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Devotions from Pastor Glen - the week of 5-10-20

5/15/20

Galatians 5:1 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 5 1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Jesus Christ died on the cross to set us free from the burden of the law, from the burden of having to keep God’s laws perfectly. Nobody except Christ could keep God’s laws as we should.
Trying to be perfect is a burden indeed. Sometimes it’s a burden our parents lay on us, sometimes we do it ourselves. In any case, it’s a terrible way to live. Too many Christians, and too many Lutherans live that way, despite what Jesus did on Easter.
What are we to do? Simply remember that Jesus died and rose so we could be right with God. This rightness isn’t accomplished by our own effort, but simply by accepting forgiveness completely. All we have to do is repent and take God’s gift of grace. Such a gift is pure joy!
At any time in our lives, we can fall back into thinking we earn our righteousness. We may think we are right with God because we go to church. That’s slipping back into the burden and slavery of the law. Even worse, it can lead into pride and pride is the worst of sins because pride leads to all other sins. We may think we are better than others because we go to church, or go more often. We must always be on guard against such thinking.

Jesus Christ, catch us when we fall from grace into pride. Help us to accept grace always. Amen.

5/14/20

1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

“Sometimes I feel discouraged, and feel my work’s in vain” So goes a verse of There is a Balm in Gilead from our Lutheran hymn book. It is easy for any of us to get discouraged as COVID-19 lockdown continues on and on. It is discouraging to do good with no apparent acceptance or thanks. It happens to all of us occasionally. But part of our work that is just as important is how what we do changes souls. We may bake a loaf of bread for someone in need, and the person refuses to take it out of pride. We didn’t accomplish getting the person fed. But when we offer, we accomplish two other important things for good. First, the person we bake the bread for is more likely to realize there are people who are nice in the world, that Christians are nice, and you are nice. If he has been convinced the whole world is out to get him, your offer may help him. It may also be a step towards him accepting help the next time, or the time after, even if he won’t this time. Second, doing good reinforces in us a tendency to do good. Usually when we do good, the response encourages us to do even more good. But NOT getting a “reward” (thanks or acceptance) for doing good can still change us for the good. If we can keep from getting discouraged by a refusal to accept help, we may grow in our faith. We Christians, at our best, do good not so we get thanks, but simply because it’s the right thing to do. We may think to ourselves, “even if he didn’t accept my help, I still offered it, I did the right thing.” Most often, that’s true. Remember, if we change others’ souls (and/or our own) by our kindness, we make an eternal impact on others (and ourselves). CS Lewis said, “Each day, by our actions, we help others towards Heaven or Hell.”

Jesus Christ, help to follow your example. Help us not to be discouraged to do good, but to grow in goodness and continue in good works regardless. Amen.

5/13/20

Galatians 2:19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ…

The law the Apostle Paul refers to above is the Jewish law: 616 rules of living. Paul realized in his desire to follow each of these rules exactly, he missed the purpose behind the rules. That purpose was pleasing God. He was focused on rules, not God. Most Lutherans talk about grace, not laws. Yet it is easy for any of us to fall into trap that laws are the most important thing. It is easier in some ways to follow laws. They are most often exacting and easy to understand: you either keep them or you don’t. but if the purpose of the law is pleasing God, we fall far short of that when we follow laws in a prideful way. Laws don’t make us better people. Love makes us better people. Too often, we Lutherans talk about grace, but live as if the laws are enough, the laws are what we’re really concerned with. We memorize the 10 commandments. But how many of us have memorized the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:12? Laws mean nothing if we’re not pleasant to live with. Even grace means nothing if it does not free our hearts to reach out to others and love. Only by realizing that we can never fulfill the requirements of the law without God’s help can we be dead to the law but alive and joyful in God’s grace.

Jesus Christ, open our hearts so we may truly receive your grace, and live like we have received that grace. Amen.

5/12/20

Ephesians 2:10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Many people struggle with what to do with their lives. They may look for something that fulfills them completely, 100% of the time. They may also want something that pays well, so they can enjoy the finer things in life. But that is not God’s purpose for our lives. God thinks of our souls, not earthly recognition, fame or wealth.
John Wesley, the Founder of Methodist Church hit the nail on the head of what God wants and is a good explanation of the verse above: “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.” What matters most, Paul also states in Ephesians 2:10, is helping others. Helping others itself is fulfilling. Helping others pays well, not always in earthly riches but in heavenly riches. Helping others brings us joy and improves our souls, in turn makes us happier. By helping others, we will have satisfaction beyond any earthly treasure. Living life without helping others is the ultimate in selfishness.

Jesus Christ, teach us to help others as you did. Give us wisdom so helping others gives us the greatest joy. Amen.

5/11/20

Titus 3:1-2 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 3 Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.

This passage is a difficult one for us Americans. We are used to our freedom and used to being outspoken. And gentleness, while respected by some, is not appreciated by many Americans. A few Americans would even consider gentleness a weakness. Courtesy is not widespread in America today. So, the Bible passage above is a good one to ponder these dark days. It is especially difficult to read Paul’s advice to Titus now, when churches are ordered not to meet from concerns about spreading COVID-19. Yet some congregations remain regular worship as before. If you go back into history, there were similar incidents during the flu epidemic of 1918. At least one church pastor back then was even arrested for holding services. How do we reconcile all this from a Christian point of view? COVID policy pits young vs. old, urban vs. rural, and Democrat vs. Republican. The leaders of our country have a horrendous task. They have to balance a possible pain and loss of life from COVID against hardship, pain and even death (suicide) by those who are affected and unemployed during this shutdown. Sadly, people will die directly or indirectly from COVID-19, regardless. We Christians also have a horrendous task. We must respect earthly authority, yet to serve God is a higher concern. I suspect Jesus would give leaders the benefit of the doubt, follow their orders, while making sure leaders got all the information needed to make good decisions. Even if we feel we are wronged, we must be courteous and kind, that much is sure from reading today’s scripture. Ultimately, each of us, after prayer and thought, will need to do what we feel is God’s will for us and for America. How can we act in the most Godly way?

Holy Spirit, give our leaders wisdom beyond themselves. Give us wisdom, courtesy and gentleness so we can do what is right for everyone, even if it means sacrifice. Amen.

5/10/20

2 Timothy 4 (NRSV) 4 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.

In the words of a popular song of a few years ago, God is “watching us.” God is indeed watching us. As Paul points out to Timothy above, we are always in the presence of God. But what does this mean for our faith?
Generations past, parents used to scare kids into g2 Timothy 4 (NRSV) 4 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
In the words of a popular song of a few years ago, God is “watching us.” God is indeed watching us. As Paul points out to Timothy above, we are always in the presence of God. But what does this mean for our faith?
Generations past, parents used to scare kids into good behavior by stating, “God is watching you!” If we think of God as a judge or a parole officer, then we have a rather strained relationship with our Creator. If we encourage our kids to think of God that way, they will hardly ever turn to God for help. They will expect blame and punishment when they mess up so they’ll avoid God. And much of Jesus’ work connecting us to God will be in vain.
Nor is it completely helpful to think of God watching us “from a distance.” God really is concerned with every imperfection we have, because these faults hurt us and hurt other people. That’s why God wants us to eliminate all evil from our lives.
It’s not that God doesn’t see our sins, nor does God overlook them. Rather God sees those faults and the bigger picture at the same time. God wants us to be more and more perfect, but even if we are not, God loves us.

All-Seeing and All-Loving God, you want a relationship with us. You want to love us more than judge us. Help us to remember that. Amen.


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