Daily Devotions led by Pastor James

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Daily Devotions - October 23, 2020: John’s evangelism to the first disciples

Today's devotion is on John’s evangelism to the first disciples, found in John 1:35-42. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for October 23

 

            In the Bible that I am using, this section of John’s Gospel has the heading, “The First Disciples of Jesus.” Those headings – which, in any Bible, are there as an aid to the reader and aren’t in the original manuscripts – sometimes shift our focus in a certain direction. Yes, this is a story about the first disciples of Jesus; yet at the same time, I think this is also the first example we have of someone sharing the Good News in the Gospel of John.

            This section begins, “The next day, John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’” John points to Jesus, tells his disciples who Jesus is, and from there, they begin to follow Jesus to where he is staying. Andrew and Simon Peter both followed him, and became his disciples.

            If we are thinking about evangelism – evangelism in the sense of sharing our faith with new people – this may be the best example for us. John simply says, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” and that is enough for Andrew and Simon Peter to get up and follow Jesus for the entirety of his ministry and beyond. Many churches get hung up on the right marketing strategies, the right children’s programs, or whatever programmatic innovation they think will be the one thing that draws people in.

            But how simple is this statement, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” John simply named who Jesus is, and the people followed. While there are good things that innovators are doing to share the faith, and there are good lessons to be learned from elsewhere, I hope the starting point is, and always will be, pointing to this Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. The strongest evangelism that is possible is being a community of faith where people can see Jesus.

            So, if you ever struggle with evangelism, work on making Jesus visible. Point to where you see God in your life. Point to what God has done for your and for your community. Point to all of the many places God is visible in the world – even in the middle of a pandemic. Evangelism, no matter whether it is a program or a conversation, always starts with, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

 

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

 

Pastor James

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - October 22, 2020: Colossians 2:5

Today's devotion is on Colossians 2:5 To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for October 22

 

            One of our greatest sources of information of the earliest church communities is Paul’s letters to the churches he helped start. The many letters are his pastoral advice, and at times, pastoral correction, to these communities that he started and now has left. I think we all understand this – that these are Paul’s letters to congregations that are far away.

            As we are in the pandemic, though, it seems to me this distance is worth reflecting on as we ourselves deal with distance in a new way. One of the hardest things for any congregation right now is finding that feeling of fellowship, especially as we aren’t gathering or seeing each other in the ways that we are most used to. Paul, likewise, dealt with this from his congregations. Paul spent his ministry apart from people he spent time with, baptized, welcomed into the faith, and then left. His only communication with these communities were his letters – which would likely take weeks to arrive and require a person to carry them across that distance to hand deliver and read to the congregation.

Paul writes in these verses from Colossians, “For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” I hope that, as we continue to see others from afar or deal with the pandemic in ways which keep us distanced, we might be like Paul and remind ourselves of that oneness through Christ. Though we are absent in body, we are with one another in spirit. Because of our baptism into our one shared faith, though we are separated, we are not separate from each other in this time.

Though Paul wrote letters; we find ourselves with new technologies that let us call people, and even see people through screens. I do still encourage you to pick up that phone, and call a friend who you think might need calling. Call that person you haven’t seen at church in a while but you always enjoyed talking to on Sunday mornings. Drop a note in the mail for a person who you think might need encouragement. Whatever you do, like Paul, find a way to be that community for each other, because the best way through something like this is together – even together in spirit.

 

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

 

Pastor James

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - October 21, 2020: the book of Zephaniah

Today's devotion is on the book of Zephaniah. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for October 21

 

            The book of Zephaniah has two themes. The first is carrying on the prophetic vision of God’s judgement. Zephaniah sees the way that people have turned from God, and warns the people of what is down that path. Yet Zephaniah also prophesies about God’s salvation of the world. He shifts from his message of judgement to a message of salvation and restoration of those who have turned from God.

            I would hazard a guess that, if you were to think of things that go together, judgement and salvation probably don’t come to mind. If anything, I think most people think of them as something like oil and water – two topics that are very different and don’t mix well. When we think of God’s judgement, particularly thanks to popular culture’s theological interpretations – we probably have a hellfire and brimstone idea of judgment in our minds. Contrast that with our image of salvation – going to heaven when we die.

            I am convinced – and I believe it plays out here in Zephaniah – that God’s judgement and God’s salvation are not entirely separate. I am also convinced that God’s judgement is more than some sort of bad news in contrast with the good news of the Gospel.

            If you look at what brings God’s judgement, it is all things we would expect God to judge. God sees violence and fraud amid God’s people; God sees people sinning against God and neighbor. What is sacred has been profaned, the leaders are preying on the poor, and the people do not accept God’s correction for their behavior.

            As Zephaniah shifts to the promise of restoration, he prophesies that God will change everyone’s speech to a pure speech; he prophesies that God will remove the shame of people’s acts of rebellion. Through such restoration, the judgements are removed, the actions are changed, and the people are saved.

            This is all more than some end-of-life judgement. I hope that our faith can serve as a mirror to us, at times. It may help us see in ourselves things that need to change or ways of living that are taking us from God. With that judgement also comes the promise – seen clearly in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ – that our salvation has consequences in our lives now. What is judged in us can be removed. What is removed is replaced with God’s actions which we intend. Thus our judgment, and God’s removal of our sins, is our taste of salvation here on Earth. 

             

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

 

Pastor James

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - October 20, 2020: giving of our first fruits

Today's devotion is on giving of our first fruits, found in Deuteronomy 26:1-2. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for October 20

 

            Soren Kierkegaard, a Lutheran theologian and philosopher, once pointed out the irony of how we live our lives compared to what we hear Sunday morning. Even though he was writing well before the advent of our modern technologies, he still summarizes a problem we face today. He writes, “After running round about on a score of errands (alas, humanly called having to put up with a great deal), one gets one’s finite existence made secure, and then we get a sermon about seeking first the Kingdom of God.”

            In a world where we are all busy, and where that busyness can often be worn like a badge of honor, our faith, as Kierkegaard points out, is often the thing that comes last. We hear the message of seeking first the kingdom, but only after we’ve taken care of all of the supposed necessities of our busy modern lives. Our faith, our worship, our prayer life, all get swallowed up buy the busyness of our lives’ trivialities and often “later” gets pushed to “never.”

            Deuteronomy 26, our passage for today, is usually quoted for its instructions on tithing and giving. Yet what I want to point out, that in our busy lives is this giving from our “first fruits.” In these instructions, a tithe does not come from the last ten percent, but the first ten percent. Giving is not something that comes only if and when we are secure, but out of the trust in God’s generosity to us. Beyond thinking of money, our whole lives are to be lived as an offering. With a life of faith, we only return to God what God has made and given us – our very selves and our time on this planet.

            One of the silver linings in this pandemic is that families have spent more time together. Many of the extra activities that keep us the busiest slowed down for a while. As things ramp back up and as we are busier and busier once again, now is the perfect time to reflect on what is first. As we re-fill our schedules and calendars, reflect on where God fits in, and be honest about the order.

            The promise of our faith is that in truly putting God first we find the reward of a sanctified life. Putting God first in our time commitments, our offerings, our decisions, and everything, lead us to a life that is closer with God. It’s not some threat or wag of a finger; it is the promise that putting our relationship with God first leads us closer to the one who created us for this world.

 

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

 

Pastor James

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - October 19, 2020: the raising of Lazarus

Today's devotion is on the raising of Lazarus, found in John 11. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for October 19 

 

The story of Lazarus is a long one. Jesus hears that Lazarus is sick, but takes time going to visit Lazarus. He waits so long to go visit that after he arrives, Lazarus is already dead and buried. Jesus weeps. People question, couldn’t he have saved Lazarus if he was here? Jesus goes to see the tomb where Lazarus has been laid, and calls for him to come out. Lazarus, bound in the burial cloth, walks out.  

There is so much to talk about in this story that lasts for 44 verses. But, as the chapter continues, what I find particularly interesting is the way that people respond to what Jesus has done for Lazarus. Someone runs, and tells the Pharisees and the high priests what Jesus has done in raising Lazarus from the dead. The solution the pharisees and high priest come up with? Planning Jesus’ death.  

It’s a funny thing how Jesus giving life results in people plotting his death. The pharisees, the text tells us, are worried that Jesus’ signs will cause people to believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy the temple. The pharisees are plotting to kill Jesus because people might believe in him.  

Looking at the world around us, how often is something life-giving met with negativity? We see people being hospitable, or generous, and there are often people around them complaining about who deserved what and complaining about their generosity or hospitality. And instead of worrying about continuing hospitality, generosity, or whatever other good quality is being maligned, the generous person is instead called bad.  

With enough bad in the world, I think this text for us is always a reminder to focus on the life-giving activity of the world around us. While the pharisees and chief priests worried about plotting Jesus’ death as a result, the disciples and the crowds continued to follow Jesus’ signs and teachings. For us, instead of worrying about the negative, focusing on what makes us angry or upset, there is so much that is life-giving in the world that we can be spending our time with. Instead of all the politics or social media stuff that just makes us angry, maybe this text is the reminder to spend time on the things that actually give us life and nourish our spirits.   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - October 16, 2020: reflection on homecoming

Today's devotion is a reflection on homecoming To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for October 16

 

            A lot of churches here around Newberry do a homecoming service. As ours is going to look a little different this year, as we have combined it with Goldenagers’ Sunday and we will still be in the parking lot, I thought it might be helpful to reflect on what homecoming is, and what we can still accomplish even though things will be different this year.

            We know the things that usually happen: we see a lot of people who have married into other congregations, or moved away come back for a Sunday. We usually have a big meal in the fellowship hall, and get the chance to have conversations with people we may not have seen in a while. We get to hear stories, we get to remember past softball teams, tell stories about previous Pastors, and enjoy one another’s company over a meal.

            But I do believe the most important part of this is the reason behind why we gather. More important than the stories, the food, and even the fellowship, is the time we share together in worship. I do believe that the greatest act we do together for homecoming that celebrates our togetherness is gathering around God’s word. There is something about sharing a worship experience with someone and hearing God’s word together that is just powerful. After all, it is our unity through our baptism and our shared faith that has always brought us together, and to hear again what God has done for us with our brothers and sisters in Christ at our side is what makes us a community of faith.

            While some of what we normally do will not happen, or will happen through waving from one car to the next in some subdued version of what is normal, our worship will still happen. And our experience, though it may feel strange as we sit in cars and wave at the people around us, can still be a homecoming for us. When we come home to our congregation, it’s the people that surround us who make it a home. Whether we feel at home at Summer every Sunday morning, or make the trip on special occasions, it’s the word that we share that joins us inseparably as a community. So come on, drive up, wave to the people around you, give someone a call you haven’t in a while, and have those conversations you would have. We’re looking forward to seeing you Sunday!             

 

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

 

Pastor James

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - October 15, 2020: Paul’s greetings to churches

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

 

Devotion for October 15 

 

As we think of homecoming this weekend, a big part of keeping in touch with our home congregation is the ways we stay connected with each other. I can’t think of a better example for us of this than Paul’s letters to the congregations he started. I think we all get that, when we read Romans or Galatians or one of Paul’s other letters, that what we are doing is reading other peoples mail. Part of making sense of Paul’s letters is understanding the form that Paul uses.  

Today, when we think of a letter, we think of the standard form we were all taught in elementary school. Date of the letter top-right, and you start “Dear _____,” write your letter, and sign it at the end with who it is from. Paul’s standard letter form was a little different for us.  

In Paul’s time, any letter would start by first naming who it was from, and then to the person to whom it was sent. Then would follow a greeting, which, in Paul, would begin, “Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Then, the letter would continue with a thanksgiving for the people who the letter was addressed to. For example, in Romans: “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world.” It’s only then that you would begin the body of the letter, and end with final greetings.  

I know it may sound a little silly to talk so much about the form the letters take, but often, Paul’s use of it tells us something about the message. For example, in Galatians, Paul skips expressing his thanks so that he can begin by addressing the church in Galatia with his astonishment they have turned from the Gospel.   

Likewise, I think the form our communication with each other takes tells us a lot about who we are as a congregation. I do hope that you’ve felt connected to your church, that the lifelong connection many of you have felt to your faith has been nurtured by our community. And, though we might not lead it upfront like Paul, I hope you know how grateful we are that you’ve been a part of our community, that we give thanks to God when we remember you in our prayers. This gift of community that we have is a blessing, and we are glad you are a part of it.   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - October 14, 2020: Jesus preaching in his hometown

Today's devotion is on Jesus preaching in his hometown, found in Luke 4:16-30. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for October 14

 

            As a part of Seminary, each student is assigned a congregation to be a part of and do work in. Mine was Ebenezer in Columbia where, at the time, several seminary faculty members and current and former presidents of the seminary were members. On my required internship, I served at St Armands Key Lutheran Church in Sarasota, Florida, with thirteen retired pastors as members. I’ve spoken at the statewide Lutheran Men convention and presented at the South Carolina Synod Assembly. Still, I think, the most terrifying place I’ve had to preach was at the church I grew up in – Epiphany Lutheran Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

            I mean, look at the reception Jesus gets when he preaches in his hometown. It begins when Jesus goes in, reads scripture, and says “today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” It ends with the people of Nazareth taking him to a cliff to try to throw him off.  Not quite the homecoming that we invite previous pastors to when they speak at Summer.

            Beyond what this says about the difficulty of going home, I think the bigger concern for us today is rejecting people simply for where they are from. Jesus’ hometown rejects Jesus because he points out the many ways that no prophet has been welcome in their hometown. They go from being amazed at what Jesus says to trying to kill him. Elsewhere in the Gospels, people will ask, “What good can come from Nazareth?” implying that nothing worth note can come from this small town.

            Unfortunately, as our political season is heating up, so are the division that politicians and people use to divide us. When we accept or take as a given the lines that we let other people draw for us, we accept a reality of division that is not how this world created it. All too often, the voices that try and take down these divisions are met in the same way that Jesus was – pushed towards the cliff. And it’s often the people who know us best that want to push us the hardest.

            So whether someone is from our hometown and known to us, whether they are far off, see the person first. Our reaction to reject is unfounded if it is not based on real understanding of where the other person is coming from. After all, we wouldn’t want to make the mistake of rejecting this man who is from Nazareth in the same way so many did. 

 

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

 

Pastor James

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - October 13, 2020: reunion of Jacob and Esau

Today's devotion is on the reunion of Jacob and Esau, found in Genesis 32-33. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for October 13 

 

Jacob isn’t as excited about going home as you might expect. If you remember, Jacob as a young man, stole his father Isaac’s blessing that was intended for his brother, Esau. Esau was the oldest son, his father’s favorite and the one Isaac intended to bless. After this, Esau plots to kill Jacob, and Jacob runs away for more than 20 years. God tells Jacob to return home, and Jacob does so nervously. He takes precautions that all might not be lost if he goes home to Esau’s wrath. He splits the group of people he is traveling up with in half, so that if Esau and his men destroy part, everything is not lost. Jacob sends gifts ahead to try and appease Esau. In short, he is still afraid of the brother he ran away from twenty years ago. When Jacob and Esau finally meet, Esau is delighted to see his brother. He runs and hugs him – the welcome that Jacob was not expecting. All those precautions, the twenty years of worry culminating in this moment, all seem to not be necessary.   

Despite Jacob’s fears, he goes to the home he ran away from. There, he finds his brother happy and excited to see him again. Nothing is said about the stolen birthright, even though it has obviously shaped both of their lives. As time often does, it appears that time has healed the wounds in this family. 

I can’t help but think that God knew that Jacob and Esau needed this time. Esau was angry, and being the hunter of the two, in his anger very well may have killed Jacob if he stayed. Jacob went away, worked hard, married, and came back with many flocks of animals. When he returns, he returns as a man who was much better off than if he had stayed. For both Esau and Jacob, this time proved productive for the both of them. While in their return, they may grieve of all that time they have lost, that time is also what made this reunion possible with all the sins of the past behind them.  

Unfortunately, this world is full of broken relationships like the one between Jacob and Esau. Yet, for all of our broken relationships, time can be a valuable thing. Though it feels like it might be lost, it might also be productive. And at the end, we pray that through prayer and faith, time may lead to a joyous reunion in the way of Jacob and Esau.   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - October 12, 2020: Sarah laughing at God

Today's devotion is on Sarah laughing at God, found in Genesis 18. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for October 12  

 

One of the well-known stories of the book of Genesis is the story of Abraham and Sarah. In their old age, God promises to make Abraham the father of many nations. As part of this, even though they are past their child-bearing years, God tells Abraham (and Sarah overhears) that God is going to give Sarah and Abraham a child. Sarah laughs – and gets caught laughing – saying to herself, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Despite her laugher, Isaac is born within the year.  

While we may be like Sarah and be afraid to admit it, how often do we laugh at God’s plan? We may feel a calling and wonder how God could use someone like us. But somehow, God still gets what God intends. We may disbelieve it, we may laugh at it, and we may still not believe it when we see it, but God is going to be faithful to Gods promises.  

I can think of so many things that have happened over the last six months that, if I were told them six months ago at the beginning of the pandemic, I’d have probably laughed. If anyone in our council meeting said that our attendance would be going up when we worshipped in the parking lot, there would have been a laugh. Yet here we are, six months later, with steady and increased attendance. If anyone in our church council would have said that giving would have gone up at Summer Memorial Lutheran Church, we probably would have laughed. Yet here we are with six months of the witness of generosity behind us, and the results are clear.  

We might laugh, but God has a plan for us, even in a pandemic. There is still a lot that is possible with God. We can still grow as a church, as disciples, and as people of faith in the middle of a pandemic. Now more than ever, the world needs a witness of people who believe in such things. Because God is still calling us to do the seemingly impossible. God is calling that we might be a witness to the world.  

 

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - October 9, 2020: hurting ourselves with idolatry

Today's devotion is on hurting ourselves with idolatry, found in Jeremiah 44. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for October 9 

 

Jeremiah 44 is part of Jeremiah’s prophecy against the works of Israel. Jeremiah names all sorts of behaviors that the people are doing: people are making offerings to and worshipping statues of other Gods. They disobey God through their actions. And, even after Jeremiah’s warning, people continue to do this in spite of what they know. 

The one question Jeremiah asks in all of this that stopped me and made me think was “why are you doing such great harm to yourselves.” In his denunciation of the idolatry of the people, Jeremiah’s accusation they do nothing but hurt themselves seems very real. Idolatry does not harm God – as if anything we could do could. Idolatry just damages ourselves through ignoring what we know to be right.  

Beyond idolatry, it struck me reading this, that so much of our sin really hurts ourselves. No matter if we hide our sins from others or if our sins are public – the damage of idolatry is to ourselves. We know what is offered in our relationship with God, and through looking elsewhere we deny ourselves those benefits. We know what we have offered in a right way of living, and by choosing to sin we ignore the benefits that are offered through living that life.  

It is not so much that God will strike down the wicked punish us for our wrongdoing – its that through our own sin we bring such consequences on ourselves. Our actions that lead to broken relationships are our own doing and not far off punishment. The distances created by our idolatry is the consequence of our idolatrous actions, and not the punishment of a vengeful God. That question Jeremiah asked really struck me. Why do we hurt ourselves?  

. I don’t want this to sound like a giant wag of the finger against idolatry, but a realization that idolatry does not give us the life that we desire. Our punishment is self-inflicted. The path to the life we want is not met through giving into temptation. Our time is not best spent working on the things that distance us from God and our neighbor The promise behind all that God asks of us is that we can through our faithful transformation live a more fulfilling life through carrying out the work of God in the world.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - October 8, 2020: the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness

Today's devotion is on the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, found in Matthew 4:1-11. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for October 8 

 

Of the temptations Jesus faces in the wilderness, I find the last one to be most interesting. It reads, “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, ‘all these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’” 

Jesus easily rejects this temptation, as he does all of the others. But the more I think of it, the more I think this is the temptation we face most in our everyday lives. It’s this same false promise that we hear over and over and over again. Someone shows us something that looks wonderful, says ‘worship me, and I’ll give you everything you want.’ That very well summarizes so many things around us, and I see it everywhere. It’s amazing how much advertisement it summarizes and how many different services, whether implicitly or explicitly, are built on that promise.  

After all, isn’t that our greatest temptation? If we just worship them – bow down to them and give them all the power – then we’ll get what we really want? Bow down and worship the God of money, always seeking more as a solution to the problems of this life, and all that you want can be yours. Bow down and worship the idol of entertainment – give all your time to television or social media, and the false promise is that it will leave you happier or more informed. The problem with the promise “you can have the world” is that, even if it were true, it is not what we really need. Our faith, our focus, should always be on the work of Christ, and our relationship with God should put God above all else.  

Whenever we give in, we lose something. Idolatry costs us something in our relationship with God, and actually leaves us farther from what we really want. There is no false promise that can deliver on the promise to save us in the way that only Christ can. Yet it’s the same false promise that is everywhere: bow down and worship me, and I’ll give you the world.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - October 7, 2020: the early worship of Christians

Today's devotion is on the early worship of Christians. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for October 7 

 

One of the things I find myself realizing in this pandemic is the things I have taken for granted. One of those is the ability to worship with a congregation inside of a beautifully decorated sanctuary. It’s what I’ve done all my life on Sunday – get up, go to church. As a pastor, I never thought there would be a time when I wouldn’t be in a pulpit or behind an altar leading worship. But here we are!  

I really miss worshipping inside our sanctuary. I miss the pulpit, the altar. All the stained glass and our beautiful banners. The symbols that fill the space so that, everywhere you look, there is a reminder of where you are and why you are there. 

One of the things that I find comfort in, is that the church has been here before. The earliest Christians would often get kicked out of worshipping in the synagogues for their teachings. What happened, as is well documented in Paul’s writings, is that people gathered in homes. They gathered in public spaces. The people met, preached, and worshipped in all sorts of places.  

The Apostles’ Creed is perhaps the oldest part of our liturgy. This summary of what we believe dates to this period of the early church as responses to questions the early converts were asked at their Baptism. It was said in homes, at the sides of rivers, and wherever a Baptism took place. The public reading of scripture – an integral part of our worship – was carried out in all sorts of homes with people crammed inside, or in all sorts of open-air places. The confessing of sins, the singing of hymns, and the sharing of the Eucharist – all come from this time when the church was forced to gather in places not set aside as a “church.”  

So while I miss our beautiful worship space, I’ve come to see the beauty of what we do in the parking lot. In the middle of a pandemic, our witness is in our willingness to find ways to gather while keeping everyone safe. Around us, we see in the people around us and the beauty of creation the symbols of God’s presence all around us. As did the earliest saints who have gone before us, we worship where we can. We take that space and make it holy through our sacrifice of worship. Even though we are in the parking lot and our own traditions have changed, we are in good company with those of every time and place who have worshipped in unexpected places.   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - October 6, 2020: Song of Solomon

Today's devotion is on the Song of Solomon. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for October 6 

 

The Song of Solomon is, to me, one of the stranger books that found its way into the Bible. The whole book is love letters back and forth between two young lovebirds. They describe each other in romantic terms and with detail. It’s a book of the Bible that does not directly mention God, and is just reading other people’s love letters to each other.  

The way that the church has always understood this book is as an allegory between the relationship with God and God’s people. The intimate yearning, the desire, and love that are expressed are the love songs of God to the church and the people to God in return. It’s an allegory of that deep, abiding love that God has for us and that exists in our hearts. It’s an expression of the beauty of our relationship with God and mutual infatuation. We see the love of God for the world and the world for God through the eyes of these two young people in love.  

What does this have to say for us in the middle of a pandemic? We know we love God, and we know God loves us. But it never hurts to go back and look at the old love letters to read how you feel. Especially now, this book is an incredible reminder of God’s undying love for the world God made and called good. One of the struggles, especially when things get hard, is seeing where God is in the midst of what happens to us. While we know God loves us, our inability to feel that love in the middle of hardship can leave us looking for answers.  

Whenever we read the Bible, we have the benefit of knowing the end of the story. We know the Israelites make it safely through the wilderness and into the promised land. We know the walls will fall at Jericho, that Jonah will survive the whale, that after 3 days, Jesus will rise from the dead and the tomb will be empty. But the story of scripture is one of the people in the middle – not knowing how the story will end. It’s full of people worrying in the middle of real and extreme hardship what God is going to do next, and still pushing forward, trusting God will lead them.  

So for us who are in the middle of something hard, this love letter is a great reminder of the promises God makes to God’s people. While we are in the middle, this tells us of God’s deep love for us and the faithfulness God has to us. We hear of the intimate ways God knows our problems, desires relationships with us, and in God’s faithfulness, we know he will see us through.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - October 5, 2020: Psalm 62

To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for October 5 

 

Psalm 62 is a psalm about trust in God. Verse five through seven read, “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.”   

Martin Luther, in the Large Catechism, writes that anything on which your heart truly relies and depends is really your god. Whether it is money or power or some other empty promise, if that is where all of a person’s hope lies and where their heart looks above all else, that is what that person has made their god. 

With those words from Psalm 62 and those words from Luther in mind, it seems obvious that anything other than God is really a false hope. What I especially notice today is how it is that a faith in God is a rock and a fortress which cannot be shaken. While our confidence in anything can be lost, a complete trust in God is the one thing that stands alone as something that is unshaken. One of the phrases I hear over and over again connected with the stock market is confidence. When people have it, things go up. When people don’t have it, things go down.  

While I don’t know of anyone’s faith who hasn’t experienced some kind of turmoil or some kind of challenges, as I’ve experienced, this trust in God is something that holds weight even in my own moments of weakness. Unlike my confidence in money or any of the other popular idols of today, a faith in God is something that hold a special consistency. 

After all, God is the one thing that does not change. Money, the stock market, all else is up for debate and reaction to other factors. Yet the love of God, our salvation, and the finality of the work of Christ carried out on the cross is done, once and for all. Unlike the stock market, the value of money, or any power that any other idol can offer, what God has done for us, God’s presence with us is not changing. There is nothing we can do to separate ourselves from the love of God, there is no power in this world that can undo for us what God has done, is doing, and will do. So our hope, above all else, remains in God alone.   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - October 2, 2020: reflection on the witness

Today’s devotion is a reflection on the witness we’ve heard about in the witness of the church this week. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

Devotion for October 2 

            Since Tuesday, my devotions have been on the witness of the church in times of plagues and pandemics. On Tuesday, we heard the story of Eyam, a small village whose self-imposed quarantine saved the lives of thousands and successfully contained the spread of illness. On Wednesday, we looked at Luther’s writing in the middle of the plague going through Wittenburg. Yesterday, we heard an example from the early church and its witness of caring for others during the plague of Cyprian.  

All of these examples have raised the question for me: what are people going to think of our witness, looking at us when the next pandemic comes around? It’s obvious in all of these examples the way the role of the church was a life-saving presence for many people. The willingness of people to quarantine, the courage to help those who were literally cast out from their homes, and the centrality of faith in following those practices is clear from each of these historical examples.  

Obviously, “the church” today does not speak or act with one voice in the same way that it did in any of those instances. Various denominations and portions of Christianity have responded differently. But, good, bad, or otherwise, Christians in the next pandemic may very well look to us and what we do now.  

With the commitment and sacrifice of the people who have gone before us in mind, what is our witness that we are really providing? What will people look at our actions and say when this is all over? Hopefully, when this is all said and done, people will see the work of our faith and see us doing everything we can so that when we gather again in person, we can all gather again. I hope that our witness is one of saving lives through following every step we can – and, when compared to digging graves for family members, wearing a mask should not seem like much of a sacrifice. The witness of the church is beyond our individualism. Our faith is about our community – and we should be willing to make sacrifices for our neighbor. What we are asked to do with distancing and masks hardly seems like a sacrifice when compared with what was given up by Christians past. I hope we live up to the witness of those who have gone before to share their witness of faith and sacrifice for those who turn to us in the future.   

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

Pastor James 

 

Daily Devotions - October 1, 2020: the Plague of Cyprian

We continue looking at the witness of the church in pandemic with looking at the Plague of Cyprian. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for October 1 

 

This plague is named after St. Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, who witnessed and chronicled the plague in writing. This plague happened in the early years of Christianity, peaking in roughly the year 250 AD, and was likely caused by some form of smallpox or Ebola. In this plague, we see the power of Christian witness and service. 

Bishop Dionysius, wrote of what he saw in Egypt during this plague: “At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease.” People were so afraid of the contagious nature of this they would literally abandon people in the streets to fend for themselves. 

Yet, the Christians responded differently. Christians, knowing the risks, took in those who were ill and cared for them. This was not Christians looking just after Christians – this was Christians looking after everyone who needed it. Dionysius wrote, “Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead … [a death that] seems in every way the equal to martyrdom.” While they took on these risks, at a societal level, two things happened.  

First, the death rate significantly decreased where Christian communities existed to care for the sick. While many Christians took on the danger, many more recovered than would have been possible were they left to themselves. The care these Christians provided significantly reduced the mortality of the plague, and on the balance, more lives were saved than were lost as a result of this care.  

Second, the Gospel spread like wildfire. When all others had abandoned the sick, Christians lived out their faith. Their faith was a witness to the radical love and hospitality that they preached. They developed relationships with those they cared for, and those who survived likely never forgot the extreme kindness from the church. People in the midst of danger, trial, and hardship saw the power of the church. Christians risked their own lives to save others while others abandoned the sick in an attempt to save themselves. In the face of such public witness, the church grew.  

 

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

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 30, 2020: Martin Luther’s writing

Today's devotion is on Martin Luther’s writing, Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 30 

 

In 1527 – ten years after Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door – the plague reached Wittenberg. Luther and his pregnant wife stayed in Wittenberg to tend to the ill. They even opened their home as a ward to help care for the sick. In the middle of this, a pastor wrote Luther asking whether or not it was ok to flee from the plague. This letter is Martin Luther’s response to him. 

In Luther’s response, Luther talks about making sure that the ill are cared for. While it is not wrong to flee, Luther writes, it is wrong if the sick are being abandoned and nobody is there to care for them. Yet, Luther lifts up scripture and the power of caring for our neighbor – whatever we do to the least, we have done to Christ. 

Luther also writes – which doesn’t sound far off from what we hear today – “Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence.” Basically, the stay at home and avoid going to places you don’t need to go in order to protect the healthy.  

Luther’s emphasis in his letter, which he lived out, was care for the sick and protection of the healthy. Luther talks of the many sacrifices people make, the ways in which the devil tempts us in the middle of epidemics and plagues, and the proper Christian witness that is carried out.  

I think this provides a significant reminder for us today. Even the simple notion that everything we do, we do for our neighbor is something that seems to be lost in a lot of our discussion. We have become so individualistic, our emphasis is less on this community centered approach, but on this idea of “you take care of you, and I’ll take care of me,” and we seem all-too-ready to walk away from our responsibility to our neighbor. We have a “me-first” mentality, and too many take risks that affect others.  

I know I end each devotion with “reach out, and take care of each other.” I do think our care for each other is all the more important right now – even those we don’t know personally. So take a lesson from Luther: follow the precautions, do what you can, and help look out for your neighbor.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

Full text of the letter, if you’re interested 

 

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Daily Devotions - September 29, 2020: the Village of Eyam

I’m going to look at lessons from church history for our current pandemic. Today's devotion is on the example of the Village of Eyam. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 29 

 

In the year 1660, a shipment of cloth from plague-ridden London arrived in the small village of Eyam, bringing with it the plague. First, a tailor got sick, and it began to spread through the village. As many started to think of fleeing, the town rector, William Mompesson, took charge. Through his leadership in the community, partnering with his popular predecessor, they came up with a plan for the village.  

They instituted a quarantine. Nobody would leave, and nobody would come in – all to prevent the spread of the plague to the neighboring villages. Nearby royalty helped with money and supplies, making sure that food and other necessary supplies would be dropped off for villagers. 

Church services – still to be held – were moved outdoors as to prevent the spread among those in the village. Yet families often carried out the hard tasks of burying the dead alone. One woman dug the graves and buried her husband and six children herself. Yet even in the worst of it – at one point, this village of no more than 800 was losing five to six people a day – nobody fled. Even though, as Mompesson wrote, there was a smell of “sadness and death” in the air, these brave souls endured this for fourteen long months and in doing so, saved thousands of lives by containing the spread of the plague.  

While this suffering is hard to think of – particularly as it had such severe consequences for this small community - the powerful witness is in what these people voluntarily took on to prevent the spread and save lives. Their suffering was not in vain, and the spread stopped there. The strength of those people astounds me. Through the leadership of their church, through their duty to protect others, and through their willingness to endure, these people saved a tremendous number of lives.  

It is amazing to me that the church was at the center of it all. I can’t help but think that the sacrifice of these people was only made possible by the strength of their faith and their ability to endure this hardship together. In our own epidemic around us, I hope we take this example of sacrifice and endurance as the witness of faith that it is, and learn from it the lessons we can.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 28, 2020: Paul in Athens

Today's devotion is on Paul in Athens, found in Acts 17:16-32. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 28 

 

This sermon in Acts is worth a read. Paul finds himself in Athens for a few days waiting on his colleagues. He debated with the philosophers, taught in the synagogues, and made himself known. The people ask him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.”  

Paul gives a sermon that is known for how he utilized the local symbols to speak the language of the Athenian people. Paul speaks about the idols that filled Athens and the place of the God of Israel as more powerful than these statues. Paul takes the message of the God of Israel, tells the people of Athens what this God has done, and does so in a way that they are able to listen and understand. Some who hear this come to believe. One of the things that makes this sermon so powerful is the way that Paul is able to adapt for the Athenians the Gospel in a way that it makes sense to them.   

If Paul went in, trashed the idols, and berated the Athenians for not already knowing Jesus, I don’t think he would have made any converts that day. If Paul simply tried to convince the Athenians that they were wrong, he probably would not have gotten very far with his message. 

I think it’s so unfortunate, however, that kind of thing is what passes for discussion and debate these days. Watch any television and you’ll see nobody is out casting a positive vision of what they want, but it’s just trying to convince you the other person is stupid and wrong. It’s more about who can ridicule and mock the best rather than who can cast the best vision for the future. That pattern of communication spreads, as I’ve witnessed in too many Facebook arguments (which, also, don’t manage to change minds). 

Instead, our vision for our faith and for our witness needs to be one that, like Paul’s is built on this positive vision. One that speaks of the many things that God has done for us. We are about changing hearts and minds, not having the best comebacks. Our communication and the steps we take should reflect that. So when you think about spreading your faith, tell the wonderful stories of what God has done for God’s people, and speak in such a way the other person can listen.   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 25, 2020: widow's offering

Today's devotion is on the widow’s offering, found in Mark 12:41-44. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 25 

 

Each Sunday we’ve been in the parking lot, we’ve kept the offering as a part of our worship. While we aren’t passing the plate around the parking lot at that time, I’ve still encouraged each person to, as an act of worship, take time to consider what they have to offer not just financially, but of their time and talents to the world around us.  

Talking about a church’s offering is not always a popular topic. For some, any talk about money can be uncomfortable. But, particularly in weird times like this, it is something we should think about. I should say, this isn’t a pitch for you to increase your giving or anything like that: this is a theological understanding of why giving our offerings is that important act of worship.  

In this section of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus sits in the temple opposite the treasury and sees who is contributing and how much. He sees some people putting in a lot. Eventually, he sees a widow who comes and gives two small copper coins. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.”  

 What we give is not about the amount, nor is it about comparing what people give. And our contributions do not end when the money hits the collection plate. One of my favorite sayings about stewardship, which I know I have shared before, is that stewardship is everything you do after you say the words “I believe.”  

This widow teaches us it is not about the amount we put in the plate or a percentage of our offering. It is the willingness to give of ourselves – our whole selves. Through her contribution that consisted of everything she has, this widow is an example for us. We, too, can give of our whole selves, and not just with our dollars on Sunday morning. 

Especially now, I believe that this world is in need of the good news we have to share. What we have to give to the world around us as witnesses of the good that God has done for us is especially needed. Our offering is an act of faith. It is an act of worship. Because in this sacrificial giving in service to God and our neighbor, we live as witnesses of the one who gave sacrificially for us. In the witness of our generosity we give witness to our faith. Hopefully, we live our whole lives as an offering to God, so that our neighbor may be cared for and God may be praised.     

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 24, 2020: James 4:17

Today's devotion is on the verse James 4:17. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 24 

 

“What do we do now?” That’s the question I think just about everyone has had to ask since the pandemic began. Six months ago, the questions were all about shutting down. Should we stay open? Can we stay open? As more and more shut down, the answer became more obvious that closing was the right thing to do.  

“What do we do now?” Now, the question is all about what do we do to reopen. Is it safe to go to restaurants? Is it good for businesses or other places to open back up? There is no shortage of questions, and with so many questions the right thing to do is often unclear to us.   

Today’s verse, James 4:17 says, “Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.” What does this mean for us if we don’t know what the right thing to do is?  

Even when there is so much uncertainty, there remain for us in our faith things we can be certain of. While the exact next steps of action may be unclear, the principles and values of our faith do not change. Love, compassion, courage, faith and hope are all things that continue. The example we find in Jesus continues to guide us. Building on these values, we can find a path forward.  

Therefore, even when we don’t know what to do, there are still things we DO know to do. Unfortunately, it’s a very human thing the more anxious we feel, the more we take that out on other people. Uncertainty can often breed hostility. Compound that with an extremely polarized society and power politics in an election year, and there’s no shortage of ways of acting right now that we certainly know aren’t the right way to do things. 

Even if we are stepping out into the unknown, taking the information at hand and making the best decision possible moving forward uncertain of whether or not it is right, we can still do those things in a way that we can be proud of. To focus on being kind and compassionate, to focus on the ways we can still love our neighbor as ourselves, to focus on living as a witness to the power of God in our lives – those are things that are entirely in our control. They are all choices we make each day.  

When it feels like you don’t know what is the right thing to do do, you can at least start by doing what you know to be right. Be kind to someone who needs it. Be compassionate with someone who you disagree with. Find a way to help someone in need.   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 23, 2020: Jonah after preaching to Ninevah

Today's devotion is on Jonah after preaching to Ninevah, found in Jonah 4. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 23 

 

I remember as a young child, the children of my church performed a song and skit about the story of Jonah. There was a song that told the story of Jonah, and we even had a big, blue, cardboard whale that one of the parents made. In that telling of the story of Jonah, the story went something to the effect of God wanted Jonah to go to Ninevah. Jonah tried to run away from God, and big storms came. The other people on the boat, once they found out Jonah had angered God, threw him overboard where he was swallowed by a whale for three days. And after three days, the whale spat out Jonah on dry land. 

I think for most people, that’s where the story of Jonah ends – Jonah surviving being swallowed by the whale. But the story goes on from there. Jonah finally makes it to Ninevah, tells them of God’s coming judgment, and the people of Ninevah repent. God spares the city of Ninevah once God sees what they have done. Jonah is furious! He’s had to survive a storm, live in the belly of a whale, all for an outcome that Jonah already expected would happen. Jonah wishes he would die, finds shade from a bush only for it to wither, and Jonah is mad about the bush. God asks, just as he did about the city, “is it right for you to be angry?”  

This second part of the story of Jonah speaks to the frustrations we often feel when we see things that are out of our control leading to results we aren’t happy with. Jonah, who endured so much to tell the people of Ninevah of their coming judgement, only to find out they are spared, is frustrated he had to go through so much for this outcome. 

Our anger is often misplaced. You’d think that Jonah would be happy to see a city with thousands of people saved. You’d think if God so willed Ninevah to continue, Jonah, who has witnessed firsthand God’s power, would be happy with God’s decision. So often, I think we end up like Jonah – on a mission, so focused on one specific outcome, we end up closed to other avenues God may have for us. We get so focused on the destruction of Ninevah that we end up angry and frustrated when our plans don’t match up with God’s.  

While we’re in this pandemic, keep looking for where God is calling. I hope that we’re able to, instead of a laser focus on getting back to normal or whatever it is we want – we’re able to listen for what God is saying to us, even if it’s not according to our plans.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 22, 2020: the Valley of Dry Bones

Today's devotion is on the Valley of Dry Bones, found in Ezekiel 37:1-28. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 22 

 

In this passage, we hear the story of this vision God gives Ezekiel of dry bones scattered throughout a valley. God tells Ezekiel to tell the bones God says to live. Ezekiel writes, “So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.” Ezekiel looked, and saw they were together covered in flesh, but they weren’t breathing. God again commands Ezekiel to  

This is not the end of the story. God explains to Ezekiel, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say ‘our bones are dried up and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” God commands Ezekiel to then prophesy to the people of Israel that “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know, that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act.”   

While we are in the middle of a pandemic – and while we continue to feel the effects of the pandemic in very real ways – this vision of Ezekiel offers the hope that this valley of dry bones is not the end of the story. Though hope for normal may feel like it is lost; this vision reminds us God is greater than the decay and loneliness we may be feeling the longer this pandemic goes on. Though Ezekiel is writing this in the middle of the Exile, when people were forced from their homes and in Babylonian captivity, this valley of dry bones coming back to life gave a vision of hope for the people who were living through hardship.  

As is always the story of God and God’s people, God remains even when things are their hardest, and when they seem most impossible. If in this vision God shows that he can bring life from this valley of dry bones, rattling bones back together and breathing life into what was dead, we can still have hope for our time now. We can trust that even though we, like the Israelites, may be losing hope; our God has not abandoned us.  

  

 

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 21, 2020: Hebrews crossing the Red Sea

Today's devotion is on the Hebrews crossing the Red Sea, found in Exodus 14. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 21 

 

This scene from the book of Exodus is familiar: The Hebrews have left Egypt, Pharaoh and his army are hot in pursuit, and the Hebrews come to a sea that prevents them from moving forward. We know what happens here: God tells Moses to lift his staff, stretch out his hand, and the sea will part so that the Hebrews can walk through on dry land.  

There is a part we often skip over in this simplified telling of the story. In verses 11-12, we hear what the Hebrews have to say to Moses. They say, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to Die in the wilderness?” 

We remember the situation; we remember the miraculous solution. We don’t tend to remember the protests of the people, who in this moment are telling Moses it would have been better for them to be slaves in the place Moses has rescued them from. When a plan comes together, we don’t remember the people who complained (though, there are almost always a few complaining along the way). On a family vacation, we don’t remember all the “are we there yet?” questions or the fighting from the back seat.  

 For the Hebrew people fleeing from danger, God is in their way forward, not the way backward. God is not in the protests of “Back to Egypt” but instead, offers the way through the sea and towards freedom.  

One of the challenges of our community and our world right now is keeping our eyes forward. I’ve caught myself spending a lot of time thinking and looking backwards about how things were. I’ve been dreaming about the way things used to be and going back to normal. Unfortunately, short of building a time machine, backwards is not a way that we can go. Our way forward is unclear. We might think of ourselves at the Red Sea, looking out at an impossible path forward with danger breathing down our necks. Yet, we know that God is with us, and will take us where God wants us to go.   

We hear the complaining, the laments, the stories of how it used to be and the desire to go back to how it was. But we have to trust that God is not in our past, but in our future. God will lead us through the Red Sea again. Time and again, the story of God in this world has always been God’s faithfulness through hardship, and with our eyes forward, we live in a trust that God will lead us through again.   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 18, 2020: the writing on the wall

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

 

Devotion for September 18  

 

We are all probably familiar with the phrase, “the writing is on the wall.” Usually, we use that phrase to mean that we can already see the bad that is about to happen, or that the end of something is a foregone conclusion.  

You may not know that this phrase is about the Biblical story which our devotion is on today. In Daniel 5, King Belshazzar is holding a great dinner, and behind him, a hand appears and writes mysterious characters behind him. Many try to interpret it, but fail, until Daniel is called in to interpret the writing. Daniel tells the king that he has fallen into idolatry, and God has written that his time as king is up. That night, Belshazzar was killed and a new king comes to power.  

A detail that turns how we usually use this phrase on its head is how King Belshazzar reacts. Daniel delivers the news that he has been weighed and measured and found wanting, and the king “Gave the command, and Daniel was clothed in purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made concerning him that he should rank third in the kingdom.” 

I don’t know of anyone who would take that news as well as King Belshazzar did. He finds out he is done, and he rewards the messenger. He takes the person who has interpreted the bad news and makes him third in the kingdom.  

We’ve all had to read the writing on the wall recently, and we’ve all been watching the news as people interpret what various numbers mean and tell us what the future looks like. And, it’s not been a great experience as we watch numbers go up recently. But there it is: the writing on the wall, for all of us to see. 

As we look at this passage, and we see King Belshazzar’s reaction, I wonder if there’s not something to learn from that. To react with gratitude for people who can help us make sense of all of this. To be grateful for people who tell us to stay apart and wear masks – knowing those might be the right thing to do, even if they aren’t the thing we want to do. To reward the people who give us the information that help us stay safe, even if it isn’t the popular thing to say. When the writing is on the wall, how often do we thank the messenger?   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 17, 2020: Christian freedom

Today's devotion is on Christian freedom, found in Galatians 5:13-14. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 17  

 

There’s an all-too-common argument right now, where it seems people are upset that wearing masks costs us ‘freedom.’ I’m letting you know upfront that I’m going to be critical of this, if that’s not something you want to hear. But I hope you know me well enough to know I’m not interested in this as a political argument. I’m a pastor, a theologian. For all of us who are Christians, freedom is more than a political term; it is first and foremost a biblical and theological term, and as Christians, we shouldn’t expect our sense of our freedom through Christ to equate to a political freedom that is dependent on a government.  

The interesting thing about what we accomplish by wearing a mask, given our situation with the coronavirus, is that it is not something that is done to protect ourselves. It is something we are asked to do to protect others. We ourselves are only protected from the disease spread when we are around others if they, too, wear a mask.   

Paul writes to the Galatians: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Freedom for Christians doesn’t mean we can do what we want. It means that we have been freed from the powers of sin, death, and the devil – not just for ourselves, but for the people around us. And in that freedom, we are bound – inseparably – to our fellow Christians and neighbors. Martin Luther summed it up this way: “A Christian is perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.” 

 Christian freedom is not a license that we can do what we want. It’s not freedom from anything. If anything, to say that we believe ties us to a certain way of life that limits what we can and cannot do. Our freedom as Christians isn’t found in unlimited choice; Christian freedom is found in living as we were created to live. If we were freed from Sin, death, and the devil, we are now free that we live according to how God created us to live – loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. 

Forget any politics of it, or whatever you think a mask symbolizes. If it prevents the spread of coronavirus (as all the experts tell us it does!), it is an act of Christian freedom that we wear one to protect others. It is a step towards loving our neighbor, and it’s not that hard. Whatever the minor inconvenience that it is for most of us is certainly worth it so we protect those around us that God has created in God’s own image.   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 16, 2020: lost sheep

Today's devotion is on the Parable of the Lost Sheep, found in Matthew 18:10-14. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 16 

  

Jesus asks what he things a shepherd would do if one sheep out of 100 was lost. His answer is that the shepherd would leave the 99 and search for the one that has gone astray. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that this is bad shepherding advice. How can a shepherd leave 99 sheep and go look for the one that is lost? Regardless of the metaphor, this is how much that one means to God – each of us, made in God’s image, is worth of being that one who God drops everything for and relentlessly pursues until we are found. Each of us, individually, that one in one hundred, is valued that much.  

For us, what does this say about what we are willing to do for the one person out of one hundred? With the statistics right now, it looks like roughly 1 in 100 people who get the coronavirus die from it (numbers vary, but let’s just go with 1 out of 100). The unfortunate thing about statistics about people is that it dehumanizes the people it represents. Because that one (even if they are one out of 100), is more than a statistic. They are someone who is worth something to somebody, and to God, they are the one person who is worth searching for when they are lost.  

I know we are all tired of this. I don’t like keeping track of whether my mask has been washed or not, or timing visits to stores when I think they’ll be least busy. I miss seeing my friends and spending time with people in person and not just digitally. We’ve cancelled vacation plans. Rearranged our lives.  

As we continue on – as tired as we are – remember that the one out of one hundred is worth dropping everything and looking for. Don’t become complacent. Think about how valuable that one  is to God. To their family. If God drops everything for us, certainly we can pick up a mask for our neighbor. If God can relentlessly search for that one out of one hundred, certainly we can care as much for that one person who we can help protect by all doing our part.  Though we may be tired, we  

 

 

 

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 - September 14, 2020: the importance knowing our faith

Today's devotion is on the importance knowing our faith. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 14 

 

 When I was at the University of North Carolina, my religion professor wrote a book that was popular and had him doing the television interview circuit. This included him doing an interview on the late-night television show “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central. I was later told this story by one of his teaching assistants: the night before he went on, there was a Congressman who was a big proponent of putting the 10 commandments public places. Courthouses, schools, everywhere. When the congressman was asked the question was “what are the 10 Commandments?” he listed two or three, and then couldn’t name anymore. So my religion professor, going on the next night, studied ahead of time, memorizing the Ten Commandments and other information so that he wouldn’t get stumped by the same kind of question. 

Now, I don’t doubt that the congressman in question was sincere in his belief that the Ten Commandments were important. I don’t doubt that he thought they would have some positive influence in their presence in the places he wanted to place them. But he couldn’t name them.  

The unfortunate reality is, for so many people, we say things like the Ten Commandments and other parts of our faith are important, but then we find ourselves as stumped as the Congressman when we are asked to go just a little deeper. We know enough to say what is important, but if we were really honest with what we know or how we act, we find ourselves lacking. 

This really is a matter of Christian witness – how did it look for a proponent of the 10 Commandments being posted publicly to not be able to name the Ten Commandments? How does it look when we, if we are trying to spread the faith, can’t answer some basic questions about what we believe? Not all of us can be experts, and not all of us are trained theologians. But we are all Christians.  

If we do say we believe in the work of Christ in our life, and the power of what Christ accomplished on the cross, and the many ways the Bible bears witness to the work of God in the world, shouldn’t we want to know more? Shouldn’t we hunger for the knowledge of what God has done, and shouldn’t we want to know these things to the point at which we can teach and spread this message that is so important to us? Don’t worry, there’s no quiz coming on what the 10 Commandments are. But I do hope you might reflect on where it is you might like to deepen your faith and where you want to learn more.   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 11, 2020: Psalm 51

Today's devotion is on Psalm 51. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 11 

 

At the beginning of the pandemic, when everything was shut down, and I was beginning to make my weekly phone calls to check in with the families of Summer Memorial, there was one thing that was a theme: everyone’s house was getting cleaned. With all this time, and nowhere to go, and nothing to do, it seemed as if everyone was taking all this extra time to get things in order and to take on those projects everyone had been putting off for a while. 

Psalm 51:10-12 read, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”  

While so many of us have been taking care of those special projects we have been putting off, or doing that deep clean of the house, there is one thing I want us to reflect on: How has this time been for our faith? I am sure that each of us has that “if I only had more time” excuse for something in our faith life. We have that one thing we say we want to do but keep putting off, or that  

As we hear the prayer of Psalm 51 asking God to create in us a clean heart, I hope this may be the reminder during this time to take a moment and reflect on what it is in our faith life we’ve been putting off. If it’s that book of the Bible we’ve never read that we’ve always wanted to, take some time to do that. If it’s finding the way to improve our prayer life, or build better habits around prayer, there’s no better time than now.  

We spend time cleaning our house to keep it up. We may find things that need repair or replacing. But just as it’s important to keep up our house, the same could be said for our faith. We need to, every now and then, get those cobwebs out. We need to spend time focusing on cleaning our hearts and souls so that we might grow and deepen our relationship with the God we desire. So, I encourage you to think of that special project for your faith. Think of it as home improvement for your heart. Take that time, read that book, create that habit around prayer, whatever it is for you. While we wait for something like normal to return, we can take the time and still find ways to keep our hearts tuned to God.   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 10, 2020: Tower of Babel

Today's devotion is on the Tower of Babel, found in Genesis 11. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 10 

 

I think every child who has played with blocks has tried, at some point to see how tall they can stack them. I can remember being young enough and trying to do this that I had to get my dad to put the new blocks on top for me. Pushing ourselves, testing our limits, and finding the limits of how far we can go are something that are a part of growing up.  

In the childhood of humanity’s relationship with God; people tested these limits. They, like so many children, wanted to see how high they could build a tower. They wanted to build a tower to the heavens.  

We all know the story of the tower of Babel as the origin of different languages. God sees people working together to build a tower to the heavens, and prevents them from doing this by splitting people up across from languages. Beyond this, I would argue it is also the origin of humanity’s pride in trying to reach for something that is God’s responsibility.   

The sin of the tower of Babel was not working together on a construction project. It was the pride. It was a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that they might make a name for themselves. They hope this achievement would make it impossible for them to be scattered across the earth. But as a result of their actions, they end up scattered in the way that they had feared.  

In the original Jurassic Park movie, one of the famous lines is “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Especially with all of our technology opening up so many things we are able to do, how many of us take the time to reflect on the things that we, even with limited technology skills, can do? The tower of Babel tells us of the danger of our pride that pushes past our limits is a thing that we should keep in mind. With so much at our fingertips – even for the technologically illiterate – that question of what are we doing this for, and should we be doing this, are questions that don’t get asked enough.  

Huma advancement is a good thing – looking at all the lives that have been saved through modern medicine is a perfect example of that. But any technology – even the bricks that the people of Babel used to build their tower in stead of stone – can be used for a purpose that leads us away from God. As we spend so much time on our computers, cell phones, and parked in front of the television, take the time to think about what it is you are doing and check to make sure it is not serving your own pride.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 9, 2020: victory in faith

Today's devotion is on victory in faith, found in 1 John 5. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 9 

 

What does victory look like? I think that’s a pretty clear thing. People holding up the trophy, confetti raining down on the field, smiling athletes gathered around holding up the number one and champagne being sprayed all over a locker room. One team wins, the other team loses. One gets the trophy, the other gets the plane ride home.  

It is interesting to me how quickly we have to shift our image of victory when it comes to our faith. The image of Christ on the cross is not, at least by our standards, much of a victory. After all, I’ve even heard it said about a team getting blown out that they were ‘crucified.’ In that usage, it’s pretty clear what we mean by it – to be crucified is to be publicly and gruesomely executed. It’s probably the farthest thing from a victory you can get.  

1 John 5:4-5 read, “And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” Conquering the world through our faith is something that sounds great. We want to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ, and we want for ourselves to be able to share in the victory that Christ already won for us. 

If we are honest with ourselves, I think most people have a this-world vision of what victory means. And even with our faith, I think it’s the kind of victory most people are looking for. The celebration, the domination, the winning while another loses. And the farther you get into that type of thinking, the farther away from reflecting Jesus’ life you get. With just a little thought, I think we all recognize that victory is not the way of the cross.  

The victory we find through Christ is a victory that is found through service. It is a victory not found through domination or power, but through service and through humility. It is the kind of victory that sees love conquer hate; that sees the weak valued over the strong. It’s something that doesn’t look like victory at all. Yet it is so important that we hear John tell us that it is this kind of victory that conquers the world. This is what Christ did, after all. Jesus healed, taught, and when he was ultimately killed, even through his death he rescued all from the power of sin and the devil. This over anything else is what lasting victory looks like. Everything else comes and goes. Victory in Christ is forever.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 8, 2020: Christ dying for the weak

Today's devotion is on Christ dying for the weak, found in Romans 5: To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 8 

 

I’ve had a friend tell me of a baseball coach who had some wisdom to share about a good teammate. He said that if you just hit the game-winning hit, that’s not when you need a teammate. You need a teammate when you strike out to end the game with a runner at third. You need a teammate when your error lets the game winning run score. Good teammates aren’t revealed in wins, but in tough losses. I think you could say the same of a good friend – someone who is all the more important to have when things are down.  

Paul tells us in Romans 5:8, “But God Proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us.” This section of the letter of Romans is about this point – that it is not just that Christ came for the Godly, or for a select few, or only for those who were deserving. While we were still sinners, Christ came to save us. And when the people who he came to save killed him, God’s work proved greater than anything this world has seen, and through God’s work death and the devil have no more say.  

The lifeguard isn’t there for the people who swim perfectly. The hospital doesn’t give beds to people who are well. The church is not just a place for the holy. We all come, with all sorts of backgrounds, and in all sorts of ways, and with all sorts of baggage. And that is the point – the church is the hospital for sinners. It is the body of believers where we go to find healing. Through God’s word and sacrament, we find the reassurance that it is the God who came to rescue humanity when humanity was at its worst who is now here for us. No matter how we come; no matter where we are at, there is God who is reaching out to us.  

In short, we are reminded in this scripture of the God of Grace who lifts us up when we are down.  It is where we find the God who always waits for us with open arms. Who loves us even when we are at our worst.  

In a time when nothing is perfect, when people are arguing about all sorts of things, and it is so easy to feel like we don’t know what to do, which decision is best or what the right next step is, I am grateful for a God who is greater than any decision I make now. I’m grateful for a God who, even if I do the wrong thing, waits for me with open arms to return. I’m grateful that the reconciling work of Christ still means something for me, even when I don’t deserve it.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 7, 2020: Samson and Delilah

Today's devotion is on Samson and Delilah, found in Judges  To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 7 

 

The book of Judges repeats a predictable pattern throughout the book. The Israelites turn from God, and God hands them over to an enemy. The people cry out and turn to God. God hears their pleas for help and sends someone to rescue the faithful people from the hands of their oppressors.  

Samson is one of those people, sent to rescue the faithful from their enemies. The story of Samson is one that I remember from Sunday School – though, without some of the gory details that are in the text. The people had turned from God, and God gave them over to the Philistines. Samson defeats the Philistines, but they still plot to overpower him. Eventually, one woman named Delilah is able to extract Samson’s secret. He tells her that if his hair is cut he will lose his strength. Samson is captured, and in one last act of strength, brings the building down on his captors and himself. 

What do we do with this story? It’s one that has made its way into Sunday School curriculum that we all seem to be familiar with it. But it’s hard to understand – is Samson a hero? Is he some sort of tragic example of what not to do? How are we supposed to think about Samson, and what do we learn from his strength and his downfall?   

One interesting question I have heard asked about this text is “What is strength without wisdom?” Samson is impulsive, much to his own endangerment. He is hardly a complete example of moral behavior. Sure, he defeats the enemies. He is wildly strong, yet seems incapable of controlling himself. He is brutal, he is lustful, and he is not something I think we want to idolize despite his strength.  

More than a story for us to learn in Sunday school, this story teaches us the importance of wisdom accompanying strength. We see how strength without wisdom is vulnerable to misuse. It teaches us the importance of not taking a strongman and turning them into a God. Samson, after all, with all his strength could easily be seen as something of a god among men, yet with all of his faults, is hardly worthy of our worship. Strength without wisdom leads to a downfall. So many seek power; how many are after wisdom?   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 4, 2020: the riot in Ephesus

Today's devotion is on the riot in Ephesus, found in acts 19:21-41. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 4 

 

Ephesus, as a result of being stirred up, was filled with people. Gaius and Aristarchus, who were traveling with Paul, were caught up in it and dragged to the front of the crowd. Paul wanted to go, but the disciples would not let him because it wasn’t safe. The Jews had pushed their man, Alexander, to the front of the crowd to hopefully speak, but he was shouted down as soon as they realized he was a Jew. Finally, the town clerk comes in, and restores order. He points out that the men had done nothing wrong, and through their gathering and their anger, they risk being charged with rioting by the occupying Roman armies. Finally, the crowd disperses. 

What started all this? A silversmith who made money making statues to Artemis was upset that all these conversions to Christianity were costing him money. If nobody is worshipping Artemis anymore, they don’t’ need to buy his expensive statues. That threat of losing business was enough that he stirred up other artisans and all the town into this riot against what Paul and his companions were teaching.   

The witness, faith, and effect of Paul’s ministry was so impactful that it was something worth rioting over. It was worth a protest and people shouting in the town square. In fact, it began costing people money and business. One of the problems of the church today is that I don’t think we cause the right kind of trouble – that is, our way of life is hardly different enough from the rest of society that what we do is hardly worth noticing, let alone protesting. Who are we challenging? Who is affected by our faith as we live it out? 

Maybe one of the aspirations of our faith is that we live in such a way, with such powerful witness and such transformative actions that people start to complain about what we are doing. What would it say if we in our businesses paid a living wage so that other businesses complained that they had to match? What would it say if from our faith, we took so much business away from places that thrive on sinful models that they complained about the work of the church? Our faith can be impactfully lived out in a way that truly makes a difference, and as with anything that makes a difference, that means some uncomfortable change for people. Maybe we need a faith that’s worth a good protest.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 3, 2020: Moses interceding on behalf of the Hebrews

Today's devotion is on Moses interceding on behalf of the Hebrews in the desert, found in Numbers 14:1-25. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 3 

 

The book of Numbers continues the story of the people wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. It tells of the many trials that Moses, Aaron, and the Hebrew people face along the way. At this point, the people have at many times lamented, “it would have been better to die in Egypt.”  

This portion of the book of Numbers is another point this happens. The faithful once again, tired of their wandering, turn to each other and say, “would that we have died in the land of Egypt!” There are even suggestions that they pick a new leader and turn back towards Egypt.  

God is leading the people with clouds by day and fire at night; God has fed the people with manna from heaven in the middle of the desert. These people have seen the miraculous, been freed from slavery, and told of the promised land that awaits them as the long-awaited result of God’s covenant with their ancestors. And they want to go back.  

 Fortunately, this isn’t what happens. After all, what would have happened had they gone back? They would have been slaves again; they would abandon the God who was leading them forward and the history of the Hebrew people as we know it would have been changed forever.  

Moses’ intercession here is part of a much longer narrative about the return of the people to faithfulness to God’s commandments. Yet one item of comfort in this is part of Moses’ prayer, in which he says, “The lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression.” For that, thanks be to God!  

No doubt, there are times in everyone’s life where we want to do things in the same manner of those people looking back to Egypt. As little sense as it makes to abandon the God who is leading them through the desert, who has freed them from their slavery, who held back the waters as they crossed the Sea of Reeds, and who has fed them with the bread of heaven, we make that same, ill-informed decision time and again. There are times in all our lives where we look to something other than God. There are times when we look to things that God has already rescued us from with wishful thinking. But thankfully, we have a God who is always ready for us to return.   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 2, 2020: loving your enemies

Today's devotion is on loving your enemies, found in Matthew 6:43-48. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 2 

 

The Christian faith speaks a lot about love. We’re familiar with the many texts that tell us to love, even if we can’t name them by chapter and verse. Love one another as I have loved you. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love is patient, love is kind. We’ve probably, at some point, heard a wonderful and nuanced sermon about the many different words used for love in the original language of the Greek text.  

The one thing that makes love hard is how much it actually asks of us. The Bible doesn’t say to ‘like’ your neighbor. It doesn’t tell us that love is patient and kind except for when you’re angry or upset. The hidden assumption behind all of this is that love is a verb – it is something that we actually have to do. 

Which is what brings us for the text today: love your enemies. Jesus couldn’t be clearer. He points out that even the tax collectors can love the people who already love them. It is something above normal and out of the ordinary to love the people who do not love you back. It’s something not expected in this world that we actually love people who are different from us, or who may even want bad things for us.  

While this text should not be used to justify everything in the name of love, I think it does give us that difficult task of loving those who we, if we are being honest with ourselves, don’t. With love comes acts of kindness and generosity. With love comes a desire to understand and to empathize, even if you still disagree. We end up having to recognize and give a basic human respect to people that we may rather not.  

This is the way of Jesus. He came to save the world that put him to death. Though the powers that be through an act of hate hanged him on the cross, his sacrifice of love was the act that from there saved the world. Our own acts of love over and above acts of hate have this same kind of power. Confronting an enemy with love instead of animosity is a far more powerful witness than anything, and beyond witness, it has the power to change the hate of this world.  

This command, and at best, our own willingness, to love those beyond the bounds of what this world considers loveable is a profound testimony to the depth of our calling. Hate does not change hate; anger does not change anger. Love alone has the power to transform, and in our desire and calling to live out this call to love, we find in ourselves the power to change ourselves and the world around us.  

 

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

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - September 1, 2020: the book of Amos

Today's devotion is on the book of Amos. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 1 

 

The book of Amos is not a very happy one. Amos is not a prophet who comes to bring good news. God has seen what has been happening within the nation of Israel, and tells Amos to speak a message to the people. Amos speaks to the sins of the many different groups around the Israelites. Yet, Amos also points out the many sins of Israel – particularly the lack of justice and the poor treatment of the poor. Because of this, Israel does not escape the judgement that the many others face. Amos warns if Israel does not change its ways, God will punish so that God can restore the covenant with the faithful remnant. The book of Amos is a reminder of the justice that accompanies the covenant, and that the people of Israel are not holding up their end of the deal. As a result of their complacency with injustices, Amos speaks of the many ways the Israelites have fallen short and the many punishments that God is going to bring.  

One of the consequences of the coronavirus and our reactions to it is that it seems to have magnified problems that existed before. If a church was having problems before the pandemic, it is likely having more significant problems now. More importantly, we’ve seen and heard of the struggles of so many workers who live paycheck to paycheck. We’ve seen the vulnerability of certain industries and populations. We’ve even seen how the racial tensions have been magnified as the long-standing racial injustices in this country have been exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic.  

I’m not going to be so bold as to say that the pandemic has been God’s punishment for the way our society has turned a blind eye to the injustices around us. But with the book of Amos speaking so clearly, I do believe this is a moment we should take to reflect on the injustices we see and hear. It is a part of the covenant God made with the people of Israel, and the call to care for the poor, the oppressed, the orphan and the widow are a crucial part of Jesus’ life and teachings for us. To do the work of justice and to look after the poor and the oppressed are a vital part of our life together with God. 

Especially now – when we know there is so much need – be alert, ready, and willing to speak up when something needs to be said. Be ready and willing to accompany that voice with action. And, as Amos puts it, be ready to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 31, 2020: Isaiah 61:1-4

Today's devotion is on Isaiah 61:1-4. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 31 

 

The book of Isaiah speaks to three distinct historical periods: before the Babylonian exile, during the Babylonian Exile, and just after the Babylonian exile. This passage of Isaiah from chapter 61 is in the final period – the time just after exile and the very beginnings of the restoration of Israel. In this time, Isaiah 61 speaks about justice. Isaiah writes, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” Isaiah continues offering hope to those who are often hopeless and speaking of the many ways that the people who are the outcast and the exiled will see their restoration.  

The timing of these words are important. These words come at a new beginning for the faithful people in Israel. In some ways, their hardship of exile is over, but their hard work of rebuilding is just beginning. At this new beginning, Isaiah speaks these important words about justice.  

At some point, the numbers will get to the point that a new normal will be will start to take shape. But it’s at that point that we need to remember these words of justice and restoration. It’s not enough that we go back to the way things were. It’s that we, moving forward and coming out of our own exile, create a new and better way forward for ourselves. 

We have learned about ourselves in this time of pandemic, just as the people of Israel learned about themselves in exile. We have seen and felt what is most important to us. We’ve learned what is really important and the things about our lives that we miss the most. Holding onto those things, and holding onto our defining traditions, we can also move forward knowing the ways in which God is not leaving us the same after this experience.  

So when we emerge, we can listen for the ways we can be more just and equitable. We can listen for the ways we bring good news to the oppressed, and set up new systems that are better than the ones before. Isaiah’s idea of restoration is a restoration that is for everyone – even those who were left out before.   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 28, 2020: Saul joining the disciples

Today's devotion is on Saul joining the disciples, found in Acts 9:23-43. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 28 

 

After his famous conversion on the road to Damascus, Saul, later Paul, begins preaching about Jesus as the Son of God – the very message that he previously had people killed for spreading. Saul confuses the people around him by such a big change. At one point, he has to escape from people trying to kill him who were unhappy with his conversion and new teachings. He then goes to Jerusalem, where he tries to meet the disciples and has a hard time doing so because they are afraid of him. Everyone knew who Saul was as the persecutor of the Christians.    

This is Paul – the writer who gives us most of our New Testament. His letters have shaped our faith in ways that would be unfathomable to the earliest believers. His message that has survived for almost 2000 years has given hope and assurance to thousands. This is Paul – and he was almost not welcomed as a part of the church. 

What I want to point out here, is the importance of a friend walking with us through our conversions. Paul is brought to the disciples because Barnabas – someone who was known and trusted – spoke up for him and brought him with him. Even with his direct experience of God, it still took someone welcoming him and connecting him with the established community of faith for Saul to become what he would be.  

In these times, many churches have actually seen increases in attendance – whether that is in a parking lot or virtually. In strange times like these, many people turn to the church. What is often missing – especially as places are opening back up and establishing new or different practices – is that accompanying presence to help keep people connected.  

I encourage you – wherever you are – to try to be that presence for someone. Pay attention to who is connecting or reconnecting with the church. Reach out and tell them how glad you are that they are there. Find a way to connect them to the mission of the congregation. Get people involved in ways they haven’t been before. But recognize – whether someone is a new member or a lifelong one; we all need that friend to walk with us into and through our faith.   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 27, 2020: Peter healing a beggar

Today's devotion is on Peter healing a beggar, found in Acts 3. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 27 

 

Every week during our parking-lot worship, where we’d usually have the offering, I’ve asked everyone in attendance to think of the many ways in which we can still offer of our time, talents, and possessions beyond just our financial gifts to the church.  

This chapter from the book of Acts tells us about this. Peter encounters a beggar on the steps of the temple. He says, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; In the name of Jesus, stand up and walk.” The beggar is cured and walks into the temple praising God. All are amazed, and Peter teaches them all about the wonders of Jesus Christ who made this possible.  

Thinking about how I’ve asked so many people to reflect on what it is they have to offer, this text struck me as an example of that. Now, I understand – we may not all be Peter, and our words of “stand up, and walk” may not achieve the same results. The sentiment he expresses though, is important for us to hear: “I have no silver or gold, but what I have, I give you.” Even if we can’t do the miraculous, we can still do the faithful. We can do our part to take care of people in need. 

Particularly as we are so divided and separated both physically and metaphorically, and the needs of our world move beyond the financial, what we offer in our faith does not stop with the amount of money we have to give. Even without gold and silver, we have ourselves and our faith to share with others. And with the world so divided and separated, the church is at its best a healing presence.  

I’ve said this before about stewardship: it’s more than just your church asking you for money. Stewardship is everything you do after you say the words “I believe.” The second you come to faith is the second that everything you own is a part of your life and service as a Christian on behalf of the world around you. Stewardship is more than money – it is a question of time and resources, and where and how they are spent.  

And for a world that needs the church – for the healing and salvation found in Jesus Christ – our witness is perhaps the most important thing we have to offer. We give of our time, our talents, and our possessions not just to pay for a building or to pay the pastor, but to support people and places in carrying out the work of ministry. It’s giving in a way that says, “I have no silver or God, but what I have, I give.”   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 26, 2020: Psalm 150

Today's devotion is on Psalm 150. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 26 

 

How many thank you speeches at awards shows or post-game interviews include someone thanking God in their moment of celebration? How many people are quick to post on Facebook or social media that they are #blessed when something good happens? Probably a lot. But, to the best of my recollection, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a time where a losing athlete, a player who struck out, or someone who had something bad happen to them has thanked God.  

Psalm 150, summarized in one sentence, is the Psalm of “Praise the Lord!” It lists out the many ways we can praise God. It’s one of those Psalms that typically gets read at celebrations, or when people are happy, and things are going well. Break out the cymbals, break out the tambourine, praise the Lord!  

While the Psalm is without a doubt appropriate for moments of celebration, the Psalm has a lot to say in the middle of a pandemic and when things are going wrong and aren’t normal.  Our praise doesn’t stop when things are bad or not as we would like.  

To continue to praise God in the middle of hardship is a powerful witness. To speak of God’s many blessings for us when times are hard is something that the world doesn’t expect of us. Sure, there’s the “thanks be to God” that we almost expect from athletes alongside “I’m going to Disneyworld.” We expect the religious actors to thank God for their success.   

I think if we are honest in our own lives – we are far more likely to think of praising God when we are at the top of the mountain rather than in the valley. Praise is somehow reserved for the good times, and the good times only. But praise is more than that – and something we can do in all circumstances.  

For us to praise God in a pandemic – when people are sick, when our movement is limited, when we aren’t gathering in groups like we normally would, and when we have to get used to wearing masks – its to point out the many ways in which God is positively engaged in the world. To praise God right now is to offer up hope that the ills of this world do not have the final say. To praise God (while following best practices!) is to point to the many ways God is still working for good in the world.  

 

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

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 25, 2020: David’s anointing as king

Today's devotion is on David’s anointing as king, found in 1 Samuel 16:1-13. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 25 

 

In this portion of the book of Samuel, we see one of Samuel’s big challenges as a prophet – following God’s voice and giving a blessing over a new king . Samuel was the prophet who anointed Saul. He has been at Saul’s side through many military victories and through the many years of his reign as the prophet alongside him. But now, at this point in the story, Saul has sinned and lost God’s favor, and God now leads Samuel to anoint the next king, David.    

Samuel does this reluctantly, and through his grief. This passage begins, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel.” This makes me think of the many ways we grieve over things we know aren’t good for us or what God desires. We know that God asks us to give up certain behaviors, ways of life, or items that lead us away from God. We have to give up our favorite sin? How long will we spend grieving that? As much as Samuel knows what God is saying is right, and ultimately does God’s will and anoints David,  it is not done without grief. Though it is clear Saul has sinned against God and lost his favor, the right thing to do moving forward and listening to God is not the easy thing.  

The notion of our loss in giving up our sin is often something hard for us. Especially since, psychologically speaking, humans are so loss-averse. Just as it is hard for Samuel to anoint a new king in the place of his familiar friend, it is hard for us to replace what we know to be wrong because it is what we know.  

Following God is not always going to be easy, and asks us to give and to sacrifice.  Yet we know that God is always going to provide something better through our loss. Think of how important David is for the story of the Israelites – he unites the kingdom; he leads them in victories over their enemies. For anyone after David, looking back at David is the “good old days” of Israel. Jesus, the savior of the world, comes out of the lineage and tradition of this king David.  

Yes, we will give up things because of our faith. We will face loss and challenge through following Christ. Yet we trust that through our sacrifices we will find ourselves following in the way of God. We trust that, in spite of our grief, God will lead us in the right direction.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 24, 2020: Moses’ beginnings

Today's devotion is on Moses’ beginnings, found in Exodus 2. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 24  

 

Exodus 2:23-25 reads, “The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the isralites and god otok notice of them.”  Immediately following this section of scripture, we read about the burning bush and the call of Moses. 

We may be familiar with Moses’ birth – how his mother had to hide him because Pharaoh ordered all of the Israelite boys to be killed. We know how his mother had to give him up and float him down the Nile in a reed basket, only to have him picked up by Pharaoh’s daughter, who raised Moses as her son.  

A story of Moses we may be less familiar with is how he originally left Egypt – and it wasn’t with all the Hebrews following him out of slavery. As he grew up, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave. Moses killed the guard and hid the body. The next day, he broke up two Hebrews fighting, and they asked if he was going to kill them like he did the Egyptian. Moses fled Egypt as a wanted man.  

Now, when God heard the faithful groaning in slavery in Egypt, Moses the abandoned child and Moses the murderer was probably not the person who anyone predicted to be the leader. Moses grew up raised in the PHaroah’s family, and he would become the person who would speak to Pharaoh on behalf of the Hebrew people. 

One of the many things this teaches us is that there is nobody who we can write off as a lost cause or useless. We cannot expect everyone to be Moses, but we know that if God can use Moses in this way, there is not a single person we can’t have hope for. God can take anyone and put that person to good use. 

One of the unfortunate features of our time and of social media is all of the negativity and name-calling that takes place. Posts are shared and passed around that are generally uncharitable. False information gets spread and repeated. And we are so willing to draw lines between ourselves and other people. What I want to point out is that if Moses – the murderer, the person who can’t speak, the one who was floated down a river as a child – if all Moses were was those things, we would miss out what he was in relation to God. For us, especially in this social media era, remember each person is created in God’s image and can be an instrument for God’s purpose – even if we disagree.   

 

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

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 21, 2020: the Babylonian Exile

Today's devotion is on the Babylonian Exile. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 21 

 

 The Babylonian exile is the history behind many books of the Old Testament. The Babylonians conquered the kingdom of Israel. As a part of their strategy to control the Israelites, they destroyed the temple and deported many leaders and influencers to other parts of the Babylonian empire so that the risk of an uprising was lower. People were removed from their homes, their community, and everything that was familiar. It took 50 years for the Babylonians to lose their power and for the exiles to return to Israel.   

I know I’ve done a devotion on this captivity already in these pandemic devotions. Now, months later, our situation and how we relate to either the captivity or the exile has probably changed a good bit. For those of us who relate to the captivity, we relate to being cooped up in houses and feeling like there is this invisible oppressor that is keeping us from what we really want. For those of us who relate to exile, we feel the desire to do what was familiar and return to what feels like home, yet know that we can’t return just yet.  

In our situation, there is a lot to learn from the people who spent fifty years in exile and retained their faith. While I doubt that the pandemic is a fifty year problem, time feels strange and this summer spent in social distance is undoubtedly a strain. But the people found ways to keep the faith. They wrote psalms. They prayed. They retained the customs that they could in the ways that they could. And through all of  the challenges, it remained a time when faith could grow, rather than a time when the faith of the people stagnated.  

This is important because we know and trust that one day, we will get to return from this captivity and exile. We know that at some point, we are going to be able to return to the practices that are most familiar to us and we know that the faith that carries us through these hard times is the faith that we will return to.  

So we pray, we find ways to worship that are unfamiliar, we put up with ways of doing things that are not ideal. Because like the people in exile, this time is a time our faith can still grow. God hasn’t left us, and neither has our opportunity to strengthen our faith.   

  

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 20, 2020: building yourself as a spiritual house

Today's devotion is on building yourself as a spiritual house, found in 1 Peter 2:1-7. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 20 

 

Over the last few years, we’ve had several congregation members build homes. I’ve heard stories of the frustrations of working with contractors, waiting for permits and inspections, and all the annoyances that go along with constructing a house.  

Peter writes, “Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”  Reading that, I couldn’t help but think of all of the stories of homebuilding, and how it compares to building ourselves into a spiritual house. 

As faith works in our lives, it can be a frustrating experience. It may even be a bit like building a house. We sometimes have to wait for answers. We may have a vision of one thing, and then the builder or architect tells us we need to do something different. It’s not an overnight process and the timeline rarely moves as quickly as we would like it to, with plenty of frustrations along the way.  

Yet at the same time, as we see our faith grow, hopefully it is like watching the house come together. We see the foundation of faith as it is poured; we see the framework that is added onto and built around. From day to day, we see new things in new ways, and over time, see progress on the spiritual house of faith that we hope to become. We can see where the empty patch of earth was, and we can see the faith that has been built on it.  

The goal with building a house doesn’t end with the house. The goal is to build a home. To build a place for people where there is comfort and welcome. For our faith, we want to build a spiritual house that is a home for Christ to dwell in our hearts. Peter reminds us in the early verses about what we give up in this journey, listing guile, insincerity, envy, and slander. But in giving those up, and in build something better – filling the empy space that each of those leave behind with a God who fills us up and sends us out in love.  

So, put up with the frustrations of faith. Ask the tough questions. Wrestle with answers. Because, at the end of it all, you’ll have a home where Christ can dwell within you.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 19, 2020: the walls of Jericho

Today's devotion is on the walls of Jericho, found in Joshua 6:1-27. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 19 

 

After Moses’ death, the Hebrews led by Moses conquered the land that was promised to Abraham. One of the major victories in this was about the city of Jericho, which came about in a strange way. Jericho was a walled city and everyone was shut inside. God came to Joshua and gave him a vision for how to defeat the city. The instructions were to march around the city for six days with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, sound the trumpet and have everyone shout and the walls will fall. 

Now, I can’t imagine being Joshua taking this plan to his military commanders and instructing them to march and yell to tear down city walls. The plan sounds absurd – it’s not even a plan of attack. Yet, as is so often the case, when people trust in God and trust what God has told them to do, things go according to the plan, the walls fall, and the faithful are able to capture the city of Jericho.  

We are willing to do all sorts of things if we believe they are from God. We’ll pick up and march around a city for a week. When we ask God for a sign, if God came down and spoke we’d do whatever God asked.  

Yet of all the things that we believe are from God, how often are the simplest things hardest to do? The faithful can walk around Jericho seven times, and if we heard a voice from God saying the same, we’d join in the march. Yet, with the things we have in scripture, how hard is it to do the things we already know to do?   

So much of our focus is on events like Jericho – the things that are the biggest, strangest things God asks people to do. Yet the things we know that are even the most basic like loving our neighbor – somehow those seem hard. While we do learn a great deal from Jericho about listening to God, even when the ask is strange, we also need to see the value of following what God has instructed and the way that it leads to victory. 

So much of our faith is simple – prayer, scripture study, worship, and acts of service are pretty straightforward, with no marching required. And as much as we are willing to see the big, we have to remember all that God has already told us about the faithful life.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 18, 2020: Jesus healing his captors

Today's devotion is on Jesus healing his captors, found in Luke 22:47-53. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 18 

 

There are a lot of things we are willing to fight for. If not physically, we find ourselves willing to argue and demean other people over any number of topics. The culture that is built on social media doesn’t help this matter, nor does our toxic media culture built on extremism and arguments for the sake of entertainment and engagement.  

For many of us, our faith is one of those things we would say we are willing to fight for – or, if not fight, at least stick up and defend. This is, apparently, no different for the disciples. In Luke’s telling of Jesus’ arrest, one of the disciples picks up a sword and hits the slave of the high priest on the ear, cutting it off, in an attempt to defend Jesus from arrest. Jesus immediately shouts, “no more of this!” There is no more violence, and Jesus, in the presence of those who are arresting him, heals the slave’s ear.  

The witness Jesus provides in this moment is very powerful.  It’s one thing for Jesus to have told his disciples to turn the other cheek, and to no longer live with an eye for an eye as a guiding principle. Here, he lives out what he has taught, and even asks the people arresting him why they needed to come with swords and clubs to arrest him when he had been preaching day after day in the temple.  

So much of our culture and what we are taught is centered around what we are willing to fight for. The question this text raises for me is what are we willing to heal for? In the face of his arrest that would certainly lead to his death, Jesus takes the time to heal a person in what’s essentially the posse that has come to arrest him. When we are so willing to fight, or we get riled up and feel the need to defend something so important to us, healing needs to be a part of what we can do as followers of Jesus. 

Especially as things hit close or touch a nerve with us – and it’s an election year, so there’s all sorts of voices trying to do just that – we’ve got to learn to put down the swords and look for the healing that is possible. It’s not what we are willing to fight for as Jesus teaches us. It’s what we are willing to heal for; to live for, and to sacrifice for. It’s the example we leave even in defeat that may point to our final victory. It is the example of Christ – to heal even the ones who would have us arrested – that moves us beyond what we might be willing to fight for and towards a more Christ-like life.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 17, 2020: Psalm 111:10

Today's devotion is on Psalm 111:10. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 17 

 

Psalm 111:10 reads, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.” The sentiment that the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord pops up throughout scripture, and there are numerous other verses which I could quote that say the same (for example, Proverbs 1:7 or Job 28:28). And, in Luther’s Small catechism, for an of you who’ve looked at it recently, Luther begins his explanations of the Ten Commandments with “we should fear and love God so that…” What I hope to look at today is what this fear of the Lord and finding wisdom in it means for us today.  

Instead of looking at fear and deconstructing that, I want to think about what it is that we fear most common. Beyond items or activities, some of our most common fears people have are fears around rejection, public speaking, death, and failure. We worry if we will be accepted by others. We worry and carry fears about things that are out of our control. 

When we look at those fears compared to our faith – that is when I see us finding wisdom. How can we fear rejection when we find love and acceptance in the body of Christ? How can we fear death when we know that because Jesus lives, we too shall live? How can we fear failure when Christ is ready to lift us out of the waters, or fear speaking when we know that Christ gives us the message to speak?  

If we believe God is greater than all of these fears, then how can we fear anything but God? Yet how can we still fear the one who would set us free from our fears? To fear God is to respect God above all else. It is to remember that the things of this world do not have the final say over our lives, and they do not carry us towards a holier end. God is like the ocean – not something to be feared, but something whose power is recognized and respected.  

Our wisdom, then, comes from the recognition of what God has done. That in God, all our fears are eased. Wisdom is knowing where true power lies; knowing what should have first place in our actions and drive us. Our God, the one who gives and sustains our life and faith, drives out our fears. Fearing God is to recognize God above all our fears, and to trust that the one who sent our savior is freeing us from a fear of anything else.  

 

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

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 14, 2020: keeping watch

Today's devotion is on keeping watch, found in Matthew 22:42-44. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 14  

 

The season of Advent, right before Christmas, is all about our waiting. It’s the time of year where the lessons we hear on a Sunday all teach us about staying vigilant and watching for the Messiah. In my sermon this past year, I talked about the waiting Christina and I have done in the foster care process we are in. I talked about how “by the end of October” turned into “by Christmas,” which since then turned into “we need some more paperwork,” which turned into “we’re not sure when with Covid-19 affecting the policies.” I talked about how the room was ready, the bed was made, and how all that was missing was a child in it – but after each day went by, it got a little easier to let down our readiness. We have been licensed for a placement for months, and each day that goes by it’s a little easier to let my work stuff spread out a little in that room, or use the bed to spread out papers on. Each day that something goes by that something we’re waiting on doesn’t happen, we get a little more complacent.  

In these few verses from Matthew, Jesus teaches us in these few verses the importance of keeping alert. To keep watch for the messiah, that we might be ready for the return. As long as the church has been waiting for this, it becomes very easy for us to become complacent with our own readiness. 

Rather than thinking of some Apocalyptic second coming – how ready are you in your faith to welcome Christ right now? We know that the one who lives is still with us, that the Holy Spirit is with us and guiding us, yet how prepared are we to listen or to hear God’s call? Are we still ready, or are we letting things creep in and take up the space that we should set aside for the Holy? 

One of my favorite quotes is from one of the early United Nations Secretary-Generals and lifelong Lutheran, Dag Hammarskjold, who wrote, “he who wants to keep his garden tidy does not reserve a plot for weeds.” Readiness to hear God’s word, to look for God expectantly in the world around us, and to recognize the Holy in the ordinary is one of our challenges. Yet it’s our task – each of us – no matter how strange the times, to keep up our vigilance. Stay ready, and keep a look out! God is at work, so stay vigilant.  

 

 

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 13, 2020: the Resurrection story (Mark 16)

Today's devotion is on the Resurrection story in Mark, found in Mark 16.  To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 13 

 

When we think of Easter, we all have a familiar version of the resurrection narrative in our brains. The women find the tomb, and they run and tell the disciples. However, Marks’ version of the Gospel says this: the angel tells the women to go and tell the disciples, and Mark writes, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  

While they do eventually tell the disciples, I think there is a lot of truth to what is said in that one sentence. After all, the news we hear each Easter makes no sense: a man who was dead is living, and his body is not there. It’s a terrifying proposition, especially without the hindsight that helps us make sense of all that this means for humanity.  

The other truth in this is that we do not share what we know because we are afraid to. How many of us are truly comfortable sharing the good news we have received with other people? There are all sorts of things we might worry about – how we come across after talking with someone about how much our faith means to us, what their reaction might be and how that may or may not change someone’s opinion of us.  

We’ve been doing a lot fo thinking recently about how things are transmitted. Now, usually we’re talking about the coronavirus and preventing it’s spread, but think for a second how much of what we’ve heard could relate to the Gospel. The gospel can be a bit dangerous, with lifelong effects. It’s spread more easily through speech and singing. It’s more likely to be spread by people we are in close contact with. I could go on.  

Obviously, that metaphor breaks down eventually, but as we are thinking about the transmission of the Good News that first Easter morning revealed, It may be something for us to remember how it is transmitted. Even though a lot of our normal channels of transmission are down, we  can still speak and live in a way that reflects the transformative work of God in our lives.  

 

 

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 12, 2020: Paul’s partners in ministry

Today's devotion is on Paul’s partners in ministry, found in Romans 16:1-16. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 12 

In the New Testament, Paul always ends the letters with a list of greetings, essentially saying give my regards to so-and-so. We may not think much of it – Paul saying hello to his friends. But, as much as we elevate Paul and the rest of the apostles as we read about all they did in the Book of Acts and read their letters they sent to the churches, we tend to miss the larger picture of who made up the church.  

What all of these greetings show us is that the church was always more than the greatest apostles. Their ministry and work was not possible without the many people around them, helping support their work and spread the word which the apostles passed on. Here in Romans, the list of names includes Phoebe, a deacon (a Biblical example of women in ministry, if you needed one). Paul names Prisca and Aquila, who risked their lives for Paul and the work he was carrying out. Paul asks the church to greet Epaenetus, the first convert in Asia and Mary, a hard worker. Paul sends greetings to Andronicus and Junia, who were in prison with him and fellow apostles before he himself had converted. The list goes on and I won’t bore you with all of the names and their deeds. 

But suffice to say, these are all people who joined in the work of God and who spread the Gospel. These people’s names aren’t the ones we remember in history books. Their letters aren’t read every Sunday, and we don’t see much of their ministry beyond what Paul tells us.  

Yet, without the work of each of these early converts, you and I would not be Christian today. Without the witness of all these nameless people who populated these churches and supported the apostles in ministry, the spread of the Good News would not have been possible. It is more than just the famous who are the heroes of our faith – it is the everyday person, who lived out their Christian calling, especially these early Christians who did so to the reception of ridicule and persecution. 

The work of the church goes beyond all of the leaders. Paul is not Paul without the people around him, and the churches he started were nothing without the hard work and support of the people who carried on his work as he left and continued on his missionary journey. While we focus on the famous, the life of the church relies on the many hands of the faithful and their continued support.    

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 11, 2020: Jacob wrestling with God

Today's devotion is on Jacob wrestling with God, found in Genesis 32:22-32. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for August 11

 

            In this passage of Genesis, Jacob is alone, and all night, wrestles with a man who appears until the morning. At that point, this stranger hits him in the hip and knocks it out of joint. Still, Jacob hangs on to the point that the man asks him to let go, and Jacob says, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” The man renames him Israel, saying “you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

            When we think of Jacob wrestling with God, we very rarely remember the context. Jacob hears that his brother is coming with four hundred men. Jacob has been living as a foreigner after he fled because he stole his brother Esau’s birthright. Jacob prays, about what might happen. He takes all he has – his flocks, his family, everything – and prepares to meet Esau on his way, prepared to give Esau gifts to try and appease him. The night he wrestles with the stranger, Jacob has sent everyone and everything he has across the river ahead of him. Alone, this stranger appears.

            I had a seminary professor who said something to the effect of “don’t be afraid to wrestle with God. Worst case, you walk away with a new name and a limp.” What struck me, rereading this story, is the context. God shows ups and wrestles with Jacob when he is frightened. God shows up when it seems least convenient. The last thing Jacob wanted was another fight. When his life and everything he has is on the line, and when he is alone, God shows up. 

            For us, we are in a similar situation to Jacob, in a way. We have the coronavirus around us, and the fear of the unknown of what will happen next with all of the things it is affecting can be scary. The health and wellbeing of people around us is on the line. But I am confident that God is going to show up – and I am confident that even if we wrestle, if will only lead to God’s blessing.

            Our wrestling with God is not a physical one. It is filled with questions of why things are happening, what can we do, and how long will this continue. Our wrestling is filled with fear, anger, frustration, helplessness, and many others. But we are heir to the promises God made with Jacob, and through the presence we have among us now, we know that this wrestling leads to God’s blessing for us. So engage the situation, and wrestle with God. Pray. Hold on to God like nothing else, and don’t let go. God is with us, even when we wrestle.

 

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

 

Pastor James

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 10, 2020: our new life in Christ

Today's devotion is on our new life in Christ, found in Colossians 3:1-17. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 10 

 

Perhaps one of the places where there is the most visible difference between what is new and what is old is at a car lot. If you want to see the change in action, try and sell a just bought car one day later, and you’ll find out quickly that new is not just a matter of age. What new clearly doesn’t mean is lightly used, or refurbished, or an old car with a swapped out engine. New means new. 

In this section of Colossians, we hear Paul say that if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. What do we mean when we say new in this context – what are we expecting? Do we mean that we take the old person buff out some dents and send them out as new? Do we mean that the old person is the same, and their name is just added to our list of members? Functionally, to say that someone because of Christ is a new creation somehow means we have fixed the old and replaced or got rid of the bad.  

Instead, God is calling us to be something NEW. Not something old, not something refurbished, new. We are to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch as a new creation through Christ. Paul tells us to put to death earthly things, listing fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed. He says we should get rid of anger, wrath, malice, and abusive language from our mouths.  

There is no doubt that the challenges the world are facing right now are new challenges, but the unfortunate thing is that I see too many people meeting them with the old, earthly things that Paul tells us to put away. Evil desire and greed result in hoarding. Anger, wrath, malice, and abusive language are the norm rather than the exception, it seems. Turn on any news outlet or scroll through social media and you’ll see that in action.  

It turns out, the problems may change and be new, but quite often we insist on the same old things of the world. Our call as Christians is not to be the same old same old; it is to be something new. Because, thankfully, through Christ we are not buffing out the old dents or refurbishing old hardware that’s going to take us to the same place. For us, the anger, the malice and all of that are not the foregone conclusions of our behavior.  

Because of Christ, through our baptism we share in his death so that when we rise out of the waters we might share in his new life. We put away the old and put on the new.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 7, 2020: the call of Gideon

Today's devotion is on the call of Gideon, found in Judges 6:11-27. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 7  

 

The pattern of the book of Judges is about the continued faithfulness of God in the face of the unfaithfulness of the Hebrew people. Despite the may ways the people turn from God and bring about their own bad situations, God always sends someone to rescue the people of Israel. Gideon, as a mighty warrior, is one of those people God sends to rescue the Hebrews as they are under Midianite oppression. 

God sends an angel to Gideon, who brings the message, “God is with you, you mighty warrior.” Gideon, the one who will lead an army to drive out the Midianites, and having just seen an angel tell him he is a mighty warrior, makes his first response: “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us?”  

How familiar is that question, in all sorts of contexts. If God is with me, why is this bad thing happening? If there is a God, why would he let people I care about suffer? And in this story, I think this is the most frustrating thing: the angel doesn’t give an answer. God speaks, and doesn’t answer, only saying “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian: I hereby commission you.” Again, in the face of God, Gideon protests saying his group is the weakest and he is the least in his family. All God promises is his presence and that he will find victory.  

Despite our failures – God is faithful. Despite our hesitations, weaknesses and doubts, God is faithful. And in spite of whatever weaknesses we bring to the table, God is present with us. God, through Gideon, a mighty warrior who wondered if God was with him, rescued the Hebrew people.  

For us who may be wondering where God is, or how God could let this happen, or how God might use someone like us who asks those kinds of questions, we can take a lot away from this text. Just as God does not answer “why this is happening” – whatever you are experiencing I’ll not try to answer that, either. But it is always possible that, in the midst of that confusion and chaos, God is using your gifts as a gift for those around you.    

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 6, 2020: fishing for people

Today's devotion is on fishing for people. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 6 

 

I recently read a story about a congregation in decline who (successfully!) decided to put significant effort into growth. Every decision they made, subsequent to “is this faithful ministry?” became subject to “are we doing this to invest in growth?” What started this off for them was a pastor who preached on Jesus calling the disciples and telling them “come with me, and you will fish for people.” At the end of every service, the pastor would ask the congregation, “what is your mission?” and the congregation would respond, “The mission is fishin’!”  

Most congregations have a mission statement, but few congregations have that kind of focus and clarity about what it is they are doing as an organization. When we think of our faith, we may think of personal beliefs. We may think of our own salvation. What I worry we don’t think enough about is the mission that we are on. To call ourselves a Christian is to participate in the work of the Body of Christ in this world. It is more than just agreeing to who Jesus is and what Jesus does (the gospels tell us even the devil knows that!). It is about participating – through shared worship, shared meal, and shared service – to those around us. 

I think we all believe that we as Christians have a mission, whether we want to talk about it in terms of congregational ministry statements or personal vocations. We all believe that we have a purpose for what we are doing that should guide our actions. What worries me is that, like most congregations who don’t have that kind of focus on their own mission statements, we as individuals don’t have that same focus on our own mission. 

Yes, we pray, we read scripture, we worship. But then we go and make disciples; we go and love our neighbor as ourselves. We go and do the work to look out for the least, the last, and the lost. So find your mission – whether it’s a mission of fishin or that purpose that you know God is calling you to do – and take time to carry it out. But just as the disciples – our faith is one that puts our whole lives to work to fish for the people who need to hear Gods word and to nurture in this world a saving faith.   

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 5, 2020: the call of Abraham

Today's devotion is on the call of Abraham, found in Genesis 12:1-9. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 5 

 

 The story of Abraham – then named Abram – is one that starts very quickly and abruptly in the book of Genesis. We don’t hear any backstory. God simply says to Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.” So Abraham, at 75 years old, moves his family and follows where God leads.  

So often in scripture, when we look back we want to see what is in it for us. WHat makes us the called and special, and so we hear this and the following covenant God makes with Abranam and read ourselves as the faithful heirs of the promise. Notice, in that reading, it skips over the call to leave everything you’ve ever known and trust that I will be with you. None of the blessings or covenants comes without that step. 

Just as we hear the promises to Abraham, we also need to be willing to hear the call. We need to be willing to leave everything that is comfortable and everything that we know to follow God wherever God will take us. For Abraham, that land was the land Canaan. For us, the promise through Christ is no longer about the land, but that where we go, we exist so that we are a blessing for the world.  

The coronavirus may have wrecked the ways we thought that God was working or asking us to work in the world. The things that we were doing, and the way that we had been doing them for so long, is gone, and we don’t know for how long. Whether we want to or not, we are likely away from many things that make us comfortable or the places like church which feel like home.  

 I truly believe the challenge for the church is to leave that comfortable behind – at least for now. While it is still the recommendation to be six feet apart and wear a mask, and while we still are gathered in new and different ways, I don’t believe that God is calling us to sit around and wait for normal. I don’t believe that in our situation, with all the scriptural stories of people whose plans often get disrupted, the way forward is only to look at what is behind us. Our mission as the people of God is to step out of those places where we are comfortable so that, even now, we might be a blessing to the world.  

We, like Abraham, have a faith that has brought us to where we are. But our faith is not something that leaves us standing still. We are called to leave what is comfortable and go to what God has prepared for us so that we might be a blessing to the world.  

 

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

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - August 4, 2020: Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple

Today's devotion is on Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple, found in Isaiah 6:1-13 To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

Devotion for August 4 

We tend to remember saints and prophets differently than they remember themselves. All the Biblical leaders and prophets who come to my mind in some way do not feel worthy of their calling. Many argue with God and think they are not worthy or capable of what God is asking them to do. Or, as they go on, they fall and are not quite the saint the church remembers them as. David committed adultery, Moses had a speech impediment, and in this passage for today, we hear Isaiah’s own understanding of his worthiness as he sees himself before the throne of God. 

Isaiah is in the temple, and he has a vision of God sitting on the throne with seraphs flying around God singing “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah’s reaction – “Woe is me!” Isaiah worries he is, in his words, “a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” One of the seraphs takes an ember from the fire on the altar, touches Isaiah’s mouth. And here is my favorite verse, read at many ordinations: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”  

 We may wrestle with questions, from time to time, of our own worthiness to stand before God. Anyone with the wisdom to be a prophet in scripture knows enough to know the weight of their sin as they stand in the presence of God. Yet Isaiah, the man who moments before called himself a man of unclean lips, after God removes his sin, Isaiah says to God, “here am I; send me!” 

This is the pattern of our faith. Every Sunday, we confess our sins and receive forgiveness from God. Every Sunday, we hear God’s word, we hear what God is calling us to do. And whether we like it or not, we are then sent out to go in peace, to love and serve the Lord (which, by the way, means more than just ‘the service has now concluded’).  As we live this cycle of recognizing our sins and receiving our forgiveness, the part we most often miss is what we hear in Isaiah – “Here am I, send me.”  

The Gospel is not something that we hear just so we can stay the same. We receive forgiveness – as Isaiah did – so that we might, as the called and claimed people of God carry the message of faith into the world. There is no “I’m too busy” when it comes to God’s calling for us. There is no, “Well, I would, but only if I had more time.” We can all learn from Isaiah – despite how convicted we feel, we are freed by God that we might be sent into the world. n 

 

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

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 – August 3, 2020: loving your enemies

Today's devotion is on loving your enemies, found in Matthew 5:43-48. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for August 3 

 

Of all the things Jesus says, many of the hardest are in the sermon on the mount. Blessed are those who mourn. If you are angry with a brother or sister, you are liable to judgement. If someone hits you, turn the other cheek. You can’t serve God and wealth. Maybe the hardest of all these is Jesus’ well-known command to “Love your enemies.”  

Seriously, if we love our enemies, where does that leave us? TV ratings would go down, without people to hate or make us angry, we’d spend less time getting frustrated by them on Facebook. When it comes down to it, we are so divided as a country that we are so willing to see other people as our enemies. 

And yet here it is: even if “those people” - whoever those people are for you – are your enemy, you don’t get to get out of loving them. Jesus points out that it’s easy to love the people who love you. Anyone can do that. Even tax collectors (or, once again, insert your preferred enemy here).  

The hardest thing about giving up on hating our enemies, if we really admit it, is that we might actually like being part of the battle. We actually enjoy making jokes about Democrats this or Republicans that. We enjoy the spectacle of hate, watching people on television raise our ire about things that upset us. We lose out on the entertainment of hating our favorite team’s sworn enemy, or the delight we get in watching the political circus that is only fed by our desire for it’s entertainment value.  

If we are going to love our enemies - whoever that means for you – we’re going to actually have to love them. If we’re going to love our enemies, that means giving up the ways we love to hate. Especially with election season almost here; especially with so much that profits from our divisions, our call to be different and ot act in ways that don’t make sense are all the more important. 

The sermon on the mount is hard because it feels like it asks the impossible of us. And if we are left to our own devices, it may very well be impossible for us by ourselves to be transformed in the ways Jesus speaks about. Yet, it is the one who makes it all possible who asks these things of us. It is the one who so loved the world who asks us to love our enemies.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - July 31, 2020: the woman caught in adultery

Today's devotion is on the woman caught in adultery, found in John 8. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for July 31 

 

What do we try to do when someone does something wrong to us?  Usually, our pattern is predictable: We look for someone to blame, and then come up with some sort of punishment. It’s predictable. It’s the same way we end up in a tit-for-tat situation with each side escalating. People assigning blame and inflicting punishment, over and over again.   

The thing about that process is that it doesn’t actually do anything to right the wrong. Who did what, and punishment that get inflicted doesn’t actually do anything to go back and make things right. But how much energy do we spend in that cycle? 

The story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 is an example of how Jesus breaks this “blame then punish” model. The pharisees come to Jesus and pose the question, of what should they do? The law of Moses says they can stone such a woman, and ask Jesus, “so what do you say? Notice, however, that they’ve blamed the woman and the man involved is nowhere in this story! They’ve found the blame, they’ve identified the punishment, and they are trying to trap Jesus in a response so that they might bring charges against him. Jesus famously responds to the pharisees and the crowd, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” As they hear this, the crowd slowly goes away, one by one, until only the woman is left. Jesus asks her if any has condemned her. After she responds no, Jesus’ final words to her are this: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”  

If we really thought like this, how much better would so much of our conflict be? None of us is without sin. We all carry a level of guilt, and there is none among us without sin. Recognizing this pushes us past a “blame then punish” model of justice to something that is transformative. I believe the work of the church is more than that – it is the work of restoration. We can identify wrongs, we can name them, recognize the consequences, and work to restore what is broken. If the problem is a fallen world, the solution is the one who can restore us from the fall.   

The healing work of Christ is beyond punishment and blame. It is the comfort that we are not condemned, and that we are freed from sin to sin no more. It is the freedom not that we can do whatever we want, but that we might be free from the sins that capture us and keep us from how we were created. The work of Christ is to save – which is good news for all of us sinners who he saved.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - July 30, 2020: the death of Moses

Today's devotion is on the death of Moses, found in Deuteronomy 34:1-9. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for July 30 

 

Moses is one of the most foundational figures in the Old Testament. His leadership out of Egypt and through the wilderness as they wandered for 40 years is foundational to everything. Moses was the one who spoke with God and received the law. His actions and what he received from God are recorded through four books of the Old Testament. Moses is perhaps the most important person in the narrative of the Old Testament.  

Yet as close as Moses was to God, in his lifetime he does not see the fruits of his labor. His task in leading the people out of slavery in Egypt was to lead them through the wilderness and into the land that was promised to the ancestors of the Hebrews. As the death of Moses is recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, God brings Moses up to a mountain to look over the promised land. God says, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” And there, Moses dies. 

Moses worked all his life to follow the will of God. He worked, at great risk, to stand before Pharaoh and lead the people out of Egypt.  And while he never entered the promised land, I can’t help but think his last moments before his death looking over the land was a happy one. Even though he knew he wouldn’t see the land himself, he had lived a life that was close with God. His life was one guided by God. He had the privilege to lead the Hebrew people, and finally, he got to see a last glimpse of what he had been working for. 

There are many things in this world that are worth working for that we may not expect to see the completion of in our lifetimes. Thinking of the recently passed Representative John Lewis as an example – he spent his whole professional career engaged in Civil Rights work and engaged in a fight for equality. We know that the fight is not over, but we certainly know it is one worth fighting.  

What we learn from Moses is the joy of serving God even if we never see the results of our struggles. As we think of our own faith, I think we are all, in some way, called to participate in things that will not be over in our lifetime. After all, the work of God continues throughout the generations and there are still people who need to hear the saving work of Christ. The work for justice is never complete, and we cannot stop until the hungry are fed.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - July 29, 2020: the hymn “Abide with Me”

Today's devotion is on the hymn “Abide with Me.” To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for July 29 

 

The Hymn “Abide with Me” was written in the 1820s by Henry Francis Lyte, who suffered poor health his whole life. He wrote the words to this song after being at the bedside of a dying friend, who as he lay dying kept repeating the phrase to him, “Abide with me.” Lyte, who was an Anglican minister, connected this with Luke 24:29, where the disciples’ ask Jesus to abide with them, for the day is almost over. Later as Lyte saw his own life coming to an end, he wrote a final version of the hymn, beginning with the stanza, which was put to music and sung for the first time at his funeral two weeks after he finished this final version.  

We usually remember hymns by their first words, and if we remember a stanza, it’s almost always the first. But, given the circumstances which this hymn was written, I want to bring to your attention the last two stanzas that we have in our hymnal:  

“I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless; ills have no weight and tears no bitterness.  

Where is death’s sting, where, grave thy victory? I triumph still, if thou abide with me!  

Hold thou my cross before my closing eyes, shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;  

heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; in life in death O Lord, abide with me.” 

It says a lot about the writer – and about our faith – that the refrain is “Abide with me.” This popular hymn asks for in all the named distresses simply God’s presence with us.  

Lyte, with his own health problems, certainly had a lot he could have asked for, and when he saw his death coming near, there are any number of prayers we might imagine coming from that situation. Yet the hope Lyte found was in God’s presence and in nothing more.  

As we think of this hymn in the middle of a pandemic, I wonder how many of us are as content with asking for God’s abiding presence with us? We are all stuck in our homes – how many are the prayers to get out, and how many are the prayers for God to abide with us in our loneliness?  How many of us are as confident as the words of this favorite hymn – that no foe can triumph with God present with us? As we hope for a normal that just can’t come yet, we cannot miss the abiding presence of God with us in the middle of hardship.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - July 28, 2020: the 144,000 in heaven

Today's devotion is on the 144,000 in heaven, found in Revelation 7:9-17. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for July 28 

 

The book of Revelation was written as a message of hope to a community undergoing persecution. When we think of Revelation, we probably don’t think of hope, but of dragons and beasts and the number 666 and all the vivid imagery Revelation is full of. The overarching message is one that, despite all of the chaos that this book entails, God is in control and working for God’s people. 

This glimpse of heaven we get in Revelation 7 is one of my favorite images in scripture. John of Patmos, in his vision, sees 144,000 clothed in white singing around the throne. To us the color white usually means purity – as such, we see these 144,000 as those who are clean enough to be there. In the time this was written, white was seen as the color of victory. As the angel explains to John, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” He continues, “they will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  

  For a community experiencing persecution – as people who have seen their friends punished, beaten, and maybe even killed – this is not a promise of hope, but as the promise of a final victory. It is the promise that the powers of this world, as evil as they may be, do not have the final say. That through the work of Christ, we share in his victory over death and the promise that beyond the persecution of any time lies a force that is more powerful still.  

Right now, what we are experiencing with the coronavirus is not persecution, or anything like that. But it probably feels like it, in a lot of ways. We may feel like this is a kind of house arrest, or keeping us from seeing people we want to see. But, despite the troubles of this time, we still share the same promise that we find in this chapter of Revelation. That, at the end of this race and at the end of our trials, we will share in the final victory with Christ. That whatever temporary hardships we experience now, we will ultimately share in the victory of Christ.   

 

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - July 27, 2020: the armor of God

Today's devotion is on the armor of God, found in Ephesians 6. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for July 27 

 

When we think of armor, we probably think of knights, and battle. Armor is something that defends us, keeps us safe and is a sign of strength. In this passage from Ephesians, Paul goes through the whole suit, encouraging people to put on the armor of God; the belt, breastplate, helmet, shield, boots, and sword. With just those images, it is that of a person who has dressed for battle.  

The real challenge for us is to see beyond the fight and to see what this armor really does. It is indeed what protects us from the evil that corrupts. Beyond each of these physical items are represented the ideals of truth, righteousness, readiness to proclaim the gospel of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation and the word of God. It’s no armor in the world or weapon we carry that offers the same protection as these things. With masks and testing and distance, we are all thinking a lot more about the things we wear that offer us protection – yet in our focus on the physical we forget the interwoven importance of the spiritual.  

Particularly in our situation, this armor of God is all the more important for us. It seems like the coronavirus is only half of our battle that we are all fighting right now. There appears to be another moral battle going on with this, where sacrifice for others somehow signifies weakness and stubbornness signifies strength. When so many are willing to lie or to accept the lies that benefit them, the value of God’s truth is irreplaceable. The value of righteousness in the face of immorality and selfishness increases the rarer it has become. The shield of faith we carry is not made to stop germs, but to protect us from the lies and temptations that keep us bound up with the forces of evil that surround us in this world. The last instrument that Paul encourages us to take up is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. This word is not meant to stab or slice. It is the prophetic word which cuts through the world and speaks of the truth of God.  

There is a spiritual side to all of this. When we are distanced from one another, we know it is harder to feel connected. We know that in the absence of worship in the ways that are familiar and comfortable, we spiritually ache for the things we love. Yet it is not some false hope of the way things were that protects us, but the armor of God – truth, righteousness, faith, and the word of God.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - July 24, 2020: the birth of Jesus

Today's devotion is on the birth of Jesus. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for July 24 

 

For today, this is a little bit of a “Christmas in July” devotion, half a year away from when we celebrate Jesus’ birth. Given our situation, there’s a lot we can take away from the story we usually save for December. Our telling of the Christmas story is a romanticized one – a quaint birth in a small town in a manger, with a sweet image of a child surrounded by his parents, shepherds, and wise men.  

The more you think about it, the messier it seems. Imagine traveling on a donkey at 9 months pregnant. Poor Mary! A birth in a barn. First visitors were Shepherds – the king of kings welcomed by the lowliest people in the backwoods of an empire. This is how our God came into the world – among the lowly, the conquered, and the outcast. If this was planned, it would feel like to us that everything had gone wrong for the incarnat ion to happen like this.  

Among many other things, I think this reminds s of God’s timing and God’s ways. God didn’t send the Messiah when the Hebrews were united under one kingdom. The son did not come into this world when things were at their high point in history, or in a way that anyone would consider ideal. In the messiness of life, in the middle of conflict and oppression, God sent the Son.  

As we are dealing with a world that is not ideal – where the coronavirus dominates everything we do – this is precisely the kind of time and place that the Son of God chose to enter the world. As hard as things are, or as frustrating as they might get, we need to remember that this is exactly when and how God has worked in the world. A birth while traveling when there was no room in the inn, as a part of a conquered people tells us that, in moments like this, God enters to take away the sin of the world. 

If we are just looking for God in the way things are going right, we are going to miss out. If we are just looking to how we might get back to normal, we are missing the new ways this God of humble origin may be working. If we look to empire to find the work of God, we miss the work God is doing among the marginalized. Christmas is more than a nice story and an opportunity for presents. It teaches us the ways and times that God enters our lives are the ones when we may least expect it. Knowing that God has not left this world or that we remain without God by our side, this Christmas story in corona times reminds us of the strange ways God breaks into this world and reassures us of God’s presence with us now.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - July 22, 2020: Zacchaeus and Jesus

Today's devotion is on Zacchaeus and Jesus, found in Luke 19:1-10. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for July 22 

 

In this part of Luke’s Gospel, we hear the story of Zacchaeus, a rich tax collector who climbs a tree to see Jesus over the crowd. Jesus tells him to come down from the tree, because Jesus is going to remain at his house. After Jesus says that, we see two very different reactions. 

Zacchaeus responds by saying “Half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay it back four times.” Zacchaeus hears Jesus’ faith in him – choosing to stay at his house – and because of that chooses to give up his possessions and give back what he has acquired dishonestly.  

The crowd who sees this reacts very differently. Luke tells us that “all who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’” The crowd sees the rich Zacchaeus, and scoffs and gossips about Jesus choosing to spend time with Zacchaeus.  

This reading from Luke might be best summarized by an often quoted saying: the church is a hospital for sinners, not a harbor for the saints. If we believe that Jesus came to take away the sin of the world, we shouldn’t be surprised that there are sinners among us – nor should we be surprised by our own sin that we are often all-too-willing to look past.  

Yet, if we are honest – how much to churches have a reputation for being judgmental or gossipy places? How much do Christians, in our wider culture, have a reputation for being the same? One of the more common critiques or criticisms of the church is that it is full of hypocrites. People who are willing – like the crowd – to ignore their own wrongs and cast blame onto others.  

In reality, the church is full of people like Zacchaeus. It is full of people who want to see Jesus, who are willing to repent and change, and who will welcome that invitation with open arms. The church is also full of people like the crowd. In ourselves, we find ourselves full of both impulses – that at various times we might find ourselves like Zacchaeus willing to give up everything we have for God, and at others, find ourselves like the crowd willing to judge.  

What I hope we all can learn from this text is the empathy – recognizing that people change, and that judgement is not ours to offer. The church in all of its expressions, including the individual lives of Christians – should be a place of welcome and refuge, even for rich tax collectors.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - July 20, 2020: king Josiah's reforms

Today's devotion is on king Josiah’s reforms, found in 2 Chronicles 34:32-35:27. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for July 20 

 

In King Josiah’s reign, a book was found. The priest who found it recognized it as the book of Law, which contained all that God had given to Moses. The book gets passed around and works its way up to King Josiah, who worries that they have fallen away from all that is written. Over time, Josiah works to bring about reforms that bring back these practices, and the people of Israel celebrated Passover for the first time since the days of Samuel. The covenant is renewed, and the people acted according to the law of God.  

As a Lutheran pastor, I end up talking a lot about reformations and reforms throughout the church’s history. I know we call them reforms, but another word for it would be changes. As a Lutheran pastor I also know the joke: Q: How many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb? A: Change? What do you mean, change?  

As so much has changed around us – and whether or not we think of this as a reformation is something that is only going to be answered by those writing history – I think this story of Josiah is a good reminder of what is important whenever we go through change. God’s Word is the center around which all sorts of change can happen, but it is the constant. Even now as churches are worshipping in different ways, the faithful changes are the ones which keep the faith of the church at the center. 

After all, these reforms that Josiah did after they were not the final changes in the relationship between God and God’s people. The temple would be later destroyed; then rebuilt, then destroyed again. People would be scattered by a conquering empire, then after 50 years be allowed to return. God would send the Son into the world 

Reforms, change, adaptations – whatever we want to call them – they are always going to happen. Change will happen around us whether we like it or not, and we will have to change as the times do, too. What we can learn from Josiah’s reforms isn’t that the only way forward is to look at what was done in the past, or that we should return to a better time. When placed in the full story of scripture, this episode teaches us and reminds us to find the things that are the valuable, center of our faith and to keep them there. Change is not bad; but we need to remember to bring with us the amazing gift God has given us.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - July 17, 2020: Christian freedom

Today's devotion is on Christian freedom, found in Galatians 5:13-14. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for July 17  

 

There’s an all-too-common argument right now, where it seems people are upset that wearing masks costs us ‘freedom.’ I’m letting you know upfront that I’m going to be critical of this, if that’s not something you want to hear. But I hope you know me well enough to know I’m not interested in this as a political argument. I’m a pastor, a theologian. For all of us who are Christians, freedom is more than a political term; it is first and foremost a biblical and theological term, and as Christians, we shouldn’t expect our sense of our freedom through Christ to equate to a political freedom that is dependent on a government.  

The interesting thing about what we accomplish by wearing a mask, given our situation with the coronavirus, is that it is not something that is done to protect ourselves. It is something we are asked to do to protect others. We ourselves are only protected from the disease spread when we are around others if they, too, wear a mask.   

Paul writes to the Galatians: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Freedom for Christians doesn’t mean we can do what we want. It means that we have been freed from the powers of sin, death, and the devil – not just for ourselves, but for the people around us. And in that freedom, we are bound – inseparably – to our fellow Christians and neighbors. Martin Luther summed it up this way: “A Christian is perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.” 

 Christian freedom is not a license that we can do what we want. It’s not freedom from anything. If anything, to say that we believe ties us to a certain way of life that limits what we can and cannot do. Our freedom as Christians isn’t found in unlimited choice; Christian freedom is found in living as we were created to live. If we were freed from Sin, death, and the devil, we are now free that we live according to how God created us to live – loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. 

Forget any politics of it, or whatever you think a mask symbolizes. If it prevents the spread of coronavirus (as all the experts tell us it does!), it is an act of Christian freedom that we wear one to protect others. It is a step towards loving our neighbor, and it’s not that hard. Whatever the minor inconvenience that it is for most of us is certainly worth it so we protect those around us that God has created in God’s own image.   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - July 16, 2020: the end of Aramean siege of Samaria

Today's devotion is on the end of Aramean siege of Samaria, found in 2 Kings 7:3-20. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for July 16 

 

As we continue to learn more about the coronavirus and its effects, one thing about it has still continued to confuse me: the unavailability of toilet paper. I haven’t been to the store in a while to see for myself, but I know for a time it was next to impossible to get toilet paper at the store. Whatever the reason, toilet paper’s value suddenly went through the roof as it became less and less available.  

As told in 2 Kings, the Arameans came and laid siege to Samaria. The Samarians, running out of resources, began to starve. The text mentions the increasing value of food, and the massive amounts of silver that undesirable meat had become worth. One day, there were four lepers who, outside of the city gates, were facing the decision to starve there, or starve inside the city. They decided to turn themselves over to the Aramean army and hope against hope they might be fed there. They found that the Aramean camp had been hastily abandoned, and plenty of food left behind. At first, they stockpiled for themselves; then, realizing this wasn’t right, went and told the people in the city. The siege was over and the people were fed.  

While there is much more to this story – Elisha’s prediction this would happen, and the greater context in which this happened – it shows how people tend to act in hardship. When we come across something valuable – especially when it is lacking - our first tendency is to think of ourselves. I’m guessing the unavailability of toilet paper was due to everyone who already had plenty buying some due to a worry that it might not be there when they needed it later.  Yet, at least at the best times in human history, there has always come a turn at which point people come together and work together to make sure that everyone is fed.  

As we may feel like we are under siege – particularly spending so much time inside or not getting out – I hope we as individuals and as a greater community make the commitment to look beyond ourselves and to look for the good of the whole. Certainly, this text shows us that when there is enough to go around the faithful thing is to look out for those beyond ourselves. Especially at this point, with the need so many people face beyond a roll of toilet paper, we as Christians have a responsibility to look around us, to hear the needs, and make sure that all are cared for.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - July 14, 2020: Balaam’s donkey

Today's devotion is on Balaam’s donkey, found in Numbers 22:22-35. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for July 14 

 

This story begins with Balaam taking a journey that God disapproves of, riding on his donkey as he goes. God sends an angel to stand in the way, which Balaam’s donkey sees, but Balaam does not. At first, the donkey turns off of the road and goes into a field to go around and away from the angel. Balaam hits the donkey to bring it back onto the road. A second time, riding between two walls, the angel stands in the middle of the path, and the donkey goes close to the wall, scraping Balaam’s foot against it. Finally, the angel returns at a place where the path is narrow and the donkey cannot go around. The donkey lays down, and Balaam, speaking to the donkey says he wishes he had his sword so he could kill the seemingly disobedient donkey. But the donkey speaks back, asking Balaam if the Donkey has been in the habit of treating him this way? Balaam says no. The Lord opens his eyes, Balaam sees that the donkey, sensing danger, has saved his life, and the angel is able to give Balaam the message as he goes on his way.  

This story is usually remembered as the story where a donkey speaks, and this talking donkey steals the show. Really, I think this story is a strong reminder to pay attention to the signs that we are quick to ignore, and the importance of listening for God in the world. Three times, the donkey carried Balaam out of danger. Three times, Balaam gets angry. Talking donkey or not, Balaam – even though he is a prophet – fails to read the reasons why he his donkey steers him wrong until finally God opens his eyes. 

For us, there are a lot of signs around us that there is danger that we seem all-too-willing to ignore. And, in our own hubris – the same thing that gets Balaam in trouble in the first place – we might be tempted to blame the donkey instead of looking for the real source of the problem. Though the world is challenging to interpret, and not everything that happens is a sign for us, our eyes are so often simply closed to the possibility that God might be telling us something – particularly if that something isn’t what we want to hear.   

 

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - July 13, 2020: the Hebrews crossing the Red Sea

Today's devotion is on the Hebrews crossing the Red Sea, found in Exodus 14. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for July 13, 2020 

 

This scene from the book of Exodus is familiar: The Hebrews have left Egypt, Pharaoh and his army are hot in pursuit, and the Hebrews come to a sea that prevents them from moving forward. We know what happens here: God tells Moses to lift his staff, stretch out his hand, and the sea will part so that the Hebrews can walk through on dry land.  

There is a part we often skip over in this simplified telling of the story. In verses 11-12, we hear what the Hebrews have to say to Moses. They say, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to Die in the wilderness?” 

We remember the situation; we remember the miraculous solution. We don’t tend to remember the protests of the people, who in this moment are telling Moses it would have been better for them to be slaves in the place Moses has rescued them from. When a plan comes together, we don’t remember the people who complained (though, there are almost always a few complaining along the way). On a family vacation, we don’t remember all the “are we there yet?” questions or the fighting from the back seat.  

 For the Hebrew people fleeing from danger, God is in their way forward, not the way backward. God is not in the protests of “Back to Egypt” but instead, offers the way through the sea and towards freedom.  

One of the challenges of our community and our world right now is keeping our eyes forward. I’ve caught myself spending a lot of time thinking and looking backwards about how things were. I’ve been dreaming about the way things used to be and going back to normal. Unfortunately, short of building a time machine, backwards is not a way that we can go. Our way forward is unclear. We might think of ourselves at the Red Sea, looking out at an impossible path forward with danger breathing down our necks. Yet, we know that God is with us, and will take us where God wants us to go.   

We hear the complaining, the laments, the stories of how it used to be and the desire to go back to how it was. But we have to trust that God is not in our past, but in our future. God will lead us through the Red Sea again. Time and again, the story of God in this world has always been God’s faithfulness through hardship, and with our eyes forward, we live in a trust that God will lead us through again.   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - July 10, 2020: being one body in Christ

Today's devotion is on being one body in Christ, found in 1 Corinthians 12. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for July 10 

 

How do we stay together when we are separate? As we’re all figuring out how to stay connected with loved ones in social distancing, that’s the million-dollar question of our day. Companies like Skype or Zoom have become popular for people to stay connected with video messaging. We have phones now with unlimited long distance; we have any number of things that might help us feel more connected.  

For Christians, regardless of whether we feel it or not, there is a bond that connects us all to each other in our Baptism. As the called and Baptized of God, we are connected to the one body of Christ which connects us to all believers. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”   

 You all know this. It’s something you’ve probably heard from every preacher you’ve ever heard: we’re all one body in Christ. It’s one of those things that we hear so much that it easily disappears as a pious irrelevancy when we are faced with something like social distancing that prevents us from seeing each other, or feeling like we are connected in the way that we used to be.  

Even though it is such a common thing for a preacher to say, and even though it is such a hard thing to recognize in our current situation, that connection we have with each other is not something that can disappear. This isn’t me saying we should be connected; this is me pointing out that you ARE connected. We are, together, one body with Christ – and that is a very real thing.  

The question in the face of social distancing is how we live out that connectedness. Are we checking in on a neighbor, or a friend? Are we doing what we can to make a bad situation better for those we care about? Are we making sure that, as one body, we are moving in the same direction with those around us and doing everything we can to take care of the most vulnerable parts of the body?  

In this, you are not alone. And because you are not alone, you have the prayers and support of a whole body of believers with you. You, as a part of that body, have an essential part to play, too.  

 

 

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

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - July 9, 2020: Jesus as the bread from heaven

Today's devotion is on Jesus as the bread from heaven, found in John 6:22-35. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for July 9 

 

This portion of the Gospel of John tells us of Jesus teaching his disciples. The disciples ask what signs Jesus is going to give them the power to perform, and ask if they will receive Manna like Moses gave the people in the wilderness. Jesus responds, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” The disciples ask for this bread, and Jesus says to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  

The manna from heaven for the Hebrew people was the food that met the most basic of human needs: hunger. Bread, particularly in Jesus’ time, was a staple. It was readily available, the kind of thing people always had materials on hand for. It was the kind of food that was always around and always a way for people to be fed. 

There’s a lot to this metaphor, Jesus saying he is the bread of life. One aspect that has had me thinking is in terms of bread as a staple. That food that is always available, so important wherever you go. I wonder if we might not think of our faith and of Christ in this way. That thing that is just the foundational part of our human condition – a God who sustains us in our needs. 

To hear Jesus say “I am the bread of life,” in this sense, is to say that Jesus is the foundational, nutritional need of our healthy life. If, in our spiritual life, we go and seek some other nourishment, we will always be wanting more; if we turn to Christ and Christ alone as the foundation, our spirit will always be full.  

 Right now, there is no shortage of information that demands our attention. I’ve been checking the DHEC website every day to watch the Coronavirus numbers. I’ve been trying to keep up with the news in a way that it doesn’t suck me in and take away too much of my time. We can let the scientists be the scientists, and make their recommendations (which, out of care for our neighbor, we should be following!). Yet when it comes to matters of our faith, our foundation is in the bread of life. The staple, the most fundamental ingredient, remains Jesus Christ, the bread of life. 

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 - July 8, 2020: Hebrews building golden calves

Today's devotion is on the Hebrews building golden calves, found in Exodus 32:1-6. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for July 8

           

            In this portion of the book of Exodus, Moses has gone up Mt. Sinai to talk with God. He is gone longer than expected, and the Hebrews get impatient. They turn to Aaron, and say “make gods for us, who shall go before us.” Aaron tells them to take off their gold rings, take out their gold earrings, and to bring it to him. Aaron takes all the gold, and casts for them a golden calf out of what they have brought him. God tells Moses to go down the mountain, and to set his people straight. Moses does, but it is at a cost.

            What does the idol cost, and where does it get them? Think about it: everyone gives up any gold they have. While it may not have been currency like we now think of gold as being, it was still incredibly valuable. They take the little of value they had as they were wandering in the wilderness and make an idol that they worship. Yet where does it get them? At the end of all this, they are worse off than they were when they started.

            There is a lot for us to learn from this. What are we willing to sacrifice to idols, and where does it get us? We invest a lot in empty promises or hollow offerings. We may take things or hope that rightly belong to God, and place them elsewhere. We might not make golden calves; but we certainly have no shortage of things which take our attention away from the work of God. Those things we invest in false idols never offer a return. Our hopes which we place outside of God are not met. I can think of times where, by investing in idols I have ended up worse off than I was before.

            Like the Hebrews who were waiting for Moses, we too, find ourselves waiting for what the future will hold. Like the Hebrews of this story, many of us may be getting impatient. In moments like these, our temptation is the same: to make for ourselves an idol. Whatever it is that we worship: money, entertainment, etc., it will only fall short. And by investing in the things that lead us away from God, we are only going to be worse off than we were before. 

 

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

 

Pastor James

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 – July 7, 2020: Solomon’s Prayer for Wisdom

Today's devotion is on Solomon’s Prayer for Wisdom, found in 1 Kings 3:3-9. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for July 7

 

            At the beginning of King Solomon’s reign as king, God appears to Solomon in a dream, and tells Solomon to ask for something. Solomon in his situation as king, talks about the people he governs as the chosen of God and recognizes his responsibility to them. He asks God for wisdom, saying “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”  God is pleased with this – his desire for wisdom to lead God’s chosen people – and gives Solomon the wisdom he asked for, along with riches and honor all his life.

            When God tells Solomon to ask for anything in the world, Solomon asks for something that can help everyone around him. His wish for a discerning mind is not for himself, but so that he might be able to faithfully govern the chosen people of God. How many of us, when we dream of what we would do if we won the lottery or if we could have anything we want, think of something that we are going to use for the betterment of others?

            To put this in our current situation, what are we asking for now? What is that one thing we are bringing to God above all else? I worry that one of our biggest temptations, particularly in hardship, is to think of ourselves and ourselves alone. If we each do that, then we are all in this by ourselves and for ourselves – compounding the effects of a social isolation into a spiritual isolation. One of the greatest promises of our faith for a time like this is that we are NOT alone – not only do we have God with us, but the prayers and community of all the faithful supporting one another.

            Our individualistic culture often clashes with a community-based faith. Since God made Adam and Eve, faith has never been an isolating or individual act; it is always related to a community of the faithful. For us, despite the individualism of our culture, we are still to love and care for those around us. Our task, even in social distancing, is to stay connected with one another. Thus, we ask of God not just for ourselves, but for all around us.  

 

 

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

 

Pastor James

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 – July 6, 2020: Psalm 100

Today's devotion is on Psalm 100. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for July 6

           

            Different Psalms are written for different purposes. As such, there are different genres within the category Psalm. I’m not going to talk about each, but I want to think about what a few of those types mean for us right now.

            Psalm 100 begins: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.” It ends, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” The five verses of Psalm 100 are a wonderful example of what a Psalm of praise looks like.

            Another category of psalms would be a psalm of lament. These Psalms cry out to God in the middle of a hard situation, asking for God’s help and mourning loss. If you want to read an example of this, Psalm 90 would be an example. 

            While we are in such a weird time, I think these two types of Psalm are a reminder of the paradoxical things we can do in faith simultaneously. We can, as some Psalms do, cry out, mourn, and lament over our current situation. It’s a faithful thing to do – take our pain before God. Yet at the same time, we can still in the middle of all of this joyfully read a Psalm of praise, knowing the work that God has done in this world .and that the pains of the present moment are not final.

            There are people, no doubt, who thing this time is all bad or all good. It is certainly different, and we all experience it differently. There are certainly things to mourn as our lives have become upended in a way that looks like it’s going to be around a while. But, with that, have come some silver linings. I know I am thankful for more time with my wife as we both work from home. 

            What I want us to remember is experiencing both the good and the bad, and to experience them fully, is a good and healthy thing. What is unhealthy is when we try and experience only one. If we look only at the good of the situation or ignore the bad of it, we don’t process our grief in a healthy way. Yet at the same time, if we only look at the bad, how easy will it be as this drags on, to lose hope. However small, there are definitely glimpses of silver linings or moments spent with family that may not have been possible otherwise.

            Thinking about this Psalm of praise – I find it reassuring that the book of Psalms isn’t just a book of how great things are. I’ve had moments and days because of this pandemic that haven’t been great. Yet when I have been down, I have been grateful that it’s not a book about how bad things are, either. Hopefully, we find a balance in the scripture as they speak to our varied experiences and help us find the faithful center. 

 

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 – July 3, 2020: instructions for rebuilding the Temple

Today's devotion is on instructions for rebuilding the Temple, found in the book of Haggai.  To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for July 3 

 

Haggai is a book you probably haven’t spent much time with. It’s quite short – only two chapters long. It’s written after the Babylonian exile. To refresh your Old Testament history, the Babylonians came and conquered Israel, and as a part of their strategy to govern, they exiled a large number of Hebrews to live in other parts of the Babylonian Empire. Haggai is written after the fall of Babylon, and after the return of many of those exiles to Jerusalem. 

Haggai is an encouragement for rebuilding Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple. Haggai names the excuses, names the problems people are saying about rebuilding. Haggai encourages the rebuilding, and quite likely as a result of Haggai’s work and encouragement, the temple did indeed get rebuilt.  

I know we are all probably ready to get back to normal and start rebuilding – though, with the numbers here in South Carolina, it looks like we are going to be in exile a bit longer. Instead of focusing on rebuilding, I want to point out the enthusiasm Haggai has ready. 

Maintaining energy, focus, and connection over time is incredibly difficult to do – especially in the exile which lasted fifty years. For fifty years, the people of Jerusalem lived without a temple, and the people in exile lived in a place that was not their promised home. Yet, as soon as he is back, Haggai is ready to go. He pushes the people around him to do the work to rebuild; to get back to worship 

While we continue dealing with the effects of coronavirus, we might still think of ourselves in a kind of exile. But what I hope we can do is maintain the hope and vision of Haggai to carry us through. It’s not just that we can get through – its that when this is over, we still have the focus and energy of our faith to get back to doing the work of ministry which we have been doing.  

What impresses me about Haggai is that, somehow, for the 50 years of Exile, he has kept the focus and vision that he had before. He has remembered the faith that he was brought up in, and he has looked to restore Israel and its worship. I hope we keep the same energy – not just for ourselves, but so that when things return to whatever normal will look like, we are as ready as Haggai to carry out the work God will call us to do.  

 

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 – July 2, 2020: writing on the wall

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

 

Devotion for July 2  

 

We are all probably familiar with the phrase, “the writing is on the wall.” Usually, we use that phrase to mean that we can already see the bad that is about to happen, or that the end of something is a foregone conclusion.  

You may not know that this phrase is about the Biblical story which our devotion is on today. In Daniel 5, King Belshazzar is holding a great dinner, and behind him, a hand appears and writes mysterious characters behind him. Many try to interpret it, but fail, until Daniel is called in to interpret the writing. Daniel tells the king that he has fallen into idolatry, and God has written that his time as king is up. That night, Belshazzar was killed and a new king comes to power.  

A detail that turns how we usually use this phrase on its head is how King Belshazzar reacts. Daniel delivers the news that he has been weighed and measured and found wanting, and the king “Gave the command, and Daniel was clothed in purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made concerning him that he should rank third in the kingdom.” 

I don’t know of anyone who would take that news as well as King Belshazzar did. He finds out he is done, and he rewards the messenger. He takes the person who has interpreted the bad news and makes him third in the kingdom.  

We’ve all had to read the writing on the wall recently, and we’ve all been watching the news as people interpret what various numbers mean and tell us what the future looks like. And, it’s not been a great experience as we watch numbers go up recently. But there it is: the writing on the wall, for all of us to see. 

As we look at this passage, and we see King Belshazzar’s reaction, I wonder if there’s not something to learn from that. To react with gratitude for people who can help us make sense of all of this. To be grateful for people who tell us to stay apart and wear masks – knowing those might be the right thing to do, even if they aren’t the thing we want to do. To reward the people who give us the information that help us stay safe, even if it isn’t the popular thing to say. When the writing is on the wall, how often do we thank the messenger?   

 

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

 

Pastor James 

 

If you know someone who would like to be added to 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 – July 1, 2020: Moses and the veil

Today's devotion is on Moses and the veil, found in Exodus 34:29-35 To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for July 1 

 

The book of Exodus tells the story of the Israelites fleeing leaving slavery in Egypt and wandering in the desert. While wandering, God gives the law to Moses. After talking with God and receiving the commandments, Moses comes down, and terrifies those around him. He’s not shouting fire or brimstone or warning people of an imminent danger. Aaron and all who see him, they are afraid to come near him, this portion of Exodus tells us, because his face was shining after talking with God. It shines to the point that Moses then wears a veil. 

We often speak of people in those kinds of terms – shining, radiant, brilliant – all terms which we use to describe how everyone around them can see their happiness. The question I want to encourage you to think about today is do others see a radiance in you after you have talked with God? Or is there a veil that hides our faith the we might need to remove? Now, in these coronavirus times, keep your masks on, but still work on removing the unnecessary layers which we clothe ourselves in (figuratively or otherwise) which hide the light of God shining through us. 

Moses came down from the mountain, beaming in a way that others could see he had talked to God. I know we are distanced, and I know we are wearing masks which hid parts of our face, and I know the ways our faith is most often visible may not be the same right now. But we are still – hopefully – talking with God. We’re still worshipping, albeit in different forms. We are still living lives of faith that exist to be a light to the world around us.  

I hope – and I certainly include myself in this! – that we are all still trying to find the ways to live as a light to the world. I hope we are still trying to live in such a way that, because others know us, they know the power of God in this world.  

Moses shone with a bright light, not in a time of comfort, but in a time of confusion. The Israelites were wandering through the desert. Some had complained; some had wished they could have gone back to Egypt at various times. It’s not that we only shine with the Glory of God when things are good – our shining light is meant exactly for times like these.   

 

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 – June 30, 2020: escape to Egypt

Today's devotion is on the escape to Egypt, found in Matthew 2:13-15. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for June 30 

 

It’s well known that, after Jesus’ birth, Matthew tells us that Joseph received a vision telling him to take his family to Egypt to protect them from Herod. Thinking of this story in our context, it has been interesting to me how this thought might be a parallel for our time. God tells Joseph of a threat that Joseph can’t see for himself, tells Joseph what to do, and for a time, Joseph and his family upend their life so that they are safe.  

In a sense, that pattern is what has now happened to us. While we may not have received visions in our dreams, we’ve been told of a threat which we cannot see ourselves, trusting that God has given the experts their wisdom and knowledge. In turn, they have informed us what we need to do to keep ourselves and our families safe. And, for a time, our life will be upended as we do what we need to keep ourselves safe.  

There’s a little bit of irony to me in this. At this point in the Gospel of Matthew, the Father intercedes on behalf of the Son to keep him safe. Yet, later, the Father will lead the Son on a path that is ultimately going to lead to sacrifice, pain, and death on the cross. On one hand, protection, and on the other, sacrifice.  

Therefore, the issue is not the risk of pain or suffering. It’s the timing – choosing your battle and realizing what it is that is worth taking risks for. It’s not that personal sacrifice should always be avoided, or that it should always be sought out. There is also – hopefully – a spirit of wisdom that helps us discern what the moment asks of us.  

Right now, there are people for whom this is a moment of great risk, and for them it is one that the moment demands. Doctors and nurses working in hospitals with coronavirus patients come to mind – people who through all that they risk and all that they give, make this world better through their sacrifice. Others like first responders who provide for the care and safety of people around them – in their continued response they live up to the demands of the moment.  

For the rest of us, this may be a moment where we need to run to Egypt, so to speak. This is not our battle, and this is not our time. So we follow best practices, don’t take unnecessary risks, and do what we can to keep ourselves and those around us safe. We aren’t just running from the coronavirus or living in fear – we are making sure that our family is safe for the moment when God calls on us later. We are better living for a time in a strange way so that we can serve God when it is our time to shine.   

 

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 – June 29, 2020: Soren Kierkegaard

Today's devotion is on a quote from Soren Kierkegaard. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for June 29 

 

Soren Kierkegaard was a Danish theologian. His quote which is the subject of our devotion today is this: “Would-be theologians must be on their guard lest by beginning too soon to preach they rather chatter themselves into Christianity than live themselves into it and find themselves a home there.”  

As I read this, the difference between chattering yourself into Christianity and living yourself into Christianity very much struck me. Too often, I think we make Christianity a set of beliefs – beliefs which are somehow separate from our action. If you look at the book of Acts, several times Paul in his preaching refers to Christianity not as a set of beliefs, but as “the Way.” It seems evident to me that Christianity, in it’s earliest days with the Apostles, was as much a way of living as it was a set of beliefs.  

I don’t want to downplay the importance of our beliefs about God. But I worry that, functionally, we have come to expect so little in the way of action. Our beliefs and our actions have somehow become separated in our minds, and it should therefore be no surprise when we hear people say that they are great in faith, but know them to be lacking in action. 

When Jesus healed and taught, he frequently joined the two together. Pick up your mat and walk; your faith has made you well. Pick up your cross and follow me. Love one another as I have loved you.  

It may be worth checking in and asking ourselves the question: have we chattered ourselves into Christianity, or have we lived our way into it? How, through our actions alone, would someone see the work of God in our lives and in our actions?  

We believe in a living God, who gives  us a living faith, and because he lives, we, too will have eternal life. We believe that this faith should shape our whole lives – every interaction and every conversation. Every action we take and every moment of inaction that goes by. As strange as the current moment is, with the Coronavirus around us and nothing quite back to normal, we still have a life that we are living out in faith. Take some time, think about how you can be living this faith out for the benefit of God’s kingdom in this world.   

 

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 – June 26, 2020: Wedding in Cana

Today's devotion is on the Wedding in Cana, found in John 2. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for June 26:

 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ well-known miracle of turning water into wine is his first public miracle. Here, the wedding party runs out of wine – something that would have been embarrassing for the hosts – and Jesus’ mother convinces him to help with the problem.

If anything, it may seem strange to us that this is the first miracle. There’s a lot to focus on in this text. You could look at Jesus’ interchange with his mother. You could focus on the amount of wine and talk about God’s abundance. It might be another thing to talk about the quality of the wine – the steward mentions that they have oddly saved the best wine for last.

Any of these, while good points, I think miss the overarching point of this story. This is not just a miracle or a party trick – this is a sign that reveals God’s glory. Verse 11 reads, “Jesus di this, the fist of his signs, in Cana of Galilee and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

What is important in this is the revelation and the belief that come from this action. It’s not a miracle for the sake of keeping the party going. Jesus turned the water into wine so that through the quality, abundance, and everything else, that God might be revealed through this action. Jesus turned the water into wine so that those who see and hear might believe.

For us, who cannot turn water into wine, we can still carry on the revelatory work of God in the world. It does not take a miracle from us for others to see in us the work of God in our lives. It doesn’t take a miracle that others might hear, see, and come to believe. With or without a miracle – we can still live a life that is a sign for those around 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!

Today's devotion is on the Wedding in Cana, found in John 2. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for June 26

 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ well-known miracle of turning water into wine is his first public miracle. Here, the wedding party runs out of wine – something that would have been embarrassing for the hosts – and Jesus’ mother convinces him to help with the problem.

If anything, it may seem strange to us that this is the first miracle. There’s a lot to focus on in this text. You could look at Jesus’ interchange with his mother. You could focus on the amount of wine and talk about God’s abundance. It might be another thing to talk about the quality of the wine – the steward mentions that they have oddly saved the best wine for last.

Any of these, while good points, I think miss the overarching point of this story. This is not just a miracle or a party trick – this is a sign that reveals God’s glory. Verse 11 reads, “Jesus di this, the fist of his signs, in Cana of Galilee and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

What is important in this is the revelation and the belief that come from this action. It’s not a miracle for the sake of keeping the party going. Jesus turned the water into wine so that through the quality, abundance, and everything else, that God might be revealed through this action. Jesus turned the water into wine so that those who see and hear might believe.

For us, who cannot turn water into wine, we can still carry on the revelatory work of God in the world. It does not take a miracle from us for others to see in us the work of God in our lives. It doesn’t take a miracle that others might hear, see, and come to believe. With or without a miracle – we can still live a life that is a sign for those around 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 – June 25, 2020: Gospel of Mark

Today's devotion is on the Gospel of Mark. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for June 25

 

The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four gospels. In its brevity, there is one word that is used more times in Mark than any other gospel: the word ‘immediately.’ Throughout the whole book, as Jesus heals, illnesses leave “immediately.” Or, as soon as Jesus goes somewhere, people come to him “immediately” and when Jesus and the disciples decide to leave, they do so “immediately.”

If you sit down and read the whole Gospel of Mark through, there’s a sense of urgency this creates. People are going and coming quickly and on their way to something. It’s like every action happens quickly and purposefully.

For a lot of us, that’s probably what we’ve been used to. Lives that were full of quick and purposeful actions and movements. Now, as things have seemed to have slowed down a little bit – travel not being what it was, and even a simple trip to the store not being so simple – it may feel like life has lost a little of its immediacy for us.

As painful as the loss of all those usual patterns may be, it may be a time for us to reorient ourselves as to what is really urgent in our lives. Parents and children have been spending a lot more time together as they’ve not been running around from one place to another. Some of the things that we thought we couldn’t live without – turns out, we can.

What I hope we haven’t lost, however, is the sense of purpose and immediacy in our faith. At the beginning of the pandemic, as things slowed down churches and pastors sped up trying to figure out what we were going to do. Christians have found ways of worshipping that have now become possible through technology. It has been impressive to me all that the church accomplished in a short time with that sense of immediacy and urgency. In a simple matter of weeks, the church was doing ministry in new and creative ways.

If anything, I hope this has been a time for your faith to recapture that sense of urgency. Use the opportunity – whether it’s a voluntary one or not – to connect with that sense of urgency and purpose. We are still the church, we are still the called and commissioned people of God. You are still on a mission that is central to the goodness of this world. Be present in it – be urgent in your calling, and be immediate in your action.

 

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 – June 24, 2020: Luke’s version of the beatitudes

Today's devotion is on Luke’s version of the beatitudes, found in Luke 7. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for June 24  

 

There’s a mealtime prayer that Christina and I have been learning in Spanish for when we hopefully have a foster care placement at some point. In English, the prayer goes “Lord, bless our bread. Give bread to those who hunger, and a hunger for justice to those with bread.” I’ve appreciated how this is such an efficient prayer: It asks God to bless the food before us, to give to those who do not, and reminds us that we who have bread should be doing what we can to feed the poor.   

There are two different versions of the beatitudes in the Bible, found in Matthew and Luke. Matthew’s version tends to be more popular – probably because they are easier for us to hear. Where, in Luke, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor,” Matthew writes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Where Jesus in Luke says, “Blessed are you who are hungry now,” Matthew writes “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  

Luke continues, with something we don’t find in Matthew: a list of woes for people who already have. Luke tells us Jesus also said “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation,” and “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.” Certainly, the version in Matthew is a little more palatable for those who are comfortable in life. 

The question, then, is what do we do with these different versions of Jesus’ teaching, especially when one sounds better to us? We can’t ignore one and just pick our favorite. Both are there – and I think we need to hear both.  

For the days when we are poor in Spirit, we need to know that we are still blessed – that God is still looking on us with favor. Yet for the times when we may be struggling to get by, we need to know God is with us then, too. And in the times when we are comfortable, we need to hear the push to use what we have been given.  

The two tell us more together than just picking one individually. In fact, I think it’s like the prayer we’ve been learning, a bit. We need the harshness of Luke that warns us of ignoring the poor and hungry around us. We need Jesus in Matthew telling us to hunger for justice – so that those who are without food won’t be without. With the whole teachings of Jesus in front of us, it is apparent: we need the food for the hungry, and for those who are fed to have a hunger for justice.  

 

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 – June 23, 2020: Job 19

Today's devotion is on Job 19. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for June 23:

The book of Job is famous for the suffering that Job experiences. The 19th chapter of Job is no exception. The first half is Job listing all of the ways he is afflicted. He cries out, “How long will you torment me, and break me in pieces with words?” Job talks about being completely alone – his family far away, friends who have failed him, servants who will no longer answer his call. His children despise him, and his body fails him.

This is where Job starts – but this is not where Job finishes. Despite his long list of problems, Job says “I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold and not another.”

Somehow, in the middle of his loneliness, his isolation, and all of his afflictions of mind, body, and spirit, Job is able to utter those words of faith. He endures the trials knowing that his redeemer lives and will restore what he has lost.

Today, there are undoubtedly events and times which we have lost. Our sense of normal has changed, if it’s not completely gone. There may be consequences of this pandemic that we will untangle for years to come. It is easy to be frightened, scared, or angry.

Yet we have the confidence that God is working. We know that this moment in time, as hard as it may be, does not hold the final word for us. We know that our redeemer lives, and at the last, we will see God there for us. We know that in these moments – when the things that are completely out of our control affect us so much – that God is working alongside us, with us, and for us. We know that though this virus has given a strange shape to the way things are, we know that it will not forever be the way things will be.

Yet in the meantime, we still have the work to do the same that Job does – proclaim God’s goodness in the midst of brokenness. We who know that our redeemer lives have a message of hope that this world needs. We can proclaim it, tell it, pray it, and do whatever we can that we are a light in the brokenness and a hope in the midst of despair. We take care of ourselves, we follow best practices, and live in such a way that our hope for a better future is apparent to all around us. This doesn’t ignore our problems, or cover up with a cultivated story for the world to see – it is honest about our difficulties, yet a living and visible trust where God will take 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 – June 19, 2020: Jesus’ teaching about serving two masters

Today's devotion is on Jesus’ teaching about serving two masters, found in Matthew 6. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for June 19 

 

There’s a beautiful short story, written by Kurt Vonnegut, called Money Talks. In the Newberry Library, it’s in his collection of short stories titled While Mortals Sleep, if you’re interested to read it. He tells the story of a couple falling in love – a young working-class man and a woman who has just inherited more money than what she knows to do with. As they fall in love, the money talks in ways that come between them, always there with the suspicion that he really loves her for her money, or she’ll leave him for someone more ‘deserving.’ What makes the couple overcome this is acknowledging all of the terrible suspicions the money raises, and saying all of the horrible things that only the money can say.  And when all of the things have been said, and all of the concerns have been voiced, all of a sudden the money is silent.  

In this portion on the sermon on the mount, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”  

A lot of congregations have a hard time talking about money. Most of the time, I think it’s just because people who aren’t used to asking people for money aren’t quite comfortable doing that. But I wonder if there isn’t an element of difficulty talking about money that comes from having to talk about the idolatry that is caught up in so much of how our society views money. It goes unspoken that the god in “in God we Trust” is really for many the bill that it is printed on. Martin Luther wrote in the Large Catechism “anything on which your heart truly relies and depends- that I say is your god.” For many, it’s the almighty dollar that we really depend on.  

Have a problem? Give some money to it. Think you need something you really want? If only you had the money to buy it. Show me a problem, and I can just about show you someone who’s thinking money is somehow going to fix it and make it better.  

For Christians, when we talk about money – or more often, when we don’t speak and let the money talk for itself – there are no shortage of doubts or unspoken things that may tear at us in the back of our mind. We know we cannot serve two masters. We know that to love and trust in money over and above the work of God in our lives is idolatrous. But in our silence, the money talks.  

Ministry is more than a bottom line; it is more than the dollars we give to the church. While we give money to the church, we support the ministries financially, and we each contribute as we are able – we do not trust, ultimately, in the power of money to do things that belong only to the power of God.  

 

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 – June 18, 2020: God’s revelation to Laodicea

Today's devotion is on God’s revelation to Laodicea, found in Revelation 3:14-22. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for June 18 

 

I heard a story once of a high-school student in shop class, who was assigned to make a jewelry box. This person was somewhat of a slacker, and made a very really simple box, wanted to take their grade and be done with the assignment. The teacher looked the student in the eyes, and said – gently and honestly, not accusingly -  “is that the best you can do?” Something about that moment caught the student, and the obvious answer was no. That question was enough to get the student back to square one, and working on something that they could be proud of, having looked at it and said, yes, that is the best I can do.  

Before the images of fantastic beasts and demons and cosmic battles, the book of Revelation begins with God telling John of Patmos to write letters to the seven churches of Asia minor. One of those churches is the church in Laodicea. God says to them, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot.” God accuses this church of being lukewarm. They are likely a wealthy congregation, in a wealthy area. They don’t have anything they need. Yet in their wealth, in all that they have, God says “you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”  

It is worth considering the connection between this church’s comfort and their lukewarm state. Comfort is perhaps one of the biggest traps for any church to face. It is easy, as individuals and as groups, to let ‘good enough’ get in the way of great, and to be satisfied with  something less than what we are capable of. As I hear it, this church in Laodicea is probably doing enough that there’s not one thing that John of Patmos can point to and say “you are doing this wrong,” but at the same time, this church with so much to give is not living up to their potential. 

How many churches need that shop teacher who would ask “is that the best you can do?” Or how many of us – individually or corporately – benefit from a temperature check to test whether we are hot or cold? After all, no person and no church is perfect. As strange and bizarre as our times may be right now, we still have work to do. We are still in the season of pentecost – started when the Holy Spirit came down and set hearts on fire. Coronavirus or not, normal or not, we have a world with a burning desire for the message and work of God in this world.  

 

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 – June 17, 2020: the power of speech

Today's devotion is on the power of speech, found in James 3:  To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for June 17  

  

I read of an experiment, where a researcher wanted to test how much expectations affected outcomes. He went into the lab where the rats that they were running through mazes were kept, and put labels at random on the cages, some labeling the rats “intelligent” and some labelling them “dumb.” Truth is, they were all just average rats with no meaningful distinction between them. What he found, however, is that as told his research students to run the rats through the same maze, the ones who were labeled “smart” went through twice as fast – even though there was no real difference. What they found out is that simple label affected subtly but meaningfully how the rats were handled and treated, which affected their outcomes. That is the power of one simple sign – one simple label at random. Some rats were smart, and some were stupid (even though they were the same).  

Words have more power than I think we give them credit. We were all probably taught at some point the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” But I would yet imagine we’ve all felt the power of words beyond an insult – a doctor sharing bad news to a loved one. A couple sharing vows at a wedding. Both good and bad – words carry the meaning of the most meaningful moment of our lives.  

In this portion of the book of James, the apostle reminds us of the power of speech and what it can do. He compares our words with the bridle that is put in the horses’ mouth – the thing through which we control the whole body. James also says, “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!” – to say that the tongue also risks being the instrument through which we bring destruction to ourselves. 

This is something we don’t talk about much – our negative words ability to hinder ourselves. Whether that is through negative self-talk; whether that is through the relationships or things we have missed out on because we have labeled other people a certain way. The way we speak – out loud or just in our minds – is something that affects US in deep and profound ways.  

Thankfully, James reminds us of this power. He writes of the tongue, “with it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.” In these contentious times, where negativity draws us in and no shortage of posts on social media or news outlets simply exist to draw us to anger – pay attention to the thing you control that controls the body. Pay attention to the labels you are using. After all, as James reminds us – they damage us just as much as the people we dislike. 

 

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 – June 16, 2020: Jesus talking about the Sabbath

Today's devotion is on Jesus talking about the Sabbath, found in Mark 2:23-28 . To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for June 16 

 

In this part of the Gospel of Mark, the disciples are walking through a field, and as they walk, they pick a few heads of grain. The Pharisees, seeing this, think they’ve caught the disciples violating the commandments about the sabbath – which, for someone claiming to be a religious teacher would be a strong accusation. Here, we find Jesus’ famous response: “The Sabbath was made for Humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”  

It is interesting to me to think of this verse in this time. Usually, there are rules for things we take for granted. There are ways of doing things or ways of being that are just the way things are. Yet in the last few months, how many of those things have changed? Even a simple trip to the store is a lot less simple. How many churches – which celebrate the Sabbath in certain places in certain ways have changed the way that they have done that in ways we never would have expected?  

As we think about all of the ways of doing things and unspoken rules that we’ve had to change, this text has been a helpful reminder to me dealing with all of this change. All of those traditions or actions we are missing right now were things that were meant to be for us – and we weren’t made to be for them. Particularly as it pertains to our worship as we continue to worship in the parking lot – it is helpful to remember these worship traditions, even though we miss them, and they mean the world to us – are a means to an end and not the end themselves.  

Ultimately, we were made for relationship with God. We were made out of love, for love – that we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind and love our neighbors as ourselves. We have been made for worship – not just in a certain way at a certain time on Sunday morning. Just as Jesus reminded the Pharisees what is truly important on the Sabbath, and who the Sabbath serves, we may ourselves need that reminder.  

 

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 – June 15, 2020: Philippians 2:4

Today's devotion is on Philippians 2:4. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for June 15  

 

Who do Christians look out for the most? That might be a hard question to answer – and possibly the answer we know we should give may not be the answer we want to give. Is it other Christians? Our own congregations? The people who look or act or think the most like us? What about you: who do you try to look out for or take care of above all else?  

 Philippians 2:4-8 reads: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross.”  

 Regardless of our answer to who we think Christians look out for the most, it’s clearly here the duty of us to look out for others in a way that requires a little self-sacrifice. I don’t mean that this is an excuse for others to treat you poorly or to not take proper care of yourself. But when it comes to the lens through which we look out at the world, we should always be looking beyond ourselves for where we are called to give.  

For us right now – particularly given the economic consequences of this pandemic for so many – if we are among those who have, our eyes should be looking beyond ourselves to give in a way that may feel like a little bit of a pinch. Our eyes should be looking beyond ourselves and scanning for the health and well-being of our neighbors – even beyond the people we know best.   

I’ve made this point before, but I’ll make it again: stewardship as a Christian practice is not just a drive your church does to ask for money. It’s the question of how you, as a steward of the resources God has given you, are using those gifts for the benefits of God’s kingdom. My favorite stewardship saying is that “Stewardship is everything that you do after you say I believe.” As far as where and how we use those gifts, this reminder from Paul’s letter to the Philippians reminds us to look outside of ourselves. God gives us faith not so that we might have a gift of salvation for ourselves, but so that we, the church, might be a gift for the world.  

 

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 – June 12, 2020: Hebrews 12:1-2

Today's devotion is on Hebrews 12:1-2. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for June 12 

 

A TV show I watch had a character who was trying to become a runner. Every morning he would leave his house and run, there would be an older man run past him on the hill he lived on – something rather discouraging. But eventually, they stop and have a conversation, where the experienced runner says something to the effect of “it gets better, you just have to do it every day. It’s not the running that is hard – it’s doing it every day.”  

Almost three months ago now, when things started to close down and we didn’t know what things were going to look like, I don’t think any of us thought that we’d still be dealing with the coronavirus at this point. By now, we’ve all likely settled into a new routine and learned to live with what is a (hopefully temporary!) new normal.   

These verses from Hebrews talk about us running a race with our faith. The author writes, “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” As long as this has gone one, it’s not been the individual practices that have been tiring – it has been doing them for so long.  

Our faith right now needs that perseverance. We have dealt with the coronavirus and its effects for a long time – and it feels like longer. We’ve had to put up with things and follow recommendations we’d rather not follow. We’ve gone without things we’d rather not give up. But what we hope and pray is that it has all been to keep the people we care about in our lives safe.  

This passage of Hebrews reminds us of what is truly important. In these hard times, it serves as a reminder to us all to fix our eyes on Christ, the “pioneer and perfecter” of our faith. Our life – whether we are experiencing hardship or not- is always a marathon where we try to fix our eyes on what we are doing all of this for. Just as Christ has suffered for all of us, we now go with out and suffer these inconveniences so that we keep everyone around us, our communities, our essential workers, and the people we care about most, safe. We persevere in this not just to suffer for sufferings sake, but that through suffering like Christ (though for many of us, how can we really call these inconveniences suffering) we might run the race and endure these trials with discipline. It’s not just we do what we discipline ourselves so we do what we are supposed to, but we have the perseverance to carry it out every day.  

 

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 – June 11, 2020: Jesus calling the first disciples

Today's devotion is on Jesus calling the first disciples, found in Luke 5. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for June 11  

 

This is the section of Luke where Peter, James, and John become disciples. The story begins after a long night of fishing, and it ends with them leaving everything behind to follow this person who they have seen work a miracle, and who promises them that they will now fish for people.  

As fishermen, the disciples have here a once-in-a-career kind of catch. These fishermen have been out all night and caught nothing, and a stranger walks up and says to throw your nets out over the other side. There are now so many fish in the net that they need to call to the other boat for help and they both nearly sink as there are now too many fish for each. This kind of catch for a fisherman in that time probably meant a huge payday – all these fish could be sold in the market or traded for other goods. And these three fishermen – Peter, James, and John – leave it on the shore to follow the stranger.  

We know that the disciples drop everything and follow Jesus. We may overlook the significance of all that they have left behind. Besides this one-time payday, they’ve left their boats, nets, and equipment which would represent their greatest investment. They’ve walked away from any sense of security – a trade that they know and can provide for them and any family they may some day have.  

When we think about discipleship, we usually talk about what it means to follow or learn or what it means to be a disciple. We are less willing to talk about what that might require us to give up and walk away from. To go and fish for people means to walk away from the fishing that we know. While our decisions we make are not as stark as the disciples leaving everything behind for Jesus, there is still a component of what we are called to that means we leave certain behaviors behind. Our faith is a journey that takes us somewhere – and as with any trip, it means a movement from one thing to another with some things being left behind.  

But what is so important in this is that the disciples are not just giving things up to give things up. They have seen a miracle powerful enough that it is worth following this man. They have witnessed the work and been promised that they will help him gather people. It is not just that they give something up – they eagerly go to where this man Jesus will lead them.  

 

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

 

Pastor James 

Daily Devotions – June 10, 2020: the Serenity Prayer

Today's devotion is on the Serenity prayer. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for June 10 

 

Written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, the serenity prayer is usually quoted as: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” It was written in the middle of the great depression. It was later included in an Armed Forces prayer book during the Second World War, and adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous for a closing prayer. People through all kinds of hardship have found value in this one simple sentence.   

There are so many things going on in the world right now that genuinely feel out of our control. There’s the coronavirus which feels like it’s out of our control – no real cure or treatment other than managing symptoms while it runs its course. There are the issues of police brutality and protests that we may feel helpless to change as we watch everything unfold on television. Any number of the big issues of the world may leave us feeling helpless. 

Yet even as we may feel stuck at home or stuck in our inability to do anything, the prayer reminds us that there are actions we can still take. We are not simply helpless or bystanders in the world around us; we can each take daily actions and steps towards the things that are in our control. There are things, big and small, which we have control over and ways we can step out in courage and act.  

The real challenge we learn from this prayer though, is often the difficulty of the wisdom to distinguish between what we can control and what we cannot control. How often do we mistake the two! We often fret and try to do everything we can to change things that are not within our ability to change, and we often throw up our hands and say “I can’t do anything” when something is in our control, but just difficult. Or often, we find a false sense of serenity when there is still work to do, or a false sense of courage having done just a bit.  

Really, I wish we would think of this as the wisdom prayer. The peace and the courage which we pray for ultimately come through the wisdom that helps us know when our work is done and when things are out of our control. What we really pray for – and what we need as we live in the world around us – is the wisdom of God to show us the way.  

 

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 – June 9, 2020: It is Well with my Soul.

Today's devotion is on the hymn, It is Well with my Soul. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for June 9  

 

In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire roared through the city. Horatio Spafford, a lawyer and Presbyterian Elder, watched his many real estate investments go up in smoke. Two years later, he and his family planned a trip to Europe, hoping that it would be good for his wife’s health. At the last minute, he was held back to deal with zoning issues in Chicago (related to the fire) and sent his wife and four daughters ahead on the SS Ville du Havre. When news broke that the ship had collided with another and sank, he eagerly awaited news of his family and received a telegram from his wife days later: “Saved alone. What shall I do?” His four daughters had all drowned. He rushed to meet his wife as she was picked up and carried on to Europe. 

On his journey, the captain of the boat he was taking informed him they were near the point at which the SS Ville du Havre sank. Spafford took out his pen and started writing the words that are likely familiar to us: “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.” 

One of the things that I think is the most confusing to others about Christianity is the hope such as this that we express in the middle of our hardest times. As he passed the spot on the ocean where his daughters lay beneath him, Spafford dared to write, “It is well with my soul.” To someone who doesn’t know the meaning of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, those words make no sense at all. How can someone in all of that pain – and surely, having lost his daughters, Spafford was in unfathomable agony – dare to write those words? How can all of us who have ever sung that hymn at a funeral raise up in one voice and declare in the face of death, “it is well with my soul?” The presence of a God who is with us in spite of tragedy, who comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comforted, who lived, died and was raised so that we might share in that life – that is what gives us hope. Our God being faithful to the promises God has made.   

Even in these times, when cases of the coronavirus are increasing, when we are all tired of this distancing, we still have hope. While we are still not gathered in worship in the sanctuary, while we are not spending time with people in the way that we would like, we have a hope that the pains of this moment are not the final word. It’s the very thing that allows us to say in the face of pain “it is well with my soul” that gives us the hope and courage that we will get through this together.  

 

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 – June 8, 2020: fruits of the Spirit

Today's devotion is on the fruits of the Spirit, found in Galatians 5. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for June 8 

 

This year in our backyard, Christina and I built a box garden for ourselves. Nothing fancy, but we’ve finally filled it out with the plants we want, taking a few stutter steps forward along the way. As with any new project, there’s been a few hiccups as I’m learning what I can and apparently can’t successfully grow.  

Today’s topic for the devotion is the fruits of the Spirit. When we think of gifts or fruits of the Spirit, my guess is we think of some sort of instantaneous gifts. Something like Pentecost, where fire comes down from heaven and all of a sudden the disciples can speak in different languages. Or at Jesus’ Baptism, where the Spirit descends like a dove while a voice from heaven declares, “this is my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  

Writing this having just come in from watering my plants, I’m wondering if there’s not an alternative way to think about fruits of the Spirit. Like the fruits that I hope to harvest from our garden, we might think of these fruits as something we need to care for and nourish in order to be able to receive instead of that instantaneous gift. Looking at it in the context of what Paul’s writing, I’m more inclined to think this is the approach we might take. 

I’m sure there’s a lot of cheesy garden metaphors here to be had about the work we need to do in order to bear fruit. Talking about the soil, removing weeds, fertilizer and watering make for good parallels to how we might nurture our faith. But beyond the metaphors, gardening is just a matter of doing the work. At the end of the day, it’s not really hard work – at least for our little  four by four patch – its just a matter of doing all the little things consistently that (hopefully!) mean after a while we are going to receive something from it.  

The same is true for these fruits of the Spirit. Love is not something that just happens – it’s something that we feed and nourish. Joy is not something that happens without the proper environment and feeding. The same could be said for any of these: Peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Each of these is something that is cultivated and does not appear on its own.  

To say these are a fruit of the Spirit may very well mean that they are the things that we cultivate with the practices of the Spirit: Spending time in prayer, spending time in Scripture, and forming our lives according to the practices we know God has set out that bring us closer in relationship to God.   

Martin Luther said to, when you wash your face, remember your Baptism. If you think about it, I’ll offer you this suggestion, too: when you water your garden, remember the fruits of the Spirit that you are trying to grow.   

 

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 – June 5, 2020: the Pharisees testing Jesus

Today's devotion is on the Pharisees testing Jesus, found in Matthew 22:15-22. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for June 5

 

            One of the common types of traps that the pharisees set for Jesus is giving him an either-or kind of question. In this reading from Matthew 22, the Pharisees set this exact trap, asking if it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor – the kind of yes or no question where both answers are somehow wrong.

            If Jesus answers “yes,” the Pharisees can make Jesus unpopular for supporting an unpopular tax. The Romans were conquering invaders, after all. On the other hand, if Jesus answers “no,” then the pharisees would be able to go to the Roman authorities and say that Jesus is teaching people to not pay taxes. As it is with most governments, the Romans did not react well to people going around and teaching people to not pay their taxes.

            What Jesus says in response is well known: he takes a coin in his hand, asks whose picture is on it, and says “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.” In giving this answer, Jesus successfully and faithfully answers while avoiding the yes or no trap that the pharisees tried to set.

            While there is a lot to learn from what Jesus teaches in this moment, one that is particularly relevant to us is simply avoiding that trap. After all, how many times are we given a choice between two options where we don’t need to be given a choice? It’s one of the favorite rhetorical tricks of any debate between talking heads: to give people a choice between two things and tell them to pick.

            So often, I think the faithful response to a forced “yes or no” or “either or” question is to find that third way. It is the wisdom of God that should guide our lives, and so often, it is not presented as one of only two options to choose from. If we used our current situation as an example: I don’t think any church has chosen between being open and closed. Each church has found a way, whether it is online or drive in or resources for the home, to still have some kind of worship. By looking for the faithful way forward instead of just thinking in terms of “open” or “closed,” we found a more faithful way.

            As society becomes so polarized and we have all this time to watch the news, this is an opportunity to pay attention to those times when we ask ourselves if those either-or or yes-or-no questions really need to be that way, and look for those faithful third options.

 

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 – June 4, 2020: 2 Thessalonians 5:6-18

Today's devotion is on 2 Thessalonians 5:6-18. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for June 4 

 

One of my favorite quotes about evangelism is the statement from St. Francis of Assisi, who said to “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” One of the things I like so much is the emphasis St. Francis places on what we do over what we say. This is an emphasis on continued action – not just what we do once, but the things we do day in and day out that bear witness to the power of our faith in our lives (or, the lack thereof). I know when churches think of evangelism, it is often the big campaign or grand gestures that we think of. What I think really does more to share God’s word is the everyday faith of the people.  

Today’s devotion on this portion of 2 Thessalonians is 3 simple commands Paul gives to the church in Thessalonica. Paul writes “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances.” What I see here is what I see in that statement from Francis: the emphasis on the continual actions lived consistently.  

Rejoice always or giving thanks in all circumstances may very well sound hollow to us right now. Can we rejoice or give thanks as we continue to see the consequences of the coronavirus, both with our health and with our economy? Can we rejoice or give thanks as we see evidence of police brutality and riots in response? I think we can. It is not that our current sufferings suddenly hurt less. We rejoice in a God who is working to end this suffering, who works alongside the healthcare workers and who is working for justice in this world. We rejoice that as hard as our present times are, we have a God who is working in history to bring us to a better end. We give thanks that, with God’s saving work completed in our Baptism, we are freed to love and serve our neighbor in whatever circumstances we may find ourselves in.  

Prayer without ceasing may sound like an impossibility – after all, we have to spend some time working. I want to suggest you might think about this differently: What separates our prayers from our actions? I don’t think there is a reason that we, in whatever we do, can’t take the time to find God alongside us and working with us.  

 But for each of these, the thing I hope you take away is the consistent possibility of these things. We can indeed rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. It is more than just something that looks good on a poster or stitched into a pillow. Consistency of small acts of faith leads to big results.   

 

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 – June 3, 2020:

Today's devotion is on Romans 7:14-25. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for June 3

 

            Martin Luther, in his time as a monk, was very worried about his salvation. That’s probably opposite what we’d expect: if anyone could be certain of their faith it would be the man who dedicates his life to study and prayer. Yet Luther would go to confession for hours at a time, listing everything he had done wrong. Often, after those hours were over and his confession complete, he would go back to confession having remembered something else. Eventually, this inner turmoil and heavy-handed view of God would become part of what sparked Luther’s grace-filled Reformation.

            This kind of wrestling with the law and our own struggle to do what is right is nothing new. In Romans 7, we see a glimpse of Paul’s struggle to do what is right. Paul writes, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Paul, an expert in the law, knew what was right yet found himself do the opposite – an inner struggle of good and evil I’m sure we can all relate to.   

            Despite this struggle, Paul finds comfort in the grace of Jesus Christ who takes away the sin of the world. Our victory in that inner battle we all face comes from God and the work of Christ on the cross. Paul writes, “wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

            As hard as we can be on ourselves, or as much as we are our own worst critics, there is a grace-filled God who rescues us from our despair. We may be best served, not just looking to ourselves or our own works to save us.  We can remember our God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, has already acted in history to save us from our darkest moments. For our salvation, the Grace of God is greater than anything we can accomplish.  

 

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

 

Pastor James

Daily Devotions – June 2, 2020: Psalm 1

Today's devotion is on Psalm 1. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for June 2 

 

One of the things that I’ve been honestly grateful for out of this pandemic is the way I’ve been able to hit the reset button on a few things. Whether I wanted to or not, I’ve had to reprioritize and focus on the things that are important to me over and above the things that aren’t. In a lot of ways, that’s been good for me. While I’d of course rather not have all of this going on, there are still silver linings to be had.   

Looking at Psalm 1, I think a lot of people read this Psalm, and get hooked on the line about happiness: “Happy are they who do not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord.” Happy 

The advice that is so powerful to me from this Psalm isn’t that happiness is found in the law or in obeying the laws of God; it comes in the next metaphor this Psalm makes about the happy: They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.” The happy are happy because they have set their roots in the most fulfilling things of life.  

  

 

 

 

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 – June 1, 2020: the hymn Silent Night

Today's devotion is on the hymn Silent Night. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for June 1 

 

 On Christmas Eve of 1818, the Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria had an organ badly in need of tuning due to damage from a recent flood. The congregation had a young priest who waited to the last minute to take a poem he had written to the church’s organist. He wanted help to set this to music for his guitar (so he could play on that instead of the damaged organ). They put together a quick melody, and at the midnight mass that Christmas Eve, a congregation sang the hymn Silent Night for the first time, accompanied by their priest on guitar.  

At our congregation – at least since I’ve been here – no Christmas Eve service would be complete without the hymn Silent Night. Around the world, it’s immensely popular. Just about everyone, Christian or not, can at least sing you the first verse.  It’s a beautiful hymn, and has become a staple of the church.  

It is amazing to me that this last-minute plan put into action because of a flood-damaged organ has become such a pervasive feature of Christmas Eve. As I think of this story today, I can’t help but wonder what is going to come out of this pandemic. After all, we wouldn’t have the hymn Silent Night if that Christmas Eve St. Nicholas Parish had a working organ. I doubt anyone in that congregation thought to themselves that their organ damage was a good thing to happen. That Christmas Eve as it was sung for the first time, I can only imagine there were unhappy congregants who were upset they couldn’t sing the usual hymns on the usual instrument, and they might have even been upset at this young pastor because they now had to sing this unfamiliar hymn.   

I can’t help but think that there is going to be something – musical or otherwise – that we put together in this moment that will be a lasting feature of our church. We don’t have to be happy with any of what’s going on, and I’m certainly not suggesting we celebrate this moment for the damage that it has done. But in these moments, big or small, when our ‘normal’ is damaged, the church is at her best when we continue to be creative. The organ was broken, and a young priest and his organist sat down and in a few hours gave us Silent Night. The church throughout its many times of crisis, whether they be global or local, has always relied on the work of the Holy Spirit to guide us. In the moments when ‘normal’ is gone, the church has always found a way to produce something beautiful and meaningful.  As long as we are looking for the creative work of the Spirit in these moments, I am sure that God, despite the chaos of this moment, is working wonders among 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 - May 29, 2020 (Repeat): 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 – May 28, 2020 (Repeat): Psalm 121

Today's devotion is on Psalm 121.  To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 24 

 

One thing we don’t have to think a lot about is which god we are talking about when we use the word “God.” Particularly in our Bible-belt context, it’s usually just obvious. But it’s not always been like that. In the ancient times of the psalms, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was one of many options that were available. This was a time where gods abounded and the options are far more numerous than they are today. As Jerusalem sat along popular trade routes through the region, it was likely that they bumped up against many other religions and faiths far more than we do today.   

You may not recognize Psalm 121 by it’s number, but I bet you’ll recognize it by the first two lines: “I lift my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” 

The hills, in this setting, are not the mountaintop experiences of our faith. In the hillcountry surrounding Jerusalem, pilgrims on their way would pray this Psalm as they made their journey into Jerusalem to celebrate holy days. On those hilltops there would occasionally be shrines to other gods. Or, the hills were also the hiding places of thieves and bandits. Looking to the hills, the question “From where will my help come?” sounds a lot less rhetorical. 

 Thus, this psalm becomes a way to name the God of Israel from whom help really comes. It’s not just a psalm of comfort, singing the praises of our God who sees us through hard times; it is the promise that this God, our God, is the only God who truly has the power to do all of these things.   

We certainly have a lot of hills to look to around us. They are filled with all sorts of things and all sorts of promises. Illness, loneliness, separation, and gloom are not far away if you want to find them. Our news is dominated by the pandemic (which on the one hand, it should be, but on the other, how much is there really to say other than ‘stay at home!’?) We lift our eyes and we may very well ask the same question: Where will our help come from? 

We know that the God of Israel will see us through. We know that the God who gave of himself willingly on the Cross is the one who reaches out with pierced hands to carry us through. We can look to mountains that lift up idols high for all to see, yet full of empty promises, and know that our God is greater.  

 

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 – May 27, 2020 (Repeat) Paul’s writings on Faith, Hope, and Love

Today's devotion is on Paul’s writings on Faith, Hope, and Love, found in 1 Corinthians 13. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for  

 

I’ve not made a habit of writing out the scripture I’m writing about as a part of the daily devotions I send out. I always tell you where it is, if you want to read it yourself, but mostly, I just try and remind you of the story and remind us all of the hope it offers for us today.  

Today, I’m going to break my pattern, with a reading from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Paul writes: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”   

 To hear that love bears, believes, hopes and endures all things should show us how this love Paul writes about is so important in a time like this. As we all continue to have our day-to-day lives affected, where work or a simple trip to the store is not the same, love is what is going to help us get through.  

Love helps us bear one another’s burdens. It is the thing that makes us reach out to others to make sure that they are taken care of, too. It’s the thing that makes us pick up the phone and check in on someone who might not have family checking in on them. Through those kinds of things, we help bear the pain of isolation together.  

Love believes, hopes, and trust that there is light on the other side of this. We believe that God is with us, even though things may be harder now than they were before. We have the hope and trust that God is going to see us through. We know that when our love fails, the love of God will pick us up and carry us through.  

As we love God and our neighbor, and know God’s love for us and feel the love of our neighbor, we can endure. To endure is not easy – it’s sitting with pain and discomfort. There’s no easy way through it, and often the quickest way past is through it since we can’t avoid it or push it off.     

Paul finishes this portion reminding us of the importance of Faith, Hope, and Love – but the greatest of these is love. As we are all going through this together, let’s make sure we love our neighbor. Now more than ever, simple acts of love mean more than ever as we all deal with our isolation. I read that scripture which is so familiar because those words are so important for us today, and I want you to feel the full force when I say: Love one another, as 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 – May 26, 2020 (Repeat): Romans 8

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

 

Devotion for May 26, 2020

 

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 - May 25, 2020: (Repeat) 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 Monday, May 25 

 

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 – May 23, 2020: the story of Jesus and Peter - Matthew 16:13-21

Just so you know: today is going to be the last Saturday devotion. Moving forward, I’ll be sending out a devotion Monday through Friday. Today's devotion is on the story of Jesus and Peter found in Matthew 16:13-21. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 23 

 

Usually, we think of this portion of scripture as two stories, not one. In the first, Peter professes his faith and Jesus responds by saying “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth you will loose in heaven.” Peter recognizes him as the messiah, the Son of the living God, and Jesus gives Peter the keys to the kingdom and says his faith is what this church will be built on.  

Immediately following, Jesus begins to teach his disciples that he must be crucified, die and be raised. Peter pulls Jesus aside to say this should never happen. Jesus’ response is very different. He looks at Peter, the rock of faith, holder of the keys to the kingdom, and says “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  

What is Peter? Is he the rock on which the church is built? Or the stumbling block before Jesus? Is Peter the one holding the keys to heaven, or is he the one whose mind is on human things instead of the divine?  

Immediately after Jesus rebukes Peter, Jesus tells all the disciples to pick up their cross and follow him. I recently heard an interpretation of this which said Satan is the one who would get between Jesus and the cross. I think there’s something to that. Peter is willing to see Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Peter is less willing to see Christ as the one who sacrifices and leads us in that way of sacrifice.  

In a lot of ways I think our modern culture has this same problem. We what to take the suffering out of the way that Jesus leads us in. We see the glorified images of God, we hear the resurrection and the promise it offers, and we want to ignore the sacrifice that this means not only for Jesus, but for our lives as well. We want the Christ that is glorified – not the one who is beaten and bloodied and asks us to follow him in that path. The rose-colored faith that ignores the sufferings of Christ and ignores the hardships we might have to face ultimately has little to offer. We do not have the resurrection without his death. We do not have the promises the resurrection offers with a life of Christ that is without controversy or sacrifice.  

 

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 – May 22, 2020: overcoming evil

Today's devotion is on overcoming evil, found in Romans 12:9-21. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 22 

 

Whenever we look at people in history who have made it through hard times, there’s a fairly common narrative that we tell: people coming together. When we think of the greatest generation making it through the second World War, it’s a story of everyone doing their part, planting victory gardens, and all contributing to the greater good. When we look at the heroes of the civil rights movement, it is a story of people coming together to stand up under discrimination and create a vision of a different future. People who are the ones who make it through hardship are the ones who come together.   

This section of Romans 9 begins and ends on the same topic. Paul begins with “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” It ends with “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Sandwiched between those two statements are all sorts of good sounding advice that we are often very reluctant to take. Paul also tells us to “Bless those who persecute you,” to “associate with the lowly,” to not take revenge and to feed and care for your enemies. Sounds good, but often hard to do. 

It’s one of those kinds of readings in scripture that sound familiar to us.  But as so much is happening around us that is out of our control, it is worth remembering the actions we take and the way react is under our control. The most important think for each of us to remember is that we do not overcome evil with evil. We overcome evil with good.  

While we cannot come together in the literal sense, thanks to our technology it is all the more possible to communicate with each other and to It’s one thing to say there’s too much negativity and complain about it (which, in it’s own way, complaining about the negativity is its own sort of negativity). It’s another thing to put out something positive into the world. 

In this time of pandemic, it is our responsibility and calling to be a part of the good. While we cannot change the facts of the situation, we can play an active role in making our world a better place. We can each take the responsibility to improve the world around us through being positive instead of negative. We can turn off the TV when we are angry; we can think twice about publishing that disparaging facebook post. Anyone can be angry or dissatisfied; we are called to be more.   

 

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 – May 21, 2020: Building up treasure in Heaven - Matthew 6:19-21

Today's devotion is on building up treasure in heaven, found in Matthew 6:19-21. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 21 

 

One of the most common pieces of graduation advice is to “follow your passion.” Take what you love, invest in it, follow it, and let that lead you through life. If you are following your passion, you’re doing what you love and spending your time and energy on something you find fulfilling.  

Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I’ve always found the order of that interesting. Our typical “follow your passion” logic is we find a passion, and invest in it. If we have an interest or a hobby, it usually follows that’s where our money and time go. If our heart is with our family, that is where we spend our treasured time. If we love to fish, golf or hunt, we spend our money on those things. Our passion leads our treasure.  

Yet Jesus’ order is backwards – at least to our ears. Jesus says that our heart follows our treasure. There’s a lot of truth to that which I think we’d rather not admit. The decisions we make often get tied up with where we have invested the most. Whether we like it or not, the things we spend most of our resources on end up being the things that we have made most important, whether we’d say they are important or not.  

Right now, it may be worth asking ourselves and reflecting on where our treasure is. This time when everything is shut down may be particularly revealing as we notice where we spend our time. Are we spending more time with family? Are we spending time calling friends? Are we spending our time taking up that hobby which we really like? 

We can say things are important, and believe things are important. That is different than making things important.  Where we put our treasure is often where our hearts follow. The most valuable thing we have is our time – we can never have more of it. How many hours do we spend on things that we don’t think are important, or unfulfilling? How many hours looking at a screen do we spend (and no, that’s not just a question for the young people)?  

As we have all been at home a long time, this might be a chance for us to hit our reset button, so to speak. We can take the time, focus on what we want to treasure, and ensure that our hearts follow. We can take this extra time to focus on our prayer life or relationship with God, or on we can take this extra time with our family and make changes that allow this time to continue when things start moving back towards normal. Whatever we do, remember that wherever your treasure is, your heart will be also.  

 

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 – May 20, 2020: Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

Today's devotion is on Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, found in Acts 8:26-40. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 20 

 

There’s one way I think being a Pastor is like being a doctor or a nurse. Every nurse or doctor I know has a story of someone asking them a medical question as soon as they find out what they do for a living. A conversation that goes like “oh, you’re a doctor? I’ve been having trouble with” or “You’re a nurse? I’ve been having this thing” and then asking for advice. Pastors get this a lot, too – or at least I have. When strangers find out what I do, I often get people’s faith stories, why and where they go to church, or stories about why they stopped going. Oh, you’re a pastor? I’ve got a question for you. I’ve always enjoyed these chance encounters and the opportunity they offer to listen and learn.  

The story of the encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is one of our more famous chance encounters that leads to opportunity. God tells Philip to go to Gaza, and on the road he meets this member of the Ethiopian court who is trying to make sense of the scriptures. Philip offers an explanation, and ultimately Philip baptizes the Ethiopian on the side of the road as he has been stirred by what Philip has told him.  

Philip’s story highlights the need to be prepared for these chance encounters and be ready to tell our story. For those of us who have grown up in the church and who have always believed, we may not think of ourselves as having a story to tell. Usually, the stories we hear of people’s faith are those of grand conversions. People who used to live one way, found Jesus, and now live another. For us who don’t have that ‘conversion story,’ we may not feel like we have our own story, or at least a story that would interest people.  

We all, regardless of our history, have a story to tell. Whether it’s one of conversion or one of “I’ve always grown up in the church,” the story we are all ultimately sharing is one about the work of Jesus Christ. Philip isn’t telling his story of his call. The writer of Acts tells us that Philip “proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.” This story of Jesus and our encounter with him is a story we all have. What God has done for us is something we can all share.  

Hopefully, that story is one that we are all ready, willing, and able to share when the moment is right. It is the good news of Jesus’ life and teaching and the joy of the resurrection that now we share through Him. Take a moment, think of your story. What would you tell the Ethiopian Eunuch? The new neighbor next door? The person you meet walking down the road? What is your story to tell?  

 

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 – May 19, 2020: James 1:22-27

Today's devotion is on being doers of the word, found in James 1:22-27. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 19 

 

I once heard someone say about stewardship that “stewardship is everything you do after you say I believe.” I know when you hear pastors talk about stewardship, the connection is between that and a pastor asking for more money. The idea of stewardship is a lot more than asking for money – it is how we use the gifts that God has given us in faithful service. Because as soon as we say we believe, part of that belief means that everything we have and everything we do is subject to being used for God’s work in the world. Our belief isn’t supposed to be something that just happens in our heads, but that is carried out with our hands.  

In this portion of the book of James, the author makes a strong distinction between hearing and doing. How we live out our faith not just in our beliefs but in our actions is a theme running though the book of James.   

Personally, I find this reminder of James to be incredibly helpful. Our faith is about much more than what we believe to be true. To say that we have faith is more than just agreeing to the basic teachings of Christianity. If you look at the scriptures – even the devil recognizes God and what Jesus has done. To say we agree with something and leave it at that requires little from us.  

 Our faith in God is hopefully not just a passive agreement that Jesus lived and died so that when we die, we get to go to heaven, too. Our faith in God is a living and breathing trust that is as much about caring for the people around us right here and right now. It is about hearing the commandments and the promises of God and making them come alive. The saving work of God means as much as for what  

In these pandemic times, it is all the more important to remember that our faith is more than something we believe with our mind – it is something we live with our bodies and our actions. Faith is more than just intellectual agreement – it is how we live in such a way that the things we believe guide all that we do. It is the work of taking care of the most vulnerable and needy around us. It is more than our belief, but it is the work that we do.  

Each of us is a steward over what we have – of our time, our talents our possessions, and all of the things that, because we say we believe, belong to God and not ourselves. Our call is to hear the word, take what God has given us, and put it to work in the world.   

 

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 – May 18, 2020: the Golden Rule

Today's devotion is on the Golden Rule, found in Matthew 7:12. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 18 

 

The Golden Rule should be something familiar to us all: As we have it in the Gospel of Matthew, it reads: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” 

When we think of the law, we probably don’t think of the golden rule. We probably think of the Ten Commandments, or the long lists of you shall or you shall not that you can find in the Old Testament. When we think of the prophets, likely the image that comes to mind is one of predicting the future. Instead, Jesus tells us that the law and the prophets are summarized as this golden rule.  

The law exists not to threaten or hurt, but to guide us in the right path and to curb the behaviors that take us away from God. The law can be a gift and is not meant to be a weapon we club each other with. The same with the prophets: while we think of predictions of future events, most prophets of the Old Testament were speaking judgement to their current situation in light of God’s message. The judgements most of the prophets issued were because the faithful had either turned their back on God, or were mistreating the people around them.   

I know we think of “do to others what you would have them do to you” as something that is best for us to do, individually. With the coronavirus continuing to be serious, I think we can all see how our interconnectedness is so much bigger than our individualism. What we do to take care of ourselves often overlaps with what we do to take care of each other. Staying in is as much to take care of ourselves as it is to take care of those around us. Standing farther apart than we would like is something we do for each other.  

I also know that as we’ve been spending more time on the internet, we’ve probably shared more and been in more discussions online. Unfortunately, these cyber-spaces often have a way of turning nasty in a way face-to-face interactions rarely do. As we read, share, like, or comment, we may also be best served by remembering the golden rule. 

Because we, despite our distance, remain so connected, this rule is so important. The world needs more light and positivity. We are that light by loving and serving our neighbor – remembering how we ourselves would want to be treated. We treat others how we want to be treated so that not just ourselves but the world might find a better way.  

 

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 – May 15, 2020: the Magnificent

Today's devotion is on the Magnificent, found in Luke 1:46-55. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 15

 

The Magnificat is the name of the song Mary sings when she finds out she is pregnant with Jesus. She sings of God’s greatness, God’s mercy. She sings of God’s justice, how God has raised the lowly and humbled the mighty, and how God has continuously been faithful to God’s people.  

As with many things, putting the song in context tells us a much richer story. To think that Mary was a young woman who just found out she was pregnant changes how we understand her reaction to God. After all, how impossible and daunting must it have been for her to think she was responsible for carrying the Son of God. She had a vision of an angel, who tells her do not be afraid – you have found favor with God and, you’re going to have a Son and name him Jesus. A visit from an angel, a new pregnancy, and the responsibility of raising the Son of God is enough to overwhelm anyone.  

In addition to those visions, and the astounding responsibility, there were other realities Mary would have to grapple with. She was young and unmarried – not something those around her would look upon favorably for. And there would have been the every-day uncertainties of pregnancy in the first century that would only add to that stress.   

Yet Mary does not find herself overwhelmed, but she sings this song of praise that tells of the wonderful story of God. This praise in the face of uncertainty is certainly an example of faith that we would be lucky to follow. Mary was given a tremendous responsibility; she carries it joyfully, singing the praises of God. 

In each of our Baptisms, God has given us a tremendous responsibility for us to carry. We are the called and claimed children of God and given a mission to live in God’s word and to spread the good news to the rest of the world. Yet now, we are in a situation with so much uncertainty about how things are going to look in the future.  

What I hope we learn from Mary and her Magnificat is responding to our uncertainty with praise. Though they are not the same as Mary’s, we know we have our own responsibilities as the called people of God. We also  

  

 

 

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 – May 14, 2020: Amos 5:24

Today's devotion is on Amos 5:24. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 14 

Amos 5:24 is probably familiar to anyone who has listened to the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It reads, “but let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  

When we hear word justice, we likely think of some sort of court. Maybe it’s our criminal justice system, or the idea of ‘seeking justice’ from someone. That’s a part of it, but the Biblical conception of justice, especially to Amos, is a wholistic approach to justice. It is not just about finding people and punishing; it is about the systems which Israel had set up. In this instance, Amos preaches God’s judgement on Israel because they have neglected the poor and pushed aside the afflicted and needy (see, for example, Amos 2:6-8). Justice is more than how we deal with one another in court or criminally; it is how societies meet the needs of all people. 

As we know that this pandemic affects some more than others, I encourage each of us to think about what our role and responsibility is in order to, in these times, “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” For those of us who remain fortunate to have not been greatly affected, I believe we have a responsibility to help and take care of the needs of those around us. As businesses and employees are affected, as companies scale back salaries or furlough employees, we know that there are going to be those among us who are in need. 

Keeping an eye to this Biblical understanding of justice, one of the many challenges for us moving ahead is going to be how we live out this call to our neighbor in need. As social distancing continues and the needs around us increase, so does our calling to help. The hard part is that, for us, many of our tried and true outreach methods are based on the kind of close-contact that may not be responsible as we try and prevent the spread of this virus.  

Yet as the prophet Amos reminds us, we are going to be judged for what we do to take care of the most vulnerable and most needy. We as the faithful who hear the call to justice and who live out our faith not just by some inner belief, but by the actions our faith moves us to carry out, still have this call to establish justice around us. The call to justice and what that looks like for us now may leave us with more questions than answers right now; but it needs to remain something we wrestle with. In our struggle to work justly with those around us, we know that God is certainly with 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 – May 13, 2020: the book of Joel

Today's devotion is on the book of Joel.  To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 13 

 

If there was a book of the Bible that was written for a pandemic, the Book of Joel probably comes the closest. Joel writes about a plague of Locusts that is destroying the crops and threatening the food supply. The first verse includes the line “Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your ancestors?” In my phone calls, I couldn’t tell you how often I’ve heard words like that from all of you: “I’ve never seen anything like this!”  

Joel laments the situation. He speaks of the pain of the people and describes the damage these insects have done. Joel encourages the people to pray and to fast, saying “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” Joel then points people to a future where God in his faithfulness to the people will remove the locusts and restore the land. Those three things Joel does are the very things the church can remember today: We lament, we pray, and we hope.   

Lamenting is probably the easy one of the three. Nobody has to tell us to miss the things we’ve had to go without. Nobody has to tell us that it doesn’t feel the same to not gather in the sanctuary on Sunday morning. It certainly doesn’t feel the same to be so distant from each other – I know the few times I’ve been to see people it’s always been from a distance that doesn’t feel natural.  

God did not come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ to simply repeat the things we already know on our own. While our honest sorrows and laments are an important part of responding to this in faith, we cannot let ourselves stay there and simply wallow in our despair. So we turn to the God who time and again has acted in history to save God’s people, and we pray. 

With our prayer comes hope. This hope is not just a simple “I hope this is over soon.” Hope is the living trust in the promises of God. It is a living trust in the covenant God made with Noah that never again will something come to destroy the earth. It is a living trust in the faithfulness of God to God’s people – even when the people had turned their back on God. It is a living trust in the promises of Jesus Christ.  

We lament, we pray, we hope. And then we lament, we pray, and we hope some more. We follow the example of the faithful who have been there before. We see in this tiny book of the Old Testament a grand message for us who deal with something our generation has not seen; we see the fundamental practices of our faith and trust that God is working alongside us to bring us past this pandemic.   

 

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 – May 12, 2020: the ark of the covenant

Today's devotion is on the ark of the covenant. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 12, 2020 

 

Many of you know, thanks to either your reading of the scriptures or seeing the movie “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” that during the period after the Exodus, the faithful Hebrew who made it out of Egypt carried with them the Ark of the Covenant as they wandered. This Ark of the Covenant contained the tablets of the 10 Commandments. The container itself was built with gold sides and two golden angels atop. It was built to be a seat for God as he interacted with the Israelites while they wandered the desert. After they settled and built the temple, the ark resided there until the Babylonian conquest of Israel, at which point the Ark disappeared.  

One important thing about the Ark is that it was always what led the people. As the Israelites wandered; the ark was carried in the front of the procession. As Joshua led the people to finally cross into the Holy Land, it was the ark that led the way. When the Israelite army marched to war, they followed the ark.  

Quite literally, the Hebrews followed God’s commandments as they went. Wherever they went, the were following the promise that God made that God would be present among them. For hundreds of years, this Ark served as the object that reminded the people of not just the commandments it contained, but of the covenants God had made with them as God’s faithful people. How strong a visual is that to, for a wandering people, to always see ahead of them a sign of God’s commandments and God’s promises!  

Though we no longer have the ark, we still have many signs and symbols of God’s covenants, and we can do our best to let ourselves be guided by the promises of God. Of course, the story of God’s faithfulness did not stop at the giving of the law, but continued with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  

In these wandering times, where what is before us is unclear and we do not know when we can return to the way things were, we can still be the faithful people following the command and promises of God that are before us. We might make for ourselves a physical reminder – no replacement for the ark and certainly not an idol of worship; but find for ourselves that symbol of our faith we can cling to when we feel like we are wandering and need something to lead us. We can still place the command and promise of God before us and follow it, trusting that God is faithful to the promises God has made.  

 

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 – May 11, 2020: Peter walking on water

Today's devotion is about Peter walking on water, found in Matthew 14:22-33. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 11 

  

I know Jesus walking on water is the real miracle in this story, but I want to focus on what happens when Jesus calls Peter to him. So, yes, I meant it when I said this devotion is about Peter walking on water.  

As the story goes, the disciples recognize Jesus walking to them on the water. Peter cries out “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus replies, “come” and Peter takes a few steps before he gets scared and sinks. Jesus pulls him out and back into the boat. The important detail in what happens to Peter. He notices the strong winds and becomes scared. As he starts to sink, he cries out to Jesus, “Save me!”  

 Peter, in some ways, is working on cartoon physics. If you remember the old Roadrunner cartoons, as Wile E. Coyote would inevitably run off of a cliff, before he would fall, he would always hover until he looked down. In a sense, I think that’s what happens to Peter: he gets excited, gets on the water, and then he looks down.   

Physics being what they are, if we expect our own two feet to support us on water, we are always going to fail. That is also how it works for our faith. There are going to be times when we feel strong and wonderful and our own two feet might, for a time, support us. Then there are going to be times when we look around us and we look down at our own to feet to save us when we are in an impossible situation and of course, as soon as we look down, we are going to fall.  

From Peter in this story, I believe we learn where to look as we look to build our faith. If we are just looking down at our own two feet as we try and build our faith or as we try and carry ourselves closer to God, we are going to be let down. Faith does not come from within us but from the one who is always calling and reaching out to us. 

Our eyes instead, look up. As surely as Peter looked down at his own feet and expected them to be enough to do the miraculous, he began to sink; as soon as he cried out save me, the hands of Jesus were already lifting him up.  

As we are all continuing to think through our faith, wrestling with what God is calling us to do and to be as the faithful people of God in these times, our eyes need to look up, not down. It is the command of God that tells us to walk which will allow us to do the miraculous. It is the faith that is sustained by keeping our eyes looking at God and not looking at our own feet that carries us through and gives us a hope this world cannot offer. And when we wander too far, it is the hands of God that lift us up and carry us safely back to the boat.  

 

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 – May 9, 2020: King Solomon & the infant

Today's devotion is on King Solomon and the infant, found in 1 Kings 3:16-28. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:

 

Devotion for May 9

            King Solomon was known for his wisdom. The most famous story of Solomon’s wisdom is the two women who come to him. They had both given birth in the same place on the same day, and one of their children died. They both claimed the baby as their own, and they brought their dispute to Solomon to decide. Solomon tells them that he will compromise by cutting the baby in two, and to give half to each. One woman accepts this proposal; the other woman protests, saying she would rather the baby go to the other woman than see the child die. Solomon stops, and says that the child should go to her, because the rightful mother would rather see the child live with someone else than die.

            For a family member or friend, we are willing to give up a lot. For our best friends or family, we would all say we’d do anything for them. We’d do everything we can to keep them safe.  We all, at some level, understand the way this woman is willing to see her child live with someone else rather than the alternative.

            For us, we see in this story of Solomon the truth of the love that is willing to give up for a loved one.  Lately, we have given up a lot. As a church, we have not been in our sanctuary since the middle of March. As individuals, we’ve given up seeing friends or spending time with people we care about. Birthdays, and now Mother’s Day, are all going to be celebrated under the cloud of Coronavirus and in ways that we might prefer to do otherwise.

            What may be a helpful reminder, as we all grow more and more tired of going without, is the reason why we are doing this social distancing. We may think it is not for us, or we would rather take on an individual risk. At its heart, though, these recommendations of going without and staying away are the things that we are doing to protect the people we love. They are difficult, they aren’t fun, and we all want this to be over. But like the woman who would rather see her child live, we make sacrifices we would rather not so that we can protect the vulnerable people we love.

             Even though this is painful, I find that this sacrifice is reminding me about the things that I care about and that are worth protecting. Not seeing my friends reminds me how important those friends are. Not being able to worship with my congregation is a reminder how important each member is to me. And because each of these things is so important and worth protecting, we make the sacrifice to go without so that we make sure they are still there when things return to normal.  

            So we sacrifice – not for ourselves, but for the people we care about the most. We make the daily decisions that protect others and keep others safe because it is in that love that we truly do what is best. It is the wise sacrifice of love that God calls us to make.

 

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 – May 8, 2020: being a new creation in Christ

Today's devotion is on being a new creation in Christ, found in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 8, 2020 

I remember an episode of the TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond,” where one of Ray’s kids accidentally destroys his favorite dictionary – a big thing for someone who is a writer. To make it up to him, the kid buys him an electronic one. The kid thinks “This is better!” while Raymond is still upset that he doesn’t have his old dictionary.  

I know I have made this observation before in my devotions, but the advent of Covid-19 seems like one of those events in human history where there is going to be a “before” and “after.” The way things were on January 1 of 2020 is likely not going to be the same as they will look on January 1 of 2021. There are some obvious ways the world will likely change – we’ll all be washing hands more, we’ll probably see more people wearing masks like is already common in Asia, and a whole lot of other things that we may not be able to predict.  

As with anything, change will mean taking on new forms, but letting go of the old. Even when change is undoubtedly positive and we are looking forward to a future ahead, there are still things which get left behind. Some of it is probably going to feel like giving up that old dictionary or that thing that is so important to us, when the thing that is “better” just doesn’t feel the same.  

Paul writes, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” For those who are all-too-eager to shed an old life, the news that the old has passed away and everything has become new is nothing but good news. For those who are looking to hold onto something, though, that Christ makes everything in us new may be a struggle.  

Jesus Christ is the same savior we have always had, in the midst of the changes around us. We can lament the things that will pass, yet we can still celebrate the new ways God is going to be at work in the world among us. Our task is the church is not going to be to get things back to exactly the way they were before – one of the lasting changes that came from the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic was many churches discontinuing use of the common cup during communion. While we can grieve and lament for some things that won’t be the same, our task is to work with Christ to restore what we can, but also to create a new way forward that is a faithful witness to Christ in our world.  Nobody knows all the changes this is going to bring, but we know that in all of the uncertainty Christ will still be working to reconcile all things of this world and make all things new.  

 

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 – May 7, 2020: Psalm 46

Today's devotion is on Psalm 46. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 7, 2020 

 

 You all may recognize this psalm by its first line: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” While we know it for the first line, I would recommend reading the whole thing – it’s really one of my favorites and may be particularly encouraging. And, you may be interested to know, this is the Psalm which inspired Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”   

In addition to its many encouraging verses, this is one of the psalms which has its own refrain repeated throughout the Psalm: “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” This isn’t the most creative image of this psalm. The psalmist writes, “we will not fear, through the mountains shake in the heart of the sea,” and “He makes wars cease to the end of the Earth.” In a psalm full of powerful images, it is the simple refrain that gets repeated.  

I like that simple approach. There are going to be days and times for us where the beautiful images seem a lot less beautiful. There are going to be days when the river that makes glad the city of God isn’t making us very glad, or that we feel the earth quaking more than we feel the God who is our very present help. I know for some of us, as things are strange and we all are separated from one another, or as hard as things might be for us right now, this isolation may be particularly draining. 

This is why, of all the images in this psalm, the simple refrain is perhaps my favorite part. “The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our Stronghold” works whether we feel it or not. I think so much of Christianity tries to sell people with the promise of happiness or something better that we forget that there are going to be days when we don’t feel it. Just like there are going to be times when we feel God present and near and we are riding high, there are going to be times where we go to worship and don’t feel moved like we did that one time when it was amazing.  

Whether you are in a high today, or whether you are in a low, I want you to know that God is with you. Whether you feel God close or if you just can’t ‘feel’ God at all, the promise is the same that God is with you, whether you feel it or not.  

 

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 – May 6, 2020: Joseph

Today's devotion is on Joseph, found in Genesis 37. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 6 

 

The story of Joseph (the son of Jacob, not the Father of Jesus) is a very up and down story. Joseph’s story starts with a vision in a dream that he would become powerful. Out of their jealousy, his brothers sell Joseph into slavery and fake his death, telling their father that his favorite son is dead. After time in Egypt, he becomes powerful only to be thrown into prison. Yet again, he rises to power through interpreting dreams and predicting a famine for the Pharaoh. Eventually his brothers come to him, at first not realizing who he is, trying to buy grain. It is a story with deep lows and tremendous highs, about betrayal and forgiveness. 

At the beginning of his story, one of Joseph’s visions is of his brothers coming before him and bowing down – part of the reason why they want to get rid of him. But it’s the action of selling him into slavery which starts the series of events that lead to the thing that they are trying to prevent. Without Joseph going to Egypt as a slave, he wouldn’t have eventually ended up in the position which he was able to help his family escape famine – when all his brothers cam and begged him for help. 

God still works good our of the situation Joseph’s brothers create. God is with Joseph in his time as a slave; God is with Joseph while he is in prison; God gives Joseph the ability to interpret dreams that get him out of prison and into the Pharaoh’s court.  

I can’t imagine that, as his brothers kidnapped him and sold him into slavery, that Joseph’s hopes were high. I can’t imagine after 2 years of staring at those prison walls that Joseph hadn’t lost a little bit of hope. After a month and a half of our isolation, I would also imagine that we ourselves have started to lose a little bit of hope, as hard as all this is. What I hope we learn from Joseph is that faith does not always mean things are going to be rosey, or that God is only with us when things are going well. We have the promise that even when things are at their worst, God is with us and working against the forces that hurt us.  

For us, in this situation, I think we can look around us and see all of the ways that out of this time, God is still working in our community. All of the crosses that went up around Easter; all the ways people are reaching out and supporting each other; and all the many ways we won’t understand until all of this is over – God is still at work through the workings of our community.  

 

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 – May 5, 2020: Noah and the flood

Today's devotion is on Noah and the flood.  To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 5 

 

When we are going through something difficult, and the only solution is to wait, waiting is a hard thing to do. Since so much of our lives have become more efficient, we end up not waiting as long or waiting for as much.  

Thinking about Noah and the flood – I can’t help but think about Noah sending out the dove to look for land. He sends out the dove once, and it returns because it couldn’t land. The second time, he sent out the dove and it came back with an olive leaf. Then Noah waited another week, and finally, the dove doesn’t return. 

The “wait for a week and see if anything has changed” aspect of this story is not one we think about much. Usually, I think the highlights of the story are Noah’s faith, Noah building an ark, and the rainbow. Those are the things we remember about Noah’s ark – not the long days of waiting on a boat for the water to go down. It makes sense – sitting around and waiting with nothing happening doesn’t make for a very good story.  

Right now, it may feel like we are sending out the dove to look for land as thing slowly start to open back up. But still, all we can do is wait. The dove is out; we have done all we can do, and just as I imagine Noah doing, all we can do is look on the horizon to see if the dove returns or not.  

Yet in our waiting, we have the thing that pushes us forward: the hope that the waters will subside, and that the life which has been preserved will go on when thing get back to normal. Even in this waiting, we know that God is with us, as surely as God was with Noah. What makes us different than Noah is that we are not alone in this world, and we have work to be doing while we wait. 

As we all watch the horizon for our sign that we can get back to normal, and while we spend frustrating days waiting, we can still be taking care of each other, making sure everyone’s needs are met. We can still find ways to serve God and our neighbor – that just means we are going to have to be creative and find new ways to do so.  

Just as God gave Noah the sign of the rainbow as a promise that never again will a flood overtake all the earth, I believe we find the promise that this pandemic is not our final word. We are in it, we are waiting, we maybe have even sent out the dove – but this is not where our story ends. In the middle of illness and death, we still find hope that our savior is with us and a brighter future is just beyond the horizon.   

 

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 – May 4, 2020: Paul and the storm

Today's devotion is on Paul surviving the shipwreck, found in Acts 27. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 4 

 

In this portion of scripture, Paul is a prisoner aboard a boat taking him on a portion of his travels to Rome. A storm comes up that threatens to sink the ship. Paul encourages the sailors, saying he has seen a vision and none of them will die, but they are going to have to run the boat on the ground and swim to shore. This lasts for two weeks, being tossed about by the seas doing their best to avoid a wreck. Paul leads them to decisions that lead everyone to dry land and safety. This leads to more miracles – people recognize who Paul is and come to him to be healed. All after a storm he rather would not have gone through, a trip to Rome to stand trial he rather wouldn’t have made, with people he didn’t plan to be with.  

Being tossed about for two weeks at sea is nobody’s idea of a good time. It just sounds like a bad cruise. It probably feels a little bit like the times right now – being tossed about by a storm that is out of our control wondering what is going to happen next. So many times in scripture, people find themselves in tough situations. Yet so often, God is still working in spite of the bad situations people find themselves in.  

The same is true for us. None of us would choose to stay inside our homes, or do the math of is it worth the risk to go to the grocery store or Wal-Mart. None of us would choose to go through a pandemic.  

Fortunately, what God is doing in spite of all of this is in God’s control, not ours. We can all probably find a silver lining or two – more meals as a family; more appreciation of the things that we miss. What we can trust in is the fact that God has not left us. As stressed or as anxious or as isolated as all of this may make us feel, God can and is working in spite of all that is happening. 

God is not behind every disaster or every bad thing that happens to us. But God is with us through them and working with us to stand up under our trials. In this, God is always faithful. No matter the situation, no matter the grief, anxiety, or loss, God is always by our side and working with us. 

God was with Paul in spite of his arrest. God was with Paul through the storms and all that came afterward. And through his presence, God helped Paul be a beacon of light, a calming presence in the storm, and a healing presence to those around him. That is what I hope we can be for those around us: a reminder of God’s presence through hard times; a light of hope to those around us, and a people who can help with the healing when all this returns to normal.  

  

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 – May 2, 2020: cost of discipleship

Today's devotion is on the widow’s offering, found in Mark 12:41-44. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 2 

The last several we’ve been doing drive-in worship in our parking lot, I’ve left in a space for our offering. I’ve asked each person who attends what they can offer to God and neighbor in these circumstances. We all still have something to give, and when we keep a broad understanding of what we give when we bring our offerings to church, we see that it is more than just money – it is a gift of our time and talents to work towards the kingdom. As the world could use more people offering their faithful gifts with and to one another, what we can give is an important question for us to ask.   

This story from the Gospel of Mark is probably familiar. It compares the contributions of the rich, who come to the temple and give large sums of money, with the contribution of a widow, who put in two small copper coins. No doubt, by the standards of then and, in some cases, by the standards of today, which gift is the ‘bigger’ gift is obvious – the widow is giving less. Yet Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more that all those who are contributing to the treasury.” 

Two small copper coins probably did not feel like a lot to that woman. But she gave them anyway. In a time like this, when we are all staying home and not going out, it may very well feel like we ourselves do not have much to give. We certainly can’t live like we used to, and we may not be able to give of ourselves in the way we would like. We are all having to be creative with the things that we do and the ways we stay in touch.  

 What I hope to have emphasized in reminding us all of the many ways we can give is that we are still able to give. We aren’t helpless and we aren’t just waiting for all this to be over. We still have our baptismal calling to be a part of the Body of Christ and to do all of the things that calling means. We still have a mission to love God and serve our neighbor. As different and as strange as things are, we are all able to give. We can call and check in on our neighbors. We can be the community we want to be and we can still be the Body of Christ in this world.  

Out of small gifts, good things can grow. Out of the simplicity of our gifts, as small and insignificant as they might feel, they can carry the greatest weight. Out of the two small coins that widow gave came a message that is still in scripture for all of us to see and hear. No matter how small the gift, we can still play our part in building the kingdom.  

 

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 – May 1, 2020: parable of the sower

Today's devotion is on the parable of the sower, found in Matthew 13. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for May 1 

 

Above my desk, where I work, I usually keep a row of sticky notes with quotes I come across that stand out to me and I want to remember. They usually stay there until they find their way into a sermon or devotion, or until the sticky note falls off. One quote that was there for a while was from Dag Hammarskjold, a Swedish diplomat whose edited journal told the story of his faith life and was published as the book Markings. The book is something like a list of proverbs – little bits of wisdom that he self-edited from his journal. One of the quotes that stood out to me from it is, “He who wants to keep his garden tidy does not reserve a plot for weeds.” I’ve found that to be a good reminder for me in a lot of ways. 

Looking at the parable of the sower in Matthew, it is one of the few parables that Jesus explains later. As he explains it, the Son of Man is the sower, the children of the kingdom are the wheat, and the weeds are what has been sown by the devil. Eventually, God will come and separate the weeds from the wheat. 

In this separation, I think it’s more complicated than “There are good people, and then there are bad people, and God’s going to separate the two.” The way I see it, there are things in my life that are good, and that I trust are from God. There are also things in my life that are weeds, which certainly aren’t from God and hold me back from doing the things I should. I hope that God is going to separate me from the weeds. 

What I like about that Hammarskjold quote is how pointedly it speaks to me about all the ways that I leave space for the weeds to grow. A farmer doesn’t reserve a plot for weeds, and if we look at our lives as a garden, it’s not helpful for our own growth to do that, either. Yet how often, through excuses of busyness or whatever else do we leave space for bad habits instead of reserving that room for the good things from God? 

Part of the good news is that God loves us as we are – weeds and all. Yet I also believe that God loves us enough to not leave us as we are. We live under the hope and promise that we can, with the Holy Spirit guiding us, live more faithful lives. Part of that means the weeds we hold onto and make space for are going to have to change.  

The explanation of this parable ends with this: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” As we remove the weeds from our lives – or let God remove them for us, we shine with a light for the world to see. We live in ways that better reflect how we want to live: shining in the kingdom with our Father. 

 

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 30, 2020: Lamp under a bushel basket

Today's devotion is on Jesus teaching his disciples to let their light shine before others, found in Matthew 5:14-16. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 30 

The shared vocabulary of most churches often includes talking about things in terms of darkness or light. Even in our culture, I’ve heard the phrase “dark times” to describe what we are going through right now.  

If you dig a little deeper into this metaphor, it makes a very important point. Darkness is not something that competes with light. It’s not even the opposite of light. It is the absence of light. There’s no way that darkness can come into a lighted room. There’s no way that darkness can overcome light – it’s just the absence of light. This makes an important point: if these are “dark times,” or if things feel dark, what is the solution? Light that illuminates the darkness.  

In this passage, Jesus tells the disciples that they are the light of the world. Not that they should be; they are the light of the world. This isn’t something we aspire to right now. Whatever we are doing, whatever witness we provide, whatever ways we act as a part of the body of Christ is how we are being the light of the world right now. That’s a tall order. It always makes me reflect on what I am doing and if it is enough, because the world could always use more light in it.  

The baptismal liturgy of the Lutheran church includes a lighting of a candle accompanied by these words, found in this passage of Matthew: “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” It’s not just the pastor’s job to be the light. It’s the job of everyone who has ever been baptized. It’s what our parents signed us up for when the brought us to have the water and what we claimed as our own in our confirmation.  

You may be tired of me saying “reach out and take care of each other. God loves you” a the end of every devotion. I keep saying it because if you remember nothing else from these devotions, I want you to remember that you still have a part to play in all of this. We are not helpless bystanders as the coronavirus runs its course – we are the light of the world. There are things each of us can do to be a light for someone. We can call, we can text, we can email, we can make a trip to the store, or do one of the many creative things we see people doing around us. We are all in this together – and we all need a little more light. Remember, you are that light for those around you. 

 

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 29, 2020: Lost Coin

Today's devotion is on the parable of the Lost coin, found in Luke 15:8-10. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 29 

The song, “Amazing Grace” was written by an anglican pastor named John Newton. As good as the song is, I think it is so powerful to so many because it is written by a man who deeply experienced the grace he put into words. He wrote the song in 1772 after a life that most clergymen wouldn’t be proud of. 

At age 11, Newton followed his father into becoming a sailor. Due to his disobedience towards authority, he was pressed into service in the Royal Navy, which he deserted. After his desertion, he became a slave trader, and once again so angered his shipmates he was himself enslaved in Sierra Leone. He was rescued by his father and began sailing again, and began reading a prayer book, though not yet faithful. After having a dangerous experience when his ship almost capsized in a storm, he caught himself yelling “Lord, have mercy upon us!” and wondered if he was worthy of receiving such a mercy after the immoral life he had led. This started his path towards renouncing his previous life, embracing his faith, and eventual ordination as an Anglican preacher.  

The Biblical connection I’m making today is the parable of the lost coin, which tells of a woman who, out of ten coins, loses one. She searches high and low, until she finds it and celebrates with her friends. At this point, Jesus says, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Or, as John Newton put it – “I once was lost, but now am found.” 

We often think of ourselves as the one searching for the kingdom – placing everything in our power and control to bring us to God. Just as much (or, in Newton’s case, as little) as we search for the kingdom, we know that the kingdom is always searching for us. We can find God’s kingdom in this world if we look for it, no doubt. But when we aren’t feeling connected, when we aren’t feeling faithful or whenever our faith runs dry, we have the promise that God is searching for us like this woman searching for her lost coin. No matter how far we stray or no matter how far we see someone go away, God is still always reaching out, searching, and drawing in that person back towards the kingdom.  More than anything, our faith is in the Kingdom’s ability to find us when we are most hidden. As far as we may feel from each other or the church since we cannot worship, know that the kingdom is close.  

  

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 28, 2020: Pearl of great value

Today's devotion is on the pearl of great value, found in Matthew 13:45-46. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 28 

There’s a Sherlock Holmes story where he’s trying to recover something stolen, and knows that there is a hidden safe in the room. In order to figure out where it is, he has Dr. Watson burn some magazines outside of the window and yell “Fire!” while he is talking to the thief indoors. As the smell of smoke fills the room, Holmes figures out the location of the safe. How? As he puts it, just as a mother would look towards her child’s room in the case of a fire, the thief looked toward the safe – the most valuable thing they had.  

Where we look when things go bad usually tells us what is important to us. We look to our family, God, friends, and all sorts of people and all sorts of places. Now more than ever, we have a good understanding of where we look. As this crisis continues, we are all looking to the things that are most important in our lives. Where have you been looking?  

Matthew writes, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” The kingdom according to this parable has such value that it is worth staking everything we own on it. In times like these, I think that’s even more important to remember.   

It’s also important to remember that there is an aspect of the kingdom that is already available to us here on earth; theologians speak of the ‘now and not yet’ aspect of it. When things get hard, it’s easy to see the brokenness around us and remember the not yet. But we can’t forget that aspects of the kingdom are still a present reality.  

As much as we are willing to spend time and energy and give of ourselves for those people we value the most, we can and should be willing to spend the same time and energy not only searching for the kingdom among us, but doing everything we can to contribute to building the kingdom here on earth. We build the kingdom when we love God and love our neighbor. We build the kingdom when we take care of one another, reaching out in love. We build the kingdom whenever we live in a witness to the resurrected Christ. 

Looking for the kingdom is not looking for something in the future or something far off. Christ is present among us now. It is as real and as present as the pearls of this world we clutch when things go wrong. And, though we will never be perfect, the work of searching that one fine pearl and putting all that we have to attain the kingdom here on earth is something we can still be doing even in crisis.  

When things get hard, the world needs people who are that witness to the one thing that can save us. When people are stressed and anxious, we need the peace only the kingdom can offer more than ever. So we search and strive for this pearl of great value, and put everything we have into it.  

 

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 27, 2020: Genesis 1

Today's devotion is on the creation story, found in Genesis 1. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 27, 2020 

 

The Bible opens with these words: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”   

The way I have always thought about this story of creation is God bringing order out of chaos. The world was created out of a formless void, when darkness covered the earth. Out of that, God creates the night and day, all the plants and animals, humanity, everything. And God saw that it was good.  

One of the biggest mistakes we make about the creation story is that we think it ends on the sixth day, after which God rested. Yes, God rested, but then God got back to work. The creative work of God has never stopped in this world, and it is not a story that is just found in the Bible, but is a story written on the beauty of the earth and in the heart of every person. God is still creating – still at work to create order out of chaos.  

With the coronavirus going around and all of us learning our new normal, it probably feels a bit chaotic – or at least frustratingly out of our control. What I try to remember when things get chaotic is this creative work of God that continues in the world, which will eventually bring order out of chaos. Chaos does not have the final say, nor is it the final state of being. When things feel like a formless void, and when darkness covers everything we see, this story offers the comfort of a God who’s sprit sweeps over the chaos and works in us and among us to still the storm around us.  

The oldest story is God bringing order to chaos. We see it happen time and again in the stories of scripture. Out of love and faithfulness, God time and again brings order and peace to his people, in spite of their best efforts to do otherwise.   

God looks at what God has made and calls it good. As much as a fallen humanity may bring it back toward chaos, as much as forces that are out of our control move throughout this world, God is always working on bringing order out of chaos. For all that is happening now, I think this is important to remember. What God has made is good. God has made you, made me, made everyone in God’s image. God has made this beautiful earth we live in. And out of this chaotic time, God will still create and it will still be good.  

 

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 25, 2020: the Binding of Isaac

Today's devotion is on the Binding of Isaac, found in Genesis 22. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 25 

 

God’s role in this story can be a confusing one. God tells Abraham to take his son, Isaac, and go sacrifice him on a mountain. Abraham obeys, until at the last minute, as Abraham is bringing the knife down, an angel stops him and tells him not to do this. It’s a hard story to swallow – asking a father to kill his son as a test of his faith. However, as with most things, I think it’s a little more complicated than that short summary.  

Isaac, seeing Abraham with everything for a sacrifice but a lamb, asks his father where it is, and Abraham says, “God will provide.” As soon as the angel stops Abraham, he looks up and sees a ram caught in a thicket for the sacrifice. God did exactly as Abraham told Isaac – God provided a ram for the sacrifice. Because of it, Abraham names the place “the Lord will provide.” 

This story is about two things – humanity’s willingness to give things up to God, and God’s faithfulness to humanity. God’s faithfulness is assured – the Bible is the story of God’s faithfulness to us, and we know the promises that we received in our baptism. We can count on that half of the equation.  

The story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac is a hyperbolic example of our willingness to give things to God. Unfortunately, I think sacrifice is something that we don’t always deal with well. When we’re asked to give things up, or give of our time, or make a real sacrifice in service to God or our neighbor – big or small – it’s not a willing sacrifice. 

I wonder if we aren’t learning about the good sacrifice can bring. Right now, we are all staying home to take care of the most vulnerable people in our society. For any of us, this is a sacrifice. We are giving up a lot of things we care about. But as I’ve been calling around and talking to people, I don’t know if I’ve had a conversation where people haven’t found some sort of silver lining in all of this. People are eating dinner together, and spending more time with family. People are doing puzzles, board games, and calling their parents a lot more. And I feel like all of the nasty political divisions – even in an election year – have taken a backseat to the feeling of togetherness this has brought out.  

Sacrifice is something that can reconnect us with what is important. I know the first Sunday we are all back together in the sanctuary is going to feel like the greatest homecoming Sunday we’ve ever had. We’ve all given up a lot more for a lot longer than we planned to for Lent, and we’ve given up a lot to save lives of the most vulnerable.  

What I hope we remember for today in this story is not the fright or the shock, but Abraham’s faith that “God will provide.” Just as Abraham walked up the mountain knowing that God would provide another way, we can walk through this time of isolation, knowing that God has given us a community that cares, people around us who look after us, and the promise that God will see us through.   

 

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 23, 2020: Return from Exile

Today's devotion is on the return from Exile, as told in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 23  

 

One of the major stories of the Old Testament, told and spoken of in many books, is the time of Babylonian captivity. In short, the Babylonian empire conquered the kingdom of Israel. The Babylonians destroyed the temple, and scattered many Israelites throughout different parts of their empire to divide the leadership and prevent an uprising. For 40 years – one generation – these people lived scattered throughout the Babylonian empire and were unable to worship as they had. Eventually, they were able to return to Jerusalem as Babylon fell to the Persians. The Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell about the story of the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the temple.  

The exile and return is one of the key storylines of the Old Testament that underlies the messages of the Prophets. Ezra and Nehemiah, however, deal with the “return to normal.” It is a slow, years long process, which meets with disruption and resistance. Ultimately, however, these books are a story of God’s faithfulness over the generations.  

What I want to point out of the history of the exile is the sustained faith that lasts a generation. For forty years, people were exiled. Forty years of deaths, funerals, births, marriages, any life milestone you can think of. For forty years, the people went without a sacrifice or offering in the temple. For forty years, they couldn’t go to where they felt at home with the people who spoke their language.  

As we think of our own kind of exile, and can’t wait for all of this to be over, I think the exile is a good reminder of the sustained faith over time that is witnessed to in Scripture. We are right about at a month of the effects of the coronavirus, and for many of us it likely feels longer as our routines have become disrupted and we feel the harsh effects of this prolonged separation. After a month, we are all tired of this and can’t wait for this to be over. 

Yet we can’t let our faith waiver. The story of God’s faithfulness is one that is sustained over time. As long as this feels, and for as long as this “exile” lasts, we cannot let our faith waiver. Ezra and Nehemiah speak about the hardship of a return to normal, of the difficulties of rebuilding. But they also bear witness to a people who have remained faithful to God and who God has brought through hard times and restored.  

 

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 22, 2020: Meshach, Shadrach, Abednego

Today's devotion is on the fiery furnace, found in Daniel 3. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 22 

This story is full of big names. The story goes that King Nebuchadnezzar built a golden statue and commanded everyone to worship it. The punishment for those who didn’t was to be thrown into a fiery furnace. As you can imagine, most people obeyed, except for three men who were brought before the king, named Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego. They were thrown into the furnace, yet in the midst of the flames, four men are seen walking around in the fire, unharmed. Nebuchadnezzar is shocked and goes to the door and calls for them to come out; and they come out unharmed. Nebuchadnezzar says “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him.”  

 What is the witness of those three men who were thrown into the furnace? They were given a choice: commit idolatry, or the furnace. In that situation, they choose to remain faithful to the God of Israel. It begins with their willingness to sacrifice, and it ends with the faithfulness of God using their witness to change hearts and minds.  

Idolatry today doesn’t look like golden statues or bronze calves. Our choice isn’t even one between idolatry and death. Yet so often we choose idolatry. The problem behind modern idolatry is that it so often hides behind a cross-shaped lie, offering a promise that only our God can. Empty promises of wealth or power in this world often overcome our faithfulness as we bow before the idols of money and status. Television and Facebook eat away our time with the promise they can keep us entertained and happy – which they may, but at what point could our time be better spent in service of God’s kingdom?  

Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego remind us the importance of worshipping the right God in the middle of trials. As we wander through this pandemic, and look all around us for answers, we need to pay attention to the one God who has saved us. We need to put first our faith in the one who suffered, died, and was raised for us. Yes, we should listen to the experts and stay informed. That takes about 10 minutes a day. We should also take care of one another, remembering that the greatest commandment is to love God and love our neighbor. 

Christina and I have a gift that hangs in our hallway that says “Live in such a way that those who know you but don’t know God will come to know God because they know you.” It’s a tall order that I hope to live up to, but I like it because it is a reminder that I see every day. Particularly in a time when everyone is looking for something or some sign of hope, our witness needs to be to the thing that only our God can offer.   

  

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 21, 2020: Call of Samuel - 1 Sam 3

Today's devotion is on the Call of Samuel, found in 1 Samuel 3. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 21 

  

The story of Samuel’s call goes like this: Samuel is a boy living with Eli, lying down in the temple when he hears a voice calling “Samuel, Samuel.” He goes to the priest Eli, who was losing his eyesight thinking that Eli needed something. Eli says, No, I wasn’t calling you, go back and lay down. This happens again until Eli realizes that it is God who must be speaking Samuel’s name. Eli gives Samuel instructions to, the next time he hears the voice, say “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Samuel does this, and receives his first prophecy.  

I once read – and for the life of me I can’t remember where to give proper credit – someone make the point that all to often in prayer, we get this passage wrong. Eli teaches Samuel to say “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” while so many of our prayers might as well be phrased “Listen, Lord, for your servant is speaking.” Particularly when we turn to God when things are out of our control, how often do we try to give God the answer that we want instead of listening for God’s voice speaking to us? I know I catch myself doing this, from time to time.    

Listening is something harder to do than most of us would like to admit, even when it comes to our faith. A hard part of listening is giving up the time and control of what is happening to someone or something else. Particularly when we don’t hear the voice calling us in the way that Samuel does, it becomes easier to make prayer a one-way conversation where we tell God our plans and give all the reasons why God should listen to us. I’m guessing, too, as we are all struggling with things outside of our control in this pandemic, the temptation is to tell God what God should be doing right now, rather than taking the quiet time to say “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” 

 I’m not saying we should ask for things that we want in prayer. The point I want to make with this, is that prayer is better when it is a two way conversation. As a child, the first prayers we learn are ones that we recite. Children learn the Lord’s Prayer through hearing it repeatedly in church; they learn mealtime and bedtime prayers from parents, and at their simplest form, we teach them to recite – which is a good thing! But as we grow up, we are taught less to take the time to listen for what God has to say. Just as those prayers took practice to learn when we were children, listening, too, gets better with practice. If we never take the time to learn to listen, or to practice listening to God, it’s not a surprise it’s something we don’t always do well. So through the rest of this pandemic, when things feel out of our control, and we turn to God in prayer, let’s all try to remember what Eli taught Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” 

 

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 18, 2020: Peter’s forgiveness

Today's devotion is on Peter’s forgiveness, found in John 21. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 18 

  

There’s a lot in this reading. I could talk about the three denials, and now the opportunity for Peter redeem himself three times. I could talk about the different words for love here used in the Greek. But given all that’s going on, what is standing out the most to me is Jesus’ words after this:  “Follow me.” 

How do you follow someone? In the language of social media, it usually means clicking like or subscribe. You might follow the career of an athlete by paying attention to what they do in their career. In either case, the word follow is something that’s done from a distance. But I don’t think that’s the kind of ‘following’ Jesus is asking for. 

There’s the other way of following, where one person leads and another walks behind them. This is what I think Jesus is asking for – a real, physical, walk where I have walked kind of following. Not only that, Jesus indicates the kind of death Peter is going to experience, and THEN says “follow me.” He asks Peter three times, “do you love me?” Three times Peter answers yes. Then Jesus says “follow me.” 

Following Jesus isn’t meant to be easy. Too many televangelists or prosperity preachers offer the false promise that Christianity is somehow going to suddenly make your life easier. It can offer something more fulfilling, that’s for sure, and a path that is closer to God. But it cannot make life easier at the snap of a finger. 

Times like these can remind us of the challenge and difficulty of following Jesus – and not just Facebook following, but really following. The path is not always clear. If it is clear, it is not always easy. And other times, it isn’t clear or easy.  

For a lot of us, dealing with the coronavirus hasn’t provided a clear or easy path forward, and we might all be wondering how we follow when we aren’t leaving our homes. But there is the one thing Jesus tells Peter to do that we can always do to join the work of Christ in the world: Feed his sheep. When things get confusing, we can always look our for our neighbor and do our best to take care of them. Right now, as we are all so isolated, the greatest thing we can do to cure isolation is to pick up the phone and call a friend or someone who may not have much family to call them. We can feed Christ’s sheep and follow him.   

 

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 17, 2020: Paul’s Conversion

Today's devotion is on Paul’s conversion, found in Acts 9. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for Friday, April 17 

 

This week, the theme has been Jesus’ resurrection appearances. So far, I’ve been focusing on Jesus’ appearances to the eleven immediately following his death. When we talk about resurrection appearances, we usually don’t talk about Paul. Though he calls himself an apostle, he was not one of the 12 disciples. But he calls himself an Apostle because he shares the experience of seeing Jesus after the resurrection. 

Paul, as you likely know, originally started out as a Pharisee, who after Jesus’ death, was a part of those who were persecuting Christians. The book of Acts tells us Paul was present when Stephen, who was one of the 12, was stoned to death. Paul persecuted Christians with zeal until he sees the risen Jesus.  

Paul, known as Saul, is traveling to Damascus to purge the synagogues of any Christians. All of a sudden, he sees a bright light and is blinded, and hears a voice, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Paul asks who are you, and the voice said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Then Jesus gives instructions for Paul to continue to Damascus and be healed.  

Seeing the light and hearing the voice – we understand that this is Jesus who is appearing to Paul on the road to Damascus. But Saul has already seen Jesus. Look how Jesus says “Why do you persecute me?” He doesn’t say my disciples, or my followers, or them or the church. Why do you persecute me? 

 Paul, in the witness of the martyrs, has already seen Christ. As we read Paul’s letters, he understands the Body of Christ to be made up of all believers – that we are one body in him. How true is this for Paul?  

We focus on the extraordinary, the bright lights, the voice from heaven. But, in day-to-day living, we don’t see or hear those things. But we can still see the very presence of Christ in all the people around us. There is nobody who is not created in the image of God. There is no one, who Christ is not calling or reaching out to. The work of Christ is present in all that is made and in everyone who bears his image.  

I know for us in the middle of a pandemic, we are probably looking around and wondering where is God in all this. The more we pay attention to the news, the more the bad is brought close, and the farther away God might feel. But we cannot forget that Christ is already present around us. If we are looking for our own post-resurrection appearance of Christ, we can already find him in the beauty of what he has made.  

 

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! We are still the people of God, called and on a mission. Take care of each other. God loves you, and so do I.  

Daily Devotions – April 16, 2020: Jesus’ appearance at the lakeshore

Today's devotion is on Jesus’ appearance at the lakeshore, found in John 21. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 16 

 

I’ve been doing a lot of wondering about what the world is going to look like when we don’t have to social distance any longer. There’s probably no question that things aren’t going to go back to just the way they were before. I don’t think any of us have the answers for what things will look like in the aftermath. But I think we can be optimistic that, at least for a while, we’ll be kinder to one another and appreciate things more. 

Certainly, as I’ve pointed out, the resurrection is one of those things that there’s a distinct “before” and “after” on. Yet what I’ve always found fascinating about this reading from John is that when Jesus comes back, he finds the disciples exactly as they were: fishing. Especially since John spends so much time – chapters 13 through 17 – talking about Jesus’ teachings about the future of the faithful after Jesus is glorified, you’d think the disciples would be prepared. And what happens? Here they are, back fishing and returning to their former way of life before they became Jesus’ followers.  

This might be a good time to actually take some steps and plan for what you want to be different, when this is all over. We can make something positive come out of this. We can make plans for spending more time with family. We can make plans to do what we miss now that we can’t wait to do when all this is over.  

When our worlds are rattled like this, it is often a good time for reflection and   

 

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 15, 2020: The Ascension of Jesus

Today's devotion is on the Ascension of Jesus, found in Luke 24. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for Wednesday, April 15 

 

The ascension narrative here in Luke may very well be the perfect reading for a pandemic. A whole lot has happened, it doesn’t make sense, and everyone is trying to figure out what to do. All of a sudden, Jesus appears among the disciples. In this post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to a confused group of disciples, we find a lot of reassurances we could very well use right now as we deal with the effects of the coronavirus. 

The first thing Jesus does is to comfort his disciples – some of which are more afraid than anything else. He shows his hands, his side; he eats and drinks. His first words to them are “Peace be with you.” As often as we say that in service, we may very well overlook the significance of what we are saying to each other.  

The second item worth remembering in a pandemic is that we are still commissioned as disciples. Jesus calms this frightened and anxious group and sends them to tell the message of what they have seen. We can still do that.  

The third thing we can look at is the disciples’ reaction to these events. After Jesus’ ascension, Luke tells us “they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” While we may not be able to go to church in the same way, there is no reason we cannot make space for the holy and continuously worship God.  

In this reading we find words of comfort. We find our calling, to go and tell people about what we have seen. We find our reminder to give thanks and worship for all that God has given us? What more do we need for a pandemic?   

 We can’t forget that for the disciples, not much about the world around them had changed. It’s still a world that is every bit as dangerous as it was the day Jesus was arrested. The danger hasn’t changed. The pharisees and those in power who had Jesus crucified are still the ones in power. Yet the call is to tell the story in opposition to them. They are going and worshipping in the place where Jesus caused a scene and flipped over tables and chased people out. They are telling the Good News of Jesus in the city that shouted crucify him. And yet, they find comfort, they live out their calling, and they worship. 

For us, I think that is our same calling. Yes, we should stay informed and take every precaution that we can to prevent contracting and spreading the coronavirus. But we can also find comfort in knowing that though Christ ascended he is still here among us. We can still live out our calling to tell the good news of our Easter message. And we can still worship and praise God in all that we do.  

 

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 14, 2020: The Resurrection according to Mark

Today's devotion is on the resurrection according to Mark, found in Mark 16. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for Tuesday, April 14 

 

When we get good news – and I mean really good news – sometimes its just so good we can’t help but tell anyone. News about engagements, pregnancies, births, and other big life events are the kind of thing we can’t help but tell. We even, for some things, still send out formal announcements or pay to put it in the newspaper. But whatever the good news is, we usually just can’t wait to tell someone.  

Looking at this last section of Mark, there’s a lot to it, if you are interested to read it. But the part I want to focus on today is the eighth verse. The angel tells the women Jesus is not here, he has been raised. Go and tell the disciples that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. Then Mark writes, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  

Imagine that – an Easter day where the first reaction is to tell nobody! Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Now be quiet! Somehow, that just doesn’t fit with what we see in church – usually, we’ve gone all out, gotten lilies to decorate the church, pull out all the stops with the organ, put on our nicest clothes, and sung the happiest hymns we have in our book.   

Unfortunately, I get the impression that’s the all-too-common ending of our Easter stories. We go to church, we hear the wonderful story, and then we don’t tell anyone because we are afraid that we will have an awkward conversation. We find this wonderful news that changes our life, and then we stay quiet!  

I pointed out in yesterday’s devotion on the great commission that in Jesus’ appearances, Jesus tells the disciples to go and tell the good news. It is all about a commissioning – one which is also found in Mark. The women, of course, eventually tell Peter and the disciples. But the disciples don’t believe them. Then, Jesus appears to two disciples – who then tell the rest, but they aren’t believed. Finally, Jesus appears to the eleven, with the commissioning to go and share the good news. 

I understand we can’t go and tell the good news in the ways that are familiar. We’re all having to get creative with a lot of things. And instead of “go and tell” we may need to figure a way to tell without “going” much of anywhere. It’s our responsibility to stay safe and stop the spread of the virus; yet it is still our responsibility to share the message and live in a way that is a witness to the resurrection. We are not a people of fear but a people of hope, and now is definitely a time where the world needs that message of hope.  

  

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 13, 2020: The Great Commission

Today's devotion is on The Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:16-20. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for April 13 

I mentioned last Monday that each week I try and have some sort of theme for the week in my devotions. This week after Easter, I plan to talk about the resurrection appearances of Jesus.  

The first resurrection appearance I want to talk about is what usually gets called “The Great Commission.” If you remember our Gospel reading from yesterday, Jesus tells the Marys to tell the disciples to go to and meet him on a mountain in Galilee. This is the scene on the mountain. Jesus says to his disciples, ““All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

 What is the point of Easter? Too often, I think the understanding is shortened to a kind of “Now, when I die, I get to go to heaven too” kind of understanding of our faith. Easter, in that perspective, is God making good on fire insurance. Starting today, and looking through the rest of the week: notice how in his resurrection appearances, Jesus will say nothing about eternal salvation. Don’t get me wrong: what Christ’s resurrection means for our salvation is huge, and very much worth remembering and celebrating. But we need to remember what Christ actually says, and not just hear the simple message we want to hear. 

The problem with only hearing “Now I get to go to heaven, too” says very little about our life here on Earth. And if we look at what Jesus tells us in the Great Commission, Jesus’ focus is on our life lived after the resurrection, not on what happens after we die. The great commission is about what do we do now, having this faith in the resurrection, and not just sitting around and reveling in our own salvation.  

Our job is to go and tell the story. To make disciples of all people – even the ones we may not want to go and talk to. Because Christ lives, we too, have a life to live, and it does not wait for the next world. We are a people with a story to tell, with the job of making disciples of ourselves and of all people.  

Most importantly is the departing promise Jesus gives: “And remember, I am with you to the end of the age.” We are not left alone in our task here on Earth because Christ is with us and Christ is for us. Our authority comes from the one who holds the power over heaven and earth. As bizarre as these times are, we have the comfort of Christ with us in our commission.   

 

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 11, 2020: Holy Saturday

Today's devotion is on Holy Saturday. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for Saturday, April 11 

 

One thing I’ve always wondered about is what happened the day between. We know Jesus died on a Friday, and was raised that Sunday. What happened Saturday? Unfortunately, scripture is silent on this. We don’t hear any perspectives on it, and what we are left with is our own reflections on what it might have been like. Regardless, I think we can understand a few things about the pain of this day. 

Peter had to sit with his betrayal. There was no forgiveness that Saturday. Peter had to sit and know that Jesus told him that he would betray Jesus, and he had objected so strongly only to do exactly what he did not want. Three times, he betrayed him.  

The ones who shouted Hosanna during Jesus’ parade into Jerusalem watched their savior tortured and killed. The hope that came with Jesus riding in as king was dashed as he was arrested and the crowds shouted, “Crucify him!” 

The disciples had to sit for a day with the death of their friend. You all know that pain. It hurts, and it hurts deep. To have witnessed your friend’s pain and anguish as he was publicly executed a criminal I can only imagine adds to that pain.  

As with any loss, there are just funeral practicalities that can take over in the days after death. Jesus’ body is taken care of, and the women go to anoint his body. Accepting the finality of the event, they try to do the things to honor their friend in his death. They are making plans for a world without Jesus.  

In short, the pain had to be experienced. There was no shortcut. There was no way around watching Jesus die. There was no shortcut past Saturday to find their way to that Easter morning surprise.   

We tend to not like sitting with things that hurt – and for good reason! Pain signifies something is wrong or broken, and tells us we should be doing something to fix it. Unfortunately, healing takes time, and so in the meantime, we have to sit with that pain on the way to healing.  

If there was ever a time that our society can understand what this Saturday was like for the disciples, it would be this time. We sit and wait for things to get better as it only feels like they are getting worse. There is no quick fix, and we simply have to sit with the pain. 

Yet we know what comes tomorrow. The earth will shake, the stone will be rolled away, and our pain is lifted. Despite our isolation and despite our inability to gather in the sanctuary, Christ will still rise, and we will still celebrate. 

And so, we have the hope to carry us through isolation and pandemic. We see the Easter promise, that on the other side of pain is wholeness. We see that after our pain comes the restoration and reconciliation – found only through that pain and suffering endured on the Cross. We have the hope and trust that God will carry us through.  

 

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 10, 2020: Good Friday - Moses healing people in the Wilderness

Today's devotion is on Moses healing people in the Wilderness, found in Numbers 21:4-9.  To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for Friday, April 10 

 

This is a story you probably don’t know, and you very well may be wondering why I am talking about the Old Testament on Good Friday when I should be talking about Jesus’ death. I promise: stick with me, and it will make sense.  

This story from the book of Numbers is about one of the many times the faithful turn away from God. God sends poisonous snakes, who start biting the people. They all come to Moses, recognizing their sin, and ask Moses to help them out. God tells Moses to make a poisonous snake, hold it up on a pole. Everyone who looks at it will be healed. So Moses makes a bronze serpent, puts it on a pole, holds it up, and whenever someone was bit, they would look at it and live.As a side note, this is where the snake on a pole in medical institutions or symbols comes from.  

.  So we know why it would make sense in a doctor’s office. Why does it make sense on Good Friday? In John 3, the story of Nicodemus, which brings us John 3:16 which we all know and love, there is a very important connection between this story of Moses and the work of Jesus on the cross. John 3:14-15 read “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believe in him may have eternal life.”  

Jesus in the Gospel of John makes this connection for us. Just as this serpent lifted on a pole would cure, so does this Jesus lifted on the cross. More than a cure, whoever sees and believes, this person will have eternal life. Yet who among the disciples saw? Who, when Jesus was dying, thought of this and saw comfort? Who saw the healing and the promise that was taking place before their eyes? Nobody.  

Good Friday is a dark day. In our service, we have usually stripped the altar and draped dark cloth over the cross. I’ll even turn the lights down lower than usual to add to the effect. It’s the day we tell the story of Jesus dying, and remember the pain of that moment – not just for Jesus, but for all who placed their hopes on him as it appeared they had been misplaced. Their king is dead.  

Yet just as Moses lifted up the serpent, so must the Son of Man be lifted up! Here he is for all to see – and we have placed him there, with shouts of ‘crucify him.’ As dark as this day is and was for those who experienced it, there remains for us who know the story the hope for tomorrow. As dark as the crucifixion is, there is a light on the horizon. And for us who await Easter morning in the middle of a pandemic, today where we do not gather in worship is especially dark. But as we look to the one who was lifted up, there is a resurrection hope and promise that awaits us Easter morning.  

 

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 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 - September 15, 2020: It is well with my soul

Today's devotion is on the hymn, It is Well with my Soul. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for June 9  

 

In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire roared through the city. Horatio Spafford, a lawyer and Presbyterian Elder, watched his many real estate investments go up in smoke. Two years later, he and his family planned a trip to Europe, hoping that it would be good for his wife’s health. At the last minute, he was held back to deal with zoning issues in Chicago (related to the fire) and sent his wife and four daughters ahead on the SS Ville du Havre. When news broke that the ship had collided with another and sank, he eagerly awaited news of his family and received a telegram from his wife days later: “Saved alone. What shall I do?” His four daughters had all drowned. He rushed to meet his wife as she was picked up and carried on to Europe. 

On his journey, the captain of the boat he was taking informed him they were near the point at which the SS Ville du Havre sank. Spafford took out his pen and started writing the words that are likely familiar to us: “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.” 

One of the things that I think is the most confusing to others about Christianity is the hope such as this that we express in the middle of our hardest times. As he passed the spot on the ocean where his daughters lay beneath him, Spafford dared to write, “It is well with my soul.” To someone who doesn’t know the meaning of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, those words make no sense at all. How can someone in all of that pain – and surely, having lost his daughters, Spafford was in unfathomable agony – dare to write those words? How can all of us who have ever sung that hymn at a funeral raise up in one voice and declare in the face of death, “it is well with my soul?” The presence of a God who is with us in spite of tragedy, who comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comforted, who lived, died and was raised so that we might share in that life – that is what gives us hope. Our God being faithful to the promises God has made.   

Even in these times, when cases of the coronavirus are increasing, when we are all tired of this distancing, we still have hope. While we are still not gathered in worship in the sanctuary, while we are not spending time with people in the way that we would like, we have a hope that the pains of this moment are not the final word. It’s the very thing that allows us to say in the face of pain “it is well with my soul” that gives us the hope and courage that we will get through this together.  

 

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 - September 16, 2020: lost sheep

Today's devotion is on the Parable of the Lost Sheep, found in Matthew 18:10-14. To listen to my devotion, click here. The transcript is below:  

 

Devotion for September 16 

  

Jesus asks what he things a shepherd would do if one sheep out of 100 was lost. His answer is that the shepherd would leave the 99 and search for the one that has gone astray. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that this is bad shepherding advice. How can a shepherd leave 99 sheep and go look for the one that is lost? Regardless of the metaphor, this is how much that one means to God – each of us, made in God’s image, is worth of being that one who God drops everything for and relentlessly pursues until we are found. Each of us, individually, that one in one hundred, is valued that much.  

For us, what does this say about what we are willing to do for the one person out of one hundred? With the statistics right now, it looks like roughly 1 in 100 people who get the coronavirus die from it (numbers vary, but let’s just go with 1 out of 100). The unfortunate thing about statistics about people is that it dehumanizes the people it represents. Because that one (even if they are one out of 100), is more than a statistic. They are someone who is worth something to somebody, and to God, they are the one person who is worth searching for when they are lost.  

I know we are all tired of this. I don’t like keeping track of whether my mask has been washed or not, or timing visits to stores when I think they’ll be least busy. I miss seeing my friends and spending time with people in person and not just digitally. We’ve cancelled vacation plans. Rearranged our lives.  

As we continue on – as tired as we are – remember that the one out of one hundred is worth dropping everything and looking for. Don’t become complacent. Think about how valuable that one  is to God. To their family. If God drops everything for us, certainly we can pick up a mask for our neighbor. If God can relentlessly search for that one out of one hundred, certainly we can care as much for that one person who we can help protect by all doing our part.  Though we may be tired, we  

 

 

 

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 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 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 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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