Devotions

Devotions for 7-24-21  “There shall be a king”

Today’s devotions come from 1 Samuel 8, selected verses. Here’s how they read.

“Then all the elders of Israel… came to Samuel and said, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king… like all the nations.” … And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people … He said, “These will be the ways of the king … he will take your sons … He will take your daughters … He will take the best of your fields and vineyards … He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards … He will take your male servants and female … He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations…”

The Hebrews had a king whom they rejected. It was the Lord God who’d rescued them from slavery in Egypt. It was His Passover and grain offerings they celebrated yearly. It was His law they were to live by. And all this they rejected. They rejected God, and His ways, His prophets and judges. God told Samuel they were not rejecting Samuel but rejecting Himself. All because they wanted to be like everybody else around them.

They’d forgotten why God had chosen them. They were to be the sign and signal to the world of how God loved His creation and the people He created to inhabit His world. But they turned away from being His Chosen and Beloved. So they, instead, could be like everyone else. And through Samuel, God warned them what the result would be.

They would be like everyone else. They would become slaves… again! They were choosing the slavery of everyone else in the world. They wanted to be ruled over in cruel and unfair ways rather than live under the protection and love of the Lord God their king.

It’s not hard to see ourselves in their words and actions, is it? How often in a day do we reject God’s ways for us? How quickly do we want to have what others around us in this world have… at the cost of turning away from the cross of Jesus Christ?

We know the Hebrew story well, but do we learn from it just as well? Take heart dear friends. God has not abandoned you to your own selfish desires and left you to be slaves again to temptations of evil, sin, and the devil. Just as He redeemed Israel over and over, He has in the cross of Christ our King, redeemed you once and for all, now and forever. This He’s done in His great love and compassion for you. Learn from that and live in that. God’s peace is with you. Goodbye. Peace, Pastor Tom Rhodes

 

Devotions for 7-22-21  “Apollos Who?”

Today’s devotions come from Acts 18: 24-28. Here’s how that reads.

“Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.”

It’s easy to think of the later half of the New Testament as St Paul’s travelling salvation show! But with Timothy, John, and Peter’s writings we know that’s not true. And here we have another traveling evangelist, Apollos. Though he’s little known to us other than here and when Paul speaks of him to the Corinthians and Titus.

The reason to focus on him today is that, while he’s little known to us, to those that were evangelized through his ministry, he was the conduit God used to bring them the word of life in Christ. Further, that he was a teachable evangelist. In our passage today we learn that he is willing to learn and grow in the faith and in God’s word.

Apollos didn’t just fall from the sky, a fully-fledged and equipped man of God! No. He was learning the faith. And as he learned he also shared what he knew. That’s what any Christian does, they pass along to others what they have learned and been convinced of by the Holy Spirit in the saving word of God. Again, in our reading we see that he was growing in that word by God’s using of Priscilla and Aquila. And here’s a lesson for us. Simply put, we need not be a Paul or Timothy or an Apollos even in order to share the Word of God with others who will perish eternally without that life-giving Word.

We need to be, like Apollos, learning and growing in God’s Word and then sharing that Word. But unlike Apollos, we need not travel far to do that sharing. And yet the result will be the same as what happened with Apollos. And that is that others, people we know and love, will hear and be given the opportunity to receive the love of God in their lives. It wasn’t up to Apollos to change anyone, but it was by His giving away the gospel that the gospel of God changed those who heard him.

And that’s all we can do as well. Let’s learn from Apollos to grow in God’s word and to share that word. We need not concern ourselves with whether or not we’ll be remembered like Paul. In fact, I would guess most of us would shun that. But never let that stop us from sharing the life-giving gospel that has been given to us through such evangelists as Apollos. Who knows who will be in heaven as a result of your sharing the gospel with them? Let’s focus on that learning and sharing the word of the gospel and leave the results up to God.  God’s peace be with you. Goodbye. Peace, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 7-20-21  “Prayer medicine”

It was good to have some time away with family for vacation. It’s also good to be home and return to being with you all again. One of the devotions in the book By Faith Alone from Luther’s writings from the time I was away I wanted to share with you is from July 16th and it’s based on Isiah 37:14-15. Here’s how that reads.

“14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord.”

Luther writes:

“This chapter of Isaiah contains an interesting story about King Hezekiah. The Assyrians were attacking Jerusalem with a large army and beginning to overpower it. The situation looked hopeless. King Sennacherib ridiculed Hezekiah mercilessly. Sennacherib made fun of Hezekiah’s misfortune and by writing him a letter filled with insults about God in order to make the devout king lose all hope. Instead of losing hope, Hezekiah went into the temple, spread out the letter in front of God, bowed down with his face touching the ground, and prayer a heartfelt prayer.

Learning to pray when there’s an emergency or when something is frightening us requires a lot of discipline. Instead of prayer, we tend to torture ourselves with anxiety and worry. All we can think about is trying to get rid of the problem. The devil often tricks us when temptation or suffering first begins, whether dealing with spiritual or physical matters. He immediately barges in and makes us so upset about the problem that we become consumed by it. In this way, he tears us away from praying. He makes us so confused that we don’t even give a thought about praying. When we finally begin to pray, we have already tortured ourselves half to death. The devil know what prayer can accomplish. That’s why he creates so many obstacles and makes it so inconvenient for us that we never get around to prayer.

On the basis of this story in Isaiah, you should get into the habit of falling on your knees and spreading out your needs in front of God the moment you have an emergency or become frightened. Prayer is the very best medicine there is. It always works and never fails – if you would just use it!”

So says Luther! And I would add, that we would do well to form the habit of laying all our days and needs before God in prayer, so that when we are confronted with the unexpected, out first response is not panic or confusion, but prayer.  God’s peace be with you. Goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 7-3-21  “The Limits of Government”

As tomorrow we celebrate our nations Independence Day, I thought it would be good to share again from the devotional book of Martin Luther’s writings, called “By Faith Alone”. This is the entry for the 4th of July titled ‘The Limits of Government’.

Before I get to that however, just a note to let you know that I will be on vacation for the next 2 weeks and will resume these devotionals when I return on Tuesday the 20th. Also, we will not have Holy Communion on Sunday the 18th as usual, but will celebrate that on the 25th instead. In the meantime, for your devotions, I’d encourage you to continue reading the book of Joshua where we’ve spent some time and enjoy his story. Remember when reading Joshua that Joshua is Jesus’ Hebrew name and that he’s a forerunner of Jesus in many ways.

Or you could read ahead in 1 Samuel which we will be drawing on at times when I return. Till then, have a safe 4th of July and enjoy the summer weather!

Now, on to our devotions for today. We read 1 Peter 2:17

“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”

Luther writes:

“The secular government doesn’t extend any further than external and physical matters. God can tolerate secular government because it doesn’t concern itself with sins, good works, or spiritual matters. Instead, it handles other matters, such as guarding cities, building bridges, collecting tolls and taxes, providing protection, defending the land and the people, and punishing criminals. So Christians should obey government officials as long as these officials don’t command them to do something against their conscience. Christians obey without having to be forced because they’re free in all matters.

If an emperor or prince were to ask me about my faith, I surely would tell him, not because of this governmental authority, but because I should confess my faith publicly. If, however, he ordered me to believe this or that, I would say, “Sir, take care of the secular government. You have no authority intruding on God’s kingdom. I will not obey you . You cannot tolerate anyone intruding on your domain. If someone oversteps their boundary without your permission, you shoot him. Do you think that God should tolerate your desire to push Him off His throne and seat yourself in His place?”

Peter calls the secular government merely a human institution. It has no power to interfere with the way God has arranged the world. It has no power to give orders about faith.”

So says Luther!

Again, a safe and happy 4th of July, and I’ll be back on the 20th! God’s peace be with you. Goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 7-2-21  “a terrible cost”

Today’s devotions are from portions of Joshua 7:19-26 “Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done.” And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent.” So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and, it was hidden in his tent. And they took and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the Lord. And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan, the silver, the cloak, the bar of gold, and his sons, daughters, oxen, donkeys, sheep, tent, and all that he had and brought them to the Valley of Achor. And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger.”

Hearing this, you wonder, where is God’s mercy; His forgiveness and grace? Achan confessed his sin, why did he, his children, livestock, and all he owned have to be stoned and burned? How extreme and vengeful on God’s part this all seems to us. But that’s because I didn’t read the whole chapter. Listen to vs 1. But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan…took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel. And then vss11&12 shed further light on this severe punishment when the Lord says, Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. 12 Therefore Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They… have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.

So now we understand how God shows His mercy in the gruesome description of the house of Achan’s total destruction. Had they not done so, God’s burning anger would have continued against the whole house of Israel due to Achan’s sin. In his punishment, Achan serves as type of Christ for us. It’s unfair that Jesus pays the price of total destruction for us, in our place! We’re the ones who, like Achan have sinned. And like Achan we deserved total destruction for our turning from God to our own ways. But Jesus came and, just as Achan and all he had suffered the punishment for sin to turn God’s wrath away from the house of Israel, so Jesus has done for your house and mine! When we read this terrible and vivid account of innocent family members and animals stoned and burned, we’re scandalized and indignant. And then we’re shamed and horrified because that is what our sin deserves. And so now, now, we’re grateful and humbled by the generosity of Jesus coming and paying such a terrible cost to wipe away God’s wrath on our sin. So as Joshua told Achan, we too give glory to God and praise to Him. Goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 6-29-21  “Remember and Rejoice  ”

Today’s devotions are in the 4th chapter of Joshua. I’m reading vss 19-24. “19 The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”

The twelve stones were to serve 2 functions. To remind the people of the hand of the Lord who led them on dry ground across water barriers twice. And secondly, they were a lesson for the world that the mighty hand of the Lord God saves.

These twelve stones recalled not only the event of crossing the Jordan but served to recall to the minds of the Hebrews, the work that God did in crossing the Red Sea when they were fleeing from Pharoah more than 40 years before. Then they were trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army that was coming to destroy them. The Sea was what God pushed aside so they could escape and be free.

And now, they were the ones who were coming to take possession of the land of promise, but the river Jordan was holding them back from doing so. And again, God moved the waters, though this time it was by stopping them up, so the water waited while the army of Israel crossed over. Again, it was the hand of God made a way for the people of Israel to move through the water. It was God hand that made the water do what was needed for the salvation of His people.

And in seeing this salvation of the Hebrews, the world learns the lesson that it is the hand of the Lord almighty that does salvation. Those twelve stones, that altar of sorts that Joshua built, was to be a reminder of the salvation of God. And we too have an altar to remind us also of the sacrifice of God in Jesus Christ for our salvation. Our altar reminds us that God’s hand alone saves.

And along with having an altar, we too pass through the water and so are saved just as the Hebrews were. In our case it’s the water of baptism that we pass through. But just as with the Hebrews, it is God alone at work in the water to save us. For us, the water becomes, not a barrier, but a cleansing flood. A washing of rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit so we’re told in Titus 3.

The testimony of the water and the altar are good reminders to us that we share with the world the story of God’s salvation. It is through the word and work of God in Jesus Christ that world indeed will come to know that the hand of the Lord God is almighty to salvation! Remember and Rejoice in Him today! Goodbye.

Devotions for 6-26-21  “Fulfillment ”

Today’s devotions take us to the first chapter of Joshua. I’m reading just selected portions. “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, … into the land that I am giving to them… 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses… Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. …Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you… 12 And to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh Joshua said, 13 “Remember the word that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, … Then you shall return to the land of your possession … the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise.” 16 And they answered Joshua, “All that you have commanded us we will do… 17 Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses.”

All these verses have one name in common, Moses. The name of Moses is spoken by God, by Joshua, and by the people. God referred to him as, ‘my servant’. And as the one that God was with. Also, Moses is spoken of as the one who made promises and who taught the people the law. But it’s those first words of God to Joshua that stand out. Moses my servant is dead. There’s no fudging the truth. No trying to soften the language or use some euphemism or more tame wording. No! Moses is dead and that’s it! Or is it?

Yes, Moses died. But his work didn’t die with him! God makes that clear to Joshua that there’s work to be done that Moses started. The law given by God through Moses is yet to be obeyed. That too didn’t end when Moses died. Then Joshua speaks of the promises of Moses and how those are yet to be fulfilled after the work of moving into the promised land is accomplished. Just because Moses died, those promises didn’t die with him. And then there’s the people saying they will obey Joshua just as they obeyed Moses. Again, though he died, the people will continue in their faithfulness just as they had obeyed Moses.

We see where this is going yes? Just as Moses was gathered to God after His death. So also, Jesus returned to God after His death and resurrection. And, like with Moses, still the work of Jesus goes on. We still hear the command, though now it’s the new command to love one another as Jesus as loved us. We still don’t tame down the wording. Jesus died! He died for sinners. And He rose! And in His resurrection, we have the promise, yes again, the promise He left us of new life with Him. We thank God for Moses and what he taught us and how he modeled what was to be fulfilled in the coming of not just the servant of God, but The Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. In Him we have the completion of the law of Moses and we have delivered to us the promise of God of life eternal with Him through His Son! Rejoice in Him today! Goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

 

Devotions for 6-24-21  “Belief”

Today’s devotions are again from John the last vss of the book, chptr 20:26-31 “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Once more, this is a reading most of us know well. And it is among the most comforting of readings. John’s juxtaposition of Jesus and Thomas’ conversation with John’s final admonition paint a vivid life-changing picture for us.

In the previous vss Thomas has said he will never believe that Jesus is risen until he himself touches Jesus’ wounds. Thomas is not going to be taken in. And that in itself should tell us that belief is not an easy thing. Simple, yes, but not easy. Thomas knows death. But he’s also seen Jesus raise the dead and still he refuses to trust the word of his 10 friends and all the others like, Mary, who’ve said they’d seen and talked with Jesus.

Then this episode where Jesus meets Thomas’ demands and does so using Thomas’ own words of requirement for belief. To which Thomas utters those familiar words, My Lord and my God! And then Jesus speaks of those who believe and yet have not seen, as Thomas has seen. Thomas is the witness we all would like to be.

Then John’s final words open the door to faith for us, and for the world. Jesus has just said Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed and then John tells us that what he’s written about the words and works of Jesus is done with the purpose of belief in Jesus. That Jesus is, indeed, the One sent by God who is God in the flesh! And He is the One, the only One whose Name alone gives life. That life comes through trust in the name of Jesus.

Yes, we understand it is simple, but like Thomas, there are many who will refuse, deny, and reject Jesus simply because they have not seen for themselves. And yet, here we have Thomas, the witness, who answers that very need. And John’s words then make clear that, trust in Jesus, in the Name of the crucified and risen Lord and God, as Thomas has identified Him, is what grants life.

It’s easy to make Christianity hard. But in truth it is simply this. Belief, as Thomas said, in Jesus, my Lord and my God! God’s gift of life be with you. Goodbye. Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

 

Devotions for 6-22-21  “Sour Wine ”

Today’s devotions are again from John this time chapter 19 and just vss 28-30: “28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

And again, we all know this story, as well we should. It is the Story of stories. Because it’s the Story that gives us life! We have life through the death of Jesus Christ.

When we’re told that Jesus said it is finished after drinking the sour wine to fulfill scripture. That scripture is ps 69 vs 21 which reads, “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” It never fails to amaze me how God planned the story of salvation, not just in broad strokes, but in minute details as well!

It isn’t in scripture that He was to drink, or even drink wine, but it was to be sour wine! By the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, about 1000 after the ps was written, sour wine had become the common drink of the Roman soldier. In our text today it says, A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. Indicating that it was customary for that jar to be there.

The significance for us in that is, that Jesus’ crucifixion, in some ways, was just another ordinary event in the lives of those soldiers who put Him to death. This was just another ‘day at the office’ for them up to that point. It seems they were used to having that jar there and perhaps they thought they were being kind in sharing their sharp, sour, drink with the dying. Then again, it could’ve been a malicious thing in helping to prolong the suffering of those on one of the crosses in their place of business. We don’t know.

What we do know is, that it’s a comfort knowing that every detail of Jesus work of salvation was planned by God from before the world began! Even down to the wine that Jesus would be given as He died for the guilt of sin. Yes, for the soldiers and many others, this was just another dying common criminal getting the drink of the common man. And that again astonishes us. God uses the common for His holy purpose.

And still today He uses common water, wine, bread, and written Word to touch us with His uncommon holiness and grace! The details of God’s grace to us, such as that jar of sour wine standing near the cross of Christ, can fill us again with awe and wonder at how God chooses to make Himself known to us. And that draws us to be ever-grateful for His great mercy.

When next we come to holy communion, in the taste of the wine, if you detect a note of sharpness or sourness, let that remind you of how God planned every detail of your salvation that is given to you in His sacrifice of love! God’s peace is with you. Goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 6-19-21  “Malchus ”

Today’s devotions are from John 18. I’m reading portions of  vvs 3-11 : “So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus… came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them… he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.”…Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Most of us know this story rather well. And some of us may’ve remembered the name of the high priest’s servant was Malchus. This guy was in the wrong place at the wrong time we might be tempted to think. But remember he came with the betrayer Judas, and with those who came with weapons. So, he’s no simple innocent by-stander.

Now whether or not Malchus had a weapon, we’re not told. But he was with those who did. And Peter decides to protect Jesus and begins to do so by pulling his sword and the first guy he comes to is Malchus and cuts off his ear. Now either Peter was too scared to be accurate with his sword, or just not used to close combat, but whatever the case, Peter only causes relatively superficial and not lethal damage.  And if you look in the other accounts of Jesus’ arrest, after Peter cuts off Malchus’ ear, Jesus heals him!

This stuck out to me in reading this today because one, it shows Peter again trying to do with human strength and wisdom what only Jesus has the Godly power and mandate to do, save sinners! Peter apparently thinks that by ‘protecting’ Jesus, Peter can keep Jesus alive so that He can bring about the restoration of the Hebrew nation.

And this in turn would be God’s blessing to the world. And, like before, when Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem, after coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus corrected Peter when He said that He was to drink the cup that His Father had given Him to drink. That being the cup of death so that He might swallow up death forever and, in this way, so save all people according to God’s will.

But also, it ‘struck’ me that Jesus heals Malchus as Malchus was coming to arrest Jesus! Jesus will have nothing stand between Him and the cup of death in its fullness, not even the shedding of the blood of His enemies! God’s profound goodness and mercy is seen in Jesus’ compassion on His enemies. In fact, that is precisely why Jesus comes to the cross, to bear on His body the wounds required of sinful man, required of you and I. We see a microcosm in Malchus, of what Jesus does for us all. All of us are wounded. In fact, all of us are dead in our sins and its only Jesus who touches and heals and restores us. I like to think that Malchus is among the restored saints of heaven who will greet us when Jesus comes again in power to take us home. God’s peace be with you. Goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 6-17-21  “Sweet and Holy Father ”

Today’s devotions are from a book I like to use every so often “A Day in Your Presence” published by Bethany House. These are devotional readings from St Francis of Assisi arranged by David Hazard. This is number 19 titled ‘Sweet and Holy Father.’

It begins with a quote from Psalm 62:5-6a and it reads : “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation.” 

St Francis says:

God alone is our salvation. Apart from the Lord, all is lost in darkness.

Day and night, our prayers rise to Him, and He hears even the deepest silent cry of our souls (Ps 87:2). To think of it! – The Almighty One, the powerful Creator of all things, it is He and none other who bends low to listen tenderly to our cries!

This one who cares for me and you has also paid a great cost to purchase our souls from the dark kingdom of the Enemy. So why do we worry and fear, as if He will forget to save us from every enemy we must face in this world? (Ps 68:19)

After all, it was God who drew me gently from my mother’s womb. From my first day, before it was possible for me to know Him, He was the Hope of my life just as surely as I suckled life at my mother’s breast. He is the giver of life, and my soul began to long for Him from the day I came forth into this world. (Ps 27:10)

From my first days, He has been my God before I strayed from Him, and had to return to Him in shame and disgrace. But He never departed from me, and never will He leave me! (Josh 1:5)

… He hears my cries of confusion, but He is never confused. He as seen my disgrace, but He will crown me with honor. (Ps 8)

Among men, we may search for someone who can understand our heaviest griefs, but will find no one. We may long for a friend who can be always present, giving words that console and comfort, but we will look in vain. (Ps 69:18-20)

… He alone is our sweet holy Father! He is also king, God of the whole creation. And He stoops to listen … (and) comes to our help. (Ps44:4-8)

St Frances closes with this prayer. My Father, you who know me completely; I will still myself now and rest in your arms. I know that you have heard my deepest cries… even those most secret, coming from the silent places of my heart. Today, Father, I will quiet my soul’s infant cries… and wait with wonder for your help and salvation.

Such good words from St Francis, I pray God’s sweet peace be with you as you ponder these thoughts, Goodbye.

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 6-15-21  “Scatter the Seed ”

Before I begin, just a quick reminder that if you’re able to come and help with preparing for the rummage sale that would be greatly appreciated. 9 am daily.

Now for today’s devotions we’re going to look back to Sunday’s gospel lesson from Mark. We’ll look at just vss 26-29 of chapter 4. This is how they read: “And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

I come back to this reading today because in our Sunday school class we talked about this parable quite a bit, and just how rich it is in growing in our understanding of the kingdom of God. First take note that the kingdom of God in this parable ripens on its own. That is, there’re no artificial or outside influences that make the kingdom come to ‘ripeness’ apart from its own, proper, fulness of time. Man cannot make the kingdom come by our own efforts. Only God knows when it’s time to ‘put in the sickle’.

However, man does one thing. He scatters the seed. But that’s his only part in this process. And it’s the part God ordained for man to do. While the growth and health of the kingdom is God’s purview alone, He’s chosen to use His followers to spread the seed, to spread His word of the kingdom of God come to earth in Jesus Christ alone.

In a recent sermon I mentioned an old legend that says, after Jesus ascended into heaven, the angel Gabriel asked Him, “Who is going to carry on Your work now?” And Jesus answered, “I have left it to John and Peter and Andrew and the others.” Gabriel then asked, “What if they don’t do it?” Jesus answered, “I have made no other plans.”

Looking back again in this parable, like we said, the growth and health of the Kingdom, is for God, and God alone to know. We learn this because, while the man scatters the seed, as the parable says, he has no knowledge of how it grows. And when as it grows, we’re told,  it does so in an ordered fashion. These are things that man does not know, cannot know, nor has the capacity to know. The science of agriculture has shown us in wonderful detail the stages that Jesus describes of a seed’s growth. But science has not the ability to describe why a seed grows in the fashion it does. Only God knows because God designed it that way.

So also, with God’s kingdom. It grows according to His plan and design. It grows according to His timing. And ultimately only God knows the right time for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Who will bring with Him the fullness of the kingdom of God for all the world to see. While it’s a great and mysterious wonder, let’s not forget that God has ordained that we’re to scatter the seed of His word. We need not fear if it will grow or how it will happen. Those things are God’s to know and do. We get the joy of knowing that He knows. And that is more than enough for us. God’s peace be with you in your scattering! Goodbye.

Devotions for 6-10-21  “The Washing”

Our devotions today come from John’s gospel the first 18 vs of chptr 13, listen:

“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’

Peter tells us how he felt about receiving the washing from Jesus. But I wonder… how did Judas feel? We’re told that it was already in his heart to betray Jesus. After all, in that exchange with Peter, Jesus told them that one of them would betray him, yet they didn’t know it at the time. But Judas did. Even as Jesus gave him the washing also. Jesus then goes on to tell the disciples that He’s set them an example in this washing. But do we see that that example includes washing the feet of your betrayer?

Jesus knew that, and still, He served Judas from His heart in love, even as Judas has betrayal in his heart. Jesus then also refers to psalm 41 to the lifting up of the heel by the betrayer against Him. This fulfills what God said to Eve and the serpent in Gen 3 on the day man sinned and God promised a redeemer. Here, in Jesus, is that promised redeemer whose heel is bruised, and yet by that same heel Jesus crushes Satan for us and for all time. This is God’s gospel, wash other’s feet in it! Goodbye. Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 6-8-21  “He isn’t angry”

One of my favorite bible vs is John 3:17. In my reading in the book By Faith Alone, I came across this verse in yesterday’s entry. This book is a compendium of Luther’s writings put into a devotional format. Let me share this verse and what Luther said about it as it speaks not only to this verse but also, he speaks to what we’ve been going through in these pandemic days. The verse first:

“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.”

Luther says:

“A father and mother don’t scold, spank, or punish their children because they wasn’t to see their children die. They discipline their children so that they won’t fall into the hands of the executioner later. In the same way, God doesn’t want us to run wild. He directs and disciplines us in order to restrain us and keep us from being punished. Instead, God wants to protect us and make us heirs in the kingdom of heaven.

God disciplines His chosen ones and even sends them many trials and troubles. When you find yourself thinking, ‘Oh, God is so angry with me,’ then, say to yourself, ‘ I believe in You and Your Word. You won’t deceive me. Even if You send me many troubles, it’s not because You are condemning me. You will never throw me out. As Psalm 143:2 says, ‘Enter not into judgment with your servant,’ for You haven’t been sent to judge the world.’ Even if God were to send plagues, don’t think that He wants to destroy everything. When the Corinthians behaved foolishly at the Lord’s Supper, and God allowed many to become ill and die, Paul declared, ‘But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.’ (1 Cor 11:31-32)

We should understand that God disciplines us so that we will be saved, not condemned. By disciplining us, He hopes to pull us back from the condemnation and judgment reserved for the world. He doesn’t want us to be judged along with the world. Christ didn’t come to judge. We shouldn’t look on Him as an executioner. He isn’t angry. He doesn’t want to condemn  us. Instead, Christ want to help us. 

So says Luther. It’s always good to be reminded of Christ and His saving purpose expressed in these 3 short sentences of Luther. Christ didn’t come to judge. We shouldn’t look on Him as an executioner. He isn’t angry.

That is good news for us today and every day! Pass that along! Good-bye!

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 6-3-21  “Holy Works ”

Today’s devotions come from John 10:31-42  Listen:

The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.

He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many believed in him there.

Two things I’d like us to ponder today. Jesus said that the works He did are what demonstrate that He and The Father in heaven are one. The Greek word for ‘works’ here is where we get the word energy from.  It was ‘holy’ energy that Jesus was displaying by what He did! It was the work that He did that testified to the truth of what He taught, and to the truth that He was sent by God into this world. His teaching was holy because He was holy. And His works were the evidence He gave for the world to see that He indeed was sent from God. That He was holy.

And for Him claiming to be holy was what condemned Him in the eyes of the Jews and of the world for that matter. We don’t like holiness around us. The perfection of holiness shines a light on our sinful and detestable works. It’s our works that reveal that the energy we expend is unholy. Whereas Jesus’ works testified to His righteousness and holiness. And thatholiness is what He gives to us by His grace. In His final work of atonement for the unholiness of this world, Jesus died on the cross and so took the penalty for our wasted ways, our faithless energy. And because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, we believe in Jesus through His holy word and holy works.

That brings us to the second thing. It says that Jesus went to the place where John baptized and that many came to Him there. And many of those people made the connection that while John did baptize, he did none of the works or signs like what Jesus did. And because of what Jesus did they believed in Him. We’re encouraged by the testimony of those who were there, that what Jesus didrevealed that He indeed is holy. And that the evidence Jesus spoke of, His works, put on display the Holy power of God come into this world in Jesus Christ for our salvation. God’s holy peace to you, Good-bye!

Devotions for 6-1-21  “we go beyond Sheol”

Today’s devotions are from Ecclesiastes. This is not a book that always lends itself to peace and joy, but rather sees the plight of all people as everything from tedious and difficult to frivolous, vain, wasted, and yes, even sometimes happy. However, today’s reading is about the common enemy of all people, death.

And for some reason I found it to be strangely comforting! Now before I read this, I think I found it comforting because we know that Jesus has overcome death and brings us to new life in Himself, beyond the grave and Sheol! When you hear this with that in mind, it gives a sense of relief and freedom even. We are made new in the blood of Christ who suffered the pangs of death on the cross for all people so that we might not see our life’s end as the end in Sheol, as the preacher of Ecclesiastes presents it.

No, in Christ we are free to see past the ‘place of death’, Sheol, as a place with no hope. However, this same knowledge should spur us on in our need to share the gospel. Because for those without Christ, what we’re about to hear is indeed frightening and terrifying. Therefore, we want to do all we can to proclaim the love of Christ to them so they too might share in the living hope of salvation and restoration that, in Jesus, takes us eternally beyond these words of Ecclesiastes 9:1-10. Listen:

But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. 2 It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. 3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. 4 But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.

7 Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

8 Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.

9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

So says the Preacher, King Solomon. But take heart my friends for in Christ we go beyond Sheol! God’s peace is with you today, Good-bye!

Devotions for 5-29-21  “Faith and Facts”

Today’s devotions are again in Luke, now chapter 24 with the account on the Emmaus Road. Listen to just the portion in vss 16-25:

But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!.”

Cleopas and his walking companions do us a great service. Yes, their eyes were kept from recognizing Jesus, so we can understand their not knowing it was Him. But the service they do us is in the fact they knew all the facts about Jesus.

They knew His life and powerful public ministry, having been with Him those three years. They spoke of the treachery of those that put Jesus to death on the cross. They knew what their women spoke of regarding Jesus and the angels telling them Jesus was alive. They knew that Peter and John went to the tomb and confirmed what the women reported. They knew the facts! In fact, they point out to this ‘Stranger’ they’ve stopped to talk with, that He must be the only man in town who didn’t know about what happened with the Prophet Jesus. This points out to us that what happened with Jesus, three days before, was indeed a public spectacle and well known.

But none of that knowledge translated into faith! A person can know the facts and still not believe in Jesus. Someone may posses the details and study the accounts of Jesus  and yet remain blinded to Him being the Christ, the redeemer of the world!

It’s not our job to create faith in others. It is our calling to proclaim, as well as the Emmaus Road disciples did, the truth of Jesus’ life and ministry. And of His death and resurrection. That is our task. It’s the task of the Holy Spirit to open their eyes and heart to trust in Jesus. It’s through faith by grace alone that a person believes. But they must be told whatoccurred so they may be led tobelieve. After all it was only later, after Jesus breaking the bread, that even Cleopas and friends had their eyes opened to Jesus. God’s peace in Christ be with you today, as you declare His words and deeds. Good-bye!



Devotions for 5-27-21  “Washed Clean ”

Today’s devotions take us to Luke 23 where Jesus is standing before Pilate again after having been returned from being sent to Herod. Listen:

Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” 18 But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” 19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) 20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” 22 For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” 23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.”

Such is the way of this world toward God. The world deceives and caters, it seeks to justify itself and in the process condemns the innocent. Pilate knew what the Jewish leaders wanted, Pilate claimed that Jesus was innocent, Pilate tired to pawn the problem off on Herod and ultimately… Pilate caved. He gave in to the will of the crowd, though knowing it was unjust. Pilate did what this world always does and condemns God unjustly.

We know from the Matthew account Pilate tired to ‘wash his hands’ of the guilt of condemning Jesus to death. And again, this is what the world does, it condemns God and then tries to shift the blame. Pilate gave in to the crowd. We all know how easy that can be to do. We don’t often admit it to ourselves but we can all recall times when we have ‘gone along to get along’ …knowing it was wrong.

And that’s why we needed Jesus to come and suffer in our place. He unjustly took on our guilt for having done all the things Pilate did. For allowing the innocent to suffer, for trying to pawn our wrongs off on others, for caving in because it was easier to do. We can’t wash our hands of the guilt of Jesus.

But He has! By His innocent suffering and death, He has washed us clean because of His love for the Father and for us. Let us not be surprised by how the world treats Christ and His followers. Rather let us pray for them and seek to show them and tell them of such great mercy that God has washed them in, in the innocent blood of Jesus Christ. God’s peace is with you today, Good-bye!

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 5-25-21  “What would the donkey say?”

Today’s devotions come from Numbers 22:26-34. So many things to see and hear in this passage from the angel of the Lord to the talking donkey to Balaam sin. Listen:

Then the angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” 30 And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”

31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. 32 And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” 34 Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.”

Let’s consider a few things. Like, how marvelous it is that God used this donkey to teach Balaam humility. I don’t know about you, but if a donkey started speaking to me, I’m not sure I’d have the presence of mind to carry on a conversation with her! And yet she speaks to Balaam of their life-long relationship and how she has treated Balaam with care for all that time.

This can lead us to questions of how we treat God’s creatures on earth. And how God uses those same creatures to teach us many lessons regarding care and service, foolish pride, and impulsive actions. Sometimes pets and animals are what God uses to open our eyes to His care for us. It amazes me, the vast variety of ways God has created all things and uses them all for His good will in redeeming His creation from our sin!

Another thing that this episode brings to mind is when Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem on the day of His triumphal entry at the beginning of Holy Week. That donkey carried Jesus to His death. While today, Balaam’s donkey carried Balaam away from death at the hand of the Lord!

The Lord used a donkey to spare Balaam’s life and to take Jesus to His death on the cross so that our eternal life might be spared for us. In light of Balaam’s donkey speaking words of relationship and care, I wonder what God would have the donkey who carried Jesus to Jerusalem say to you and I?

God’s peace be with you today as you ponder that, Good-bye!

Peace in Christ, Pastor Tom Rhodes

Devotions for 5-22-21  “Psalm 116”

Some days you’re holding your breath, but you don’t realize that that’s what you feel like. Then you read a psalm or portion of scripture and you gain a sense of cleansing relief, or of hope, or an- ahh yes! that’s what I didn’t know I needed to hear.

For me that was the psalm reading today. I use an app from Concordia Publishing House called pray now for my daily devotions and that’s what I share from. And some days in those readings I’m slow to see something to share. So, I’ll look at other days like I did last Thursday.

But today even though all of the readings had wonderful gospel in them that would be great to share today, it’s the Psalm,116, that I kept going back too, because, like I said, it felt like a release of something held back unknowingly. And though what’s in the app has only portions of psalm 116, when I went and read the whole psalm it simply increased my wonder at how God speaks and comforts us with His word. Some of this will be familiar as we use parts of this psalm this in our liturgy  Listen:

The I love the Lord, because he has heard  my voice and my pleas for mercy.

2 Because he inclined his ear to me,

    therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

3 The snares of death encompassed me;

    the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;

    I suffered distress and anguish.

4 Then I called on the name of the Lord:

    “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”

 

5 Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;

    our God is merciful.

6 The Lord preserves the simple;

    when I was brought low, he saved me.

7 Return, O my soul, to your rest;

    for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

 

8 For you have delivered my soul from death,    my eyes from tears,

    my feet from stumbling;

9 I will walk before the Lord

    in the land of the living.

10 I believed, even when I spoke:

    “I am greatly afflicted”;

11 I said in my alarm,

    “All mankind are liars.”

 

12 What shall I render to the Lord

    for all his benefits to me?

13 I will lift up the cup of salvation

    and call on the name of the Lord,

14 I will pay my vows to the Lord

    in the presence of all his people.

 

15 Precious in the sight of the Lord

   is the death of his saints.

16 O Lord, I am your servant;

    I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.

    You have loosed my bonds.

17 I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving

    and call on the name of the Lord.

18 I will pay my vows to the Lord

    in the presence of all his people,

19 in the courts of the house of the Lord,

    in your midst, O Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord!”

Praise the Lord indeed, Good-bye!

Devotions for 5-20-21  “Matching wits with God”

I’m borrowing the gospel from tomorrow’s devotions for today. It’s Luke 20:19-44. We’re using just portions of the story of rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Listen:

The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on … 20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. 21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. 22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.”

These spies did not believe Jesus was of God, or that He was God in the flesh. We know that, by the contempt with which they treated Him by thinking they could deceive Him and set a trap for Him so they might gain the upper hand on Him with the people and the government authorities. And look at what they said in asking their question, we know that you speak and teach rightly and teach the way of God.

They outright lie in the asking of their question. They’re simply out to get Jesus, pure and simple. They neither trust nor believe that Jesus teaches rightly or of God! If they believed that He taught rightly of God, how would they have the temerity to think they could trick Him? How much like them are we; am I? Do we think God can be tricked? How foolish to think we can ‘match wits’ with God when we lack any measure of wit.

And Jesus turns the tables on them, with His answer of rendering to Caesar those things of Caesar’s to God the things of God. And that turning of the tables, is just like He’s done with Satan and like He’s done with us.

Satan thought He’d tricked Jesus for good when he nailed Him to the cross. But instead that is what Jesus used to render to God the death that was required and so paid the debt that Satan though he’d escaped by killing Jesus. Now Satan is defeated in Jesus’ death and Satan can never again threaten God’s creation with death and damnation.

Jesus turns the tables on us too when we think we can come to Jesus and offer Him ourselves and so gain favor or an upper hand with Him. How foolish! No, Jesus turns the tables on us as well. With His victory over sin, Satan, and death He comes to us to give us His victory in exchange for our deceitful and selfish ways. He turns the tables on us by taking all our sin, guilt and deception and washes them away in the holiness of His blood shed from the cross.

Rather than try to match wits with God, let us rather accept His unmatched grace that we’re given by faith. Faith which comes in Jesus’ truly right teaching that comes from God in the flesh; our savior Jesus Christ. In His name; amen and Good-bye!

Devotions for 5-18-21  “judgment and hope”

Today we read Numbers 14:26-35. This is after the people have grumbled against Moses when the spies returned and 10 of the 12 said in fear, they could not take over the land. So, the people rebelled once again against God and Moses. God told Moses that He would destroy this people and make a new nation out of Moses. Yet Moses pleaded with God to not do so. After agreeing, God issued the following punishment instead Listen:

And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ I, the Lord, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.”

It is amazing to see God’s grace, yet again, to His chosen people! After repeated grumbling and revolt against God, He issues them a promise of judgement and hope.

The judgment is not pleasant – it’s that you who have rebelled will die in the desert as you feared. But it’s a judgment that the people can truly live with! Rather than swift execution there is to be a lifetime of wandering and teaching. They will teach their young ones of the works of God and to raise them in the promise of hope!

They are promised that their offspring, 19 years old and younger, will indeed enter the land that they rejected. And along with them Caleb and Joshua, which is Jesus’ Hebrew name, will also live to enter that land. And Joshua will be the one who leads them in! What mercy God shows His stubborn people! Yes, for each day they spied out the land, the people will wander a year. In His wisdom God gives judgment and hope.

And in His kindness, He grants to us also judgment and hope. And like He did with the Hebrews it’s undeserved kindness. It’s Jesus who bears our ‘wandering judgment’ on the cross. He is left to die outside the walls of the city on the edge of the desert while we are given entry into the promised land of heaven! Jesus is our Joshua who leads to our heavenly home of promise. Such goodness God shows! Have a hopeful day. Good-bye!

Devotions for 5-15-21  “lifted up ”

Today’s devotion is from Luke 18 vs 9-14. It is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Listen:

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”.

It’s very easy in this parable to get caught up in our eagerness to see ourselves as the tax collector, since we want what Jesus said of him to be true for us. That we are justified by God. And that is laudable. However, don’t overlook why it was that Jesus told this parable.

Vs 9 says that  He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. We can sometimes become so ‘familiar’ with God that we’re in danger of treating Him with contempt. We take for granted that because it’s me coming to God, of course He’s going to hear me.

On the other hand, we can be so eager to see ourselves as the humble tax collector we can go too far that way and put our trust in ourselves again, but this time, we trust in our own unworthiness. Luther wrote about this and this is what he said:

Some say, ‘I would feel better about God hearing my prayer if I were more worthy and lived a better life.’ I simply answer: If you don’t want to pray before you feel that you are worthy or qualified, then you will never pray again. Prayer must not be based on or depend on your personal worthiness or the quality of the prayer itself but on the unchanging truth of God’s promise. If the prayer is based on itself, or on anything else besides God’s promise, then it’s a false prayer that deceives you – even if your heart was breaking with intense emotion and you were weeping drops of blood.

We pray because we are unworthy to pray. Our prayers are heard precisely  because we believe that we are unworthy. We become worthy to pray when we risk everything on God’s faithfulness alone.

So go ahead and feel unworthy. But know in your heart that it’s a thousand times more important to honor God’s truthfulness. Yes, everything depends on this alone. Don’t turn His faithful promise into a lie by your doubts. For your worthiness doesn’t help you and neither does your unworthiness hinder you.

That’s a good reminder by Luther that it is God alone who lifts us up.  That it’s God’s faithfulness to us in Christ alone that we rely on for our worthiness. Good-bye!

Devotions for 5-13-21  “The Ascension of Our Lord ”

Today in the church calendar, is Ascension Day. Listen to the account of Jesus ascension into heaven found in Luke:

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.

I so appreciated and wanted you to hear a part of District President Hagen’s reflection today that he’s written on the district Facebook page where he says:

The last verse of Luke’s Gospel is often forgotten.  We tend to focus too much on either the beginning of Acts or the end of John’s Gospel and miss the way that Luke ends his account.  Jesus has gone and yet the disciples have great joy.  They had been blessed by the blessed one.  They had been blessed by the forgiveness of all of their sins.  They had been blessed by receiving Christ’s own body and blood.  They had been blessed by being restored and reconciled to God through Christ.  They were truly blessed!  And that is why they are filled with joy.

The life and ministry of Jesus fills His disciples of every age with joy and move us to worship and praise.  Jesus’ ministry was one of calling, healing, sending, restoring, forgiving, and blessing.  And the abundant blessings that He gives fills His disciples with joy.  The joy of sins forgiven.  The joy of paradise restored.  The joy and certainty that just as Christ died and rose again and then went to be with His Father in heaven and so shall we.

I thought those were such good words for us all to be blessed by on this Ascension Thursday! I pray God’s eternal joy and blessings remain with you today and always , Good-bye!

Devotions for 5-12-21  “Thank God for Hobab”

I apologize for missing yesterday – please forgive me, I got caught up in sermon preparation till it was too late. Now today, Wednesday the 12th we read from Numbers 10 about a rather obscure man Hobab. This is the only time we hear what he does. It’s an unusual but important detail in the travels of the Jews toward the promised land. Listen:

And Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place of which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us, and we will do good to you, for the Lord has promised good to Israel.” 30 But he said to him, “I will not go. I will depart to my own land and to my kindred.” 31 And he said, “Please do not leave us, for you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will serve as eyes for us. 32 And if you do go with us, whatever good the Lord will do to us, the same will we do to you.”33 So they set out from the mount of the Lord three days’ journey.”

Hobab is asked by Moses to serve as a sort of scout or guide as they begin their trek to the land of Canaan. Hobab stayed with them after the Lord sentenced the people to wander for 40 years after disobeying God by not going up to take possession of the land after the spies returned that Moses sent out. But it’s the arrangement that Moses makes with his brother-in-law that we’re interested in.

The idea of Moses is for Hobab to use his expertise in knowing the lay-of-the-land to give Moses advice on where to camp along the way. We know from the previous chapter that the Lord guided the Hebrews by the pillar of cloud and fire as to when to go, when to stay, and the direction they were take. But God, it seems, used Hobab as a sort of ‘tour guide’ to give advice on the best place to make camp when God wanted the Hebrews to stop for the night or for as long as the pillar remained in one place.

It’s the humility of Moses that strikes me as important. Moses is not too proud to admit he needed help in guiding the people. This is both administrative type help as well as expert knowledge. Hobab, this foreigner to the Hebrews it seems, knew more about how to go about finding the good places to rest.

Afterall, God gives us this record of him and what his task was. He was not a Jew, yet Moses promises him that whatever good God does for the Jews will be done for Hobab. In fact, the only other mention of Hobab comes in Judges that speak of the descendants of Hobab and where they had been settled in the promised land.

Just as Moses relied on the foreigner Hobab, to guide the people home, so we too rely on a Foreigner to guide us home – to heaven. Jesus is our Hobab. He is foreign to us, having come from God, and yet He comes with the ‘expertise’ that we need in our travels through this life. And ultimately, like Hobab was given a portion in the promised land for his descendants, we, descendants of Christ, are given His portion of a place of rest for us in heaven. Thank God for Hobab and thank God for Jesus Christ. God’s blessings as we journey on, Good-bye!

Devotions for 5-8-21  “Mother’s Day ”

In honor of Mother’s Day tomorrow, I thought it good to hear of Mary from Luke 1

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones  and exalted those of humble estate;53 he has filled the hungry with good things,  and the rich he has sent away empty.54 He has helped his servant Israel,  in remembrance of his mercy,55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.” A blessed and happy Mother’s Day to you, Good-bye!

 

Devotions for 5-6-21  “That’s Gospel ”

Today’s devotional focuses on Jesus healing a woman in Luke 13. Listen.

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”.

So much rich gospel here! It was Jesus who initiated healing this woman. (Like the owner of the donkey goes to, to care for.) When Jesus saw her, He called to her, not the other way round! That’s gospel – Jesus sees our broken condition and He initiates our healing. He laid hands on her and spoke the words of restoration and healing. And so, with us. He comes to us in our flesh to bring us the healing word of God! That’s gospel!

The ruler of synagogue rejects the healing Jesus brings for someone else. How telling is this, as a type or example of how Jesus was treated all throughout His ministry by religious leaders. This synagogue ruler tried to exclude the healing of Christ from people under the guise of religious propriety. Satan still uses ‘propriety’ and ‘proper social graces’ and ‘political correctness’ to prevent people from hearing Jesus words and receiving His healing touch in the sacraments! That’s law!

Then Jesus delivers His judgment on the law and the hypocrisy that tries to block the world from His grace and mercy. He points out that they all do so-called ‘work’ on the sabbath by releasing their animals from being bound so that they make take them to get water. And yet this leader tries to prevent Jesus from freeing this woman from her bondage under sin. Jesus will not allow that! That is gospel!

He comes to His creation. God persistently comes with His sons and daughters healing in the words and works of Jesus. Jesus comes in the flesh and touches us and heals us by His choosing to be bound by nails to the cross and so free us from our penalty of breaking the law.

And that precious and costly freedom He then comes and gives to us by grace alone! And again, that is gospel! Rejoice in your freedom. Rejoice in being given the touch of Jesus that heals and straightens, that waters and welcomes us and strengthens us to share the gospel with others, who like us, need that healing touch of the gospel in Christ.

God’s peace is yours today! That’s Gospel! Good-bye!

Devotions for 5-4-21  “rest”

Today’s devotional draws on all three readings for today – Psalm 127, vss 2, Leviticus 23:3 and parts of Luke 12:22-31. Here’s how those things read altogether.

2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. 3 “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places. And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life… 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? … And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried… 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

Don’t we sometimes think we can get a ‘leg-up’ on God? If we worry enough and work hard enough, we can get God to like us more. We can outsmart God. Maybe if I just pretend to rest but really get some work done, God will see how good I am at taking the initiative. It’s not that I can outsmart God, but I just want to do enough for Him to see my gumption. I can impress God if I put in more hours than He thinks I should. What can it hurt if I take on more, won’t God be surprised by how much I can do?

It’ll make God happy if I work extra because I want to show how good I am and how much I love God by going about all the things I think will please Him. After all, I want to do all I can to assure myself a seat at God’s banquet table.

No. no to all of this. This is not showing God love, this is law. This is not His grace but my greed. Yes, we are to work and do and be effective with our effort. But that is all to be done within the context of the Word of God. It’s His revealed will that we are to live by. It’s His word and provision, and trust in His ways that are best for us and not our own made-up standards.

We are told to rest. To cast our cares on God. To sleep when its proper to sleep. To do otherwise is to tell God what He desires for us is not really all that good. His will is ok for others, but not for me. I need to show Him how I think it should be done. Again, we’re trying to impress God with our effort. And when has that ever worked out well?

After all, if we could accomplish the work of God on our own then why do we need Jesus? What good is a savior to those who can save themselves? We are to rest. To rest in the resurrection victory of Jesus over the cross, death, and the grave which grants us entrance to the kingdom of God that Jesus tells us to seek after.

So, it may be seen as an act of faith to… relax. It’s pleasing to God to rest when our tasks are done for the day. We get no ‘points’ for our worry or anxiousness. Allow what God has done to be our focus at the end of the day and week. Let the peace of God which passes all understanding be what we understand as His gift to us. Now go and do what God has called you to do, and then, afterward, rest! Rest in His great provision and grace to you. God’s peace. Good-bye!

Devotions for 5-1-21  “Vaccine”

There’s been lots of talk about inoculations and vaccines in light of what’s happened around the world with covid 19. And that’s good. We should be aware of steps to help with curtailing this pandemic and use them. All the things like masks and social distancing are seen as helpful, used properly.

But there’s another inoculation that I think would be of even greater benefit. There is a practical protection from the spread of a virus that travels from person to person that we should each apply and be sure to use. This infection is what happens when watching a news broadcast or reading the paper or looking at news on-line.

It’s the pandemic of despair. It’s the virus of gloom and doom. It’s the infection of weariness from being worn down by all the bad things people do. And the inoculation is found in the devotional psalm reading for tomorrow. It’s psalm 37. Please, please, take the time to read the whole of it on your own. I’m going to give you your ‘first shot’ of the vaccine by reading vss 1-9 and 39-40.

The after-effect of this ‘first shot’ will be to give you the desire to take the next step of reading the whole of psalm 37 and seeing there that the Lord guards and uplifts His people  in the midst of wickedness and depressing events. It can be easy to take in the apparent decline and decay of our world, our nation and even our town and want to wash our hands of the whole mess and turn away.

But read the words of God in this psalm of David. Let these words give you the protection and immunization that can lift your eyes to God in heaven and see the justice and righteousness that has come to us in Jesus Christ. We know that nothing, no – one – thing, or all the bad things we see evidence of in this world, will overwhelm or tear down the goodness of the Lord.

Hold still, now! This won’t hurt. And be sure to follow-up with the second dose of reading the whole of psalm 37 as soon as you can! Listen:

 

“Fret not yourself because of evildoers;

    be not envious of wrongdoers!

2 For they will soon fade like the grass

    and wither like the green herb.

3 Trust in the Lord, and do good;

    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

4 Delight yourself in the Lord,

    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the Lord;

    trust in him, and he will act.

6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the 

   light, and your justice as the noonday.

7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for

  him;  fret not yourself over the one who

   prospers in his way,

    over the man who carries out evil devices!

8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!

    Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.

9 For the evildoers shall be cut off,

   but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit

  the land.

 

39 The salvation of the righteous is from the

    Lord;

    he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.

40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;

    he delivers them from the wicked and saves

    them,  because they take refuge in him.”

 

That wasn’t so bad, was it?! Good-bye!

Devotions for 4-29-21  “Be my neighbor”

Again, today’s devotions come from Luke this time vss 25-37 of chapter 10. Listen:

 “And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

This familiar parable shows compassion in action. But why Jesus tells this parable is important. The lawyer asked Jesus , who is my neighbor, so he could ‘prove’ he was fulfilling the law of loving the Lord and your neighbor. That’s when Jesus tells the parable.

And then, who does the lawyer identify as the neighbor? It’s not the injured and beaten man, it’s the one who showed mercy. That’s who Jesus confirmed was the neighbor. He was the neighbor to the one, TO the one, in need. And upon the lawyer having correctly answered that the neighbor was the one who showed mercy, Jesus concludes with “You go, and do likewise.”

Loving the one in need is what makes a person the neighbor. Wouldn’t it be a better world if we could all be neighbors? If we could all show mercy to the needy, injured and forgotten ones on the side of the road. However, we fail to always show the mercy we should because we fail at keeping the law. After all it was a lawyer who asked the question, and it’s the law that we fail at. And because of that, because we fail to show mercy, we fail to act compassionately, we fail at keeping the law, Jesus came to be our neighbor! He is the One to show us the mercy we needed by His crucifixion and resurrection victory over sin.

And more than that, He supplies us, by grace alone, with the mercy that is now ours to give away, and in His name, we’re made into good neighbors! As Jesus said, Go and do likewise, neighbor!  Good-bye!

Devotions for 4-27-21  “we are beggars. this is true”

Today’s devotions come from Luke 9: 38-40, 42b. Our vss read:

 “And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. 40 And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”… But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.”

When I read these verses, this man with the spirit possessed boy reminded me of Luther. Two times this man uses the word ‘beg’, and that put me in mind of Luther whose last written words, found on a scrap of paper were, ‘we are beggars, this is true.’

I looked this up online and discovered that he wrote this in both Latin and German. Latin, the language of the church and scholarship, and German the language of the people and the language in which Luther preached the good news of the gospel. All of life is encompassed for Luther in these languages.

Another thing I wanted to share with you comes from a website titled 1517 whose stated mission is “to declare and defend the Good News that we are forgiven and free on account of Christ alone.” This is what I found written there by a Pastor Craig Donofrio of the lcms who serves St James Lutheran church in Cleveland. He writes:

Those who begin to know even a fraction of their sin know what the proper posture is that we should take before the one true God… we are empty-handed and laid low. When met eye to eye by our sin – with those nasty things that we don’t acknowledge or talk about – we are broken, humiliated, humbled and, with terror, we beg for mercy…

God in His mercy is a God for beggars. He sent His Son, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords into our meager, beggarly existence. He laid aside His glory and His might to become a beggar who didn’t even have a pillow for His head. He descended into our poverty when He submitted Himself to be baptized in the filthy waters of our sin and emerged for us breaking the bonds of sin and death.

God isn’t interested in your sins. He isn’t interested in keeping score, making sure that you keep at least one more good work than bad in your ledger… Instead, He is kind, gracious and whatever the superlative word for generous is – He’s that, to and for beggars, to and for you.

Christ isn’t interested in keeping you in the gutter, but instead, Christ clothes you in His perfect righteousness through the baptismal washing of regeneration and in faith. He credits the riches of His eternal kingdom to your empty hands and frees you to be generous with His wealth, which He freely entrusts into your care. And most importantly He forgives you and raises you new in His death and resurrection.” I wanted you to hear what Pr Donofrio said. God’s peace to you fellow beggar, Good-bye!

Devotions for 4-24-21  “Cloud and Fire ”

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Today’s devotions take us back to Exodus chapter 40 vss 34-38 when the Jews wandered in the desert following the tabernacle of the Lord. Our vss read:

 “34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 36 Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.”

Haven’t you ever thought that it’d be nice if God did that sort of thing today for you? Just show me the pillar of cloud and fire and I’ll follow that.

Well, consider this when pondering that idea. The Hebrews only moved when the pillar moved. They were made to wait or walk according to the pillar.

We’d like to think that about ourselves that way, wouldn’t we? Afterall I’m a good Christian so I’d be happy and obedient to simply follow that plan. Just give me the outline, the blueprint, the schematic like the pillar of cloud and fire You gave the wandering Jews and I’ll be good to go!

That’s not a bad thought because that takes the guesswork out of living. We just have to do the right thing. Hmm. If you think about that, can we really do that? Can we be obedient and faithful? Can we do the simple thing of always doing the right thing? We know the answer to that is, no.

We also know, that was what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. He takes the guesswork out of wondering if I’m correctly following God. Because He has accomplished all that’s needed for us to have assurance before God that all we do or have done will ultimately be made righteous by Jesus’ righteousness alone.

So, in one sense we do have that pillar of cloud and fire. That pillar is Jesus! He’s the One we follow because He is the Glory of God and the Light of the world. Through faith In Him alone we are given the way to go because, He is the way, the truth, and the light for us and for all the world. Because, Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Good-bye!

Devotions for 4-22-21  “God’s Family ”

Before we begin just a technical note – if you’re used to getting a phone call, text and / or email, we are having issues making that system work right now. We’ve contacted tech support and it seems they are no longer making or updating our equipment or software in favor of their cloud-based system. We are going to have to evaluate how to proceed and will let you know what we find out. Now on to today’s devotions.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Today’s devotions come from the gospel of Luke chapter 8 vss 19-21 and they read:

 “19 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” 21 But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

This has always been a curious episode to me. When my mom called, you came! Now, obviously, at this point in Jesus’ life and ministry, His relationship with His mother was of a different character and nature than any other mother / son relationship since Jesus had created His own mother, as He’d created all things! But still family comes first.

And I think that is what Jesus was driving at with His reply. Family does come first. The family of God. Jesus is not only our creator, but also our brother – redeemer. He is the One who comes to bring us into God’s family by His crucifixion and resurrection. And this work of redemption that He does for the world, is based on His Word, His holy writ.

For those who reject the word of God, they reject the work of God. They divorce themselves from the family that Jesus came to draw all people into by His word and work. So, when Jesus is told His family is calling for Him, Jesus replies by pointing us to what family is, it’s those who hear His call to the word of God and the doing of it.

For us to be doing the word of God means we take in the grace, mercy, and forgiveness, we take in the whole law and gospel of the word of God that Jesus gives us and then spread that word of law and gospel to others. Sort of like food.

It’s one thing to put something delicious and wonderful tasting in your mouth. It can bring delight and comfort, satisfaction and joy. But if you spit it out after tasting it and don’t swallow it, you get nothing of the benefit, nutrition, or fortification that that food offers. The work the food is do is lost on you if you reject it.

So also, with God’s word. We not only take it in, we also then give it away. We share it, distribute it and feed others with it, so they too may be strengthened by God’s law and gospel, His love, and mercy and grace. If we only take it in and do not share it, we lose out on feeding others on that word of God that gives life. We lose out on enlarging the family of God.

When Jesus returns as He promised to do, let Him find us faithfully hearing and doing the word of God. – Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Good-bye!

Devotions for 4-13-21  “New Wine ”

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Today’s devotions take us to the gospel of Luke. We’re in chapter 5 reading vss 36-38. Listen:

 “36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.”

When I was young teenager, long long ago(! Back in the late ‘60’s – the Jesus people days), a group of teens came to our church from Lutheran Youth Alive to lead a week of bible study, singing, outreach and fellowship. That week turned out to be very important for me. In fact, I don’t know that I would be a pastor without that week. I eventually became one of those teens who joined LYA and went to other churches in California to do the same thing.

Among other things that influenced me that week, was the bible study on this particular passage out of Luke. Struggling as I was, as most people do at that age, to figure out what it meant to be a Christian, this bible study flipped a switch for me. It opened my eyes for the first time to grasp the truth that the gospel changes you, you don’t change to receive the gospel. That it does the work of making you a new person, in a new way.

In my own struggle with self-identity this gave me true hope, that I was made new by Jesus. Realizing that the new wine was put in new wineskins was a revelation for me. The new wine of the gospel is what made me new.

Now in the years since then, I’ve come to realize that being made new by the gospel is not a one-and-done thing. We’re being made new each day and being renewed by the gospel of Jesus Christ in His mercy which is new each morning, so Lamentations 3:22-23 tells us.

The gospel daily calls us to repentance and to live and thrive in the grace of God.  To live each day newly refreshed and renewed. There is only one thing that makes that possible and one thing alone.

It is the death of Jesus, dying in my place. It’s the resurrection of Jesus from the grave that gives His victory to all, as we trust Him each new day. And that causes us to say  – Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Good-bye!

Devotions for 4-13-21  “the ‘ites’ ”

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

For our devotions today we come back to Exodus chapter 23 verses 14-33. I’ll read just a few selected verses beginning at vs 20:

20 “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared… 23 “When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, 24 you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them … 27 I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you… for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. 32 You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”

This seems harsh does it not? People are being thrown out of their houses and land. There is no mercy shown. There is no accommodation given. There is no tolerance of other religions or cultural practices. There is to be no civil interchange of ideas or commerce. What was theirs now becomes the Hebrews. And this happens by God throwing the Hebrew’s enemies into confusion and causing them to turn and run away.

Is this not foul and harsh? Where is God’s ‘understanding and compassion’? Why no Christian charity?

Why? Because it’s not charitable to allow people to live in their sin and rebellion against God, that’s why! There is no tolerance for sinfulness. Death is the reward for sinfulness and the rejection of God.

And this is what we deserved. What God did to all those ‘ites’ the Amorites etc., is what comes from rebellion against God. There is no tolerance for sin and corruption before God. And so, just as God brought about the victory for the Hebrews in entering the promised land, so also for us.

By the death of His only son, Jesus Christ, God has delivered to us the victory over sin and the devil that we needed. Is it harsh? Is it unjust? Is it fearful? Is it foul and repugnant? Yes! Yes, to all. And that is what Jesus became for you, that you might not suffer as the ‘ites’ did. That you may instead be ushered into the promised land.

It is the death and most importantly the resurrection of Jesus that guarantees to us a welcome in to God’s presence. And that causes us to say  – Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Good-bye!

Devotions for 4-10-21  “Psalm 145 ”

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

For our devotions on this Saturday, I’m going back a day to yesterday’s psalm reading. But I’m going to read the whole of the psalm. It’s psalm 145. There’s such a wonderful focus on the glory and majesty, righteousness, goodness, and justice of God that it stirs your heart and fills your soul with comfort and the power of the gospel. Listen and give ear to these words of King David:

145 I will extol you, my God and King,

    and bless your name forever and ever.

2 Every day I will bless you

    and praise your name forever and ever.

3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,

    and his greatness is unsearchable.

 

4 One generation shall commend your works to another,

    and shall declare your mighty acts.

5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty,

    and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

6 They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,

    and I will declare your greatness.

7 They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness

    and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

 

8 The Lord is gracious and merciful,

    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

9 The Lord is good to all,

    and his mercy is over all that he has made.

 

10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,

    and all your saints shall bless you!

11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom

    and tell of your power,

12 to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds,

    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,

    and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

 

[The Lord is faithful in all his words

    and kind in all his works.]

14 The Lord upholds all who are falling

    and raises up all who are bowed down.

15 The eyes of all look to you,

    and you give them their food in due season.

16 You open your hand;

    you satisfy the desire of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways

    and kind in all his works.

18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,

    to all who call on him in truth.

19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;

    he also hears their cry and saves them.

20 The Lord preserves all who love him,

    but all the wicked he will destroy.

 

21 My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,

    and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.”

 

All of this we see fulfilled and given to us in Jesus Christ and to this we say amen!

And – – Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Good-bye!

 

Devotions for 4-8-21  “No lie! ”

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Our devotions for this first Thursday after Easter come from Hebrews chapter 1 vss 1-3 and this is how they read:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

This chapter, which focuses on faith and how to understand faith, gives us several things to consider here at it’s start. Faith being both the ‘assurance of things hoped for’ and ‘the conviction of things not seen’ allows us to share the same faith as the people of the Old Testament. I call it the same faith because for them, their hope and conviction was in the word of God of a Savior who was to come.

Our faith is in the Savior who has, has already come. Yet like the people of the Old Testament looked forward to what they had not seen, we look back at the Savoir which we have not seen ourselves either. Of course, the advantage we have is the witnesses that we can rely on regarding the Savior, Jesus Christ who they saw and have given testimony about. And yet the Old Testament believers in God’s promise had only God’s word that He would send this messiah.

We’re to be in awe of our Old Testament ancestors in the faith. They demonstrate a powerful witness to trust in the Word of God as they indeed put their hope and conviction totally on God’s assurance by His Word alone! And that is why the writer of Hebrews says that they, the Old Testament people, have received their commendation. Their commendation gives us something to emulate. That is to trust that God has fulfilled His Word of promise.

And it is God’s word alone that we’re told to have faith in for understanding God’s creation. We’re not asked to prove anything regarding how God choose to create all that He did. We’re simply given to understand, by faith alone, that God made all that is, simply by His Word. It’s the creative and performative speech of God alone that brings to reality all that is, in the universe.

As we trust in His word to create all that we see, we also trust in Him to create in us the gift of faith that assures us of God’s redemption through His messiah, Jesus Christ. We have that assurance because Jesus died and rose again by the power of God, as God’s word promised. It is in God alone that the creation and sustaining of our faith lies. And that, is no lie!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Good-bye!

Devotions for 4-6-21  “He has triumphed gloriously”

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Today we continue to rejoice in the glory and wonder of Easter. While we know that Easter comes every year, yet every year it never fails to astonish and humble us. It reminds us that every Sunday throughout the year is a ‘mini-Easter’ of rejoicing and renewal in the victorious new life granted to us through the Holy Spirit by God’s grace alone.

In the scripture reading for today out of Exodus, we hear yet another example of how complete is God’s victory over sin that is then given to God’s people by His grace and mercy alone. Listen to the lesson from Exodus 15:19-21.

For when the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon them, but the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea. 20 Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. 21 And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”

With the destruction of the army of Pharaoh that pursued the Hebrews, God’s rescue and salvation for them was complete! No longer would Pharaoh have the power to oppress or enslave the Jewish nation. And that destruction of their enemy was seen by all the Hebrews! They knew that God and God alone had accomplished this victory. They simply followed the path God made for them between the waters.

That path, for them, was life and salvation. Yet that same path was defeat and death for Pharaoh and his army. So also, for sin. Though Satan believed that he had at last defeated Jesus by nailing Him to the cross, yet that same cross was made into God’s most glorious victory! And it became the total defeat of Satan, sin and death. Easter is the assurance of that victory by Jesus rising again.

Just as the Hebrews passed through the place that the waters cover, so we in baptism are passed under the water that cleanses us and grants us Christ’s victory. We too, like the Israelites, are set free from our captor and released from our bondage to sin. It’s a most humbling and awesome thing to have the Creator God of the universe give you such a gift of freedom!

Such is what baptism grants to us, because of the complete, total, and final victory of Jesus Christ over sin on the cross and given to us in the power of the Holy Spirit by means of His Word and sacraments.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Good-bye!

Devotions for 4-3-21  “A Sabbath Rest ”

Today is Holy Saturday, a day of reflection and contemplation on the events of Good Friday – a day to dwell again on the depth of Christ’s suffering showing us the greater depth of His love, mercy, and grace. Those things are for us for here and now. But what about then? What about on that sabbath Saturday after Jesus had been crucified and laid in the tomb? What would that have been like?

We know the women were planning to go to the tomb the next day to do for Jesus’ body according to custom. And we know that they and the disciples were observing the sabbath rest, especially as this was the Passover sabbath. But what about Jesus?

I was thinking about that as I walked into the sanctuary this morning with it still arranged for our Good Friday service last night. Adorned in black and red coverings and banners and unlit candles and such. I was struck by the thought, “What was Jesus doing in the tomb on that day?

We know that Jesus died on Good Friday and was put into Joseph of Arimathea’s new tomb that afternoon. And that on the third day, Easter, He will arise, behind the rock of that same tomb and descend into hell to announce His victory over sin, death, the grave, and the devil. And He will then appear to Mary and others and on Easter, that first day of the week. He will also visit with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and then to those in the upper room as well.

But what about that sabbath Saturday. And then it struck me. Why do we call it a sabbath? Why is the 7th day set aside? Because of Genesis 2:1-2 listen to those verses.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.  And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

There it is! That is what Jesus was doing! He rested in the grave – on – the 7th day!! What did He say on the cross? It is finished! That’s when the work was done. And when that work was done, just like in Genesis, Jesus rested from completing His work on the sabbath day!

And that is our hope. That is our promise from God. That we too, when our course is done and we’ve finished our calling on earth, we too will rest. That is what we hear in Heb 4:9-10. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,  for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

As we prepare for tomorrows celebration of Jesus’ victory over death and our restoration to God our heavenly Father, let us rest today. Rest in the comfort of the promises that the Holy Spirit grants to us by the word of God that declares Jesus’ triumph to be the guarantee of our heavenly rest. God’s peace be with you on this sabbath day! Goodbye!

Devotions for 4-1-21  “What we receive on Maundy Thursday ”

Our devotions on this Maundy Thursday come the writings of the sainted CFW Walther, the first president of the lcms. As we are celebrating the institution of the Lord’s Supper this evening at 7pm, Walther’s words on what we receive in this holy meal are a benefit as we prepare to come together tonight. Hear what he says:

The apostle [Paul] wishes to say: Consider, beloved Christians. That when you receive the blessed cup and the blessed bread, each one partakes of the body and blood of Christ; they are both common to all of you. You come into body-and-blood fellowship with one another.

For just as many grains becomes one bread, so in the Holy Supper, you, though you are many, become one Body, one mass, because you are partakers of the one bread and with it one and the same body and blood of Christ.

Because of the presence and participation of the body of Christ, the Holy Supper is a meal of the most intimate fellowship and, therefore, at the same time, the highest love-meal. Just as fervent love is demanded, so fervent love is delivered. We all come together, as children of the same family, to the table of our common, heavenly Father. As great as the distinction between communicants in civic life may be, in the Holy Supper all distinctions evaporate. We are all the same, in that we each eat the same earthly and heavenly bread and drink the same earthly and heavenly drink.

In this Meal, the subject and his king, the slave and his master, the beggar and the rich, the child and the old man, the wife and the husband, the simple and the learned, truly all communicants stand as the same poor sinners and beggars, hungry and thirsty for grace. Although one may appear in a rough apron while another in velvet and satin, adorned with gold and pearls, when they depart, all take with them that for which they hinger and thirst: Christ’s blood and righteousness as their beauty and glorious dress. No one receives a better food and better drink than the other. All receive the same Jesus, and with Him, the same righteousness.

Thus, Walther reminds us so well of what we receive! See you tonight as we gather for this holy meal! God’s peace be with you! Goodbye!

Devotions for 3-30-21  “Thrive under Grace ”

Our devotions on this Tuesday of holy week find us in the third chapter of Hebrews. We’ve been lately hearing about Moses and how the Lord brought about His deliverance for the Jews from slavery. And we know that it didn’t take them long to again turn away from God and cause Him to punish them with 40 years of wandering in the desert. Now in these verses 8-13 today, the writer of Hebrews reminds us of those events in the Old Testament with Moses and God’s people.  Listen to what it says: “do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,  on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your fathers put me to the test  and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

We are reminded in these verses that God still calls us to faithfulness to Himself, the living God of heaven. And we are called to Him by the Holy Spirit through the work of Jesus Christ in dying to pay for the disobedience of mankind. Jesus’ death is what satisfies the law and the terrifying wrath of God against those who break His law and turn away from Him, as did those Jews who left Egypt with Moses and yet forgot His mighty wonders and deeds in delivering them.

So in Hebrews the writer tells us to exhort one another every day to not be hardened by sins deceitfulness. We endeavor to remain faithful and yet we know we fail. And so, we need each other to remind us that the Lord is faithful and He, of His mercy, has forgiven and fully restored us by the blood of Jesus Christ. Without our reminding each other of the enormous sacrifice that God made for us and how we’ve been restored, we might harden our hearts against God’s call to trust in Him through repentance.

Remember always that repentance has two parts. First that we’re contrite and sorrowful for our sin. That we confess our terrible transgressions and so declare God to be right and righteous in His judgment on our sin.

But then the second part of repentance is trust! We can never consider repentance as complete without trust in God’s forgiveness to us in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and His righteous blood that covers all our sins. Through daily repentance we are reminded that sin and its deceitfulness has been overcome in the cross of Jesus Christ.

And that His gifts of restoration and wholeness, poured out on us in our baptism, remains firmly established and steadfast for us against sin and its treachery. We rejoice that we have again today been reminded of the victory that Christ has won and delivered to us through His Holy Spirit that we may live and thrive under the grace of God alone! His peace be with you! Goodbye!

Devotions for 3-27-21  “Moses messes up ”

Today we’re back in the Old Testament reading from Exodus 5. Moses and Aaron have seen Pharaoh and things have gone from bad to worse. And now the Israelite foremen have seen Pharaoh and they get the bad news confirmed for them that they must get their own straw to make bricks with. Here’s what it says: “19 The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.” 20 They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; 21 and they said to them, “The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”22 Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”

While we know how things transpire and get resolved, Moses didn’t know. Neither did Aaron, Pharaoh, or the people of Israel. All’s anyone knew at the end of this meeting was that the task of making bricks by the Israelites had been made harder. Harder to the point of them seeing nothing but death as what awaited them back in the brick pits.

And Moses! Mighty, wonderful Moses! What does he see? What’s his pressing question to God? … Why? … Why did You send me? Look at what’s happened, God! Not only has Pharaoh increased the suffering and evil put upon the people, but You haven’t kept up Your end of things! Heavens everything I’ve done has only made things worse and Your so-called deliverance, God, hasn’t happened… at all!!!

Pretty bleak stuff here at the end chapter 5. But I wonder… where’s the gospel in all this? When you read this over and over and all there is seems to be stench and death, evil and hardship – where’s the gospel? The only place I can see it is in vs 22 where it says, Then Moses turned to the Lord and said

Everything is going so terribly wrong from Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites point of view. This is not what they’d signed up for. It was supposed be Pharaoh and not the Hebrews who suffered. Moses was supposed to be the rescuer, not the instigator of further hardship according to the word of God from that burning bush.

And yet with circumstances circling the drain, Moses does the one thing he can, to salvage things, he turns to God! And there’s the gospel! There’s the good news, the source of real and true salvation.

Moses is learning that he, of himself, is not the rescuer, redeemer, or savoir; God is. Only God can bring about the results promised by God! And that is indeed good news, not only for Moses and the Israelites but for us as well. May we, in continual repentance, do as Moses did and turn to God! His peace be with you! Goodbye!

 

Devotions for 3-25-21  “He Saved Others…”

Looking today at the gospel lesson from Mark 15 we read the description of Jesus’ crucifixion. And in this account, beginning at vs 29 we hear the passersby and religious leaders mock Jesus. Here’s what it says: “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, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now…”

Between those who passed by and the priests, we hear an account of the teachings of Jesus and the works of Jesus summed up. By referencing Jesus’ claim to rebuilding the temple, that reveals that what Jesus had spoken and taught was well known. The word got out and around of what Jesus said He would do.

We of course know He was speaking of the temple of His body, but just the fact that even the casual passersby knew of this, means that what Jesus said and taught was well known.

And then there’s what the chief priests and scribes said. That Jesus had saved others. Isn’t that remarkable? That they testified to the works that Jesus did! They acknowledged that Jesus had, indeed saved others. There were abundant witnesses to His works of healing and casting out demons and even bringing Lazarus and others back from the dead. And this these religious leaders used as a source of mocking Jesus as He was dying on the cross.

But what they may not have noticed is that they were also, in one sense, speaking prophetically. Listen again to their words.  He saved others; he cannot save himself.”

And they were absolutely correct in what they spoke. Jesus could not indeed save Himself if He wanted to accomplish the final work of saving others. Of saving all others. Of saving everyone in the world for all time. This lasting work of the Christ, which they mockingly called Him, could only be finished by God’s true Christ sacrificing Himself there on that cross. He indeed could not save Himself in order to save others.

Never forget those words of the chief priests and scribes spoken in derision are in fact true. They are words that speak our salvation because Jesus chose to save the world, to save us and not Himself. That is what we believe teach and confess. God’s peace and salvation, won by Christ on the cross, be with you! Goodbye!

Devotions for 3-23-21  Moses and Jesus!

For today’s devotions we’re back in the Old Testament and were now at the point where Moses is in Midian after fleeing from Egypt. He’s watching his father-in-law’s flocks when God appears to him from the burning bush. As part of that conversation goes, we learn some curious things, listen from Exodus 2 starting at vs 9: “9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

God both sees and hears what His chosen people are enduring in Egypt. And He intends to do something about it! But pause a moment and think, have you ever felt as though God had no clue what you’re going through or suffering with? That He simply can’t relate to your fear, pain, anguish, or misery? This verse puts to rest any doubt that God knows our circumstances or how much trouble we are going through. And just as He heard and saw His people’s suffering, He sees yours as well.

And like with them, He has a way of dealing with it that only He knows how to best put into action. And in Exodus, that involves Moses. Moses has to go and do what God wants him to do. And though Moses protests, yet God’s answer to that is that God promises to be with Moses through all that lies ahead. And He gives Moses a sign that will confirm for Moses that God’s plan is done.

We so often jump to Moses leading the Israelites in the desert for 40 years that we forget, that wasn’t God’s initial goal. Not that God didn’t know that would happen. It’s just not what God told Moses from the burning bush! God told Moses the sign was that he and the people would worship God on this mountain. Moses was to lead the people out of slavery and bring them to this mountain before taking them to the promised land.

We know of course that the people disobeyed God later and were then made to wander for 40 years. But that again was not what God revealed to Moses. Moses was to focus on bringing the people out of Egypt to the mountain of God to serve Him.

Sometimes we find it easy to get focused on the wrong things. Oh, we start out wanting to be made free from our slavery to sin, but then we turn our freedom into license to sin, just as they did. And we end up, like the Israelites, needing a savoir to guide us through our wilderness. What Moses ends up doing in leading the people all those years reminds us that Jesus is our only way through our wandering. And that our Savior will guide us and lead us to the promised land of heaven. Thanks to Moses for preparing us to learn to follow our guide, Jesus Christ.  God’s peace be with you! Goodbye!

Devotions for 3-20-21  Jesus is more than a ‘superstar’!

Do you remember when the musical Jesus Christ superstar came out back in the ‘70s? I do and there was much ado about it. But the thing that stood out for me was reading the libretto and realizing that they were portraying Judas in somewhat positive light. They cast him in the role of the misunderstood enthusiast. It was made to seem as though judas only wanted to force Jesus’ hand and make him come out of hiding.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Listen to Mark 14:10 which says: “10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.”

I bring this up about Judas as we are in the Lenten season and it behooves us to consider the darkness of Judas’ part in the story of Jesus death. Notice from the reading that there were 3 things that tell us of Judas’ doings.

1 He went to the chief priests. Judas sought them out with the intention of betraying Jesus. It says nothing of Judas wanting to help the leaders overthrow the romans by using Jesus’ popularity with the crowds. No, by this point it was well established that they wanted Jesus dead. And now with Judas, he takes this moment to betray Jesus to them so that Jesus would be put to death.

Number 2 he accepted their promise of money. This betrayal was not for any religious or political cause. It was simply for greed. For personal gain.

And number 3 he actively sought out a way to betray Jesus. This betrayal was not a moment of passion or sudden inspiration to brilliance. No, this was a planned thing. Something that needed the help of darkness to make it happen. Something that needed forethought along with the malice to accomplish it.

It’s important to note that Judas acted as it was known he would do. And yet Jesus did not stop him even though he warned Judas that it would have been better for him to have not been born than to betray The Son of man. Such a powerful image to evoke and yet Judas was blinded by greed, malice, and a desire to have Jesus done away with.

Let us learn from Judas. Let’s us learn to hear Jesus’ warning to turn from sin that draws us into its darkness and away from Him. Learn that in Jesus we have life that cannot be had by any other way. Sin never leads to life; it only leads to death. And that in Jesus own death and resurrection from the grave we are given the way of escape from sin to life. Let us learn to turn from the blindness and darkness of sin to the light of hope and the way of restoration that is found only in the light of Jesus Christ. God’s peace in Christ be with you! Goodbye!

Devotions for 3-18-21  Preserve Life!

We now get to the joyful part of this story of Joseph and his brothers.  Remember that God had given Joseph dreams when he was a boy of being ruler over his brothers and father and mother even. And now this begins to come to pass. But not in a vindictive, harsh, or cruel sort of way. Listen again to how Joseph reveals himself to his brothers from Gen 45:4-8: “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. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 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.”

How long have gone without seeing a brother or sister? Has it ever been long enough that they had grown to adulthood to the point you couldn’t recognize them? It’s hard to imagine the shock that reverberates throughout this story of recognition and reconciliation. The last time Joseph and his brothers laid eyes on one another was as the brothers were selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites when he was just a teenager.

And now here they were, again in Egypt to buy more food and having been forced by Joseph’s demands they had brought the youngest brother, Benjamin along, only to have this man, this ruler of Egypt and ‘father’ to Pharaoh, reveal himself at last as the hated brother they had sold those many years before.

And not only is he their brother, and savior from famine, he is also speaking the word of reconciliation to them through giving God the honor of bringing them back together for that very purpose of salvation! Joseph gives the brothers absolution with these words. He speaks peace to them. He speaks words that remove their guilt and shame for their actions and malice.

God’s purpose could only be fulfilled by what Joseph had to endure through their hardness of heart in betraying him. And as Jesus did in speaking from the cross, Father forgive them for they know not what they do, so also Joseph here again, absolves them.

It is God according to Joseph that has done all that took place between he and his brothers with the purpose of preservation of the family. It’s God’s doing according to what Joseph says three times. God sent me.

So, let me ask you. What might God have sent you to where you are for? What lives are you preserving because God sent you to the family, the job, the school the neighborhood that He did? You, like Joseph, can choose to see your circumstances as God-given and through that, God gives you His word of reconciliation that you speak to those who so desperately need to hear it. God’s blessings to you wherever God has put you! Goodbye!

Devotions for 3-16-21  Israel’s Monday morning quarterbacking!

We return to Genesis and we’re at the story of the famine and how Joseph had prepared Egypt to survive and to help others do so. today’s reading is after the point when Israel’s sons had made their first trip down to Egypt and not recognized the ‘man’ who ruled there. Now they need to return for more food. Here’s a summary reading of Gen 43:1-14: “Now the famine was severe in the land. 2 And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little food.” 3 But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ … 6 Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?” 7 They replied, “The man questioned us carefully…Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?” … 11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then … Take also your brother, and arise, go again to the man.”

Surely this is not the first time they had this conversation in the days since the boys returned from their first journey. And yet still, Israel does his ‘Monday morning quarterbacking’ by asking questions about why his eldest son acted so poorly. Why did they have to tell the ‘man’ leading Egypt and controlling the food, about Benjamin?

And as Judah pointed out, again I’m sure, to his dad about how was he supposed to know what the ‘man’ would ask? In other words, Judah is telling his dad, Israel, you weren’t there so you can’t keep up with your ‘Monday morning quarterbacking’!

Of course, we know that all this stems from Judah and the other brothers, not  recognizing the ‘man’ in Egypt for who he was. He was their brother Joseph, whom they’d sold into slavery years before. They simply could not see this man as their brother.

How much like them are we? We also failed to recognize who Jesus truly is when He was among us. He is our brother and yet we to failed to see Him that way.

So, Israel reluctantly sends his beloved youngest son, Benjamin, because that is what the ‘man’ required so they could at least come into his presence to ask to purchase food. Thus, the requirement, the cost for the privilege of seeing the man to buy the food needed to survive, hinged on the one beloved son of Israel leaving his father to go and do what was necessary for their salvation.

So here we have salvation for the nation of Israel coming from sending the one person who was required in order to gain access to the one person who could provide the food of life! the parallel to Jesus is striking for meeting our needs, is it not? He is the One beloved son of God coming to purchase our salvation. Through God sending His child all the children of the world are saved.

We are grateful for what Joseph, Israel, Benjamin and Judah teach us about trusting the word of God in Jesus Christ to grant us the food of life that we need. God’s blessings, Goodbye!

Devotions for 3-13-21  The Art of Faith (from Luther’s writings)

A little change of pace for today’s devotional.

But before we get to that, please remember to ‘spring ahead’ and set your clocks for daylight savings time tonight.

Also, a brief reminder we are having a voter’s meeting tomorrow right after worship to discuss hvac needs in the fellowship hall.

Now! On to today’s devotions which come from the devotional book I sometimes like to use called By Faith Alone which is a collection from Luther’s writings. Todays’ is called “The Art of Faith” and is based, in part, on Galatians 3:23 which reads:

“Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.”

Luther writes…

Grace is present when your heart is restored by the promise of God’s free mercy. Then your heart can say with the author of psalm 42, “O my soul, why are you so troubled and restless? Do you only see the law, sin, terror, sadness, despair, death, hell, and the devil? Aren’t grace, forgiveness of sins, righteousness, comfort, joy, peace, life, heaven, Christ, and God also present? Stop being troubled, my soul. What are the law, sin, and everything evil compared to them? Trust God. He didn’t spare His own Son but offered Him up to death on a cross for your sins”. (If you look up psalm 42 you’ll see that Luther liked to take liberties sometimes to make his point, back to his writing now…)

So when you are frightened by the law, you can say, “Lady Law, you are not the only thing, and you are not everything. Besides you there is something even greater and better, specifically, grace, faith, and blessing. They comfort me, tell me to expect the best, and assure me of my certain victory and salvation in Christ. So there’s no reason for me to despair.”

Whoever truly understands this can be called a theologian. Certain leaders who are always boasting about the Spirit believe that they understand living by faith extremely well.

I, however, and others like me, know that we scarcely possess the fundamentals. We are diligent students in the school where the art of faith is taught. No matter how well it’s taught, as long as we remain in these sinful bodies, we will never finish learning.

That’s a good reminder from our Uncle Martin. As long as we remain in these sinful bodies, we will never finish learning. What will you learn, about the art of faith today? God’s blessings, Goodbye!

Devotions for 3-11-21  Oh, for Joseph’s sake?!?

Our reading today is again in Genesis now 39:1-5. And it reads:

“Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. 4 So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. 5 From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field.”

There’re a couple things I’d like us to take away from this short reading. Notice in vs 3 that it mentions that Joseph’s master, Potiphar, saw that the Lord was with Joseph. We’re not told that Potiphar, knew the Lord, but that he recognized the Lord was with Joseph.

The only way for that to have happened was for Joseph to have lived and spoken in such a way that Potiphar came to the understanding that Joseph’s Lord was prospering all that Joseph did. Joseph would’ve had to be faithful in not only his actions and deeds but in his words and his speaking as well. How else would Potiphar know of the Lord?

So, take away number one is; that how we act and the words with which we speak will give witness of Lord to those around us. Now whether or not that’s a clear witness is determined by the clarity with which we speak of the Lord as we have opportunity to do so. Be encouraged by what Joseph did and how Potiphar understood Joseph, that you too by your words can instruct others about the Lord. And about how He has blessed and prospered you in the riches of the gospel.

And then the second thing to note, is that in vs 5 it says that the Lord blessed the Egyptians house for the sake of Joseph! It wasn’t because of the good job that Joseph did that the Lord blessed the house of Potiphar, but it was simply for the sake of Joseph himself that the Lord blessed the Potiphar’s house.

And so too with us. We are blessed by God simply for the sake of Jesus and who He is! The blessing and kindness of God come to us not because of us but because of the person of Jesus Christ who dwells within us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The house of our body is a temple so says St Paul in 1 Cor 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  And within our house, the Lord Jesus Christ lives by His grace. And so we too, like Potiphar, have the blessing of God upon us, not because of us, but because He who dwells with in us, Jesus Christ, our Lord and savior. Rejoice in His presence and His goodness to you! Goodbye!

 

Devotions for 3-9-21  Death of the old gods.

Today’s devotional reading is from Genesis 35:1-4.  Here’s how it reads:

“God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. 3 Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4 So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.”

That last verse presents a curiosity. Why hide or bury those foreign gods? I did some looking into this and found a few things that help. Remember the context from the first 2 vss. God tells Jacob to go to Bethel and make an altar to God there. And Jacob prepares for obeying this word of the Lord by having his household do 3 things; put away the foreign gods, purify themselves, and change their clothes.

The order of these directions seems deliberate by their wording in the Hebrew. But it’s only the ‘putting away’ of the foreign gods that we see a follow-up to by the hand of Jacob. And that verse, 4, presents a unique word choice in the original language.

When is says that ‘Jacob hid them’ the Hebrew word is not the usual one used when someone is buried. It’s a little used word that may imply capturing by hidden means or a concealed trap leading to death. It’s not the word, qabar, that would indicate a normal interment. One commentator said that “qabar may have been avoided lest the idea be conveyed that the gods were given a decent burial. ‘ An idea that parallels this is these so-called gods can be treated as common objects that can be tossed away.

Following this unceremonious discarding of the foreign god-objects, then the people are now ready to be purified. And with the changing of garments their transformation to being made ready to go and worship the true God at Bethel as He commanded is complete.

They’re now ready to worship the true God, the God who, according to Jacob in vs 3, is the God who answers and Who remains with Jacob wherever he goes! Having tossed away the old ways, the newly purified and clothed arise to properly worship the one true God. Such purification and clothing is what Jesus does for us on the cross.

There’s an almost baptismal quality to this event with Jacob. The old is dead and buried, just as we learn happens in our baptism. We’re taught in answer to the question  What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Go and live now in the new life Christ has won for you; goodbye!

Devotions for 3-6-21  Lies and Mercy?

Today’s devotional reading is Genesis 27:1-29 and I’ll encourage you read that on your own. Again, that’s Genesis 27:1-29. This is where Rebekah and Jacob conspire to deceive Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing of the first-born and not to Esau. This is a complicated scheme of deception. There’s lying, conniving, and manipulation of someone old and in a weakened condition. And all this is masterminded by Rebekah, Isaac’s wife.

We tend to cringe when we read this. We don’t like these methods or practices. They’re dishonest and would seem to be fraudulent. How could God honor the blessing that Jacob receives from Isaac? After all God is honest and we’re told how God hates deceit. So again, why honor this blessing?

There are a couple things to bear in mind as we look at this. One is the matter of Esau selling this, his birthright, which is the unique blessing of a father to the firstborn, to Jacob. This is not an inconsiderable issue. Look back in Genesis 25:29-34. We’re told that in selling his birthright Esau ‘despised’ it. Esau did not properly value that which, by rights, was his. And so, when we read today’s lesson bear in mind that Esau had already made a bargain to trade this, his blessing, for a bowl of soup!

The one other thing we have time to point out is, that this outcome is what God had promised Rebekah! In that same chapter 25 we hear the story of Rebekah being barren and how Isaac prayed, and God opened her womb to conceive and she bore twins. When they struggled inside her she asked God what this could mean, and God replied, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”

God had made this promise to Rebekah and in today’s reading we see Rebekah working to that end, that the older would serve the younger. Could God have used other methods or tactics to accomplish His promise? We’re not given that answer. What we are told is only what we read in the text. And so, we’re left to ponder, yet again, the mysterious ways in which God chooses to act.

Throughout all of scripture we see mystery after mystery that God works, and He does so despite leaving us confused and with this question. Do we trust God? Do we trust that; indeed, His ways are not our ways, nor are our thoughts His thoughts. And yet His  ways and thoughts produce for us and in us His righteousness and compassion?

How can we look at the cross and not be left in awe, wonder, amazement and confusion? Why does God take this hated device of torture and death and use it to redeem and purify us? When we can fully answer that, maybe we’ll better understand how God uses and honors this lie of Rebekah and Jacob. God bless you in your struggle with His grace and mercy to you. God’s blessing of peace be with you, goodbye!

Devotions for 3-4-21 God Hears!

Again, today for our devotions we’re in Genesis, now chapter 24. This is where Abraham’s servant is sent to the old country to get a wife for Isaac. But what we’re interested in here is vss 12-15. Listen to these words of the servant.

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, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, came out with her water jar on her shoulder.”

These words of Abraham’s servant are the first recorded instance of prayer in scripture. As such they can be very instructive for us. Look at how he begins his supplication. He addresses God directly, but he does so in the name of his master Abraham. In doing this the servant makes clear to Whom he is speaking and acknowledging that he comes in the name of his master.

For us, we emulate this part by coming to God in the name of our Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. We know that God will hear us for the sake of that name because that is what was promised to us in scripture. So, we too make clear we’re coming to God, the living God of heaven, bearing the name that gives us the certainty of access to His ear.

Next this servant puts forward his request directly. There’s no waffling or equivocating. He asks for success in his assigned task and makes clear that such success would be seen as God’s love for his master. So, he’s asking to see the love of God carried out for the sake of the one he serves. And this we also can relate to.

When we’re asking God for success or guidance in the name of Jesus Christ, we have confidence because we’ve seen God’s love already poured out in Christ’s cross. So, we know, like this servant, that God wants us to trust Him to grant only that which further reveals His love for us.

While there’re other lessons we could take from here I wanted to point out the first words from vs 15, Before he had finished speaking. And then we read how God had His answer already on the way to the servant! What a blessing to see how God loves.

Before the servant was done praying God sent His affirmative answer! Not that God’s answer to what we pray will always be, Yes, we know that. But this gives us a glimpse of God’s mercy in that He is always answering our prayers. God hears us and God answers us! And all this He does out of the love He’s already shown us in sending His son to redeem us and make us His own people! Rejoice that God’s hears you, answers you and loves you for the sake of our master, Jesus Christ. God’s peace, goodbye!