psalm 32 vss 1-5 which read:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,

    whose sin is covered.

2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,

    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

 

3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away

    through my groaning all day long.

4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;

    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

 

5 I acknowledged my sin to you,

    and I did not cover my iniquity;

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”

    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

In vss 3 – 4 King David tells us of God’s hand of conviction that lays heavy upon us, to the point that we’re left with no strength. David makes clear that our groaning, when we refuse to confess our sins, is not confession! Lamenting our lot in life under the weight of our sin, of our sinful condition, does us no good, nor gives us any relief.

By starting this psalm with the declaration that a person is blessed by having their transgression forgiven and sin covered, David tells us what all people long for, an honest and open relationship with the Lord. When the Lord can look upon us and see no guilt of the stain of sin, we are truly blessed.

And how does that happen? It happens by the forgiveness of God alone! Our sin, when we try to hide it by denying it or refusing to confess it as our own, leads to the wasting away of our bones… of our life we’re told. But this is answered only by making confession to God.

And David says it is God alone who forgives! David is relying on God’s word that His promised messiah – redeemer will come with forgiveness, wholeness, and restoration! We know that to be true because we’ve seen Jesus, the very Word and Promise of God, come to bring that very covering by His blood of our iniquity.

As we hear these words from the psalm repeated so often in our liturgy when we make our confession, we’re reminded that God’s promise of forgiveness is as true for us as it was for David. As we join with David in acknowledging our sin and confessing our transgressions, we also join in being blessed by God through God’s gracious forgiveness.

In Jesus name, amen and goodbye.

Devotions for 8-23-22 “coming back”

The last time I did one of these devotionals was in May, the week before I went on vacation. And if you weren’t aware, the last day of my vacation, May 31, turned into a visit to the emergency room which turned into emergency kidney surgery at Mercy hospital in Springfield. After a week in the hospital and then home for a little over a month, then came another kidney surgery! Since then I’ve been recovering and improving at a very modest pace. My doctors have said to not push things too hard.

So with that in mind I didn’t begin to preach and teach again till the 24th of July. And only Aug 7th have I done the complete Sunday worship service without sitting down for part of it! In all this, I’m learning to rebuild all that I used to do. Two months away is a long time.

One of things I’m learning to rebuild are the phone tree / video devotions. Going forward these devotions will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but not on Saturday. So, let’s listen to part of today’s epistle reading from 2 Corinthians 1 vss 3-4 which read:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Such an encouraging reading from St Paul! I have been able to experience what he spoke of through you all. In your prayers and cards, and notes and meals and visits I have received God’s comfort in my recent afflictions. Your example of reaching out with compassion and care exemplify what St Paul speaks of here. And it’s God alone who has equipped you so to do.

We have all received from God, the mercy of forgiveness and redemption that provides us with the ultimate comfort of the gospel. That gospel is what enables and motivates us to share the compassion of God we have in Christ Jesus. In His passion and suffering for us, in His dying and rising to new life again and calling all believers to Himself, Jesus delivers to us His comfort.

This is not something which we can easily grasp. We know our sinfulness and our shameful ways. And yet in His boundless compassion, God, in Jesus, chooses to come to us and bear away the affliction of our sin. In this we have the full measure of comfort that God grants to us. In receiving this wonderful and life-giving gift, we are then, only then, enabled to pass along to others God’s true comfort.

Again, I thank you for your care and comfort these past days of trial and distress. You have given generously of God’s generous kindness.  In Jesus name, amen and goodbye.

Devotions for 5-14-22 “Jonah”

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Before we get to the devotional, I wanted to let you know that I’ll be on vacation starting this Monday the 16th and returning on Tuesday the 31st. I encourage you to continue with devotions on your own perhaps using the lcms.org front page. There’s a column, usually near the middle on the right that has a daily devotional.

Now today’s devotions come from Luke 11 when Jesus is talking with the crowds.

29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation… 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

When we hear Jesus speak of the sign of Jonah to the crowds it can, at first, be confusing. Afterall Jonah was a rather reluctant prophet and actually did not want to see his message succeed. He wanted to see God’s vengeance on Nineveh. And we all know the story of Jonah running away on a boat and being tossed into the raging sea to be swallowed by a great fish who spit him out on land and then, and only then, did Jonah go and preach to Nineveh as God told him to do in the first place.

With Jesus using Jonah as an example of Himself we need to be careful to not jump to the wrong conclusion that Jesus came to earth reluctantly. No, Jesus came to bring the good news of the kingdom of God, and to set free captives under sin. This Jesus did out of Divine love, obedience, and compassion for His fallen creation. Rather this comparison of Himself to Jonah helps us to see the results of Jonah’s preaching.

The people of Nineveh, upon hearing Jonah’s message of God’s impending destruction on them for their wickedness, repented. Jesus referred to ‘this generation’ as ‘evil’ but that in Himself He brings forgiveness to those who, as happened with the people of Nineveh, repent of sin and evil upon hearing the gospel that Jesus preached. And there is sign of Jonah we want to focus on.

That in Jonah’s preaching, the effect was repentance and God restoring them to Himself. And such is the sign we have in the greater prophet Jesus whose teaching and preaching of the gospel that leads to repentance, is for all people and not just one given city. The repentance that comes from trusting in the gospel of Jesus Christ is what gives us the greater hope for everlasting life. In Jesus name we pray.

Remember I’ll be back on May 31st. So one last time this Easter season we say, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 5-12-22 “Scapegoat”

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Sorry to have missed tues, as I was ill and remained home. I’m feeling much better now, thank you for your prayers!

Today in our Old Testament reading we learn the origin of the scapegoat. We know that a scapegoat is someone who is innocent of the wrongdoing of others and yet is made to bear the punishment and guilt of those others who did the wrong. From Leviticus 16:

5 And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering… 7 Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 8 And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. 9 And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel…

20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.

When we use the term scapegoat it carries with it the idea of pity or sympathy for the wrong that is thrust upon that person. Everyone recognizes that this person is innocent and yet they bear punishment in the place of those who are guilty. Jesus is our holy innocent scapegoat.

In the reading from Leviticus, the scapegoat has the sins of the people put upon it by Aaron and then it takes the sins away into the wilderness. And there in the wilderness, those sins can never again be found. That is what Jesus has done for us.

He has become our scapegoat. Our sins have been put upon Him, just as Aaron put the sins of the people of Israel on head of the goat. And then that innocent goat was led away, to be lost along with the sins. Jesus too was led away, outside the walls of the city and in that wilderness, bore away all of mankind’s sin where they can no longer be found.

In His death, Jesus took the punishment we owned for our sins and bore that punishment so we could have all our sin atoned for. We recognize our own great guilt and know that we have been spared our due punishment because of what our Scapegoat has done for us.

And more than the scapegoat that Aaron used, who remains forever lost, our Savoir has lost all our sins on the cross and then has retuned to life for our restoration and certain hope of our resurrection. And that is why we again say: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! In Jesus name, amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Skipping to 5-12-22 due to technical problems

Devotions for 4-9-22 “Crucify the sinful nature”

On this day before Palm Sunday I wanted to share again from Luther’s writings in the devotional book, By Faith Alone.

Luther writes from an attitude of positivity and assurance of what we all have, what we truly possess in the blood of Christ. He writes of what we’ve been given from the tree of salvation is made ours. This is reflected in how Luther writes.

He also gives us a powerful image of how to view temptation. As we live our lives looking at the cross and living under its protection this picture that Luther gives us will remain to help and sustain us in all our trials.

It’s what the culmination of Holy Week leads to, Jesus on the cross defeating sin, Satan, and death. That cross stands to remind us of the victory that is ours in Christ against all that would try to harm us. Luther starts with a quote from Galatians 5:24

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.

Of this Luther writes:

Paul says that all those who belong to Christ crucify the sinful nature, along with its shortcomings and sins. We as believers have not yet completely taken off our sinful nature, and we are still inclined to sin. We don’t fear and love God enough. We are driven to anger, envy, impatience, sexual immorality, and other evil impulses.

However, we don’t act on these impulses, because as Paul says here, we crucify our sinful nature with its passions and desires. Suppressing wickedness, fasting, or exercising other spiritual disciplines isn’t enough to crucify the sinful nature. It happens only when we live by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16).

God’s threats to punish sin also serve as a warning and frighten us from sinning. Armed with God’s Word, faith, and prayer, we refuse to give in to the desires of the sinful nature. By resisting the sinful nature in this way, we nail its lusts and cravings to the cross so that the sinful nature—though it’s still alive and moves—can’t achieve what it wants, for it’s fastened to the cross by its hands and feet.

In summary, we must crucify the sinful nature for as long as we live on the earth. This means we are aware of its desires, but we don’t obey these desires. With the armor of God and with the spiritual weapons of faith, hope, and the sword of the Spirit, we fight against the sinful nature.

With these nails, we fasten it to the cross, so it is forced against its will to be subject to the Spirit. When we die, we put off the sinful nature completely. When we are resurrected, we will have a pure nature with no sinful passions or cravings.

Thus says Luther. And thankful we are for this powerful image of what Christ has done for us on the blood stained cross. In Jesus name amen, and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 4-7-22 “Derided”

Today the gospel text provides us with some food-for-thought. Our reading is from Mark 15:22-30. Listen:

22 And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. 25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!”

What gives us pause today is not Jesus being taken to Golgotha, nor in His refusing the mixed wine, nor even in the casting of lots for His clothing. No, it comes in vs 29, which says 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads… Consider the setting for these words. We’re being told of the death of The Son of God, the Light of the world being darkened, the perfect and perfectly obedient Messiah being hung on the cross to die for the sins of the whole world, and these people are just ‘passing by’!! I wonder, how many of those who derided Jesus on the cross as they ‘passed by’, also shouted hosanna on Palm Sunday?

How fickle the crowd is! How fickle we are! They take no more notice of the single most important event in all of history than they do of going to the market for a snack!

It’s the idea of simply walking on by Jesus as he died on the cross for them that is so startling for us. And here, they’re not giving any more than a passing thought to this guy who was dying between two known robbers. In fact since that’s how they saw Jesus. They probably figured He deserves to die since he’s dying with these felons. Just another day of coming and going with the Romans doing their crucifying thing. Ho hum.

This is profound in that it shows us that Jesus was seen as fully human and nobody special. Oh they’d thought He was, but then if He was The Son of David, why is He dying like any other thief and not leaping down off the cross to prove Himself to them?

No, this is for us to ponder and recognize that in their blasé attitude and thoughtless comment that they in fact speak for us in some ways. How often do we just take for granted the work of Christ on the cross? Not that we doubt Him as they did, but that we are unheeding of His human suffering, writing it off to oh He’s God, so no big deal. And in so doing we become those who ‘passed by deriding Him’.

Rather let us stop at the cross, and deride ourselves for our often take-it-for-granted attitude. And then in repentance, receive from that cross the payment for all our sin with gratitude and a refreshed spirit from Jesus’ hard-fought work done in our place. In His name amen, and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 4-5-22 “ MADE ALIVE THROUGH CHRIST ”

Today we again I wanted share with you from Martin Luther from the devotional book By Faith Alone.

The text is 1 Corinthians 15: 22 which reads:

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

Luther writes:

Paul is speaking here only about Christians. He wants to teach and comfort them about being made alive in Christ. Although non-Christians also will rise from the dead, their resurrection will not be a comfort or a joy to them, because they will be raised to judgment, not to life. This is not a comforting or happy message to the world.

Godless people don’t want to hear about this. This is the way I felt when I wanted to be a holy monk and tried to be pious. I would rather have heard about all the devils in hell than about judgment day. The hair on my head stood on end when I thought about it.

The whole world hates to think about leaving this life. They don’t want to die, and they are terrified when we speak of death and the afterlife. Aside from that, all of us are stuck in the muck of our own ‘holiness’ and think that by our lives and works we can pacify God’s judgment and earn a place in heaven. All we accomplish by this is that we become even worse and grow more hostile toward judgment day.

I won’t say anything about the large group of people who look for all their pleasure and comfort here in this life, despise God’s Word, and won’t give a penny for God and his kingdom. It’s no surprise if such people are aggravated by hearing about the resurrection.

But to us, this message is pure comfort and joy, because we hear that our greatest treasure is already in heaven. Only a small part remains on earth, which Christ will resurrect and draw to himself as easily as a person awakening from sleep.

Thus says Luther.

Can’t we all agree we are overwhelmed when thinking about judgment day? Of course it’s frightening because a judgment is to be made about us and our eternal condition. If that doesn’t cause you to pause and listen to God’s word, nothing will. And the temptation is there to throw our hands up and, as Luther said of some people, just look for all the comfort and pleasure to be had in the here and now.

But for us who have been transformed by the cross of Christ, as Luther said, the judgment day leads us to eternal life! Life that, after death, cannot be taken away. That’s the good news that Paul is making clear when he says, For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. To this we add our amen! In Jesus name, again, Amen and Goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 4-2-22 “Who do you trust? ”

Today’s Old Testament reading is from Genesis 50, listen:

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

As much as we love to hear about Joseph and how he foreshadows Jesus, it is yet again his brothers that have a lesson for us. We’re at the point in the sojourn of the Israelites in the land of Goshen in Egypt that the time of famine is long over. And now Jacob, Israel himself, after living in Goshen for 17 years has died and been laid to rest that the brothers give us a good example of how deceitful and wicked our hearts are.

After all those 17 years of being taken care of and living under the promise and protection of Joseph, yet after Israel dies, they again are hounded by their guilt and shame for the sinful way they’d treated Joseph all those many many years ago. They simply will not let go of their guilt and trust in Joseph’s word of forgiveness. In fact we see these brothers once again, doing what Joseph, as a young teenage boy had told them from his dream that they would be doing, bowing down to him.

Reminds me of Paul writing, every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus as Lord. And here the brothers are foreshadowing what every person ever born will do. They will, we will, all of humanity will bow down to the Lord Jesus Christ, both the saved and the unsaved. And while the brothers have been ‘saved’ from death, yet they don’t really fully trust the word of the one who saved them. They still trust in their own guilt and remorse and so in fear they wrote to Joseph what seems to be a false letter. And yet again, as they bow down to Joseph, he once again speaks peace and restoration to them.

And again we’re seeing how foolish it is to trust in ourselves and in our hearts rather than the Word of God. It’s His word that speaks peace to our troubled and broken hearts. And it’s His word alone that delivers His promise through the work and word of Jesus, the living word of God. Let us give thanks to God how the brothers of Joseph  illustrate for us not only how deceitful our heats are, but how steadfast and victorious is the Word of God over our sin. As Joseph has spoken peace and comfort to his brothers so our Brother, Jesus, speaks eternal peace to us. By His work and in His name, Amen and Goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 3-31-22 “Do not quarrel on the way ”

Today’s Old Testament  reading is selected portions from Genesis 45, listen:

Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers… 3 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. 4 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life…it was not you who sent me here, but God. … 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry… I will provide for you, … And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him…. To each and all of them he gave a change of clothes… [and] provisions for…the journey. 24 Then he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, “Do not quarrel on the way.”

Do not quarrel on the way. Such a small thing to say it can be easily overlooked. But let’s stop here and consider Joseph’s meaning in this little directive. Joseph understood that it would be the natural tendency of his brothers to quarrel. We’re no different, we too quarrel over God s grace even once we’ve received it! How well this reading depicts our condition as being at the same time sinner and saint.

We are, we are saints by the grace of God. Just as the brothers were given grace through Joseph’s generosity not just of food and goods, but his generosity of spirit and life! He had the power to destroy them! And he had the justification to do so as well.

They had not only offended him, they’d laid violent hands on him then they sold, him. They sold their brother into slavery. And now he had them in his power to take his revenge. But, instead he chose mercy. He chose grace and forgiveness and restoration. And yet he was not unmindful of the human heart to be greedy, selfish, and petty. And so he admonishes his brothers to not, to not quarrel on their way home.

He knew as we know, that grace and mercy can be twisted by our own evil desires and corruption. We need to constantly be reminded of our temptation to abuse and offend against God’s grace, just as Joseph knew could happen with his brothers. And so we need to hear Joseph’s  admonition to not quarrel with one another. And rather than argue and quarrel we’re reminded to receive God’s good gifts and the sustenance of life eternal with humility and gratitude. This is what we want to share with one another and with others. God’ mercy without acrimony or jealousy.

Thanks are again due Joseph for what he reveals to us sinners who are now made saints by God’s generosity of grace. And the reminder that only God’s mercy provides for all our needs both now and in eternity. By Jesus work and in His name, Amen and Goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 3-29-22 “ONLY ONE GOSPEL”

Today, in reading from, By Faith Alone, my Luther devotional book, Martin makes the point of what we are all about as Christians. That it’s Only the One Gospel that saves and it’s Only the One Gospel that God has revealed in His Holy Word. We take great comfort in hearing and being reminded of this. This One Gospel also is the guide and measuring line of what we are to hear preached and, and what we are to share with others. First a reading from Ephesians 4: 4–6

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Luther writes:

All of the apostles taught one message. So we must be careful when we talk about four evangelists and four Gospels. Everything the apostles wrote is one gospel. The word gospel means nothing other than an announcement about God’s grace earned and purchased through Christ by his death. Actually, the gospel is not what we read in books and what is written with letters. Instead, it’s a living word, a voice that rings throughout the whole world. It is publicly proclaimed and heard everywhere.

The gospel also is not a law book that contains many good teachings, as has been thought in the past. It doesn’t tell us to do good works to become virtuous but announces God’s grace to us, given freely and without our merit. It tells us how Christ stood as our representative. He paid for our sins and wiped them out so that we can become faithful and blessed through His work. Whoever preaches or writes about this teaches the true gospel as all apostles have, most notably as Paul and Peter did in their letters.

Although preachers teach in different ways and choose different words, they preach only one gospel. It may be a shorter or longer account. It may be presented briefly or more extensively. But if the preachers teach us that Christ is our Savior, that we are justified by faith in him without works, then it’s the same word. There is only one gospel, just as there is only one faith and one baptism.

Thus says Luther. And we are so very thankful for this wonderful gospel! In Jesus name Amen and Goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 3-26-22 “This too shall pass ”

We all know this saying, but it is something we learn and relearn over and over again. This too shall pass. Be it good times or bad times, they both alike pass away in time’s ever moving stream. I bring this up to talk about Jesus’ triumphal entry because of a curious little detail that can be easily missed. We’re told that Jesus was heading to Bethpage and Bethany when He sent the disciples to get the donkey on which He rode into Jerusalem on. And after His entry and rejoicing and palm branch waving and shouting hosanna blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, after all that, it says, And He entered Jerusalem  and went into the temple. And when He had looked around at everything, as it was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.

I find it curious that after coming joyously and triumphantly into Jerusalem Jesus then turns around and goes back to Bethany! He didn’t stay in Jerusalem after this great entrance. He didn’t try and takeover from the Jewish leadership, which they were very afraid He might try. He didn’t try and ‘get-on-with-it’ to get things like His crucifixion and resurrection over and done with either. No. I’m guessing He had the donkey returned to its owner and then spent the night in Bethany as He’d planned all along.

This puts me in mind of Ecclesiastes 3 where it says, a time to be born, and a time to die; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. For Jesus the time to die had not yet come. But the time of laughing and dancing in the streets, that had come, and now was gone. It was time to begin the week of Jesus’ passion. The time to die, the time to be killed was coming upon Him. And so to Bethany He went, with the 12 we’re told, to prepare for this time.

And what comes to pass in this time to die and be killed for Jesus, is for us, the time to be born and to be healed. This triumphant entry by Jesus into Jerusalem is but for a day. But the time of our healing and new birth, that is forever. While most everything else will, according the saying we started with, pass away, our healing and new birth in Christ is timeless and is ours for all eternity! Listen now to portions of Mark 11: 1-11

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany… Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village… and … you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’”…And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8 And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”11 And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. In Jesus name Amen and Goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 3-24-22 “the rich young man”

To share the full gospel with those we love is not something that can be modified by us. We can’t change the law and gospel just to accommodate someone we love. If we truly love them, then we share whole message of God, both the law and the gospel.

We must share that the law convicts us of sin and our need for true repentance. The law also reveals our need for a savior, as we can do nothing to purchase or deserve God’s grace. Repentance is the life of the redeemed. When we refuse repentance, we refuse God’s mercy.

God has promised to hear our confession and to redeem us, to remove our guilt and place it on His chosen sacrifice, Jesus Christ. Christ is the one, the only one, who could stand in for us and purchase our redemption with His blood. To deny our need for that, to say we have no need of repentance, of confessing our great lack, is to say what God has done and completed is not for us.

That’s what we see in the gospel lesson today. The rich young ruler who refuses Jesus’ call to give up all he had and follow Jesus is tragic. We’re told Jesus loved him and yet Jesus let the man refuse His call. Jesus didn’t change or ‘dumb-down’ what was needed. Jesus didn’t run after the man and tell him that’s ok, just come with me anyway.

No Jesus loved him. And Jesus let him go. We too cannot change the law and gospel. We’re not in a position to tell people, oh it’s ok you can ignore God’s law. To do so is to rob them of the joy that God brings to one who repents, who confesses and so receives God’s gospel that supplies complete restoration and wholeness.  Listen now to this familiar story and hear in it, God’s longing for us and His provision for all our needs through the gospel of Jesus Christ. From Mark’s gospel chapter 10 starting at vs 17

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words.

We too are amazed at Jesus words and works and in gratitude for the same we say Amen and Goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 3-22-22 “Nothing is Ours ”

Today I’m returning to the devotional book “A Day in Your Presence” from Bethany House: readings from St Francis of Assisi arranged by David Hazard. This one begins with two verses of scripture. The first is from Psalm 24 which reads

“The earth is Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it… Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol…” The second is from Matthew 6 which reads “If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness… No one can serve two masters.” St Francis writes: “Great wisdom will come as you meditate upon this thought until you become firmly convinced of it: We own nothing. The only things we should lay claim to are the sins that spring from our old nature, and every weakness of our flesh that would make us turn from following the Lord. But even laying claim to these faults is joyous to the true child of God, and not a morbid pastime. That is because we know the various fiery trials of life draw out of us all that is corrupt (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

It is in times of spiritual trial that our faith is tested and refined. And when we go through times of suffering, whether in soul or body, or if we are afflicted by any evil person, we know that we are developing patient perseverance (James 1:2-3). All of these trials are part of the process by which our old life – all that mattered most to us – passes away, and we begin to walk in the eternal life of God.

Each of us must guard against pride and empty boasting, telling everyone about all that we own, and how much we know, and all that we have accomplished. And we must also beware of the natural wisdom, which is based upon the principles of this fleeting world (Isaiah 40:7-8). A worldly spirit is easily recognized. It loves to talk a lot about spiritual things, but does nothing. It strives hard to be seen and esteemed by others as ‘spiritual,’ but lacks any desire for true piety, which comes only by growing in that secret interior relationship with the Lord who feeds the fire of real holiness (Matthew 6:5-7, 16-18). This kind of person our Lord was referring to when He said, ‘I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full’ (Matthew 6:2).

The Spirit of God, on the other hand, continues to breathe His truth within us – whispering, beckoning, inspiring us to live the life of the Spirit. He always reminds us to consider as ‘dead’ that lower nature which seeks life and  honor from people.  In fact, we should come to hate this nature, because it only leads us again and again into shame, into seeking our worth where there is no lasting worth.

You will clearly recognize the guiding voice of God’s Spirit in this way: His constant aim is to lead us in paths that produce humility, patience, a simple life, and true peace in our heart. And above all, He desires us to grow in deep respect for God. This we will do, as the Spirit helps us walk in the holy wisdom and love that come as we dwell daily with The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit. ” Thus St Francis, to this we say Amen and Goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 3-19-22  “One Mind and Heart  ”

In reading from By Faith Alone, my Luther devotional book, yesterday I found what he had to say about one mind and heart but many hands encouraging and wanted to share it with you . First is a quote from 1 Peter 3:8 Listen:

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.

Luther writes: We should strive to live in harmony with each other. Both Peter and Paul emphasize that we all should be of one heart, one spirit, and one mind. What seems right and good to one person should be regarded with consideration by others also. This is a powerful teaching that we should strive to understand.

All of us cannot do the same work. Each one of us must pursue our own work. It’s foolish to teach that we all should do one kind of work, as some preachers have taught. They preach about the legends of saints—that this saint has done one work, another a different one. Then they conclude we also should do these works.

Undoubtedly, Abraham did a precious work when he offered his son, because it was specifically commanded by God. But then the pagans wanted to sacrifice their children too. That was an outrage to God. Similarly, King Solomon did well when he built the temple, and God rewarded him for it. Now these blind fools come along and tell us to build churches and temples when God has commanded nothing of the sort.

So it’s reversed today: they say we all should do one work, but there are various opinions about which one. This teaching is directly against the gospel. So we must teach that there should be one mind and many works, one heart and many hands.

We all shouldn’t try to do the same work. Rather, each of us should pay attention to our own responsibilities. Otherwise, we cannot be of one mind and one heart. We must allow the works to be varied so that each of us can remain with what God has entrusted to us. We should simply do the work at hand.

Thus says Luther. I like his emphasis on what it means to be of one heart and mind which is to be focused on the gospel. The works we each do are unique to each of us, yet our hearts and minds, joined by the Holy Spirit in the gospel of Christ, that is what unites for Hearing, Sharing and Living the Gospel.

In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 3-17-22  “The First Prayer”

Today’s devotional reading is from Genesis 24. And it contains the very first time a prayer to God is recorded in scripture. Listen:

2… Abraham said to his servant … go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” … 10 Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed…and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor. 11 And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening… when women go out to draw water. 12 And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. 13 Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’-let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.” 15 Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, … Abraham’s [relative], came out with her water jar on her shoulder.

I love reading this episode of prayer as it’s so very instructive for us. Look how this servant of Abraham set about to pray. I can only imagine that this servant learned this by paying attention to how Abraham prayed. So, this servant’s prayer is, first of all, prayer specifically to the Lord, the God of Abraham. This no vague prayer to an unknown deity. This is the Lord, the God to whom the servant has surely heard Abraham pray to.

Second, I love that he identifies himself to God by his location near the well. Just as he is specific about to Whom he is praying, he’s specific about who is asking! Both of these things are good reminders for us. Another thing is, this is both an intercessory prayer of sorts as well as making a specific request for himself. This servant intercedes with God for his master asking God to show His love for Abraham. And then he’s most specific in his request of God so that the servant himself may know that it is God who will point out the woman who is to be his answer to prayer.

But the thing that really sticks out for me, is that God seemed to be on the edge of His seat just waiting to answer this prayer and show the servant, and Abraham and Isaac and Rebekah, His steadfast love. In the words in vs 15, before he had finished speaking, we see God already answering this faithful servant’s prayer.

Never doubt that God hears your prayers the same way. He’s always ready to hear and answer every prayer. The answer may be yes, no, or wait, but regardless God is ready for any need you may bring to Him in prayer. In the name of Jesus Christ, we do pray. Amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 3-15-22  “The Marketplace”

Today’s devotional reading comes from Mark 6 vss 53-56. A little context before we read that. Just prior to this is the episode where Jesus walks on water and that was the night after He’d feed the 5000. Now our reading for today.

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.

Vss 55 and 56 seem to indicate that the healing events happened over a period of days or weeks or more. And this happened because His presence was made known by word of mouth as He traveled through the region of Gennesaret.

But I want to point out to where it was they brought the sick. It was to the marketplaces that they were brought. The sick were brought to the very familiar and very public marketplaces.

It seems such an appropriate place. The marketplace is where you came to exchange things, to barter one thing for another, to exchange money for needed goods. And what they were bringing was the sick, so their sickness could be exchanged for health… from Jesus alone.

This marketplace exchange foreshadows the Great Exchange that God does for us in the cross of Jesus. The cross is where our unrighteousness is exchanged for Christ righteousness. The barter, the cost, of that Holy Exchange is paid in full by the blood of Christ.

So when we read this account we’re also reading about our healing from the sin we bring to the marketplace so that the price paid for that healing can applied to our individual account, thus wiping out our debt for our sin. For that sin which we bring, we receive in exchange, the full benefits of Christ for our eternal healing. In thanks for God’s coming to marketplace in Jesus Christ, amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 3-12-22  “Plans fail”

It’s remarkable how God can bring things together right before your eyes when you’re not looking. The elders and council have decided to update our covid protocols in keeping with what the CDC recommends so that we will again, after 2 years be able to use the altar rail for holy communion, among other changes. (Speaking of changes, don’t forget to change your clocks to spring ahead for daylight savings time tonight.) At any rate, this change in the CDC guidelines allows us to end the 2-year drought in gathering together as a congregation around the altar rail to join in partaking of Christ’s holy food. (Walk-through communion will still be offered for those who wish.)

So as some aspects of the global pandemic seem to be winding down, yet other things in the world, like Ukraine and whatever bitcoin is, bring us both grave concern and confusion. It’s hard to know what plans to make and how to plan the plans even! So, as I read todays’ devotional from the book By Grace Alone from Luther’s writings, I was amazed to see this selection talking about plans and how to keep them in proper perspective.

He starts by quoting Psalm 33:10 which says: The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.

Luther writes: We must do what God wants and stop thinking and worrying about what God hasn’t told us to do. Nothing is safer for us or more pleasing to God than when we trust in God’s Word instead of our own ideas. In his Word, we will find enough guidance about what we are to do. God requires us to have faith, to love, and to endure suffering. These three should be enough to keep us delightfully busy.

We should deal with everything else as it comes along and let God worry about how it all turns out. If we don’t want to listen to what God says in his Word, he punishes us by simply letting us torment ourselves for no good reason. When wise men and princes ignore God’s Word, God doesn’t let any of their intentions happen, whether good or bad. This psalm says, “The LORD foils the plans of the nations.” God will always thwart the plans of those who work the hardest by using their own wisdom. But even this doesn’t convince us to subject our plans to what God wants.

So our plans and ideas only distress and torment us, even though these are not bad in themselves. As Jesus said, “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). God doesn’t send this trouble to destroy us. Rather, he sends it to us to persuade us to give up our foolish ideas and plans. He wants to show us that our wisdom is worthless. Ultimately, our wisdom isn’t what makes things happen; only the will of God does that. So we must learn to pray, “Let your will be done.”

So says Luther. It’s not that we shouldn’t be wise in the use of our time, its that the wisdom we need for how we spend our days, is what comes from what Luther said, God requires us to have faith, to love, and to endure suffering. A good reminder for us as we move forward together. In Jesus name, amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 3-10-22  “ fear God”

Sometimes we all struggle with an idea that’s often used in scripture. It’s the idea that we should fear God, or to fear the Lord. This idea seems a mystery. Why fear God? We’re taught He loves us and that we return love to Him for His great grace, mercy, and kindness to us and to all the world through the cross of Christ. That’s all true. However, if you’d been in the boat with the disciples in today’s gospel you might gain a bit better understanding of the fear of God. Listen to Mark 4:36-40

36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat… 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

They thought they were afraid of the storm. They thought they knew what it meant to fear life and death because of the storm. These were men of the sea, and they respected its power to kill with wind and wave. So, they expressed their fear of death to… a sleeping Jesus. A Jesus whom they astoundingly found they had to waken in order to tell Him… that they were all going to die!  So, Jesus, arises with the wind and the waves still crashing into the swamping boat full of literally scared-to-death disciples and Jesus speaks 3 emphatic words. Peace! Be still! And that happened. There was peace and everything became, still, because this Man spoke those words.

If they were afraid of what was going on around them just a moment ago, the disciples were now terrified of Who was standing there among them in the midst of the perfect calm. These men were anything but calm on the inside. Oh yes, the threat of drowning was removed, but they were still floundering with the truth that this Man, asleep only moments ago, now held the power of the wind and waves at bay by Him speaking words. They now knew the proper meaning of the fear of the Lord, or what it meant to fear God. If there was any doubt before, it was gone in that same instant, with those 3 words Peace! Be Still! And that is what Jesus gives us all.

We don’t treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a favorite pet or uncle or some kindly grandad. He’s also not a buddy, pal, or someone to ‘just hang with’. Jesus is not your ‘go-to-guy’, nor is He The Big Guy, and one I really don’t like, Jesus is not, ‘the Man Upstairs.’ All of these phrases and euphemisms, these, we should fear. We should be afraid of using them or speaking them out loud at any time or for any – anyone to ever hear us say! Instead, we do well to simply hold our tongue and in quiet fear of God receive from Jesus what He gave the disciples and the storm, those three words peace, be still. In the proper fear of Jesus name, amen and goodbye. Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 3-8-22  “Controlling Your Thoughts ”

Again, we turn to Luther in the devotional book, By Faith Alone. While Luther is often pithy, vulgar, or longwinded, today he also offers something most helpful. This is one of the better bits of advice I’ve ever come across for dealing with tempting and disturbing or difficult thoughts. I like that Luther doesn’t try to deny such things happen nor does he give excuses for them. Rather he has us turn to scripture and prayer in a most healthy way. First, he quotes Genesis 32: 7. Listen:

In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well.

Luther writes:

While Jacob was on his way to be reunited with his brother, Esau, he was plagued with doubts. He learned that Esau was wealthy and had a large family. He thought, “What if God has changed his mind? Maybe God has rejected me in favor of my brother.” These were Jacob’s thoughts, but they remained just that—thoughts.

Because of human nature and weak faith, people can’t keep from having these kinds of thoughts any more than they can avoid other emotions, such as impatience, anger, and lust. You can’t keep thoughts and temptations from coming into your head. Just don’t let these thoughts become fixed in your mind so that they begin to affect your judgment.

You should follow the advice of a hermit who was approached by a young man complaining of having lustful thoughts and other temptations. The old man told him, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head. But only let them fly. Don’t let them nest in your hair.”

It’s all right to have these thoughts, but let them remain just that—thoughts. Don’t let them grow to the point where you have to act on these thoughts. This was the problem that led to despair in the lives of Cain, Saul, Judas, and others. They let their thoughts grow and grow until they were saying, “My punishment is more than I can bear” (Genesis 4: 13), or “I have sinned, . . . for I have betrayed innocent blood” (Matthew 27: 4). When they did this, their temptation was turned into a judgment because they rejected the Word of God, faith, and prayer. But in spite of the many thoughts and severe temptations that Jacob experienced that night, he didn’t throw his faith away.

Thanks to Luther we’re encouraged to let such tempting thoughts pass on by and not lodge within us. Rather we can, as Luther reminded us, by the Word of God, faith, and prayer be relived of such burdensome thoughts. In Jesus name, amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 3-5-22  “when Jesus saw their faith ”

Our devotional reading today is from Mark chapter 2 verses 1-12. Listen:

2 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Thus, our reading. In verse 5 there’s a most interesting phrase, it says “when Jesus saw their faith”. These are words to not overlook too quickly. It doesn’t say when Jesus perceived they were men of faith, nor does it say, Jesus waited for them to ask for healing for their friend. No, it’s just a simple statement, Jesus saw their faith. Their faith was seen by how they acted. They obviously trusted Jesus to heal their friend. They had faith in Him to do for their friend what was needed. And what they’d seen Jesus do for others as well. Their faith was seen by how they acted. And they didn’t let little barriers like a crowd of people or the dirty work of removing a portion of the roof stop them from getting their friend in front of Jesus.

It can be easy for us to let barriers of inconvenience, or our cultural customs stand in the way of ‘doing’ our faith. We can be put off by having to roll up ourselves and pitching in to help others, knowing that they need to be put in front of Jesus so He can heal, cleanse, restore, and redeem them. This is what we’re doing when we pray. Praying is putting people in front of Jesus so they can be healed and saved. What do we let prevent us from our praying?

The men in the story today put their faith in Jesus into action. They wanted their friend healed so much they did what was needed for him to get Jesus’ word of deliverance from sin and healing for his body. Oh, that I would be willing for my desire for others to know Jesus, that I would put my faith into such actions as these men did for their friend. In Jesus name, amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 3-3-22  “Very good ”

Our devotional reading today is from Genesis chapter 1 verses 27-31. Listen:

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus, our reading. And what we read last is what I want to draw our attention to. That part where God saw all He had made, and it was very good! The Hebrew word translated ‘good’ carries with it the undertone of ‘beautiful’. That everything God made was beautiful. And not just good or beautiful but very, very beautiful. It had no blemish or imperfection. It lacked nothing and was full, complete, and very good and beautiful. This is the first time that God calls what He has made very, very good. The other references all speak of what God saw He had made, was simply good. But here on this last day of creation, it is all, very good, very beautiful.

I came across something that Augustine said of why it’s good to take note of this word ‘very’. His idea is that all the other times when God said what He saw was good, those days of creation are no less perfect than this. But when you take all the induvial days of creation and see that each one by itself is good and praiseworthy, then when God looks at them altogether with their individual measures and numbers and orders and see that they’ve been created to all work together, seen only now only on this last day of creation, it is indeed very good!

Sadly, though, we cannot see what it is that God saw was very good. We’re prevented from seeing that very goodness because of the corruption our sin brought on all that God made. Our sin caused God to even speak and curse the ground since we disobeyed His word. Because of our sin, all that was very good that God created has become tainted and tarnished and no longer is very good. But God also spoke His word of promise on the day we sinned. He spoke the promise of a redeemer of one who would overcome sin and bring restoration and wholeness. So, while we may not still see the very good creation of God as it was, we will see it restored and renewed by the work of Christ when He comes in His mighty victorious return. In Christ Jesus we have God’s word on this. In Jesus name, amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 3-1-22  “walk in fear and grow in faith ”

Our Lenten season is underway as of Transfiguration Sunday. Let me remind you that we are beginning our Wednesday night mid-week Lenten services tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, at 7PM. Our Lenten sermon series this year is titled ‘A Lenten Journey with Joseph’. This series comes from the journal, Concordia Pulpit Resources and is written by Rev Michael W Henrichs from Our Savior Lutheran in White Fish Bay, WI. I was so taken with this idea and how he brought the intersection of the patriarch Joseph’s life to Jesus’ life with our lives today that I wanted to share this with you! Please make plans to be here for the whole series as you’re able. It’ll be well worth it.

Now, to help set our hearts and minds on our Lenten journey, today’s devotional is from Luther’s writings in the book By Faith Alone. Today Martin reminds us just how important it is to keep the gift of faith ever before us. It’s tempting in Lent to think we’re doing a good work and that we can please God so much by our efforts that what Luther speaks of today goes right to the heart of that false notion. Yes, we do adopt a different mindset and perhaps modify some of our habits and the like for Lent. But we do so not in an effort to impress God but to impress God’s work on our lives and hearts! Listen now to Psalm 45:10 that Luther’s devotional starts from.

Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear: Forget your people and your father’s house. Luther writes: “Faith is very fragile and needs to hear the command:

“Forget your father’s house.” Something inside of us strongly compels us to keep trying to earn God’s approval. We look for good works, in which we can place our trust, and which will bring us praise. We want to show God what we have done and say, “See, I have done this or that. Therefore, you must pronounce me righteous.”

None of us should be overconfident when it comes to forgetting our own good works. Each one of us carries in our heart a horrible religious fanatic. We would all like to be able to do something so spectacular that we could brag, “Look what I’ve done! With all my prayers and good works, I’ve done enough for God today that I can feel at peace.” This happens to me too after I’ve accomplished something in my ministry.

I’m much happier than if I hadn’t done it. Being happy isn’t wrong in itself. But this joy is impure because it isn’t based on faith. It’s the kind of happiness that can make your conscience confused. Consciences are delicate. We need to guard them against the sin of arrogance. So we can’t be overconfident. We who confess Christ should always walk in fear and grow in faith. We should realize that we all carry in our hearts a horrible religious fanatic, who will destroy our faith with foolish delusions of good works. The Holy Spirit provides us with a way to counter this godless delusion.

We need to hold tightly to what we have received through the grace of God. God’s approval doesn’t come to us by what we do. Rather, it comes through the holiness of Christ, who suffered for us and rose again from the dead. Thus says Luther. A good reminder here at the beginning of Lent. in Jesus name, amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 2-26-22  “Abide”

Today’s devotional is from John 8:25-37. And before I read it, I want to drill down on one word. This word serves as a sort of hinge point in this reading. It takes from what comes before it to help us to better understand what comes after it. And for those in our Sunday school class this is a small example of how important it is using the historical grammatical methodology for translation.

The word comes in verse 31 when Jesus says “If you abide in my word”. That word abide is our hinge. When you look up abide in English, one of its 3 definitions is “continue without fading or being lost”. And the Greek definition in this location, carries the weight of continuing, staying or dwelling in. But in addition to the meaning, the tense and case of this Greek word here, is the aorist active subjunctive. This grammatical use by Jesus makes this word to be understood as ‘ it is a settled thing, a thing that does not change since it is completed.

So why is all of this important? It’s important if we want to come away from this reading with a clear appreciation for what Jesus is telling His listeners that day and what He is telling us today. Jesus has completed all that is necessary for us to remain in His Word. If we ignore that or walk away from that gift that He has settled and completed, we are rejecting what has been finished and accomplished for us. His word, the Word of God come down from heaven,  is ours to now abide in. Knowing this listen to our reading for today.

25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.” In the name of Jesus, we now and forever abide. Amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 2-24-22  “Not Condemned ”

Today’s devotional comes from John 8:3-11. I’m reading selected vss. Listen

3 The scribes and the Pharisees … said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” … Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

This familiar story brings us great comfort. To hear Jesus utter those words: “Neither do I condemn you” relieves us of great anxiety and fear. In His words there is absolution and grace for her and for us. But His words also bring us a challenge. Not a challenge of something for us to accomplish, but challenge of faith. Do we really have the faith to believe that Jesus is God’s Son? Do we trust our lives, day-in and day-out, moment-by-moment to His total and ongoing forgiveness?

It might be easy to think, oh well of course I do, not a problem. And that’s good! It’s good because we know that faith is God’s gift to us. And faith in Jesus as The Son of God is what we’ve been taught comes to us by grace alone. Again, very good! We learn this in an earlier chapter, John 3, where verses 16-18 tell us: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

In the story of Jesus and the woman, Jesus, after not condemning her, tells her to go and sin no more. This acknowledges that she was sinful, that Jesus knew she had sinned, and she did not deny this. Further, we all know she did sin more don’t we. And we know that because we too, after hearing Jesus’ admonition to sin no more, we do in fact return to our sinful ways.

But the point for us, the challenge for us, is not whether or not we sin, the point is to return again and confess our sin. Because it’s in the name of Jesus, faith in Jesus, that grants the very forgiveness He declares to the woman and to us. As He said, He came to save the world, to save us, not condemn us. We’re already condemned by our sin and sinfulness. Never forget we cannot sin beyond Jesus’ power to forgive us. We return always to the fountain and source of our faith, hope, and comfort we, always return to the name of Jesus. In His name, amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 2-22-22  “FAITH SHOWS ITSELF IN LOVE”

It looks like we have another snowy few days ahead and I may not be able again to issue Thursday’s devotions by phone. My apologies. As usual, it will be online in Facebook, the church website and YouTube.

Today’s devotions start with reading John 15, vss 12-17 followed by comments from Luther in the devotional book By Faith Alone. This is about discipleship. What he says is a good call to faithful living and honoring Christ by how we live life day to day.

Listen – 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

Luther writes: In this passage, Christ repeats the command to love each other. By love, believers are held together, and love is the mark of true believers. Jesus emphasized this command because he knew how many false Christians would arise—how many would praise faith with elegant words and a great show but would not back up their words.

Just as God’s holy name is dishonored and used for evil, and just as Christianity, the church, and everything that is holy are misused, so the names of faith, love, and good works will also be used for a false show and mask. For the devil doesn’t want to be as dark as he is painted, but he wants to shine in the fine clothes of God’s Word, the Christian church, faith, and love. Christ teaches us that it’s not enough to praise faith and Christ, but we also need to produce Christian fruit.

For where these fruits aren’t evident, or where the opposite appears, Christ is certainly not present. In that case, only a false name exists. That’s why we must say to these types of people, “I hear that beautiful and glorious name, which is noble and worthy of honor. But what about you?” Similarly, the evil spirit said to the sons of Sceva, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” (Acts 19: 15). But some may object, “Doesn’t faith justify and save us without works?” Yes, that’s true.

But where is your faith? How does it show itself ? Faith must never be useless, deaf, dead, or in a state of decay. But it must be a living tree that bursts forth with fruit. That’s the difference between genuine faith and false faith. Where there is true faith, it will show itself in a person’s life.

A good reminder from Luther to remain faithful as we live life in Jesus’ name. In His name, amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 2-19-22  “The Bread of Life for the World”

Again, this week weather prevented me from getting into the office to put the devotional on the phone tree Thursday. I apologize to those who only have access by the phone. We’re looking into other options but have yet to find something workable.

Now, during this epiphany season we’ve been shown in many ways that Jesus is revealed to the world as both God and man, holy and human, divine and earthly. In today’s reading we again see evidence of the two natures of Christ revealed in Him. Listen to portions of John 6:41- 54

So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “… No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day …Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life…This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

”The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

The Jews clearly understood that Jesus was human. They mention knowing His father and mother. They witness for us to the truth that Jesus did not stand around with a glowing halo of some sort that would mark Him as not human. In fact, He is so human, the Jews simply don’t see anything that prevents them from judging Him as they would anyone else they knew. That’s another thing, they knew Him!

And His family! And they understood clearly that He was saying He was not merely human, but He is also from God! Jesus’ words are not ambiguous to these who heard Him. In His speaking He makes clear that in Him alone is the promised resurrection. And in His resurrection, there is life! Life for all who believe that God has sent Him, Jesus, to be the bread of life. The bread that leads to eternal life. The Jews understood His words, but, as of yet, they could not receive what He said as real.

But every time we come to Holy Communion we do as He promised. We eat of this bread, of His flesh, that we may receive Him whom God has sent for our redemption. It is the testimony of both the Jews and of Jesus that this is what Jesus meant when He said, And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh! And on the cross, He does give up His flesh to death that we indeed may have life in Him. Come soon to Holy Communion and again be witness to and partake of Christ’s death and resurrection for your own eternal life! in Jesus name, amen and good bye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 2-17-22  “In defiance of… death I cling to Thee”

Tomorrow’s reading from John 6 is paired with a brief explanation of faith from Martin Luther that’s confronting and comforting. It’s confronting in that we relate to his description of a terrified conscience that tries to hide behind others. Like good people we admire whom we would like to be like, because , we think, that we could then feel what we’re sure they must feel, safe and secure. And that’s not at all helpful to a terrified conscience, because it’s a false presumption. There’s no saint whose good works has made them safe and at peace with God. But we are comforted when we hear that the gift of faith, faith alone, in Christ, is what’s needed to calm our fears and bring us to peace with God. Listen to selected portions of John 6:22-40

25…they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered …, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, … Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” …“Truly… I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”… “I am the bread of life; … All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. …And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Now listen to Luther’s words. He writes: “Here you can see what it means to believe. It may indeed seem an easy matter, but it is in fact a high and great art. Therefore, when you feel your sin, when your bad conscience smites you, or when persecution comes, then ask yourself whether you really believe. At such times one is wont to run to saints and helpers in cloisters and in the desert for… relief, crying: “O my dear man, intercede for me! O dear saint, help me! I promise to become pious and to do many good works.”

That is how a terrified conscience speaks. But tell me. Where is faith? If you believe in the words of Christ, “None of them is lost whom Thou has given me” then as a Christian, you must say: “I acknowledge no saint here. I am a poor sinner deserving of death; but in defiance of sin and death I cling to Thee, and I will not let Thee go. I have taken hold of Thee, dear Lord Christ. Thou art my Life, and this is the Father’s will, that all who adhere to Thee have eternal life and be raised from the dead…” No other life – whether it be called the monastic life or the life of St Augustine or of St John the Baptist  will arm a person for victory. Only faith in Christ can do so. Thus says Luther.

And in the name of Christ we pray, Amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 2-15-22  “Enemy territory ”

Egypt has long been the reverse of Israel. Whereas Israel worships the one Lord of heaven and earth, Egypt worships many so-called gods and deities. While Israel hopes in the promises of God, Egypt listens to the voice of Pharaoh, a man, as through he were a god. Egypt relies on its own strength and might to accomplish its victories, but Israel trusts in God to be her protector, avenger, and victor over those who oppose Israel.

So why, why would God send the son of Israel, Joseph, into Egypt? Today’s lesson tells us it’s so that Joseph could protect his father Jacob and all of Joseph’s brothers and families. And how was that done? By making Joseph ruler in the land of Egypt. God sent Joseph into the land, not of promise and not into the land of an ally, but into the land where God was not welcome. Into the land that denied God His rightful due. God sent Joseph into enemy territory – in order to save His chosen people! In the same way He sent Jesus to us. Listen to selected portions of Genesis 45

4 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life… 7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt… I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty…. 13 You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen.

God sent Joseph to Egypt to become the ruler over Egypt! God sent him into enemy territory to do the will of God so that all of Israel would be saved. And here we see one way in which Joseph foreshadows the work of Jesus Christ.

God also sent Jesus into enemy territory, into a land that had rejected God and turned away to serve idols and all manner of false deities. God sent Jesus to earth to become the rescuer of earth and her inhabitants. Not because earth honored God and not because we asked for God’s salvation. No, God sent Jesus to save. To save from death.

Just as Joseph saved Israel from death by famine, so too God rescued earth in Jesus Christ from the famine of rejecting God and His living, saving word. We are soon entering into Lent and we will be spending our Lenten midweek services learning more of how Joseph parallels the work of Jesus. In the meantime, let us be grateful to God for not leaving us in our sin, but rescuing us by sending Jesus to provide for us.

In His name we pray, Amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 2-12-22  “ A Woman’s Word”

Today, in the gospel lesson in John 4 we hear what happened in the town of Sychar in Samaria as a result of the testimony of the woman that Jesus talked to at the town well. You can read the whole story in the rest of John 4. Recall from that story that the conversation she had with Jesus resulted in Him  telling her about all the 5 husbands she’d had, and that she wasn’t even married to the man she was with at the time.

Also recall that she knew of the promise of the Messiah, though she was Samaritan, and as a result of this conversation she started to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. From there she went back to town and witnessed to others what Jesus told her, and who she thought He might be. We pick up today’s reading at vs 39.

39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

Of the many things not recorded in scripture that I wish had been, Jesus’ two days of teaching in Sychar are high on the list. Whatever it was He spoke to them, it had the impact of bringing many in that place to understand that Jesus is indeed the savior of the world! And none of that would have happened if this woman had not gone back to town and spoke of her remarkable conversation with Jesus.

What she told them, caused many to believe in Jesus simply on the basis of her word! There are reference’s that speculate that this was a woman with a ‘known past’ in town. That’s why she came at noon to get water, so she could avoid other women who would come in the morning or evening to escape the hard task of carrying water in the heat of the day. By coming then she avoided the gossip and ridicule of others.

Of course, for her to then go into town and freely tell others what Jesus told her would have meant her acknowledging her past openly and publicly. The upshot is that her word of testimony caused many to believe her about Jesus. So much so, that they had to come and converse with Jesus themselves. And for 2 days we’re told Jesus stayed with them and by His word many received Him as the savoir of the world. So yes, I’m curious as to what was said in those conversations with Jesus.

By the way the expression referring to Jesus in this particular formula, as the Savior of the World, is used only here and in 1 John 4:14. And yet that is what Jesus is showing us He is by choosing to go to this Samaritan town and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God having come to earth for all the earth in Himself. May we like this woman openly and freely tell others what Jesus has done for us. In His name we pray, Amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 2-10-22  “Job 7 ”

If you’ve never read the book of Job all the way through, I wouldn’t blame you. It’s not an easy book to read for many reasons. But by the same token it can be instructive as well. In the past few years, we’ve lived through very troubling times and a pestilence that has affected the entire world. And this is where Job can be a great help to us.

We may at times have felt as if the world was spinning out of control and left us wondering – where is God in all of what we’re going through? Let me read you portions of tomorrows Old Testament lesson out of Job chapter 7.

“Has not man a hard service on earth, and are not his days like the days of a hired hand? … so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. 4 When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I arise?’ But the night is long, and I am full of tossing till the dawn. 5 My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt;  my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh… 7 “Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good. 8 The eye of him who sees me will behold me no more… 9 As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up; 10 he returns no more to his house…

11 “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul… 13 When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,’ 14 then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, 15 so that I would choose strangling and death rather than my bones. 16 I loathe my life;… Leave me alone, for my days are a breath. 17 What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, 18 visit him every morning     and test him every moment? 19 How long will you not look away from me, nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit? 20 If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind? Why have you made me your mark? Why have I become a burden to you? 21 Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? ….”

Job describes well what many have felt in recent times. Months of emptiness, long nights, terrifying dreams, bitterness, and a sense of being tested every moment. So how does this help us? I believe it helps us because in Job’s complaints Job does not sin.

Yes, Job admits that he is sinful, but yet in his words and complaints to God, in these he does not sin. He grouses and rails at God, and what I take from that is that God has big enough shoulders that He can bear all that Job grumbles to Him about. It’s good for us to know that God can bear all the hard questions we have. It’s ok to complain to God as Job did. God can bear the wight of your sorrow, frustration, and complaint.

So, are you afraid, or angry or mystified at God’s seeming aloofness or harshness? Take that to God and tell Him. Job never doubts that God is there, and that God is listening. In fact, buried in all this Job refers to God as having set His heart on mankind and that God can pardon Job’s sin and remove his guilt. We know that, in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection God’s grace is poured out on all the world. And because of that, like Job, we also know that from God we, indeed, have pardon. Pardon that comes to us In Jesus name. In His name we pray, Amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 2-8-22  “Remembered ”

Today the New Testament reading is again from the gospel of John chapter 2 this time. While the story is familiar, it’s the disciple’s recollection of these events I want us to focus on.  This is vss 13-22 from John 2.

13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

We want to take note that one reason this vivid event was recorded was to show that Jesus was fulfilling scripture. The gospel writers were remembering and writing the events and teachings of Jesus long after they happened. This wasn’t like a news reporter recording things on the scene as they happen. This was written many years later.

We’re told in both verses 17 and 22 that “His disciples remembered”. What they remembered was that God foretold that this cleansing would take place.

As all this happens it takes place within the recollection of the disciples of both Jesus actions and the Hebrew scripture, the Old Testament. So, we begin to see the disciples equate Jesus’ words with the word of God, the Holy Scriptures. They are teaching us that Jesus word is God’s word.

They were remembering these words and events so that we could learn and know who Jesus was in the context in which they all lived. In recalling this event, this cleansing of the temple, we see that Jesus equates the temple with His own body when He says destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.

This helps us understand that worship for a Christian is not focused on the place of the temple but on the person of Jesus. The disciples recall this event so we would begin to understand this truth. Jesus is our temple!

And it is in Him and His words that we see God’s action done for the sake of cleansing His own body, the church. We’re to remember what the disciples have taught us so we may rightly worship Him who is God’s word to us and temple for us. In Him we have our true sanctuary! In Jesus name, Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 2-5-22  “Behold the Lamb of God”

I’ve mentioned before that I use the PrayNow app from Concordia publishing house. It’s a daily devotional and its where I usually get the readings I use.

Today the New Testament reading is from the gospel of John chapter 1, and I’ll also be quoting the writing for today in this app. This one comes from Luther. First listen to using vss 24-34 from John 1.

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

On this passage what Luther writes is so very good, listen. John wishes to say: “Your lamb was taken from men, as Moses commanded in the law of God (Ex. 12:3-5). But this is God’s lamb. The Easter lamb is a Lamb from God, not a lamb selected from the male sheep. The lamb of the Law was shepherds lamb or a man’s lamb.” John wants to say: “This is the true Lamb, which takes away the sin of the people. With your other lambs, sacrificed on the Passover festival, you did try to remove your sin; but you never succeeded. In this Lamb, born of a virgin, you will. It is not a natural lamb, man’s lamb referred to in the Law, and yet it is a lamb.” For God prescribed that it was to be a Lamb that should be sacrificed and roasted on the cross for our sins. In other respects He was a man like all other human beings; but God made Him a Lamb which should bear the sins of all the world.

This is an extraordinarily free and comforting sermon on Christ, our Savior. Neither our thoughts nor our words can do the subject full justice, but in the life beyond it will redound to our eternal joy and bliss that The Son of God abased Himself so and burdened Himself with my sins. Yes, He assumes not only my sins, but also those of the whole world, from Adam down to the very last mortal. These sins He takes upon Himself; for these He is willing to suffer and die that our sins may be expunged and we may attain eternal life and blessedness… anyone who wishes to be saved must know that all his sins have been placed on the back of this Lamb! Therefore John points this Lamb out to his disciples, saying: “do you want to know where the sins of the world are placed for forgiveness? … If you really want to find a place where the sins of the world are exterminated and deleted, then cast your gaze upon the cross. the Lord placed all our sins on the back of this Lamb.” So says Luther. And to this I say amen! In Jesus name, Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 2-3-22  “FAITH AND WORKS ARE NECESSARY”

When I read yesterday’s devotional from the book By Faith Alone taken from Luther’s writings, it really struck home with me! As a preacher, preaching the necessity of faith and works, is one of those things I wrestle with each time I prepare sermons. Luther articulates it so well that I’m happy to share it with you so you can be better equipped to help me where I fall short of keeping this in balance in my preaching.

First, he quotes John 15:10. Listen.

If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.

Then Luther writes.

Jesus is saying, “You are in me and remain in me, so make sure you keep my commandments. For I must give each of you a task as a sign to others that you are my true branches. That task is to love each other. I keep this command myself so that I can be an example and model to you. And I remain in my Father’s love because I keep this command. Therefore, if you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.”

Earlier in this book, Christ also says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13: 35).

 So there are two parts of Christian teaching that we must emphasize daily. Neither faith nor works can be ignored. For when faith isn’t preached—when no one explains how we are joined to Christ and become branches in him—then everyone resorts to their own works.

On the other hand, when we teach only about faith, this lopsidedness leads to false Christians. These people praise faith, are baptized, and even call themselves Christians, but they don’t show any fruit or power. That’s why it’s so difficult to preach. No matter how I preach, something goes wrong. Someone always goes off on a tangent. If I don’t preach about faith, the result will be useless and hypocritical works. If I only emphasize faith, no one does any good works.

The result is either useless, faithless do-gooders or believers who don’t do any good works. So we must preach the message to those who accept both faith and works. We must preach to those who want to remain in the vine, put their trust in Christ, and put their faith into action in their everyday lives.

So says Luther. And to this I say amen!

In Jesus name, Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 2-1-22  “Our Position of Honor ”

Here on this first day of February I’m returning to the book, “A Day in Your Presence” from Bethany House. Readings from St Francis of Assisi arranged by David Hazard. This one is from Francis’ Admonitions: 5. First he quotes Luke 9:23-25. Listen:

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?  Thus, the reading. St Francis writes:

I want you to meditate on God’s word, so you will not become confused about the position of wondrous honor The Father has given to us. It is true that He created our physical body in the image of His Son whom He loves so greatly, and He has formed our inward being in His own likeness – with capacities to know, to shape or create, to choose, and to love (Genesis 1:26). Yes, we have been granted a place of high honor! Then why is it that so many lower creatures serve and honor their Creator better that we do?

For even the demons were not solely responsible for crucifying the Lord of Life – it was you and I who crucified Him, the power of our sin joining with them in this hideous act. And we continue to crucify Him whenever we seek life in sinful, corrupting pleasures that dishonor Him in every way. Don’t you begin to see what I am telling you? It is He who has chosen to graciously honor us. We have nothing to be proud of in ourselves.

Even if we knew all things – if we could speak in the tongues of men and angels (1 Cor 13:1) so that even the very mysteries of heaven were like an open book – we could never boast that we deserved the position God has willed for us. (If the truth be told, even the devils know more about the workings of heaven and earth than the wisest Christian – so how could anyone boast, even if one were given a special revelation from God?)

Suppose you were the best-looking, or the wealthiest person on earth. Or suppose that you were so spiritual you could work wonders and drive out devils. Whether you are naming physical or spiritual strengths, what do you have that is ‘apart’ from you?

What do have that was not given to you? What is left for us to boast about? We may boast only in this way, like the apostle Paul: “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me… it is for Christ’s sake I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Our “boast”, our “honor” is in this: that every day our living heavenly Father allows us to take up our cross and serve Him in the same simple obedience as that of our Lord Jesus Christ. Francis then prays: My Father, why do I try to conceal my weaknesses? Why do I so often pretend I am strong enough to handle life myself? Uproot my self-sufficiency… my pride… and any selfish motive that keeps me from stepping out into difficult tasks you ask of me… for fear that I will fail.

With St Francis, we pray in Jesus name, Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 1-29-22  “The robe of a Jew ”

Today, we hear from the Old Testament lesson portions of Zechariah 8. Listen:

7 Thus says the Lord of hosts: Behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, 8 and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.”…. 11 But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, declares the Lord of hosts… 13 And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing.” … 14 For thus says the Lord of hosts: “As I purposed to bring disaster to you when your fathers provoked me to wrath, and I did not relent… so again have I purposed in these days to bring good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah; fear not… 22 Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. 23 Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” Thus, the reading.

God speaks through Zechariah to remind the people of how their fathers were faithless and rebellious and suffered God’s wrath by being defeated by their enemies and taken out of the land of promise and into foreign lands. This was God’s harsh judgement for their forsaking God. But that does not stop God from His purpose of doing good to Israel in order to do good to the whole of creation. The whole earth will be shown mercy through God’s mercy shown to the Jews despite their rebellion.

It’s God who punishes and God who relents of His punishment in order to show the remnant of His people His grace. And so, He chooses to rescue, redeem, and save. And more than that He will bring good to the whole earth through the jews. So much so that peoples of every nation, tribe, and tongue will seek to take hold of the robe of a Jew and come to Jerusalem where God’s favor and grace are known to be.

That image of taking hold of the robe of a Jew brings to mind the woman who was healed by taking hold of the hem of Jesus’ garment. She illustrates vividly what it means to for us to find our healing in taking hold of the robe of the Jew, Jesus.

And there’s the other robe that Jesus wore, the robe that was put upon Him when He was on trial before His crucifixion. That robe of purple was put on Him to mock Him. And yet it is that robe that we seek to cling to, as it’s from the robe of that particular Jew that we have God with us as the prophet spoke of. Jesus wore that robe so that the world might have peace with God through the grace of God. Yes, we needed to see and experience, through what the Jews suffered, what His wrath and anger at sin meant.

That He tolerates no faithlessness and rejection. But we are thankful that the unchanging God of the universe has never wavered in His intention to show love and forbearance, peace and grace to His creation through a Jew, the Jew who is our prophet, priest, and king, Jesus Christ. In His name we pray, Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

 

Devotions for 1-27-22  “every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future ”

Today, I’m borrowing from yesterday’s epistle lesson to focus on. It’s from Romans 15:1-13 and it reads:

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Paul gives us great instruction here on the unifying power of the holy scriptures. That it’s by the written word we’re taught to come together, all the saints of God, under the banner of giving glory to Christ! It’s from the scriptures that we learn what true hope is and that within that hope sinners find release from the reproach of their sin.

And this is because Christ took all of our reproaches on Himself on the cross. Dana in her reading the other day came across this quote she shared with me that says, ‘every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future’. I like that saying. And when you apply it to scripture and its power to draw all people to Christ, it tells sinners they are set free and transformed into saints. Saints whose sinful past is washed away in Christ’s blood.

For saints didn’t become saints without the endurance that Paul speaks of that comes from scripture. And all sinners also have hope only because of the holy scriptures.

Its scripture alone that changes sinners to saints and washes away the stain of our guilty past. Again, from the Romans passage it says that

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

We are joined together through the endurance and encouragement of scripture to be one in Christ. And being so joined, we then together, we give voice to lift praises to God and tell of His glory! In Jesus name we pray, Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 1-25-22  “An Epiphany hymn”

Today we’re doing something a bit different. As I prepare worship services each week, I come across hymns that for one reason or another get missed or skipped over. So I wanted to take the devotions for today from a hymn I’ve never sung but found the words paint such a good picture of the epiphany season, I wanted to share it with you. This is hymn number 399 The Star Proclaims the King Is Here. It speaks of the major milestones in Jesus life that we focus on during this time in the church-year calendar. This divine Epiphany season is when we’re learning that Jesus is true man and true God who has come to earth to be revealed through these various words and works. Listen:

1        The star proclaims the King is here;
But, Herod, why this senseless fear?
For He who offers heav’nly birth
Seeks not the kingdoms of this earth.

2        The eastern sages saw from far
And followed on His guiding star;
And, led by light, to light they trod
And by their gifts confessed their God.

3        Within the Jordan’s sacred flood
The heav’nly Lamb in meekness stood
That He, of whom no sin was known,
Might cleanse His people from their own.

4        And oh, what miracle divine,
When water reddened into wine!
He spoke the word, and forth it flowed
In streams that nature ne’er bestowed.

5        For this Thy glad epiphany
All glory, Jesus, be to Thee,
Whom with the Father we adore,
And Holy Spirit evermore.

In Jesus name we sing and pray, Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 1-22-22  “Rending”

Today we’re hearing the word of the Lord from the prophet Joel. First, I’ll read selected parts of chapter 2 that speak of the coming day of the Lord with all its power and overwhelming destruction. Nothing stands or survives the army of the Lord! Listen:

Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near, 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been before…

3 Fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but behind them a desolate wilderness,  and nothing escapes them. … 10 The earth quakes…; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. 11 The Lord utters his voice before his army, for his camp is exceedingly great; he who executes his word is powerful. For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?

If you’ll read this short chapter for yourself, you’ll hear more of the details of the judgement that comes when the day of the Lord comes that Joel is prophesying about. But listen as we pick up our reading at vs  12 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.

The prophet makes reference to many of the cultural ways sorrow and sadness are shown. The rending of one’s garments is an extreme measure that is meant to be seen as exposing one nakedness in the face of overwhelming shock and sorrow. It’s a way of totally baring oneself to the world and to God. There is nothing held back from this action that remains hidden. Beyond weeping and fasting, this act also has the effect of confessing a barrenness, confessing one’s inability to remain as they were before.

And while such an act has its public reward of sorts, here the Lord is saying that it’s not the outward work of such an act that He desires as a response to His coming. Rather it is that barrenness and confession from one’s heart that He seeks from His people. In other words, He wants them to trust in His grace and mercy. It’s not them doing a work of the law or of cultural custom that saves, but faith. Faith and trust in God’s promise of mercy and steadfast love, as the prophet reminds us.

There does, however, come a time when God rends His garment and reveals His heart of love when Jesus dies on the cross and the curtain of the temple is rent from top to bottom. This ‘rending’ of God’s garment is done to show us He is the One who has borne the ‘disaster’ of our sinfulness in Jesus’ death. In so doing He has taken away the barrier between us and Himself. We get the very heart of God’s love and grace poured out to each and every person who places their trust in Him and His mercy as God, through the prophet, reminds us. In Jesus name we pray, Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 1-20-22  “God’s good gift of faith”

Today’s devotions again come from Romans. This time selected parts of chapters 9:30-10:13 that speak of the righteousness that comes by faith… alone! Listen:

30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works… Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. 5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, … “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” … 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Let’s look at the verse that says: For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Take note it does not say that Christ is the end of the law period. It says that He is the end of the law for righteousness. In other words, Christ is the end of our efforts at keeping the law insofar as being made righteous is concerned.

This nullifies all our works of the moral law, ceremonial and civil laws of the Hebrews as it pertains to gaining the righteousness that is required for salvation. That is,  to be restored to a right relationship with God. That right relationship cannot be earned apart from faith. And as faith is a gift, it removes all human effort to earn the right to righteousness and eternal life. This is the pronouncement that tells us we are free from observing the Hebrew religious and civil laws and customs as regards our salvation. But we are not removed from our obligation to keeping the moral law of God by which we are taught how to live in any and all circumstances while we remain in the flesh. Yet, it says even our pursuit at keeping the moral law is done by the gift of faith alone.

However, this passage, through the cross and sacrifice of Christ, does pronounce our total freedom from the guilt of our failure to uphold and live by that moral law of God. For only by faith in Jesus’ name we are given the gift of His righteousness for life eternal and granted a full restoration to God.

Today we receive God’s encouragement and consolation for our hearts when we so often realize just how far we are from being the people we should be. This comfort comes through His Word that we’re told… is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” … 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. In Jesus name we pray, Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 1-18-22  “God’s good”

First off, thank you for prayers for Dana and I as we were sick on Sunday. We greatly appreciate your love and care for us. We are feeling much better and looking forward to being back in church together with you all.

Now, today’s devotions come from Romans 8 and includes vs 28 which is often lifted out of its context. And as a result of that, it’s often beat up and bruised and used to justify things that do not align with the setting that this verse is found in. Listen to Romans 8:27-30 which read:

27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

The good that God works for us, is not simply what we desire, hope for, or think is the right thing for us. It’s not our idea of ‘good’ that counts here. God is not our personal genie, to grant our idea of what is true or right or good.

No, God’s good for you is what comes in the next verse. The good is, as vs 29 says, in being conformed into the image of Christ! The good is about us being changed, not our circumstances or our earthly well-being. The good is objective, meaning it comes from outside of us to do as God said, to work together for the good He alone gives us in Jesus Christ. That is what He gives to you. And it comes in His time and in His way.

And it is already yours! He has made it yours by His Holy Spirit. As was said, it’s the Holy Spirit that intercedes for us. We don’t, we can’t, advocate for ourselves before God as we are filthy, sinful, unrighteous people. It’s the Holy Spirit that intercedes for us, according to God’s will, so that what we really need is what we receive. And what we really need is God’s grace from the blood and the cross of Jesus to cover all our sin.

The good of being conformed into Christ is what defines God’s good purposes for us. The good of God is granted to us as He continually works all things to conform us to the likeness of Jesus. The result of which, with Jesus as our firstborn from the dead Brother, is our receiving His glory! That, that is God’s goodness to us. That is God’s call and purpose for us through all things. That we who have been justified by His grace through faith, are made to be conformed into the image of Jesus.

In Jesus name we pray, Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 1-15-22  “Living in Christ”

For today’s devotional of Luther’s writings in By Faith Alone, we’re given powerful reminders and examples of what it means to do the work of God, that Jesus Christ calls us to in John 6:28-29 which read:

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Luther also invokes 1 John 2:28 so that we may hear words of comfort and confidence in God’s grace. That verse reads:

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.

Of these verses Luther writes:

What should you do when the thought of death frightens you and your conscience bothers you? Continue to live in Christ! You must believe that you can accomplish nothing by your own works and that the only way is through Christ’s righteousness. John 6: 29 says that the work of God is believing in the one he has sent.

So when Nathan corrected David, and David confessed his sin, Nathan replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die” (2 Samuel 12: 13). David simply lived in grace. He didn’t even think about trying to satisfy God with his works. When Nathan said, “The LORD has taken away your sin,” he was proclaiming the message of grace. And David believed it!

After Adam sinned, he could do nothing that would bring him into a state of grace. But God said that one of his descendants would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3: 15). It was by this promise Adam was made alive. Because he believed in this word, he was saved and justified without any works.

Our nature struggles fiercely against being saved without our works and tries to deceive us with a grand illusion of our own righteousness. So we may find ourselves attracted to a life that merely appears to be – righteous. Or because we know we aren’t righteous; we may be frightened by death or sin.

Therefore, we must learn that we should have nothing to do with any way of becoming righteous – except – through Christ alone.

Thus says Luther. What a potent antidote to the temptation to rely on ourselves and anything we do, to think that we can prove that we make ourselves righteous. And moreover, what a comforting reminder it is for us to hear, that our righteousness is indeed, found only in Jesus Christ alone. And in that we are assured of God’s grace to us.

In Jesus name we pray, Amen And goodbye. Stay warm and safe!

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 1-13-22  “For God’s sake!”

Often times people will use the phrase ‘for God’s sake’ in a profane and disgusting way. And part of the reason for that may be because God Himself found Himself to be disgusted with the way His chosen people had profaned His holy name. There is much throughout the prophets that testify to Israel’s unfaithful and idolatrous ways. Ways in which they brought shame to themselves and thereby to the name of God that they were to uphold and declare to the nations. Instead, they prostituted themselves with the false idols and gods of the nations around them. They sought out that which God told them to avoid. And so, God, as was His plan all along, undertook to restore His name to its proper holiness and life-giving power. From the Old Testament lesson for today, listen to what God says through Ezekiel 36:22-27

22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

First off, note that the Lord does for Israel what He does, not for their sake, but for the sake of His name among the nations of the earth. He is using Israel to bring the world to the awareness of His name. And in so doing He brings His grace and mercy to all the earth, and all its inhabitants.

And second notice that what happens to Israel, the cleansing, the new heart and new spirit, the obedience to His statutes are what God alone does. All the people Israel, all of mankind and you and I, do not accomplish the vindication of the Lord’s name. No! He does that, God does that, by the strength of His mighty arm alone.

How is this accomplished? Only through His Son, the king of the jews, the Holy One of Israel, Jesus Christ. It is He who accomplishes all this.

And then, by  grace through faith alone, it is given and granted as a gift for all who believe in His… name! It is His name into which we are baptized with the clean water that is sprinkled on us and puts His new heart and His Holy Spirit within us. And thereby God accomplishes what He said here in Ezekiel that He would do, vindicate His holiness and His name. In Jesus name we pray, Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 1-11-22  “Tending the Vineyard”

In addition to his theological wisdom and practical application of it, Luther was also pretty clever with his wit. In today’s entry from the devotional book of Luther’s writings,  By Faith Alone, I enjoyed his inventive use of giving a grapevine a voice. It helps us to ‘hear’ in this way so we can appreciate better what it is God does in our lives. Listen first to John 15:1-5

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Luther writes:

This passage presents a very comforting picture. Christ understood all the suffering that he and his followers would experience as nothing else but the work of a diligent gardener. Grapevines can grow and produce much fruit only with careful tending by the gardener. Christ wants to teach us that we should look at trials and suffering very differently from the way they appear and feel to us in this world.

Suffering doesn’t occur apart from God’s will. It’s not a sign of his anger; rather, it’s a sign of his mercy and his fatherly love. It will serve for the best. It’s an art to believe that what hurts and distresses us doesn’t occur to harm us but to make us improve. What if the vine were aware of this, could talk, and could see the gardener cutting around its roots with a hoe? What if it could see the gardener pruning its branches with a pruning knife?

After seeing and feeling all of this, it might say, “Oh! What are you doing? Now I will wither and spoil because you are working on me, taking the soil away from me, and scraping me with those iron teeth. You are tearing and pinching me everywhere, leaving me to stand here half-naked. You are crueler to me than you are to other trees and plants.”

But the gardener would reply, “You just don’t understand. If I cut off a branch, it’s because it’s a useless branch, which takes strength and sap away from you. The other branches won’t be able to produce fruit and will also begin to fail. So off it goes. It’s for your own good. I am doing it so you will yield more fruit and be able to produce good wine.”

Thanks to Luther for such a good illustration to help us see that there is nothing that comes our way that God, in Christ, does not use to help us in our Christian growth. In Jesus name, Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 1-8-22  “Hidden in My Heart”

Here at the beginning of the new year I took down my devotional book A Day in Your Presence from St Francis of Assisi and was encouraged by his words in the entry titled ‘Hidden in My Heart’ excerpts from his Admonitions 21 and 28. He first quotes from Psalms and from Matthew’s gospel.

From Psalm 119 he uses verses 10-11 which read

I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart...

And he uses these portions from Matthew 6  Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them… When you pray, do not… [stand] on the street corners, to be seen by men … When you fast, do not look somber… to show men [you] are fasting. [Do all these things, only to be seen by] your Father who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

St Francis writes:

You will find yourself filled with heavenly joy and peace when you learn to store up in heaven the good things the Lord reveals to you.

For how often do we speak a word of truth, secretly hoping in our heart that the hearer will think, “How deeply spiritual is he”?

The Most High will make Himself known – whenever He wishes, to whomever He pleases – through our deeds. Or can we not trust in Him to accomplish this?

Therefore, blessed is the servant who keeps the secrets of the Lord in His heart (so says) Luke 2: 19 and 51.

[In light of this], let us wisely consider what we say to others – how much we should say, and whether it is the most profitable time to say it.

Woe to us when we do not… let the good truths the Lord has set in our heart be revealed to others by our deeds, which would give glory to our Lord. Rather, we too often make such good things known only by our words, which brings glory to us.  

Such “glory” is fleeting indeed, a poor reward (as we read in Matthew). And those who hear our words, without actions, quickly lose what they have heard, and carry away little fruit.  

Francis then concludes with this brief prayer

My Father, what task of love can I accomplish for you… in secret… today?

To this we say, In Jesus holy name we pray. Amen And goodbye.

Devotions for 1-6-22  “Epiphany”

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany and centers on the visit of the Magi from the East. While Christmas focused on the Incarnation of our Lord in flesh—Epiphany emphasizes the revelation to the world that God is in that same flesh of Jesus. As the Magi were guided by the promises of Holy Scripture to find and worship the Christ Child, He yet calls people from all nations by that same Word, to find and worship Jesus within His Church. Hear portions Mat 2:1-12  After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”  When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together the…chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked… where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied… Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

The gifts of the wise men pointed out Jesus’ kingship, in gold; His divine nature, in incense; and His necessary death, in the myrrh. And it was through that death that His gift of life for us was accomplished. It’s our faith to believe that this Baby the magi bring their gifts to, is both God and man, at the same time. This is not just some baby who later was elevated to the status of being God because He earned it by His good works, No!

He was from infancy, even from within Mary’s womb He was God; He was God in the clothing of human flesh and blood. The magi coming and giving their gifts was putting the world on notice that God had indeed now come. The magi, these men from the east, these were not Jews! Just as we are not Jews. But their coming was evidence that the whole earth was being awakened to a new paradigm, a new way of seeing things, a heavenly thing, such as had never happened before.

In the scripture, we see this revealing of Jesus, the epiphany, as a shift in the world. We’ve been granted through Jesus Christ, the gift of God’s grace to know and understand that this Child comes to give us God’s grace and mercy through His own sacrifice. The result is eternal life for us, instead of eternal death. This change comes to us because this Baby has come to us. God has come and not left us alone. This is His gift to us that we take and share freely with others. We are who we are today because Jesus is who He is today and who He is revealed to the world at Epiphany to be, the Holy Son of God – in the flesh. In Jesus holy name we pray. Amen And goodbye.

Devotions for 1-4-22  “Living between the sentences!”

God’s blessings to you as we begin the year 2022! Knowing God has all things under His watchful and gracious eye, we enter this new calendar year assured of His presence to guide and lead us into the continued proclamation of His Holy Name, the distribution of His gifts of Word and Sacrament along with the good works He has prepared for us to do! Now, let’s listen to the gospel lesson for today. Luke 2: 41-52

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”

It says in one sentence, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for Him. And in the next sentence it says, After three days they found him.

Imagine what living between those sentences was like for them. Mary and Joseph looked for Him for 3 days! Think about what that must have felt like till the next sentence we read. Also stop and think about another 3 days when again Jesus  ‘went missing’!

What three days in your life informs your understanding of these separate but related events? When have you experienced a three-day time of waiting? And even looking back on it can you recall the trepidation, anxiety, and roller coaster of emotions you went through?

Now apply that to the disciples after Jesus was taken from the cross on Friday and put in the tomb. They had no idea, He was only going to be in there till Sunday, three days later. Now do the same thing with Mary and Joseph.

How do you think they felt on the second night of not finding their little boy? That’s what living between the sentences means. And we are amazed and in awe of their faith and persistence. Their love and dedication. And we pray for that for ourselves as we live before the eyes of God between the sentences in our lives as we step into this new year! In Jesus name, Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 12-23-21  “CHRIST IS BORN FOR YOU”

This will be the last devotional for this calendar year as I’ll be on vacation after Christmas till January 4th (and I don’t wish to interrupt your Christmas day celebrations with a phone call!)

There is some maintenance to be done on the computer and the PhoneTree system for the new year. We’re not sure how this will affect things and whether or not certain capabilities will continue for everyone. (We’ve already experienced some off-again on-again random failures with some parts of the phone-tree system.) So, if you’re not receiving the phone call after January 4th, as always you can check the church website, church Facebook page and the church YouTube channel as these are updated with a video version of the devotional every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

Now, once again, for today’s devotional we turn to the comments of Martin Luther from the devotional book By Faith Alone. (This is the entry for Dec 22nd) This is more about the angels’ visit to the shepherds. I am so grateful to God for the insight that He gave to Luther that we might grow and learn more of just how gracious God is to all people and to each person. Listen to Luke 2: 10–11

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”   Luther writes – No matter where you’re reading in the Bible, faith is the first mystery you should recognize. Faith is not believing that the story you’re reading is true as written. That does nothing for anyone. Even unbelievers can believe that this Bible story about Jesus’ birth is true. Faith is not a natural work apart from God’s grace, as the Scripture clearly teaches.

Rather, the right kind of faith, the kind that flows from grace and that God’s Word demands, is firmly believing that Christ was born for you. His birth is yours and occurred for your benefit. For the gospel teaches that Christ was born for our benefit and that everything he did and suffered was for us. As the angel says here, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you.” With these words, you can clearly see that he was born for all of us.

The angel doesn’t say, “A Savior was born,” but rather “A Savior has been born to you.” In the same way, he doesn’t say, “I have good news,” but rather “I bring you good news.” For you! “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” This joy is for everyone who has this kind of faith.

And again, I say, Thanks, Martin, for clearly teaching that the gospel, while universal in its nature, is applied by God’s grace to each believer personally. I pray as we all rejoice in the celebrations and festivities among our family and friends of the birth of our Savior, we pause to recall Luther’s reminder that what Jesus came to do for the world, He came to do for you as well. Christmas blessings to you and yours. Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 12-21-21  “The Glory of the Lord”

As we approach the Lord’s incarnation I want to share with you this thoughtful devotion from Luther. I know we can get anxious about this time of year and we may wonder, ‘am I doing enough for others?’ ‘Am I being good enough so that I make God like me?’ Or it may sound like, ‘I know the only thing that matters is how I treat all people, and I’m not doing so well at it.’

We need to remember God is Not the elf on the shelf watching so He can catch us in a gotcha moment and take away our presents! No! God knows we’ve already been ‘got’! And instead, He comes to us with His gift of the gospel!  He breaks through all our pride, effort, and arrogance to think we can rely on ourselves to supply our need for peace with Him and instead He grants us His peace in Christ alone. Luther addresses these fears so well for us as he comments on Luke 2:9 – listen…

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

On this Luther writes…

First of all, the event described in this passage wasn’t merely one person telling another some good news. An angel came from heaven and announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds. No human being knew anything about it. Second, notice that Christ was born at midnight. This shows that the world was dark at his coming and human reason on its own can’t recognize Christ. Heaven must reveal it. Third, the bright light, which surrounded the shepherds, shows that something completely different from the light of reason is needed. Luke says, “The glory of the Lord shone around them.”

He calls the light that shone the glory of the Lord. Why? He does this to emphasize the mystery and show us the nature of the gospel. It is a heavenly light that teaches Christ alone. This light from heaven shines around us through the apostles and their followers who now preach the gospel. The angel in this story is like all of the preachers of the gospel, and the shepherds are like all listeners.

Accordingly, the gospel comes from heaven and doesn’t tolerate any other teaching added to it, for human teaching is earthly light and human glory. It lifts up human glory and praise and makes people arrogantly rely on their own efforts. But the gospel teaches everyone to trust in Christ. So rely completely on God’s grace and goodness. Glorify Christ and be bold in him.

Thanks Martin for this reminder.

In Jesus name, Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 12-18-21  “The Ransomed Shall Return”

Today’s Old Testament  reading is Isaiah 35. It is titled The Ransomed Shall Return and is one of the prophecies that reminds Israel that the Lord will always come for her. It also speaks of what will happen by the hand of the Lord. And when you hear it it’s almost as though you’re reading from one of the gospels about the works and words of Jesus. For me though I’m grateful for vs 8 that speaks of the fools that God will keep in His way of salvation. And vs 10 you might think sounds familiar, and it is! Hear now Isaiah 35.

35 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;

    the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;

2 it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,  the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

3 Strengthen the weak hands,

    and make firm the feeble knees.

4 Say to those who have an anxious heart,

“Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God  will come with vengeance, with the  recompense of God.  He will come and save you.”

5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer,

    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

For waters break forth in the wilderness,

    and streams in the desert;

7 the burning sand shall become a pool,

    and the thirsty ground springs of water;

in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,

    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

8 And a highway shall be there,  and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

9 No lion shall be there,  nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;

they shall not be found there,

    but the redeemed shall walk there.

10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;  they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Did anybody recognize the old the camp song in that last verse? , Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return and come with singing unto Zion…? Isn’t scripture wonderful!? In Jesus name, Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

 

Devotions for 12-16-21  “My Help and My Deliverer”

Sometimes in choosing from my devotional readings, some days get overlooked and the psalm for tomorrow would be one of those. But, I find it a great comfort and an uplifting reminder of how it is that God, and God alone by His good grace and mercy chooses to act for me and does for me all that is needed for my salvation and peace with Him. As I read this, listen to the verbs and how they’re applied so that David makes clear that it is God who performs all the good things you and I get the benefit of. This psalm 40 verses 1-5 and then 16 & 17.

40 I waited patiently for the Lord;

    he inclined to me and heard my cry.

2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction,

    out of the miry bog,

and set my feet upon a rock,

    making my steps secure.

3 He put a new song in my mouth,

    a song of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear,

    and put their trust in the Lord.

4 Blessed is the man who makes

    the Lord his trust,

who does not turn to the proud,

    to those who go astray after a lie!

5 You have multiplied, O Lord my God,

    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;

    none can compare with you!

I will proclaim and tell of them,

    yet they are more than can be told.

16 But may all who seek you

    rejoice and be glad in you;

may those who love your salvation

    say continually, “Great is the Lord!”

17 As for me, I am poor and needy,

    but the Lord takes thought for me.

You are my help and my deliverer;

    do not delay, O my God!

Thus says the psalm. As we continue in advent, may this psalm remind us that God sent our deliverer at just the right time and give Him thanks for our Lord Jesus Christ. In His name, Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 12-14-21  “GOD BECAME A MAN”

Advent has so much going on and, as it’s the beginning of the church year it brings a depth of meaning and a message of such richness that it sets the stage for all that this coming year will bring to God’s people. Around this time, you’ll often hear people talk about the importance of ‘putting Christ back in Christmas’. But do we stop to think what the outcome of actually doing that is? Afterall, that sentiment is a good one in that it’s a plea for not letting the secular food and fun, gifts and get-togethers crowd out the true joy of the holy reality of what we are celebrating this time of year.

The reality of Christ coming to earth has such profound implications that we could spend all year pondering what God coming to us in this baby child means for all the world. I bring this up because in my reading from Luther’s devotional book “Faith Alone” today he touches on certain aspects of what it means to all creation that God truly became a man. Listen first to John 1:14 which Luther references at the start.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Luther says –

“The Word became flesh.” We can never fully grasp this teaching concerning our salvation and eternal life using human reason. Nevertheless, we must believe it, and we must cling tightly to what Scripture says about it.

The Bible says that Christ, our Lord, is true and natural God and true and natural man. The Bible says that in his divine essence and nature, Christ is coequal with the Father. The heretics have cast doubts on both the divine nature and the human nature of Christ.

During the lifetime of the apostles, some heretics claimed that Christ was not God. Centuries later, others claimed that Christ was not human. Some of our contemporaries teach similar things. They claim that because he was conceived solely by the Holy Spirit, Christ could not have been a human being like we are. He could not have had the same kind of body that we do. They insist that because he was a man from heaven, his body must have been from heaven too.

That’s why I urgently warn believers to beware of religious splinter groups. If Christ isn’t true and natural God, born in eternity of the Father, and if he isn’t the Creator of all creatures, then we are doomed. What good are Christ’s suffering and death to us if he was only a human like you and me?

If he were just a human, he couldn’t have overpowered the devil, death, or sin. He would have been too weak for them and never would have been able to help us. We must have a Savior who is true God and Lord over sin, death, hell, and the devil. Christ is eternal in nature, lacks nothing in his being, and is perfect in every way.

So says Luther. Good things to think about when we talk of what Christ genuinely means at Christmas and to Christians!  In Jesus’ name, Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 12-11-21  “The hinge point”

In preparing for this 3rd Sunday in Advent, the gospel is Luke 7 including vss 24-28. As always, there are parts of the readings that must be left out of the sermon and this week it’s these vss. So, I’m going to address them here. Listen to them first:

When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

The first thing to take note of is Jesus’ use of questions. This is like a catechism of sorts. A question is asked in such a way that, when combined with the answer, learning takes place. Think back to your confirmation classes and you’ll see this.

Also, Jesus builds a rhythm in these questions that becomes part of the lesson. His repetition of ‘what did you go out to see?’ drives home the point that John is no ordinary man. In fact, he is so extraordinary that the people needed to see for themselves what this man was teaching and doing. Jesus is making clear that John is no ‘yes man’ who goes along with whatever the popular teaching of the day is. He is not a reed which blows in whatever direction is swirling around in current events. No, John is an event in himself.

Nor is John an elite. He is not one who dabbles and dallies in easy living for his own entertainment. And he’s not someone who closes himself off behind walls and keep to his own counsel. John is none of these things and these questions build to the point that John is indeed a prophet. And not just a run-of-the-mill prophet either. In fact, John is the prophet of prophets! Jesus declares that John has no equal. And that’s saying something!

John is understood, according to one book I read, John is the “hinge point” between the old covenant and the new. John not only closes the book on the Old Testament but he also ushers in the New Testament as He points to Jesus as that New Testament! John is greater, therefore than Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and all the rest.

But before finishing His teaching about John, Jesus makes the statement Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” And while there is not much agreement in commentaries on what this means, I’m of the opinion that Luther was right in saying that Jesus is speaking of Himself here. There are 2 things that convince me of this. First is the obvious, that no one is greater than Jesus in or outside the kingdom of God! And the second thing is that Jesus is also the least, in that He became the servant of all. He takes on the sin of the world that He might make full atonement for all sin. Thus He becomes the least of all, otherwise we could never be sure our sin is covered by His holy blood. I Just wanted to get this in before Sunday! In Jesus’ name Amen And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 12-9-21  “Clement of Rome on being Justified”

Today in our devotional reading we hear from a very early Christian writer, Clement of Rome, and his letter to the Corinthians, which is accepted as being from around 95 AD. Some scholars suggest this may be the Clement that St Paul mentions as a ‘fellow-worker’ in Philippians 4, but that’s not certain. At any rate the quote comes from his letter and makes for a great commentary on the epistle reading from 1 John 3. I’ll read a few selected verses from chapter 3 and then the quote from Clement. John writes:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth…we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

Now hear this encouragement from Clement.

If anyone should carefully meditate on [the patriarchs] … he will realize the greatness of the gifts given by each one [from God]. All these [patriarchs] then, were glorified and magnified not through themselves or their works or the good deeds they had brought to completion, but through His will. Thus we also, called through His will in Christ Jesus, are justified not through ourselves nor through our own wisdom or understanding or godliness or works that we have brought to completion in piety of heart, but through faith, through which almighty God has justified all men from eternity; to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

What then shall we do, brothers? Shall we lie about and quit doing good and forsake love? May the Master never allow this to be so – at any rate not among us! Rather, let us hasten with eagerness and strong desire to bring every good work to perfection. We have seen that the righteous were adorned with good works; and the Lord Himself, having adorned Himself with good works, rejoiced. Therefore, since we have this pattern, let us go forward in His will without stint; let us work the work of righteousness with all our strength.

So says Clement and we say Amen brother Clement! In Jesus’ name. Amen. And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 12-7-21  “Chiasm”

Today I get share with you one of those $12 words we learn in seminary – chiasm. It’s a fancy Latin word for X. One definition I found that sums it up for us says, A chiasm is a literary device in which a sequence of ideas is presented and then repeated in reverse order. The result is a “mirror” effect as the ideas are “reflected”

And when we read 1 John 1: 1-3 we find a chiasm there. The X is formed by certain phrases. There are phrases that, like the definition said, mirror one another at the start and at the finish and there are phrases in between and their purpose is to point out not only how important the center phrase or where x marks the spot is, but also how those phrases build and support each other in making that center phrase stand out.

Let me tell you the phrases to listen for. There’s, which we have heard and then there’s which we have seen. They are like the top and bottom of the x and between them are the phrases, word of life and eternal life. These are the supporting phrases and then, in the middle of the x comes the payoff, and that is found in the phrase the life was made manifest and we have seen it and testify to it. There is where x marks the spot. Now listen to these verses – again we’re reading 1 John 1: 1-3

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

Now as fun as all the talk of chiasm is, it’s what that X points to that is the point. And that is, that the life of Jesus, of God Himself is made known, that is made manifest to man, by the will of The Father so that we may have fellowship with Him! John is testifying to the truth of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, being a real flesh and blood human. A man that he has touched and heard. And who is also that which was from the beginning! Jesus has never not been! But in the course of time and history when the time was proper Jesus was made manifest in the flesh.

All this was what John wanted everyone who read this to know. That God, The Father and His Son Jesus Christ love us, and desire fellowship with us, His creation. Jesus is the ‘X’ that marks the center of all things! And there is nothing better than that to know and share and proclaim to those we know and love, as well as to all the world! In Jesus’ name. Amen. And goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 12-4-21  “At Home Within” 

It had been a while since I looked in my devotional book A Day in Your Presence from St Francis of Assisi and after spending the last several days in preparation for our worship on the second Sunday in advent, I was comforted to see in the portion I read from St Francis how it fit so well with what we are going to read and hear about tomorrow regarding John the Baptist and how he prepared the way for Jesus. And especially how the many varied people in the gospel lesson tomorrow asked John what it meant to live in repentance. And what that would mean for their own lives and how they lived with themselves. Listen to just the last bit of the gospel lesson from Luke 3:8 ff.

8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. 11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” 13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. 14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

Now listen to what Francis says regarding A Home Within-

Let us make a home within our soul, a dwelling place for the Lord God Almighty – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We can do so in the following manner, as the Lord has instructed: First, we must watch and pray so that we may escape the evils in this world, and which lead to judgment in the world to come. As we do this, we stand safe and secure in The Son of Man who has come to dwell with us.

Then, when you pray, fill your heart with this thought: “Our Father, who art in heaven…” Love Him deeply, reverently, completely, so that your heart becomes pure in Him. Pray always in this way, so that you do not lose your heart back to the world. For The Father is actively seeking those who will worship Him like this – remember, God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.

And whenever you have a grievance, do not be led astray. Seek your help and recourse from Him who is the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls. He says, “I am the good shepherd who feeds my sheep, and I lay down my life for my sheep.” John 10:14-15.

Keep this in mind: all of you are brothers. Then Francis closes with this prayer

My Father, so often, I am not comfortable ‘at home’ with myself. Or I am unsettled with those whom you call your children. Help me to rest, Lord, and be ‘at home’ with you. Come into all the rooms within me where there has been irritation, impatience, or accusation. Cleanse me from within. Wash me in your love, forgiveness, and peace.

In Jesus’ name. Amen. And goodbye. Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 11-30-21  “GOD USES WEAK PEOPLE” 

I was so taken with what was in my Luther devotional book “Faith Alone” yesterday that I’ve read it over several times. I share it hoping you’ll also gain a sense of how God comforts us in our weaknesses by how He’s cared for others we read about in scripture. This is about Isaac out of Genesis 26: 7

When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.”

Luther writes-

The theologians argue about whether Isaac was sinning when he lied and said that Rebekah was his sister. In his weakness, he thought, “I’ll say she’s my sister, or else they might kill me.” That almost sounds like, “Go ahead. Take my wife and disgrace her, as long as I don’t get hurt. If I say she’s my wife, you’ll only feel like you can’t have her unless you kill me first.”

Isn’t that a foolish, silly, and unworthy attitude for such an important man? Shouldn’t he just have said, “She’s my wife. I don’t care whether you kill me or not”? But the passage says that Isaac was afraid. What a shame that someone as important as he was should be so afraid of death! This story was written to comfort God’s people. It shows how merciful and kind God really is.

Even though we are sinful and weak, the Lord will be patient with our weaknesses, as long as we stay away from those who deny, hate, or curse God. I don’t want to excuse our ancestors in the faith, as some people do. It’s comforting to hear that even good people in the Bible slipped and did wrong.

I don’t hold up their actions as if they were good. Similarly, I don’t excuse Peter for denying Jesus. I don’t excuse the apostles for deserting Jesus or for any other foolish thing they did. Among Jesus’ little flock, there are some poor, miserable, and weak souls.

Jesus is the king of the weak as well as the strong. He hates arrogant people and opposes the stubborn. He punishes hypocrites and people who are overconfident. But he doesn’t want to discourage or crush those who are scared, sad, or worried. He doesn’t want to snuff out the smoldering wick (Isaiah 42: 3).

So says Luther. Its good to be reminded of God’s mercy and kindness to us. And that Jesus is our king no matter how weak and powerless we may feel. Thank God that His grace in no way depends on how we feel or whatever circumstances we’re facing. In Jesus’ name. Amen, and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 11-30-21  “Saint Andrew” 

A quick reminder we have midweek advent service tomorrow night at 7:00

Today in the church calendar is festival of St Andrew the Apostle. So, our gospel reading for today is from John 1:35-42. Listen:

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus.

So often the seemingly little things in life turn out to have great meaning. While we never hear much regarding Andrew, what we do hear of him is significant. And this reading shows us that. Andrew was disciple of John the Baptist. And it was John who pointed to Jesus as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And Andrew listened to John, believed John, and then acted on what John had declared.

He acted by doing for his brother, Simon Peter, what John the Baptist had done for him. He pointed Simon to Jesus. He brought Simon to Jesus. And so begins the course that changes history with Simon Peter following Jesus.

Andrew acts because he believed that Jesus was the promised one, the messiah, the Christ. We like Andrew also believe John’s words of declaration and so we also like Andrew seek to bring others to Christ. Especially our family members, and the people we love.

We give thanks to God for Andrew and his example of faith that lives and moves and acts to bring people to Jesus Christ. It is an act of love that Andrew does which we do well to emulate. Perhaps you could bring a loved one or close friend with you tomorrow to the advent service and let them hear of the good news of Jesus Christ in that way. Who knows what might come of such a simple act of faith?

In Jesus’ name. Amen, and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 11-27-21  “Before Advent Begins” 

Before Advent begins tomorrow, today’s epistle reading sets the stage for what the high season of the church year, that we’re about to enter into, brings to us. As we start our season of focusing on the birth, life and teachings, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, St Peter in our reading today, reminds us that this Christ, is from eternity and chooses to step into our time and space, all of which He created in the first place! And He  does this so all people may come to know God as Father through the preaching of Jesus’ word.

As I read this, listen for Peter’s admonition about Jesus’ promised return since He came once out of eternity for our salvation and will return again to reveal the complete fulness of His grace. We’re reminded that His holy life infuses our life with His holiness so we are set free from our futile and ignorant past. And that the blood of Jesus Christ is the precious cost which paid for that holiness by which we now live. Hear now 1 Pet 1:13-25.

13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for

“All flesh is like grass

    and all its glory like the flower of grass.

The grass withers,

    and the flower falls,

25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

Thus, our reading from St Peter.

Rejoice now as we enter once again into the new church year. A blessed advent to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen, and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 11-25-21  “Thanksgiving day” 

For Thanksgiving Day I want to share the Thanksgiving Day  prayer from a little devotional called the Lutheran Book of Prayer but first, hear the words of Psalm 100.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

2     Serve the Lord with gladness!

    Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the Lord, he is God!

    It is he who made us, and we are his;

    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

    and his courts with praise!

    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

 5 For the Lord is good;

    his steadfast love endures forever,

    and his faithfulness to all generations.

And now the prayer for Thanksgiving Day from the Lutheran Book of Prayer.

Oh, give thanks to the Lord for He is good and His mercy endures forever. Lord God, heavenly Father, You have created me and endowed me with all that I am or have as a pure gift of Your “fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.” You sustain me from day to day with the gifts of daily bread in the food that I eat, the family that surrounds me, the friends I enjoy, the country where I live, and the countless other benefits that I constantly receive from Your open hand.

On this Day of Thanksgiving, cause me to gratefully remember the good gifts that You shower upon me. Deepen in me the knowledge of Your goodness, and awaken my heart to praise You for all of Your gifts, especially the forgiveness of sins that You have purchased and won for me and the whole world in the atoning death of Your Son, Jesus Christ.

Keep me mindful of Your mercies every day, and grant that I may thank, praise, serve, and obey You not only with my lips but also with a life dedicated to the service of my neighbor. To You, O Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, praise and thanksgiving, now and forever. in Jesus’ name. Amen. Happy Thanksgiving,  goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 11-23-21  “the obedience of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego” 

We know the basics of the story of Shadrach Meshach and Abednego and the fiery furnace. But some details are worth closer consideration. Listen carefully for who says what and to whom in this abbreviated telling of the story from Daniel 3 vs 14-26.

14 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready…to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and…He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated. And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace…Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these three…Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?”

They answered and said…“True, O king.” He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire.

Curious it is that Nebuchadnezzar didn’t ask for the 4th man to come out! And it seems even more curious, since we understand that the 4th person in the fire would be the preincarnate Jesus whose appearance Nebuchadnezzar said was like that of a son of the gods. Given that, why would Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego want to leave Jesus?

Of course, it was to prove that in the face of Nebuchadnezzar, here was the true God of God and king of kings, Jesus. And He alone is to be worshiped, not a mere man like Nebuchadnezzar. So, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego coming out would be in obedience to both Jesus’ will and to show that they were willing yet to serve Nebuchadnezzar. Serve him , but not worship him or any of his gods, only the true God the God of Israel. May our hearts be encouraged to such faithfulness. God’s peace be with you wherever you are, in Jesus’ name. Amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 11-20-21  “Daniel is a good example” 

We heard Luther speak regarding secular matters and how we’re to participate. Today we have an example from Daniel when he and his friends were taken to Babylon and became a part of the court of the king. We’re going to hear how that transpired so that they would still remain faithful to God. This is selected portions out of Daniel 1.

Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand… Then Nebuchadnezzar commanded, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, … youths…of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. 6 Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah… 8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or wine… he asked the chief…to allow him not to defile himself. 9 And God gave Daniel favor in the sight of the chief… Daniel said … “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance … be observed by you…” 14 So he… tested them. …and it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. … As for these four, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom… At the end of the time… the chief brought them before Nebuchadnezzar …And in every matter of wisdom and understanding… the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters… in his kingdom.

This is instructive for us in remaining faithful to God while living among the ungodly. Notice that for 3 years they’re instructed in the language and literature of this foreign king and God gave them wisdom such that the king could find none better than these. And yet at the same time, they would not participate in the defiled food and drink from this kings table in those same 3 years. By their asking to be excused from eating this way God was able to show them His favor within this foreign land they were forced to serve in. While they learned and became wise in the ways of this strange land, yet they did so while reserving to themselves what was honoring to God with their bodies.

Perhaps this allowed them to avoid being seduced by temptations that surrounded them there. In so doing they participated only up to the point where their conscience, captive to God alone, could remain devoted to God and honor Him. And God gave them wisdom and insight that was useful in that same place. It’s a fine line we walk in this world. Jesus said to be wise as serpents yet innocent as doves, and I believe what we’ve seen of Daniel is a good example of this. May we too not be seduced by the enticements around us, yet engage this world such that God’s wisdom and compassion can be seen by all. God’s peace to you in Jesus name. Amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 11-18-21  “HANDLING SECULAR MATTERS” 

Today’s reading from my Luther devotional book “Faith Alone” almost seems prophetic. It’s as though Luther could look ahead and see some of the difficulties we are facing in our day and society.

In looking over the news, we have bakers and florists who are Christians who are trying to do business in a way that honors God and yet they’re confronted with lawsuits and other great difficulties. We have various governments trying to upend how marriage and gender are to be understood and have been understood throughout history since long before these governments were in place.

Luther’s writing today is based on portions from Genesis 21: 27–31 and they read:

So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a treaty. . . . So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there.

Of this Luther writes:

Abraham made a binding agreement with King Abimelech. This incident shouldn’t be passed off as purely secular and superficial. Instead, we should carefully note what Abraham did here, because it can bring us comfort. Some people think Christians shouldn’t get involved in public matters. But this story goes against that mistaken notion. God didn’t establish the church to get rid of the family and government. He wants the church to support them.

That’s why Abraham, the father of the promise and king of all earthly kings, doesn’t refuse to take an oath and enter into a binding secular agreement with this king. No one should use Christianity as an excuse for not wanting to have a job or hold public office, as certain religious people do. They’re only trying to avoid serving others. But by avoiding this, they’re ignoring God’s command to love him and to love other people.

In the end, they will receive what they deserve for their hypocritical behavior. We should carefully consider God’s laws and Abraham’s example. Abraham didn’t concern himself only with religious matters. He was a prophet of God, but he also dealt with matters relating to the government and his own household. So we need rulers in the world, as well as in the church. The church doesn’t have the right to do away with the family structure or the government. Rather, the church should affirm and support these institutions.

Thus says Luther. And for us to support these institutions as Luther said, is to engage them and participate in them. Perhaps even be called to serve there in some way and in so doing, as Luther pointed out we can serve our neighbor. After all Jesus called, among the fishermen and others, a tax man to help spread the gospel! Something to consider. God’s peace to you in Jesus name. Amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 11-16-21  “Holy Benefit” 

Today’s gospel reading is from Matthew 27 vss 3-10. Not the happiest text perhaps, but important for the telling of the whole gospel of God. Listen:

3 Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7 So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. 8 Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”

The chief priests and elders are at the heart of this text, and they are the heart of the plot against Jesus. They’re the ones Judas approaches because he knew, they’re the ones who want a way to kill Jesus and get away with it. So, Judas becomes their inside man to make this happen. They buy their man for 30 pieces of silver. That, for them, seems a good bargain.

But they weren’t counting on Judas growing a conscience over his betrayal after seeing Jesus convicted by them. And even more so, Judas comes to them with the very money they paid him for his betrayal. It seems he had buyers’ remorse. But with these guys there was a firm no refunds policy! They weren’t concerned with Judas and his sudden regret, and they even tell him so. But they were concerned with appearances. And so, the very money they used to buy Judas’s betrayal they themselves now acknowledge was blood money. Money paid to buy someone’s death. Money, they paid!

And now they had a problem of conscience. Though not of guilt over Jesus, rather it was over how it would appear if they took the money that, undoubtedly had come from the temple treasury in the first place and put such, now blood-stained money, in with all the so-called “righteous” people’s money. That they couldn’t be caught doing.

So, the money that paid to buy Jesus’ death was now, going to be used to help the poor and indigent. Even in His sacrifice for the sins of the world, this detail of Jesus’ blood money, tells how Jesus’ sacrifice  was used for the benefit of the poor. It shows us all to be the poor and needy, who need a place of rest purchased for us since we cannot afford to pay our own price for our salvation, for our rest in heaven above. Only Jesus could pay that price, and so even in their desperation to maintain a false righteousness, the elders and chief priests point again to how Jesus’ death covers the stain of sin that only His blood alone can wipe away. So even here we see the gospel of God, the sacrifice of Christ, bringing holy benefit to all in need. In Jesus name, Amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 11-13-21  “they seemed to get it! ” 

Today’s Old Testament reading is from portions of Jeremiah 26 vss 8-19. Listen:

When Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak…, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die!  “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city….” Then Jeremiah … saying, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you. But as for me, behold, I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”

Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.” And certain of the elders … spoke to all …, saying, 18 “Micah prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and said to all … of Judah: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “‘Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins….’ 19 Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord and entreat the favor of the Lord, and did not the Lord relent of the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster upon ourselves.”

Of the several profound things in this passage 2 stand out. 1. That the leaders do not put Jeremiah to death based on what happened with the prophet Micah. And 2. That in fact they correctly prophesy against themselves.    After being threatened with death for prophesying against the land of Judah and the city of Jerusalem, Jeremiah puts himself in their hands to be dealt with as they see fit. And it seems they have their eyes opened to Jeremiah’s message and decide to not kill him. After all, they’re reminded of Micah and how he also prophesied against Jerusalem, and the king did not kill him. They thought it best to not harm Jeremiah as he too was speaking in the name of their God. So, this seems like a win for God! At last, the people get that God wants to restore them when they return to faithfulness to God and His covenant. Or so it seems. Do they truly respond to this prophecy with faithfulness and righteousness? No.

In fact, what they say next, but we are about to bring great disaster upon ourselves, proves true in the end. That while they do not kill Jeremiah for his prophecy of warning, yet neither do they return to God and His ways. And within a year of the end of Jeremiah’s time of prophesying, Jerusalem falls in 586 and the people are taken away into exile. And so, Jeremiah’s call to repentance goes unheeded and disaster indeed befalls them. How about you and I, do we listen to Jeremiah’s call? Let us repent and receive God’s gift of mercy in Jesus Christ, who fulfills all prophecy and the promise of God to bring restoration. All this He does In Jesus name, Amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 11-11-21  “Veterans Day and the sheep and the goats” 

Keeping in mind today is Veterans Day and how much humanitarian aid our veterans are responsible for, I’d like to simply read Matthew 25:31-46 where Jesus talks about the sheep and the goats on the last day. It connected for me when I think on all the times I’ve seen our veterans in action and how they’ve helped so many who are in need regardless of status. They set us all a good example of sacrifice and service. Hear now Matthew 25:31-46.

 

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

 

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 

In Jesus name, Amen and goodbye.

 

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 11-9-21  “Loving and Hating” 

Today’s reading from my devotional book By Faith Alone, (the book of 365 devotional readings from Martin Luther’s works from World Bible Publishers) it starts by quoting Psalm 26:5 Listen:

I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked. town.”

Luther writes:

The author of Psalm 1 praises believers who avoid (the wicked): “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers” (v. 1). If you spend too much time with false teachers, you will eventually share in their false doctrine, lies, and errors. If you play with tar, you’re going to get dirty.

But doesn’t our Lord Jesus Christ command us to love our enemies in Matthew 5: 44? So why does David brag that he hates the mob of evildoers and won’t sit with wicked people? Shouldn’t a person do good things for them and by doing so make them feel guilty and ashamed? Yes, we should hate them, but only in regard to their false teachings.

Otherwise, we must be ready to serve our enemies so that we might be able to convert some of them. We need to love them as people but hate what they teach. So we are forced to choose between hating them or hating God, who wants and commands us to cling to his Word alone. Our hatred is a sacred animosity that flows from love.

So love is subject to faith, and faith must be in charge of love. When the Word of God is at stake, love ends and hate begins. But if only personal things are at stake, such as our property, honor, or bodies, we should show respect and serve others.

God gives us these gifts to help others. We can risk them in order to serve. However, we cannot risk God’s Word, because it belongs to the Lord our God.”

Thus says Luther! A good reminder to love the sinner and hate the sin!

In Jesus name, Amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 11-6-21  “7 woes” 

Today’s gospel lesson from Matthew 23 vss 13-39 contains what is known as the ‘7 Woes’ to the scribes and pharisees. This is not a particularly pleasant or uplifting passage. However, it is most revealing of our human condition of failure towards God’s loving commands. I’ll read just a few portions and encourage you to read the rest. Listen:

“13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in… 16 “Woe to you, blind guides… For which is greater, the gift – or the altar that makes the gift sacred?… 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! … You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence… 27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets … saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. … 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town.”

It isn’t that they simply don’t get it. No, they do get it, as Jesus says in vss 30 and 31

30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Their problem, Jesus points out,  is that they, like their fathers, refuse to change and repent. Instead, they actually testify against themselves. They witness to their own hypocrisy, blindness, unfairness, and un-righteousness. All of this Jesus says will lead them to persecute the church, the ones that Jesus will send, His prophets, wise men, and scribes, by the power of the Holy Spirit to testify of Him. These, He says, they will persecute and so continue in their unrepentance and unrighteousness.

This serves as both a warning to us and as a prophetic word, that when our message of the gospel falls on deaf ears we should not be surprised. Indeed, in Jesus’ day the message from His very mouth was rejected! But yet He continued then, and we continue now, to witness to His gospel so that His righteousness may be displayed and in so doing others may hear His Word of life and be saved. Let us not walk in the ways of the self-blinded, self-indulgent, or hypocrites. Rather let us go in the light and love of Christ to proclaim His righteous and holy grace as being sufficient for all for who live in His call to repentance and life! In Jesus name, Amen and goodbye. Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 11-4-21  “First Commandment encouragement” 

Yesterday’s gospel lesson from Matthew 22 includes vss 15-22. Listen:

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.”

One of those things we’re to ‘render to God’ is the honor due His name as we learn it in the meaning of the 1st commandment. In confirmation yesterday we began our study on this commandment. And in my devotional reading was a portion from the large catechism on the first commandment. Here is what Luther wrote regarding God’s name.

(We) should be constantly urged and moved to honor God’s name and to have it always upon (our) lips for everything that may happen to (us) or come to (our) notice. For that is the true honor of His name, to look to it and call upon it for all consolation. Then – as we have heard in the First Commandment – the heart by faith gives God the honor due Him first. Afterward, the lips give Him honor by confession.

This is also a blessed and useful habit and very effective against the devil. He is ever around us and lies in wait to bring us into sin and shame, disaster and trouble. But he hates to hear God’s name and cannot remain long where it is spoken and called upon from the heart. Indeed, many terrible and shocking disasters would fall upon us if God did not preserve us by our calling upon His name. I have tried it myself. I learned by experience that often sudden great suffering was immediately averted and removed by calling to God. To confuse the devil, I say, we should always have this holy name in our mouth, so that the devil may not be able to injure us as he wishes.

It is also useful that we form the habit of daily commending ourselves to God with soul and body, wife, children… and all that we have, against every need that may arise. So also the blessing and thanksgiving at meals and other prayers, morning and evening, have begun and remained in use. Likewise, children should continue to cross themselves when anything monstrous or terrible is seen or heard. They can shout, “Lord God, protect us!” “Help, dear Lord Jesus!” and such. Also, if anyone meets with unexpected good fortune, however trivial… says, “God be praised and thanked!” or “God has bestowed this on me!”

So says Luther. Such good encouragement for us to be ever-vigilant to keep God’s name holy and on our tongue, to bless and give thanks, to call upon and so remain under His care. In Jesus name, Amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 11-2-21  “ Authority” 

Today’s gospel lesson is an easily overlooked one from Matthew 21. Just verses 23-27 are what we’re looking at. Listen:

“23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

When they discussed Jesus’ question among themselves they put this question to each other, ‘Why then did you not believe him?

What were they to believe about John’s baptism? I think there’s at least 2 parts to consider. 1 is that John’s baptism showed we all need repentance, and 2 that John’s message from God was that the kingdom of God had come. That the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world had come into the world to fulfill the work of God among the people of creation. They refused to believe John’s word that the Messiah had come, and that Jesus was the Messiah.

For them to acknowledge their need for repentance was to say they needed forgiveness. That they were unrighteous and needed what John was proclaiming according to God’s direction for him. They refused to see their need as John revealed it to them by speaking the message God had given him to proclaim. But its that second message, the job John had of preparing the way for the Messiah, that also they refused to believe was God’s message.

Sometimes we may think the Jewish leaders merely misunderstood or simply got it wrong mistakenly. And this text reveals that just isn’t so. They knew! They understood that to agree with John was to recognize Jesus as The Son of God, the Holy One, the Chosen Messiah. Again, this they could not do.

For them it was matter of ‘job security’. If they bowed down to Jesus, the crowds would stop bowing down to them and obeying their authority. In asking this question after they had tried to corner Him, Jesus forced them to confront their own motives and offer them the opportunity for repentance.

Let us be ever ready to confess Jesus as Lord and Lamb, as Redeemer and Messiah and the One who has the authority to fulfill our need for forgiveness. Therefore, we have nothing to fear from living a life of repentance. In Jesus name, Amen and goodbye.

!  Here’s a few examples to consider – are you needing to be encouraged? Read and learn from psalms 13, 22, or 142. Are you wondering about the path you’re struggling with at the moment? Read and learn from psalms 5, 25 or 61.

There is so much the psalter can teach us, but mostly it can teach us to pray. I encourage you to spend some time letting God’s word in the psalms become the word you speak back to Him along with David, Jesus and the whole church of Christ.

In Jesus name, Amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

 

Devotions for 10-23-21  “Confess!” 

Today’s reading is from Matthew 16:13-23 where Peter confesses Jesus as Christ and then Jesus, shortly after that,  must rebuke Peter when Peter tries to deny that Jesus should need to go to Jerusalem and to the cross. And after I’ve read that I’m going to read the Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote from the devotional Pray Now on how Christ builds His church. Bear in mind as I read the Bonhoeffer quote what Jesus says to Peter. Listen:

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. 21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Bonhoeffer says, “It is not we who build. [Christ] builds the church. No man builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it.

We must confess – He builds. We must proclaim – He builds. We must pray to Him – that He may build. We do not know His plan. We cannot see whether He is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for Him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down.

It is a great comfort which Christ gives His church: you confess, preach , bear witness to Me and I alone will build where it pleases Me. Do not meddle in what is My province. Do what is given you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions. Don’t ask for judgments. Don’t always be calculating what will happen. Don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Church, stay a church! But church, confess, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord; from His grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds. What Bonhoeffer says of the church is true of us. We must avoid trying to form ourselves into anyone other than one who confesses and proclaims Jesus lives by His grace and prays to Him. In Jesus name, amen, goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 10-21-21  “Cursed by God ” 

Listen to Deuteronomy 21 vss 22-23. “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. ” When you read this portion of the law that Moses was giving the Israelites, your thoughts must immediately turn to Jesus Christ. We know that this was to happen to Jesus, but the tree took the form of the cross for Him. St Paul in Galatians 3 makes that clear when he says in vss 13-14 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

So, knowing this then, we have to ask, based on the Deuteronomy passage, what crime did Jesus do that deserved death? Being Christians, we also know that Jesus did no crime, that the crimes that sent Him to the cross are our crimes and our sinfulness that were imputed to Him for our sake. That is, though innocent He chose to take on, not just the punishment, but also the crimes we committed. To in fact, become sin for us, so we’re told in 1 Peter 2: 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

And it is that imputation of that criminal sinfulness that condemned the innocent Jesus to death on the tree. And more than death, He took on being cursed for us. And not simply cursed, but cursed by God! By His own Father in heaven! That’s what Moses is saying in Deuteronomy. That one who is hung on a tree is cursed by God!

When we so easily speak of Jesus taking on our punishment for sin and that He suffered in our place, do we often recall this aspect of what He did for us? He… became… cursed so we would not! He took the rejection and scorn of the God of all creation, and placed Himself  between us and that holy righteous judgment of almighty God! Ponder the enormity of that for a moment. This was not just being taken ‘out to the woodshed’ for a paddling. This was not some ‘slap on the wrist’ for getting caught with a hand in the cookie jar. Nor was this even being caned or flogged to simply be ‘taught a lesson’! No!

This was being cut off from all the living. This was being separated and being torn away from life itself! This was being not known any longer, nor having any relationship of any kind with God since God created life! That is some of what is encompassed when we speak of Jesus, bearing the cost of our sin. Of bearing the curse of God in our place.

That leaves us with nothing but humility and gratitude for such overwhelmingly undeserved kindness by God. We must remember also these verses tell us that Jesus did this so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith and we now live to righteousness and so we might have all our wounds healed. Rejoice, be glad and give thanks for being restored to God and His love through the all-consuming work of Jesus Christ on – that – cross!  In His name, amen and goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 10-19-21  “Jesus has come!” 

Today’s gospel reading is from Matthew 14 I’m reading just vss 34-36. Listen,

“34 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36 and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.”

This episode takes place immediately after Jesus walked on the water and called Peter to Himself. That’s significant because of what Peter said to Jesus  before getting out of the boat.  Peter said, if it’s you Lord, command me to come to you on the water. Peter wanted to be sure that this was, in fact, Jesus and not some ghost or apparition pretending to be Jesus. So, Peter got his answer, and we know that he walked out to Jesus but was frightened by the wind and Jesus had to reach out His hand to rescue him.

But here, in today’s reading, when Jesus has crossed to Gennesaret, we hear a different sort of recognition accorded to Jesus. We’re told that when they recognized that it was Jesus who had come to Gennesaret they sent out word about Him!

Here was good news that needed to be shared! Because Jesus being among them meant life for those who were sick or hurt. No different than Peter in many ways. He too, when overwhelmed by the circumstances He found himself in, sinking in that water, found his rescue and salvation in Jesus reaching out to him. So too the people in the area around Gennesaret did as well.

The thing I want to encourage us to take from this is, that like Peter and the people in that town, we too benefit from recognizing Jesus and His presence among us. His saving and redeeming presence. As we see  our help and hope in Christ alone, we do well to imitate the people of Gennesaret and tell others Who has come!

Let us also take the good news of Christ to those around us. Those who are hurting and sick, tired and worn, downhearted and outcast are those who need to hear that Jesus has come! That Jesus has come to them with His grace for life now and for life eternal!

The peace of God through Jesus Christ has come to you.

Share that peace, goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 10-16-21  “Fire and brimstone preaching!” 

Today’s gospel reading is from Matthew 13 I’m reading just vss 36-43. Listen,

“36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”

If you want fire and brimstone preaching here is a good place to start! Jesus makes clear that the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth is in the fiery furnace. And that all causes of sin and all law-breakers will go to that very place! This should rattle us all of us to our core. Who among us is not a law-breaker? Who among us has not participated in sin and given in to its causes?

There is no ambiguity in Jesus’ words here. The angels of God will gather away all causes of sin and the law-breakers. And while this is sure and certain, what also is sure and certain is that we may lay aside our fear of being cast into that fiery place because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by His mercy and forgiveness. That is where our hope is. Not in our keeping of the law, which we cannot do, nor is avoiding all sin which again, is impossible for us. But we have the hope of the righteous. We have the hope that comes from the cross of Jesus Christ where our punishment has been nailed.

So, if our hope is in the certainty of heaven, given to us by grace through faith alone, what will heaven be like? Well Jesus here speaks of sunshine in that kingdom. And this is seen as opposed to the fiery furnace where all the causes of sin are relegated to. Can you even begin to imagine what it will be like to have all temptation removed from you? Does it not seem unreal to contemplate such a reality? There will be no, none, absolutely no cause of sin in heaven. Meaning you will have had your heart, mind, and soul, cleansed, and purified of all that draws us away from the love of God!

For the rest of today, give yourself this preoccupation, to ponder on what God’s heavenly kingdom will be like with nothing of the stain of sin clinging to you in anyway. And as you ponder that, remember that it is only Jesus and His cleansing and purifying righteousness from His cross and resurrection that gives us the hope that such a reality is what will come to pass when the kingdom of God comes at the appointed time. To think on that, is to let the peace of God dwell in you. In that peace, goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 10-14-21  “The Holy Spirit in you! ” 

In my devotional book By Faith Alone, (the book of 365 devotional readings from Martin Luther’s works from World Bible Publishers) I was taken with yesterday’s insight regarding the significance of the Holy Spirit living within each believer. Before I read what Luther wrote, listen to 1 Corinthians 6: 17 &19,

“But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him… 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?”

On this Luther writes:

We shouldn’t doubt that the Holy Spirit lives in us, but we should certainly recognize that we are a temple of the Holy Spirit, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19. If someone feels a love for God’s word and gladly, hears, speaks, thinks, teaches, and writes about Christ, you should know that this doesn’t come from a person’s will or reason but from the Holy Spirit. It’s impossible for this to happen without the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, where there is hatred and contempt for the Word, you should know that the devil, the ruler of this world, blinds the hearts of the people and holds them captive, so that the light of the gospel, the glory of Christ, can’t shine on them. We see this today in the masses who are not moved by the Word but despise it as if it has nothing to do with them.

But those who have any kind of love and desire for the Word should gratefully acknowledge that these attitudes are poured into them by the Holy Spirit. For we are not born with these attitudes and cannot acquire them through the law. This transformation rests completely and absolutely in the hand of the Almighty. So, when we eagerly listen to preaching about Jesus Christ, the Son of God – who for our sakes became a human being and subjected Himself to the law to save us – then God sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts through this preaching. Therefore, it’s very useful for believers to remember that they have the Holy Spirit.

Thus says Luther. And it’s good he reminds us that our love for the Lord and His Word, is a transformative gift of God. This eternally proceeding gift of the Holy Spirit, sent from God The Father with the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ, is living within us. We indeed thank God for His assurance that we have been brought into fellowship with Him by the powerful gift of the Holy Spirit! God’s peace is with us! Goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 10-12-21  “Persistence” 

The gospel reading for today is Matthew 12. I’m reading selected portions. Listen:

““At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “… have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.”

Jesus and those pesky Pharisees are at it again! It seems that no matter where Jesus goes, there they are trailing along, trolling for ways to trip Jesus up. We’ve become used to hearing these exchanges and wordplays that nearly always end in embarrassment for the Pharisees. And today we’re told that Jesus entered ‘their synagogue’. So, the Pharisees giving Jesus a hard time are locals. It appears that Jesus knew them and chose to go right into their ‘home turf’ to let them have at Him. And they don’t disappoint. And now it turns from wordplay and underhanded tricks ‘that they might accuse Him’ we’re told, into a deadly serious conspiracy.

This isn’t fun anymore. This is about trying to find a religiously  acceptable way to draw Jesus into a confrontation that they could twist to their own ends to destroy Jesus. And we know that eventually they succeed both on a religious and politicly acceptable level that leads to Jesus dying on the cross.

One point to draw from this for ourselves is that, like the pharisees always lingering around and nipping at Jesus heels and always pressing to get an advantage over Him, so also our enemy, Satan is always on the prowl. He is ever-present and persistent. It’s easy to become accustomed to him and to not take him seriously.

But Jesus never underestimates His foes and certainly not Satan. He knows the purpose of the evil one is to destroy God’s people and prevent them from living under the protection and peace of the Holy Spirit sent from God to guide and lead us. We must remember that Jesus’ death on the cross is where our victory over Satan comes from. Let us be ever persistent, keeping our focus on Jesus’ cross our source of salvation. Goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 10-9-21  “booted out” 

The Old Testament  reading for today is Deuteronomy 8:11-20 Listen:

““Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. 17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 19 And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. 20 Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.”

Moses is preparing the people to cross the Jordan and begin to take possession of the land of God’s promise. And as he recounts God mighty works that led the people out of slavery in Egypt, he makes the point that it is God’s mighty hand that accomplished all this. And there is so much more to come in fact, that the people need to be warned against self-delusion. The delusion that they, themselves accomplished all this and all that is coming, when in fact, it is all what God, by His own power, had done and will do.

It’ so easy for us to hear these words and think, how foolish they were. They blew it! God made it easy for them. He made a plan and carried it out. Why couldn’t they just do their part? After all, here Moses warns them what would happen. They’d be uprooted from this promised land and booted out like they are about to do to the people there.

And even with this warning they messed it up. And truth be told, we’re no different. We have not only the law, but we have the gospel as well and yet how are we doing at remembering it is all by God’s hand that we have received mercy? How often do we, like the Hebrews, think it’s because we’re such decent people that God of course will show us mercy? When we think that way, we do well to heed Moses’ warning, lest we trample on God’s grace and put ourselves outside of His mercy by refusing to acknowledge that it is His sacrifice of His Son for the Life of the world by which we are saved. Let us humbly return to God thanks for sparing us from ourselves and granting us His reconciliation that, in Jesus’ name, brings us into the promised land of heaven! In His saving name we do pray, amen – and good-bye!

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 10-7-21  “Sleeping Saints” 

The gospel lesson today is from Matthew 9. The portion we’re focusing on is when the synagogue leader’s daughter died. Listen:

“While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

23 When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, 24 he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. 25 After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up.”

While most all of us know this story and are not surprised at what happened, I recall when I was much younger, being confused by this. After all, why would Jesus deny that the girl was dead? How could He confuse sleep with death? That used to bother me because it seemed to cast doubt on what Jesus was about to do. And I wondered why Jesus would contradict the reality of death.

But, by God’s grace, seeing scripture from the viewpoint of the proper distinction of law and gospel, helped to lay aside my youthful doubts. Jesus in no way confuses sleep with death, rather for the Creator of all things, He sees death for what it truly is for those who trust in Him! For the person who trusts in God’s gospel and grace, death no longer holds the power to eternally separate one from life with God in Christ.

There is no denying or confusing of death, in this passage, rather it’s seeing death as defeated in Christ’s sure victory over it through the cross and His resurrection. There’s no doubt as to what Jesus is about to do because He is life itself! In Him death has no power to cause us to fear. Listen to Psalm 4:8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

It is in the Lord alone that we sleep in safety. The law shows us that apart from the Lord’s grace and mercy in Christ, we are dead, and we are cut off from God. That’s why it’s proper to fear God, but not death. Because God’s wrath does condemn us to that eternal separation from Him, which is the true sting of death.

But, in the good news of the Gospel, we have the safety to sleep in Christ. The gospel shows us that Jesus’ victory took away the sting of death with its power to consign us to be cut off from God. By the power of the gospel, we need not fear death. For in Christ, death is no longer to be any more feared than sleep. Let us be thankful for this synagogue ruler who came to Jesus, the source of life for His daughter and for all who fall asleep in Christ. For it is in Christ, indeed, that we rest and dwell in safety.

God’s peace is with you, Good-bye!

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 10-5-21  “Psalm 86:1-10” 

Very often when I’m preparing for devotions, I get excited about a particular portion of scripture and how it relates to God’s gifts to us of word and sacrament. And how that can impact our day. When scripture moves you with its wondrous teaching or grants you fresh insight into God and His law and gospel, that gets the blood pumping.

But then there are times like today when I read the chosen psalm, and while there are exegetical gems here to be sure, that isn’t what caused me to read and reread it several times. Rather it was the comforting, quiet expression but the absolute certitude of God’s goodness and grace. It was how it clearly and plainly, with these words, encompasses you with God and who He has chosen to show us He is. I pray you are also calmed and encouraged by these words from the first 10 verses of Psalm 86.

“Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,

    for I am poor and needy.

2 Preserve my life, for I am godly;

    save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.

3 Be gracious to me, O Lord,

    for to you do I cry all the day.

4 Gladden the soul of your servant,

    for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,

    abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.

6 Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;

    listen to my plea for grace.

7 In the day of my trouble I call upon you,

    for you answer me.

 

8 There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,

    nor are there any works like yours.

9 All the nations you have made shall come

    and worship before you, O Lord,

    and shall glorify your name.

10 For you are great and do wondrous things;

    you alone are God.”

Thus psalm 86:1-10. The wonder of God’s peace is with you, Good-bye!

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

 

Devotions for 10-2-21  “Much more beautiful than the sun ” 

In my reading from By Faith Alone, the book of 365 devotional readings from Martin Luther’s works (from World Bible Publishers) I was taken with the entry for yesterday, Oct 1. I’ve officiated at many funeral and memorial services and this verse from 1 Thessalonians is often brought up in my discussions with family and friends of the one who has passed away. It always brings a measure of comfort and reassurance.

We want to know that not only does our Lord gather our loved ones to Himself when they pass to Glory, but that we will be rejoined with them in His holy presence in His perfect time. This verse from Thessalonians gives us that certain and sure hope. And Luther’s writing on this subject brings his understanding of scripture and his pastoral experience to bear in a most uplifting way. Listen to what Luther says then I’ll read 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

Luther writes:

We will all be taken up to the Lord together at the same time, both those who previously died and those who live until Christ’s coming. In one moment, all will hover together and see each other again. Although we who are still living will have our eyes wide open, we will not see the Lord Christ before those who have died. It would make more sense that we, who are still living should be the first to see the Lord because the dead have long since decayed and, to our thinking, are no more.

But Christ has determined that the dead will rise with us at the same moment and will have beautiful eyes that see as well as we do. God will do for Christians what He did for Christ. He pulled Christ out from the closed and sealed grave in an instant, so quickly that in one moment He was both in and out. So, in the last moment, God will bring together both. He will bring us, who are still alive and have our five senses, together with those who are dead, decayed, pulverized, and scattered all over the world. We will all, at the same time, be drawn to heaven and soar in the clouds. We will be lighter than the birds and much more beautiful than the sun.

So says Luther. And hear now, 1 Thessalonians 4:17

“Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”

Thus says scripture. God’s peace is with you, Good-bye!

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes