Daily Devotions led by Pastor James

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Daily Devotions – April 9, 2020: Maundy Thursday - living sacramentally in these times

Today's devotion is on living sacramentally in these times. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 9 

Maundy Thursday is usually all about communion. This is the “night in which he was betrayed” that we remember every time we retell the story in our communion liturgy. This was when Jesus took the bread and the wine, gave thanks, and shared it with his disciples, telling them to “do this in remembrance of me.” It’s a big deal. 

The Lutheran Church recognizes two sacraments: Baptism and Communion. What makes a sacrament, a sacrament, in Lutheran teaching is that it pairs a command with a physical element. For Baptism, God’s Word is made real in the water. In Communion, God’s Word is made real in the bread and the wine. For each, the Word of God takes physical shape in these elements.  

We’ve been without communion for a while. If you’re like me, you probably feel like you are missing something without it. And we are – in this meal, Christ makes this meal holy with his presence and provides us nourishment to continue in our faith. As with most things, when it is so conspicuously absent, we probably want it all the more. And when Holy Communion is something we are used to having every week, it makes it all the more difficult to go without.  

I read an important reminder from the Lutheran World Federation, (link here) talking about this struggle of going without communion. While we must go without communion, we are not going without the sacraments. We always have our baptismal calling – this opportunity to die to ourselves and be raised in service to God and our neighbor. We made promises in our baptism and confirmation, among them:   

 

Reach out, and take care of each other. God loves you.  

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added for my daily emails, send me their email and I will add them to the list. As always, I am available by phone for conversation and prayer - don't hesitate to call!  

Daily Devotions – April 8, 2020: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Today's devotion is on Greeks coming to see Jesus, from John 12:20-36. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 8 

 

I don’t know if you remember this or not, but this was the Gospel reading at my ordination. At the church I grew up at, my pastor taped at the top of the pulpit a piece of paper that stayed there, with the reminder from this text, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” It became somewhat of an identity piece for the congregation, and now, at the back of the church for any pastor who enters the pulpit to see hangs a banner that says “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Having preached there and seen that banner for myself, it is a very powerful reminder of what is really important stepping into the pulpit. 

After he says this, Jesus says many things that are memorable: “Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” And “Where I am, my servant will be also.” But it all starts with that – a few Greeks who come to Philip and say “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 

That sentiment, particularly as I went into seminary and now in ministry, is something that has always stuck with me.  

As we are all so eager to get back to church – as we figure out what a drive-in service looks like, I can see that banner reminding us what is important. We miss our community; we miss gathering in the sanctuary, sharing the peace, communion, and seeing our friends. 

I think a lot of it comes down to this: We miss seeing Jesus. No pastor, myself included, is going to tell you that the Jesus who was crucified for us has left us. But in those things we miss, we find the witness to the Christ who we are hungry to see. In our friends, in the sharing of the peace, we see Christ in a community in which people have been like Christ to their neighbor. In Communion, we receive Christ’s body and blood, present in, with, and under the bread and the wine.   

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added for my daily emails, send me their email and I will add them to the list. As always, I am available by phone for conversation and prayer - don't hesitate to call!  

Daily Devotions – April 7, 2020: Jesus makes a scene in the temple

Today's devotion is on Jesus cleansing the temple, found in Matthew 21:12-17 To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for Tuesday, April 7 

 

Where does Jesus go at the end of his Palm Sunday parade? It’s the temple. In the Gospel of Matthew, the cleansing of the temple immediately follows the procession into Jerusalem.  With all of the cleaning and sanitizing and handwashing we’ve been doing – maybe we need to remember what we mean when we say Jesus “cleanses” the temple. 

What Jesus does, doesn’t sound like the kind of cleaning we’ve been doing. Jesus drives out those who were buying and selling in the temple. He flips moneychangers tables and knocks over tables dove vendors. He says “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.” Then Jesus cures the blind and the lame over the protests of the Pharisees while people cry out Hosanna to the son of David! That’s the story of what we know as Jesus cleansing the temple. 

I’ve heard, and a little too often, this passage used to justify our own anger. Jesus got angry, so I can, too! He flipped over tables and kicked people out, so my angry behavior is justified, too! The assumption there, and it’s a big one, is that my anger is just as righteous as Jesus’, and that somehow, that Jesus got angry once justifies our anger here on earth.  

Jesus did get angry, and he did kick out the money-changers and vendors from the temple. Jesus’ anger was used to fight corruption of the Holy. Jesus’ anger led to the blind being healed and the lame cured. The story doesn’t end with Jesus acting like the Hulk and getting angry – the actions Jesus take make room for the Holy to enter and for the work of God to take place. 

Anger can be, though rarely is, a productive emotion. As we watch all sorts of people on television, focusing on the news, it’s easy to get angry at the things we disagree with. As we are increasingly frustrated by our situation – particularly since it is Holy Week and a clear disruption of our church life – it’s easy to let our anger at the situation spill over into the rest of our lives and into our relationships.  

If we want to learn something from Jesus’ actions in the temple, it is that anger is only good when it leads to the Godly. Anger is only Christ-like when it leads to the lame cured and sight for the blind. With all of this social isolation, I am sure that many of us have pent-up energy or can’t wait to get out. But if that energy or anxiety starts to turn to anger, focus it in the productive. Find a way to, out of a bad situation, be Christ to your neighbor. Don’t let anger lead towards more frustration, take the energy towards something good.  

 

Reach out, and take care of each other. God loves you.  

 

Pastor James 

 

We hope to meet for drive-in worship again this coming Sunday. If the situation changes or we are given a stay at home order, we will have an online service. More details will come as we know more about the situation. If you know someone who would like to be added for my daily emails, send me their email and I will add them to the list. As always, I am available by phone for conversation and prayer - don't hesitate to call!  

Daily Devotions – April 6, 2020: Mary anointing Jesus' feet

Today's devotion is on Mary anointing Jesus’ feet, found in John 12:1-11. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for Monday, April 6 

  

Mary is ahead of the game in this reading. Her actions show that she gets something that the rest of the disciples don’t. Mary takes this costly perfume, and uses her hair to spread it on Jesus’ feet. Judas objects, saying this costly perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus responds, saying “leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” 

Mary taking this expensive perfume and anointing Jesus’ feet foreshadows two events that are about to happen: Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, and Jesus’ burial. Jesus implies his burial is soon, saying Mary has saved this for the day of his burial. The often overlooked connection is between what Mary does here and what Jesus does for his disciples. 

When Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, it is to paint for them a picture of discipleship. Jesus says “if I have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” The one through whom the whole world came into being in his last hours took the role of a servant for his disciples, as an example for them to follow.  

Jesus, in washing his disciples’ feet, paints the picture of discipleship. Mary is ahead of the curve – she doesn’t need to be shown what to do. John’s gospel paints a picture of discipleship as grounded in a relationship with Jesus and formed by love. Discipleship, for John, is not about belief. It is about action. It is about a connection with Jesus Christ that leads to acts of love and compassion for your neighbor. To follow Christ is to follow his way in acts of service.  

Looking ahead at Holy Week, we have the advantage of knowing the story and knowing what is coming. Like Mary, we can look ahead and understand that Jesus’ death is coming. We read ahead, and know what Jesus teaches his disciples in the final hours. 

What we can learn from Mary in this week is the decision to act. Love is a verb; it requires action. Even though we are social distanced and trapped inside, we are still disciples of Jesus Christ and can reach out in acts of love to our neighbor and one another. We can follow Mary’s lead and continue in acts of love without waiting to be told. We’re probably thinking a lot more about washing hands than washing feet. But we should not forget the way of service following the one who washes away the sins of the world.   

  

Reach out. Take care of each other. God loves you.  

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added for my daily emails, send me their email and I will add them to the list. As always, I am available by phone for conversation and prayer - don't hesitate to call!

Daily Devotions – April 4, 2020: Romans 8

Today's devotion is on Romans 8:38-39. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 4 

 

You all probably know this section of scripture, even if you don’t recognize the verses. Paul writes, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I don’t know if Paul new what pandemics were, but if he did, they very well might have made the list as something that couldn’t separate us from God. Nothing in all of creation – Coronavirus and social distancing included – can separate us from the love of God.  

As we are into this, and we may very well be in this social distancing for a while, loneliness is something that will eventually set in and affect all of us. I know the first Sunday we didn’t have church, not driving to Summer and leading worship had a pretty profound effect on me. I’d missed Sundays before. But there was something in knowing that we couldn’t worship due to things out of our control that made the situation feel more helpless. As we are shifting what we are doing for Palm Sunday and Easter, and as we will hopefully be able to wave to each other from car to car,  

There’s that old movie cliché, where two people fall in love and get separated, but they both agree that they’ll look up at the moon, and know that the other person is looking up at the same moon. As cheesy as it is – this might be our approach now. We fix our eyes on God, who we’re never separated from, and know that everyone we want to be with has their eyes turned in the same direction. We might find it comforting, knowing that we all can’t wait to get back to worship, and our prayers are not ours alone as we all turn to God in prayer.   

After all, it is Christ who unites us with God that also unites us with one another. Together, we are members of one body in Christ. As that connection is strained and tested, we can rest assured that our connectedness is not only in our hands. It is a foregone conclusion that Christ has already connected us to one another. Though we haven’t gathered in a while, we are still indelibly connected in our Baptism to one another. There is nothing in this world – depths nor heights nor anything on Paul’s list, pandemic or otherwise, that can separate us from the love of God we find in Christ Jesus. And with what God has done in us in our Baptism, there is nothing that can separate us completely from one another.  

 

Reach out, and take care of each other. God loves you.   

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added for my daily emails, send me their email and I will add them to the list. As always, I am available by phone for conversation and prayer - don't hesitate to call!  

Daily Devotions – April 3, 2020: Beattitudes

Today's devotion is on the beatitudes, found in Matthew 5. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 3 

 

The Beatitudes are the best known part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. In this passage, there’s a long list of who is blessed: those who mourn, the poor in spirit, the meek, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. It’s a long list in which Jesus calls people blessed who, in a lot of ways, wouldn’t be considered blessed by society. 

What does it mean to be blessed? If we look at how most people use it, we might find it synonymous with the word “lucky.” Or, as other people use it, to say that I’m “blessed” is just a means of self-congratulations: New truck! I’m so blessed!  If we looked at professional athletes’ celebrations, we might think that being blessed means hitting a home-run or crossing the goal-line.  

I hope we all understand, though, that those aren’t really what it means to be blessed. To put it into words, to be blessed is to be looked favorably upon by God. It doesn’t mean everything is going well for you. It doesn’t mean that you have it all or that you’re better off than people around you. It means that God is with you. 

The promise of Christianity is not the promise of an easy life. Jesus calls people to pick up their cross – the object of their torture – and follow him. A life like Jesus’ can lead to a life of hard work for what is right and not just what is easy. After all, we know what Jesus’ ministry led to.  

But, when things go wrong, we know we have God with us. We know that, despite whatever the world can throw at us, whatever disappoints us, upsets us, lets us down or comes our way, we have Christ who will carry us through. We have a community of people who share our mission who pick us up when we are down. We are never alone – even when we are socially distanced from one another. We are blessed.  

Reading the beatitudes, we probably don’t think of those who mourn, or those who are persecuted and think, “Man, are they blessed!” Yet God tells us they are. Likewise, we are probably not feeling that blessed right now, with all of the disruption in our lives. Yet, trusting in what God tells us, God is still with us. Thanks to our connection to the one body of Christ, the prayers of our neighbors, and the communion of Saints, we are not alone. We are still surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses; we are always in the presence of the one who has saved us.  

 

Reach out, and take care of each other. God loves you.  

 

Pastor James  

 

If you know someone who would like to be added for my daily emails, send me their email and I will add them to the list. As always, I am available by phone for conversation and prayer - don't hesitate to call!  

Daily Devotions – April 2, 2020: Philippians 4

Today's devotion is on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 2 

Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is a very relevant one for us to look at. And, it’s a pretty short one, if you’re interested to read it. Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from prison. When church in Philippi found out he was in prison, they sent a messenger with supplies. This letter we now have in scripture is Paul’s thank you letter to the Philippian church.  

One interesting tidbit of this is that this gift from the church came ten years after Paul left. Even though Paul had not been to the church in Philippi for ten years, he still kept that relationship strong. I am sure that, over the past few weeks, someone has reached out in a meaningful way that you’ve appreciated. I hope so. I know from my conversations that you’ve been calling and checking in on other people. We can still be a community, even if we can’t gather.  

This letter of Philippians is an example of what can happen when we take care of one another, even when we’re far apart. Being the church for one another and being distanced as we now are isn’t necessarily new. None of us has experienced a pandemic shut things down like this before, but the distance we feel between us and the people we care about is nothing new.   

As Paul writes from prison, his message is one of hopefulness. Philippians 4:13 is well known – “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” He pairs his gratitude for what the Philippians has done for him with the reminder to rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances. He reminds the church in Philippi of the work they can still do, and encourages them even though he experiences hardship.  

And we may very well feel like we are in prison, in some way. At the very least, for so many of you who I know have the drive to “get up and go” this may feel like a kind of house arrest. For all of us, this is a disruption. But fortunately, like Paul, we have a community who is so willing to support us.  

We learn several things from Paul and his letter to the Philippians. First – we learn the power of reaching out and just checking in. Despite separation, our friendships can continue. We can still help out and take care of each other. Second, we learn that the Christian community is that – a community. We lift each other up when we are down; we help each other out when we need it, and we do our best to take care of each other. And finally, as Paul reminds the Philippians – we can rejoice in the work God has done despite the hardship of our circumstances. We can find strength in God that we didn’t know we had, and we can get through what is thrown at us.  

 

Reach out. Take care of each other. God loves you. 

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added for my daily emails, send me their email and I will add them to the list. As always, I am available by phone for conversation and prayer - don't hesitate to call!  

Daily Devotions - April 1, 2020: Jesus as the Vine - John 15:1-17

Today's devotion is on Jesus as the Vine, found in John 15:1-17. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 1, 2020 

 

In John 15, Jesus is teaching his disciples about what their community is going to look like after Jesus leaves them. This is a part of Jesus’ farewell teaching after he has shared the Lord’s Supper and is preparing them for life after his crucifixion. 

The driving image in this part is Jesus the vine, and the community of believers are the branches. Someone once pointed this out to me – if you’ve ever been to a vineyard, and looked at the branches, it’s almost impossible to tell them apart. Grapes grow in such a way that it is a tangled mess of branches off of the vine. The branches aren’t clearly distinct like those in a tree. They are all intertwined and indistinguishable.  

For any vision of community, this drives home a powerful image of both our connection to Christ, as well as our interrelatedness to each other. We are sustained and fed from the same source; we are inseparable from the branches around us. Though this metaphor is part of preparation for life after Jesus’ resurrection, it is not absent Jesus. THe connection to the source is crucial for every branch; that connection is what sustains the branches that make up the church.  

Every now and then, there are events that are so big there is a distinct “before” and “after.” Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection have certainly been the most important. We measure years in relation to it. And when God came to Earth and prepared us to continue without the physical presence of Jesus with us any longer, it is this image of community that Jesus leaves.  Before, the Old Testament shows us of people longing for God. In this moment, preparing for the after, God tells his people how they are to be community for one another.  

Now, is likely one of those times in our history books where there is a “before” and “after.” Whatever happens after this, things are likely not going to go back to the way they were. In fifty years, children may very well be asking what it was like before the coronavirus came. 

As we figure out what our “after” looks like, our image should still remain the vine and the branches. Christ is still the source of our nourishment. Our interconnectedness is likely all the more apparent as we see the consequences of so many things shutting down and so many connections strained. Our “after” this pandemic for us who are called and baptized is one in which Christ is the Vine, and we are the branches.  

 

Reach out, and take care of each other. God loves you.  

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added for my daily emails, send me their email and I will add them to the list. As always, I am available by phone for conversation and prayer - don't hesitate to call!  

Daily Devotions - March 31, 2020: Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Today's devotion is on Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for March 31, 2020 

 

Ecclesiastes is my favorite book of the Old Testament. It feels very practical and human. MORE WHY.   

This section of Ecclesiastes begins “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.” We probably don’t need anyone to tell us this. It seems so common-sense. Two are better than one. If you are with a friend, you have a person to help you when you are down. This passage even continues, talking about fights – one person might prevail over another, “but two will withstand one.” When we face the challenges of life – though they may not be robbers on the road anymore – we face them better with company.  

Like so many things that rely on common sense or things that we already know, it never hurts to have that important reminder. After all, I bet a lot of us are learning how much we have been taking time with friends for granted. When we have our friends around us, we are better, happier. And now we don’t have that. If you’re like me, you miss it, a lot.  

It seems to me that the cure for our isolation is to reach out to another person who is also in isolation. We help ourselves by helping others. We take control of what is going on by making the daily decision to call or connect with in some way with another person. Even though we can’t leave the house, we can still reach out.   

Christina and I have been going on walks every day. One thing I’ve noticed that’s been different is that we are greeting everyone we see – not that we’re not normally polite and wave and all that, but it’s different. It feels like there’s this common understanding of something bigger that we are all a part of. We know that you have to stay on your side of the street, and I have to stay on mine, and we all wish it wasn’t like that, but everyone we’ve passed has waved and said hello. That community feel Newberry has, has changed. But if anything, it feels a little bit stronger.  

Two are better than one. A chord with three strands is not easily broken. A good friend will lift you up when you are down. As we are still the called and baptized, who can still live out our calling, those simple reminders are so important. It isn’t always doing the one big thing that sustains our faith life, but it is doing the small things consistently. Find a way, even in social distancing, to make that community work for you.  

 

Reach out. Take care of each other. God loves you.  

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added for my daily emails, send me their email and I will add them to the list. As always, I am available by phone for conversation and prayer - don't hesitate to call!  

Daily Devotions - March 30, 2020: creation of Eve

Today's devotion is on the creation of Eve, found in Genesis 2:18-24. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for Monday, March 30

 

            I don’t know if you noticed, but last week’s theme was on Biblical figures overcoming hardship. This week, I’m going to look at Biblical passages on being alone. I want to say at the beginning of all of this: community is central to the church. It’s is what we are – the assembled and gathered people of God. We are created as social creatures and we are built as one body- togetherness is part of the church. If there’s anything I want you to take away from this week and looking at aloneness or isolation is the importance of community, and I want us to take seriously how important it is for us to still be that community with each other.

            Genesis 2:18 reads, “it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” The creation of Eve comes from this. But the starting point for this: it isn’t good for Adam to be alone. This reading shows up a lot at weddings. It’s not good for us to be alone; it is good for us to find a companion to live with, to be with. We might think of this as the first marriage, but another way for us to think about the first community. This is the start of human companionship – love or otherwise.  

            In the first email I sent out, informing you that church activities were suspended, I pointed out that Summer has survive a pandemic before. We made it through the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic with some cancellations, and I fully believe we will make it through this one.

            The biggest difference between 1918 and now is our technology, and what we can do. Right now, we have more ways of staying connected than ever before. We have phones with unlimited long distance. We have a computer in our pocket that doesn’t just let us hear people, but see them as well with things like FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom. But instead of reaching out to real people, how often do we fill our minds with mindless internet time?

            I saw this artist's work, who took pictures of people supposedly with each other and photoshopped out all of the electronics. What struck me is how we say these phones and social media are tools that bring us together, but in the images, the people look so distant. You can see – the pictures of families around the dinner table staring at their palms instead of at each other. It’s not a young people thing – it’s all of us. Goodness knows I spend more time on my phone than I would like, and I am by no means perfect.

            The solution for isolation is community. It is not good for us – man or woman – to be alone. It is not good for us to make ourselves alone. With us so separated, we are going to have to be intentional about how we stay in touch, and keep up that sense of community. Make a plan to call people, catch up with old friends. But remember – it is not good for us to be alone. We all need a partner, a friend, and others to help us through. We have the technology to connect – let’s use it.

 

Reach out. Take care of each other. God loves you.

Daily Devotions - March 28, 2020: Paul's letter to Romans

Today's devotion is on Paul's letter to the Romans. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

Devotion for Saturday, March 28

           

            The book of Romans is a unique letter from Paul. Paul usually wrote to churches that he started, after hearing problems they had in his absence. Romans is the only letter Paul wrote to a church that he didn’t start.

            Romans is, essentially, a letter of introduction to this church who hasn’t met him yet. Paul is introducing himself because he planned a trip to Spain, to evangelize there. On that trip, he wanted to use the church in Rome as his launching point. So, writes this letter to the church in Rome. That way, when he wants to stop on his way, the church will know him and who he is and hopefully help him in his journey. That’s why Romans is the longest of Paul’s works – he has to introduce himself and he is dealing with people who have never met him.

            Paul’s letter to the Romans is one of the most influential books of the Bible. It provides a theological framework that is absent in most other books. It is the best summary we have of Paul’s beliefs. Second only to the Gospels, Paul’s letter to the Romans has provided, perhaps, the greatest influence in the life, belief, and practice of the Christian church. Christians of all denominations draw their theology from Paul and this letter to the Romans.

            Even though Paul believed he was sent by God to do missionary work in Spain, Paul never made it. Before he could begin, he was arrested for preaching and teaching. He exercised his rights as a Roman citizen and requested a trial in Rome. Bound in chains, he eventually made it to Rome to stand trial, where he was held under house arrest until he was eventually executed. On his way, Paul wrote other letters that have also made their way into the Bible. This trip to Spain, which Paul was convinced was from God, never happened.

            When our plans go wrong, the temptation is to feel bad for ourselves. We miss what could have been. I’m sure in the midst of all that is happening now, we’ve got a lot of us who’ve had to change travel plans. I know there are rescheduled cruises, canceled events, closed businesses that are affecting all of us.

            Paul never made it to Spain, but the work he did to prepare for it ended up with an immeasurable impact. This letter to the Romans is one of the most pivotal books of scripture. Likewise – our goal should be not to just accomplish great things, but prepare ourselves in such a way that, if our events or plans become rearranged, what we still have can be a witness to God. We may not make it where we want to go, but we can walk with God on the journey and bear witness to what God has done for us.   

 

Pastor James

 

If you know someone who would like to be added for my daily emails, send me their email and I will add them to the list. As always, I am available by phone for conversation and prayer - don't hesitate to call!

 

Daily Devotions - March 27, 2020: Jesus walking on water

Today's devotion is on two healings of Jesus, found in Mark 5:21-43. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for Friday, March 27

 

            This story of Jesus is a story of interruption. A leader from the synagogue named Jairus came to Jesus and begged him repeatedly to heal his daughter who is about to die. Jesus goes and follows him to his home. As he goes, a woman reaches out and touches him, thinking to herself “if I just touch his clothes, I’ll be made well.” She is healed immediately, but Jesus stops, and asks the crowd “Who touched me?” The woman tells him what happened, and Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” While Jesus has taken the time to stop and speak with the woman in the crowd, people come and tell Jairus that his daughter has died. Jesus hears and says, “do not fear; only believe.” Arriving at the house to find people crying, Jesus takes the girl by the hand, and tells her to get up, and immediately, she gets up.

            Both, of course, are deeply meaningful. This leader who comes to Jesus at his most desperate moment has his daughter brought back to life. This woman, suffering from her ailment for years, finally finds relief. They were both desperate when they came to Jesus and they both leave healed.  

            I’ve often wondered, though, about that father as Jesus stops to talk to the woman in the crowd. I can almost feel his impatience – my daughter is dying and you’re stopping to talk to someone along the way. My daughter is dying, and you’re trying to find one person in a crowd who touched you. As a leader of the synagogue, he was likely not a man used to begging for favors, and I doubt he’s used to these kinds of interruptions, especially when he is as desperate as he is. For any of us who have found ourselves impatiently waiting on someone, I think we can relate. 

            I’ve been thinking of this Coronavirus as a big interruption. It’s changed our plans for worship, and almost everything we had planned for the next month is slowly disappearing from our calendars to be rescheduled later. Things that we want to do, and we want to do them now, aren’t happening. We are probably getting very impatient.

            If we want to take away something from this encounter with Jesus, we can take away the notion that even though something may interrupt the things we are desperate for, God can still accomplish amazing things. Despite this interruption in our lives, we can still find healing and wholeness in the midst of pandemic.   

 

Pastor James

 

If you know someone who would like to be added for my daily emails, send me their email and I will add them to the list. As always, I am available by phone for conversation and prayer - don't hesitate to call!

Daily Devotions - March 27, 2020: Two healing stories of Jesus

Today's devotion is on two healings of Jesus, found in Mark 5:21-43. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for Friday, March 27

 

            This story of Jesus is a story of interruption. A leader from the synagogue named Jairus came to Jesus and begged him repeatedly to heal his daughter who is about to die. Jesus goes and follows him to his home. As he goes, a woman reaches out and touches him, thinking to herself “if I just touch his clothes, I’ll be made well.” She is healed immediately, but Jesus stops, and asks the crowd “Who touched me?” The woman tells him what happened, and Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” While Jesus has taken the time to stop and speak with the woman in the crowd, people come and tell Jairus that his daughter has died. Jesus hears and says, “do not fear; only believe.” Arriving at the house to find people crying, Jesus takes the girl by the hand, and tells her to get up, and immediately, she gets up.

            Both, of course, are deeply meaningful. This leader who comes to Jesus at his most desperate moment has his daughter brought back to life. This woman, suffering from her ailment for years, finally finds relief. They were both desperate when they came to Jesus and they both leave healed.  

            I’ve often wondered, though, about that father as Jesus stops to talk to the woman in the crowd. I can almost feel his impatience – my daughter is dying and you’re stopping to talk to someone along the way. My daughter is dying, and you’re trying to find one person in a crowd who touched you. As a leader of the synagogue, he was likely not a man used to begging for favors, and I doubt he’s used to these kinds of interruptions, especially when he is as desperate as he is. For any of us who have found ourselves impatiently waiting on someone, I think we can relate. 

            I’ve been thinking of this Coronavirus as a big interruption. It’s changed our plans for worship, and almost everything we had planned for the next month is slowly disappearing from our calendars to be rescheduled later. Things that we want to do, and we want to do them now, aren’t happening. We are probably getting very impatient.

            If we want to take away something from this encounter with Jesus, we can take away the notion that even though something may interrupt the things we are desperate for, God can still accomplish amazing things. Despite this interruption in our lives, we can still find healing and wholeness in the midst of pandemic.   

 

Pastor James

 

If you know someone who would like to be added for my daily emails, send me their email and I will add them to the list. As always, I am available by phone for conversation and prayer - don't hesitate to call!

Daily Devotions - March 30, 2020: Adam and Eve

Today's devotion is on Adam and Eve. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

Daily Devotions - March 26, 2020: the book of Jonah

Today's devotion is on the book of Jonah (you can read it in one sitting, if you want). To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for Thursday, March 26 

  

When we spend time with scripture, we have an advantage that the people in these stories don’t have: we know how the story is going to end. We’ve heard since Sunday school the story of Jonah and the Whale. We know Jonah tried to run from God. We know Jonah got thrown overboard to save the boat from the storm and was swallowed by the whale. We know that Jonah spent three days in the whale, and we know that the whale will spit Jonah out on dry land. 

As I read scripture, one of the exercises I try and remember is to place myself in the middle of the story – not at the end. In the middle of the storm, in the middle of the whale, Jonah doesn’t know what will happen to him. All he knows is that he has defied God, and now he is in a terrible situation.  

Most scholars see Jonah as a kind of parable or folk-tale type story. It serves a purpose to teach us about following God even when we don’t want to, recognizes that God will get us to Nineveh if that’s where God wants us to go. It continues with God’s justice and mercy as Nineveh is restored. It is a brilliant story that teaches us so much about what God is doing and can do.  

But as I read Jonah, now, in the middle of all of this that is going on, I relate most to Jonah in the midst of the storm, and swallowed by the whale. Because, like Jonah, we don’t have the rest of the story in front of us; we can’t cheat and look ahead. We are just going to have to sit in the middle of the whale and wonder what is going to come from all of this. It’s not a fun place to be. In some ways, being cooped up in our homes may very well feel like we’ve been swallowed up against our will.  

Jonah, from the belly of the whale, offers a beautiful prayer, which ends with “Deliverance belongs to the Lord!” I hope and pray we do not, in the middle of this storm, lose sight of where we are going and where we are called to be. God rescues Jonah from the belly of the whale; God delivers the people of Nineveh who have turned to him. Surely, the next days, and maybe weeks, are going to be difficult. Things may get worse before they get better as this infection spreads through our state and community. As we all do our part to prevent the spread, we have a confident hope that God will see us through. We know that we are a part of the unwritten story of God that continues in the world, and we are just in the middle with an end we cannot see. We trust that God, as he has time and again delivered God’s faithful, will again see us through now.   

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added for my daily emails, send me their email and I will add them to the list. As always, I am available by phone for conversation and prayer - don't hesitate to call!  

Daily Devotions - March 25, 2020: Moses in Egypt

Today's devotion is on Moses and Pharoah. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for Wednesday, March 25 

 

When we think of the scenes between Moses and Pharaoh, we’ve probably got one person to thank for how we think of this: Charlton Heston. The movie the 10 commandments is familiar, and how many of us can hear Heston saying to Yule Brenner “Let My people Go.” It’s that deep and booming voice of a well trained and successful actor.  

That movie scene has probably done more than anything else to shape how we imagine Moses. It has given us a vision of a bold and booming presence. But that’s not really how the story goes.  

When God first calls Moses, Moses is no Charlton Heston. His response to God is “Since I am a poor speaker, who will listen to me?” (Ex. 4:10) This is an objection he repeats several times  - making objections like “the Israelites aren’t listening why would pharaoh?” (Ex. 6:12) and “Since I am a poor speaker, why would Pharaoh listen to me?” (Ex. 6:30). 

Moses, a man who has seen a burning bush speak to him, and who has direct communication with God, is so self-conscious about how he speaks that he does not want to speak to Pharaoh. He, repeatedly, asks God how can I do what you’ve asked me to do since I am such a poor speaker? It has been suggested that Moses had a stutter or some sort of speech impediment. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but at the very least, we have to re-think our image of Moses. It’s not the voice of the well trained speaker. It’s the voice of someone who is average at best.   

Moses often spoke through Aaron – his brother who was the better speaker. Yet still, he spoke.  

As we think of ourselves, and what we may be able to do right now, we may not think a lot of our abilities. We might not think that we can do too much with what we have. But listen to God, and really listen. If God is calling you, God will get you through. Despite whatever shortcomings you dwell over, God’s will is greater. Moses, the one who nobody would listen to, was the one who Pharaoh finally heard. Moses, the poor speaker, was the one who led the faithful through the wilderness for a generation. The whole Bible is about ordinary people doing miraculous things with the work of God alongside of them. Be confident God is with you in your baptismal calling.  

 

Reach out, and take care of each other. God loves you.  

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added for my daily emails, send me their email and I will add them to the list. As always, I am available by phone for conversation and prayer - don't hesitate to call!  

Daily Devotions - March 24, 2020: David and Goliath

Today's devotion is on the story of David and Goliath, found in 1 Samuel 17. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for Tuesday, March 24 

 

You all know the story of David and Goliath. The big, mighty warrior Goliath stands in front of the Hebrew army and taunts them, calling out to anyone who would come and fight him. All are too scared to face him, until David answers the call – a young shepherd, who takes no armor and only a sling for a weapon. David, with his sling defeats this powerful giant.  

Usually, we consider David the underdog here. But he really isn’t. Goliath has challenged the army with the sword and David essentially brings a gun to a knife fight. Seriously – a sling had similar stopping power to a small modern firearm. Assuming that the shepherd would have practiced in the field to chase off animals threatening his flock, David likely had the upper hand all along. 

The Hebrew army did not expect David to win. Goliath did not expect David to win. What makes David the apparent leader here is that he saw something nobody else did. When everyone was thinking swords and armor, David was the one who saw another way. David was the only one who saw what we might look back and find obvious – the sling would defeat the sword.  

We are in a time where we may feel like this Coronavirus is the Goliath out and taunting us. We stay inside, as we should, as the experts advise. What will help us – the people of God – stand before the challenges this presents is the kind of creativity that gave David the strength to kill the beast before him. We cannot focus on the only tools we’ve had, but look for were the sling and the rock are that  

If you’ve been taking away any message from my devotions so far, I hope it is that you are still the commissioned people of God. We are still a mission-driven people living out are calling. You’ve still got work to do, even though likely every routine you’ve had is completely disrupted. But we still have a Baptismal calling to live as the people of God. We are still Christ to our neighbor (even if that has to be at a distance of 6 feet).  

Rather than be paralyzed in fear as was the Hebrew army, let’s all take a step or two to try and find that way we can still be the people of God for and with each other. Follow the advice of experts – don’t take any risks you don’t need to – but there are a lot of low-stakes ways to stake a step out in faith and try something new. Pick up the phone, write a letter, help someone figure out skype or facetime so they can see the people they miss. Try something new, and with God’s help you might find that sling and stone to help us slay the beast of isolation.  

 

Reach out. Take care of each other. God loves you.  

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added for my daily emails, send me their email and I will add them to the list. As always, I am available by phone for conversation and prayer - don't hesitate to call!  

Daily Devotions - March 23, 2020:

Today's devotion is on Judges 7:1-8. Try listening today click here. Thanks to those who have sent in audio of themselves praying the Lord’s Prayer, we are able to hear some familiar voices pray with us the Lord’s Prayer. If you haven’t sent in your audio yet, it’s not too late – I’m hoping to edit in more familiar voices. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for Monday, March 23 

 

Judges 7 tells the story of Gideon raising an Army to beat the Midianites in battle. At first, Gideon raises the biggest army he can. 32,000 people. But God says to Gideon that’s too many; if you win, you won’t thank me, and the people will think they’ve done this themselves. So, God tells Gideon to send home any soldier who is afraid. This leaves Gideon with an army of 10,000. But God says that’s still too big; go to the water, and I’ll show you which ones should stay. God separates the army and leaves 300 men. While the Midianites are camped nearby, Gideon at God’s request shrinks his army from 32,000 to 300.  

Right now, each of us is in isolation with just a few people – if we are lucky enough to not be by ourselves. And I know in the devotions I’ve sent out so far, I’ve been urging you to continue to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Discipleship is usually a team sport. It’s something we do together – we learn together, pray together, worship together. And we should all look forward to the day when we can do that again. 

But even though we are around just a few people, we should not let the numbers of this keep us from living out what God is calling us to do. As I have said – we are still the called and baptized people of God. While we are not gathered, we are still sent in God’s name.  

Through those 300 soldiers, God led Gideon’s Army to victory. That is less than 1% of what Gideon thought he needed to complete the task. We may not have worship, we may not be physically present with each other, but we still have something.  

God will fill in our gaps. So long as we still have that something, that little tiny fraction, God will carry us through. You can still pick up and read a book of the Bible that you haven’t sat down with in a while. You can still pick up the phone and reach out to your friend. Or, you can pick up the phone and call someone who might not have someone calling and checking in on them.  

We may feel like we can do nothing – after all, this is a virus. It’s hard to see it, and unless you’re a medical researcher, there’s no way for us to solve the problem with hard work. What we can do is trust God – like Gideon’s army – that we can with the resource God gives us be the light that we are called to be in the world. The temptation when a problem is so big is to feel small and powerless. But so long as God as with you, and we know that he is, you are capable of much more than you think.  

 

Reach out. Take care of each other. God loves you.  

 

Pastor James 

 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added for my daily emails, send me their email and I will add them to the list. As always, I am available by phone for conversation and prayer - don't hesitate to call!  

 
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