Wednesday, October 21, 2020

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not belong to us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7

I had a professor in seminary that once said, you can tell the health of a church by how willing people are to name their own sin. His point was that if a person truly believes in the redemptive power of God’s grace, they should be free of the shame and embarrassment that often accompanies sin. Unfortunately, it’s that shame that makes us want to keep our sins hidden and keeps us from truly experiencing the freedom God’s forgiveness is intended to bring.  

In today’s verse, Paul is trying to communicate that the power of God’s grace is exemplified in our messy and (likely) hypocritical lives. When we strive to make our lives look picture perfect, we obscure the redemptive work that God has done in us. Just imagine what the New Testament would look like if the people who encountered Jesus’ forgiveness were never willing to share what God had done in their lives! 

May each of us live this day fully embracing God’s forgiveness and taking steps toward sharing our own story for God’s glory and the good of those around us.

Monday, October 19, 2020

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” —John 8:36

In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt laid out four essential freedoms that he argued should be universal: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. No doubt we all agree that these are important goals. And no doubt we all lament that we’ve yet to see these freedoms be guaranteed to every person in this broken world.

But even those of us who are more or less free to speak and worship, free from want and fear, experience bondage. In John 8, Jesus says that “everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” Not only that, he says that “a slave has no permanent place in the family.” So we, who are sinners, are not only in bondage but also without permanent family.

Or we would be, if it were not for Jesus’ intervention. Jesus, the Son of the Living God, has invited us into his own life, has claimed us with his own identity. So we are forgiven and set free from sin and joined to the family of God. The freedom of Jesus is true freedom, lasting freedom, freedom from the ultimate enemies of sin and death and destruction. You have been made freed by the Son, and you are free indeed.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Today’s reflection is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” —Psalm 121:4

Are you a worrier? I tend to be. Even though Jesus reminded us not to worry (“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life …” [Matthew 6:25]), I find it difficult sometimes not to worry. I worry about my son’s health with his diabetes. I worry about the COVID-19 virus. I worry about many of the things I see happening in our world, especially the hatred, the violence, and the division.  

So whenever I feel worried, I find Psalm 121 to be a comfort. It reminds me that no matter what is going on around me, and especially the things I have no control over, God is always with me. We may need to sleep, but God doesn’t. God is there, day and night, each day and every day. God is my protector and keeper. God listens to me and comforts me. God knows my very heart and everything that concerns me. Thank you, Lord!

“I lift my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” —Psalm 121:1-2

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

“Then Peter said: I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Acts 10: 34-35

No matter how old I get, the first time I enter someone’s home it’s always a little awkward. Is this a shoes on or shoes off house? If I give the person my coat, will it go into a nearby closet which is easy to access when I’m ready to go or will it be taken into a room that resides in a part of the house that I may or may not see (especially raising the stakes when it’s a large gathering and I’m ready to make a polite exit)? Are other people already there? Do I know them? Do they look happy to see me or indifferent? How I’m welcomed goes a long way in knowing that someone is happy to have me around.

Today’s verse takes place right after the passage where Peter has a vision from God that makes it clear that, through the resurrection, adhering to strict Jewish laws that determine what is clean and unclean is no longer necessary. In effect, for each person who wants to come and know God, the door is open and God is waiting to warmly greet each person who walks through it. Today, may each one of us look for when God can use us to invite someone inside. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

“And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” —John 17:3

I’ll be honest: There are times, especially late at night when I’m having trouble sleeping, and I start thinking about death, about loved ones who I’ve lost, about loved ones who are in their final years, about how quickly life goes by and how soon death will come for me, that all I want from God is for death not to be the end. In those moments, the contrast between death and life is so stark, so severe, that all I want is to know that death has not had the last word, will not ultimately be victorious.

And there’s good reason for this. Death is an enemy. Death destroys. Death is not a benign force. In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul wrote of Jesus, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Death is an enemy to be defeated, and our hope in Christ is in no small part rooted in our confidence that he is the one who has conquered death.

But these words of Jesus that we read today from John 17 remind us that the news is much better than simply undoing death. The world as it is, the world as we live in it, is not as it should be. Even when we are still breathing, our lives are not as they should be. To be sure, life is a gift, and the destruction of life is part and parcel of the brokenness of our world. But simply having breath in our lungs is not all there is. Jesus came to provide eternal life. And here Jesus helps us to see that “eternal” doesn’t just mean going on forever. It means real life, life in its fullness, life in which we know our Heavenly Father and are known by him.

And this is exactly why we are able to start experiencing eternal life right now. Life knowing the God who loves us doesn’t have to wait. Because Jesus is ours and we are his, we can live, really live, right here and now. So, in the midst of the death and decay that surrounds you, in the midst of the brokenness that is in your own heart and soul, may you, today, know real, eternal life, because you know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he sent.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Today’s reflection is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“I said, ‘I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.’” —Isaiah 49:4

As a Lutheran, I know that I am saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, apart from works. Yet, even as I know that I cannot earn my salvation through good works, it is my faith that inspires me to do God’s will whenever I can. But if I am doing those good works just to be noticed and rewarded, then as the Bible verse says, I am laboring in vain, and spending my strength for nothing but my own reward. 

So where does my true reward come from? It comes not from anything I do, but rather from being a child of God, and from knowing that Jesus cared enough about me to die on the cross and rise again for my salvation.  My true reward is being in relationship with a God who loves me and all people. My true joy comes from loving God and loving neighbor.

The second verse for this day provides us with the best ending for this devotion: 

“Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”  —1 Corinthians 15:58

Amen.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. —John 12:46

I think it’s universal that at one point everyone was afraid of being alone in the dark. As we grow up we come to realize that there isn’t actually a monster under the bed or in the closet. Being alone in the dark is no longer something to be afraid of. What’s unfortunate is that the older we get the more dangerous the dark becomes. Because as adults, we retreat into the darkness to hide our shortcomings, failures, and unhealthy habits or addictions (i.e., sin) from the people around us. The worst part is that choosing the darkness and choosing isolation only feeds our shame and gives power to whatever monster we’re struggling with.

Thankfully God sent Jesus into this world to take away the power that sin has over us. To allow us to embrace that we have already been forgiven. That each day and each moment is a new opportunity to live into our identity as children of God. Or for one last analogy, to turn on the light and show us that the monster is really just a pile of clothes.

Now let’s go do some laundry.

Monday, October 5, 2020

“Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” —Hebrews 2:1

We all experience important things slipping our minds. Sometimes I’ll have an event on my calendar that semi-surprises me every time I see it on the screen. Or I’ll put a new proof of insurance document that I need to take to my car right next to my keys, which is a perfect system—except I’ll still manage to grab the keys half a dozen times before remembering to bring along the insurance document.

It’s clear from reading the Old and New Testaments that the biblical writers were aware that the capacity to forget applies in our relationship with God, too. At the beginning of the book of Hebrews, the writer reminds readers that the revelation we’ve received in Jesus far surpasses any previous revelation of God. And yet even this unique revelation of God and the salvation offered through Jesus Christ sometimes drift from our minds.

I sometimes think that one way to understand the life of faith is that our spiritual practices (worship, prayer, reading Scripture, spiritual friendships, etc.) center us in God’s truth, and then the fallen forces of this world do their best to destroy our faith, and so we return to spiritual practices that remind us of the truth. This is probably an overly simplistic way to think about it, but there’s something to it. I’ve never met a Christian so mature that he or she doesn’t have to fight the tendency to drift away from the truth we’ve heard.

As frustrating as this can be, I actually find it encouraging and beautiful. Our faith lives are about relationship with God, and relationships require ongoing interaction. Our human-to-human relationships never reach a point at which they don’t require attention. You don’t tell your parents or your spouse or your kids that you love them one time. Healthy relationships require paying attention, and so it is with relationship with our Heavenly Father.

So let’s make it a practice to pay greater attention to the truth we’ve heard, and to the God who has provided so great a salvation.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Today’s reflection is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” —Mark 2:17

When I first think of being sick and needing healing, I think in terms of physical healing, which Christ did for many people during his ministry on earth. And indeed, my prayers every day include people for whom I wish physical healing. But with this passage, Jesus is referring to much more than physical healing. We all need healing when it comes to sin. And many times when we feel hurt or doubt or despair, we need emotional and spiritual healing as well.

I am especially drawn to this passage during this political season, as it is easy to become so entrenched in our views that we want to demonize everyone who has opposing viewpoints. We can forget to listen to others and fail to understand why they feel the way they do. And when we fail to talk to or listen to each other, we are not loving each other the way we should.

Jesus came to save us in spite of our sins. I know he loves me even when I screw up or become judgmental. He opens my eyes and my heart so that I may love others, even when they disagree with me. He forgives me when I fail to be the person he wants me to be. So, I am very glad that Jesus came not for the righteous, but for sinners, because that means he came for me!

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Today’s reflection is written by Joe Duea.

“Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” —James 1:12

It’s important to point out here that these words were written by James the brother of Jesus! Not a mere witness, or a friend, or even a disciple, but Jesus’ BROTHER. He probably has a pretty good insight into what Jesus taught us! Even though he didn’t agree with his brother at first, James became one of the key leaders in the new Church. Here James is teaching on persevering through trials. 

This verse starts with good advice (not unusual from James): “Blessed is anyone who endures temptation…” In other places in the Bible there are pictures of what it means to be blessed. Jeremiah 17:7 says “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.” Of course, there are all the “Blessed are…” statements in the Sermon on the Mount. But here in this passage James is discussing wisdom and interspersed are these references to having the resolve to face tests and trials. So then does wisdom come from perseverance? 

James goes on to say in this passage that not just wisdom, but every good and perfect gift comes from God. As it says in later in verse 18, we were all born into God’s truth. At the end of this verse, James writes,  “…and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” So, we’ve been born in God’s truth and may receive the crown of life, because God promised it to us. We need only to trust in God alone.

But—what about that middle part? “Such a one has stood the test…” (my emphasis added). OK, here is where it gets hard for me, in the “test,” or the trials, or the temptations. I am a believer and a follower of Jesus, but I must remind myself of that every day, because I so often give in to temptation and that pulls me away from God. Too often I get distracted from my responsibilities by my phone, or have that extra snack even though I need to lose weight, or start work and skip daily Bible study, or have an extra glass of wine at night to relax. Also, my thoughts get pulled away from what is right, and my mind is pulled to the worldly things that Satan uses to tempt us. I slip like we all do. I need to learn to trust in God alone and ask God’s help to persevere through the trials, to endure the temptations. I know that it’s not me persevering; it’s only through trusting God that I can do that. In every situation I need to call on Jesus to help me to remember God’s promise—the crown of life “promised to those who love him.” That crown of life is living an eternal life with God, not receiving glory and honor here on earth. 

Lord, help to me to stiffen my resolve to face the tests and trials, and teach me to trust in you alone. In every temptation help me to remember your promise to all of us.