Saturday and Sunday for God Pause's Devotion has the writer talk about hymns because hymns are a big part of our Lutheran heritage. The devotional staff gives you a big list of hymns to choose from. So the next two devotions will be how I see these hymns in the lens of Easter.
"Bless the Lord, O My Soul" (WOV 798)
Bless the Lord, O my soul;
bless the Lord, O my soul;
and all that is within me
bless God's holy name.
Text: Psalm 103:1
As we think about how Easter changes how we live in the world, this is a good hymn to memorize because it invites us to see the world in a new way. It invites us to ask some very important questions about how we live our daily lives. What does it mean to bless the Lord? What would it mean to take everything we are, everything we own, and everything we hope to be and use it to respond to the message of Easter? How would our lives be different? How would our world be different?
It might seem like a daunting task at first, but real change is made one small step at a time. I challenge you this week to make one small change that will bring you closer to living out the Easter message. How will you bless the Lord this day?
Awesome God, you have blessed us with so much in our lives. Help us to live with generosity and gratitude so that others may know your grace. Amen.
The hard truth is that many of our churches here in the United States are closing and dying because people don't want anything to do with organized religion. Given this reality, many of us may feel it is safer to stay within our walls than to venture forth into a community that is not as friendly to the church as it used to be. We may feel scared, just like the disciples who locked themselves away.
Into the midst of this fear, Jesus comes and tells them, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." We need to listen to the message of Easter and not be tempted to ignore it because of our fear. Jesus has told us to go into the world and spread the news. How will you or your congregation answer this call this Easter season as you live outside the walls of your building?
Lord of Peace, help me and my siblings in Christ overcome our fear of going into the world. Help all of your churches to leave their walls behind and spread your Easter message to friends and neighbors. Amen.
Prior to my call to ministry I was working as a nuclear medicine technologist. My job was to make people glow so that we could figure out how their organs were working. Now in the course of pastoral ministry I often think back to my time as a technologist and how ironic it was that a lot of my patients wanted to talk about spiritual matters during their hours-long exams. Unfortunately, for hospital staff this practice was frowned on. So, instead of talking about God, I was conscious of treating my patients as beloved children of God--even the cranky ones. Looking back, I can see that the results were amazing.
Our scripture reading for today reminds us that we are all priests in God's kingdom. Christ expects us to be his hands and feet. So how can you live this out in your daily life?
Our Alpha and Omega, help us embody your message of Easter in our daily lives. Help us to be your priests in a world that is in desperate need of your grace. Amen.
This is my second reflection from God Pause for the Tuesday following Easter. Again since we are in the season Easter I think this is still pretty relevant. Enjoy!
How long do you think the Easter glow will last if we just confine it to one day of our calendar year? A week? A month? Soon the realities of the world will come walking back to us. There will be a funeral for a loved one. We or a loved one will experience an illness. No matter how we hope against hope, there will be bad days and hard days ahead.
The psalmist invites us to sing, "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." How do we do that on our bad days? How do we do that when we are sick? When we live a life changed by the Easter message, it becomes a lot clearer. We realize we don't walk through life alone. We understand the joy the psalmist writes about, knowing we are in a relationship with God.
Loving Savior, remind us today how blessed we are to walk hand in hand with you. In the midst of our life, help us rejoice knowing that your grace is enough and has transformed us into the people this world needs us to be. Amen.
HI all! I hope you all had a great Easter. Things are settling down here a little at church, just a little. I was asked back in March if I would be willing to write some devotional material for Luther's Seminary God Pause the week after Easter. It was quite the honor to be asked so I was happy to oblige. I wanted to share each of these devotions with you over the next couple of weeks because I have had a lot of positive feedback around them and because we are in the season of Easter for the next several weeks. Let me know what you think and have a great week!
Acts 5:27-32 (NRSV)
27 When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them,
28 saying, "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man's blood on us."
29 But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than any human authority.
30 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.
31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him."
Yesterday was awesome, wasn't it? The soaring music, the life-giving, packed worship service, the marvelous meals, and the family gathering were all the stuff of legends. Another Easter in the books, and today we simply rest in the knowledge that all our hard work is done for this high holy holiday. However, our text reminds us today that Easter isn't just a holiday; it is a new way of living our lives. The disciples were so excited when Jesus showed up alive after the crucifixion!
Furthermore, they realized the implications of this seismic event in the history of time and space. It changed them. This story of resurrection spurred them into action like it does for us today, even in the midst of weariness. Nothing could contain their desire to let others know about Jesus and his victory. May we, too, be infused with holy energy to spread the gospel.
Risen Savior, help us to see that Easter is not just a high holy day but a new way of living our lives. Infuse us with your holy energy to propel our tired bones into living out your Easter message. Amen.
The text this week, is a parable that Jesus tells equating a vineyard to the Kingdom of God. In this story the land owner hires workers from the beginning of the day until the last hour before quitting time. Each one is told that they would get a fair day's wages. At the end of the day, all the workers receive equal pay. The first ones hired that day are furious how dare the land owner pay the later comers the same as them. The land owner responds that it is his money and he can spend it how he wants to period, end of story. The land owner wants to be generous with everybody for all their work.
This story can be hard for many of us American Christians to swallow. We live in a society that hard worker equals pay and more hard work equals even more pay. When I read this story the first time, I thought how unfair it was for the land owner to pay the late workers the same as the early workers, because the early workers did a lot more work. I think the problem that we have living in our society is that we equate work with value. The more work the more valuable of an employee we are. God has a different standard for us. This parable reminds us that everybody is valuable in God's eyes. That the last person, to do work for God is just as important than the first person.
What if we viewed other people like this? What if we saw the same value in them that God has? How would you treat people differently? The week give this a try and see how your relationships are different when you treat each person you meet the same way God treats us, with value.
The text this week has a very popular phrase that many of us might have heard if we grew up Christian which is "Take up your Cross and Follow me." It is easy to forgot what the cross stood for in Jesus' time, which was death and social stigma. If you had a family member who was crucified, it put the whole family to shame. This is different from today, where many people view the cross as a fashion accessory. What this saying reminds us about is that following Jesus is hard work and can put us into situations, were we are derided, shamed, physically assaulted, or even killed. Many of our African, Asian, and Middle Eastern brothers and sisters, know about these threats all too well. In America where there is freedom of religion as well as a Christian underpinning, we don't experience this as much. This doesn't mean that we don't ever experiences this.
I have many friends, who have worked to help people with drug and alcohol abuse. They have told me stories about in their quest to help them, get these people other resources, and to be there support network they have been ridiculed by others for helping these people out. "Why help out that scum bag, don't you realize how awful of a person they are?" "What is wrong with you helping out somebody who is just using you?" "Why bother, they will never quit!" These are some of the questions they hear all the time, from friends, coworkers, and even family members of the people they are helping.
This doesn't even cover the times when the people they are trying to help, get physical or verbal with them about trying to help them. They say stuff like "You drink, how can you be a hypocrite and tell me not too?" "I hate you!" "Why are you trying to ruin my life?" However, these fine folks feel God's pull to be in this field to help people as nurses, social workers, and counselors. They remember that Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus didn't just say love the likable neighbors, no he said all the neighbors even the ones who are struggling.
So when you pick up your cross this week and follow Jesus this week, what is that going to look like? How do you put your faith on the line to follow Jesus? How do you begin to follow Jesus command to love your neighbor, yes even the neighbors who are struggling; the neighbors that nobody else loves; and the neighbors who are all out of hope? This is hard work but this is what Jesus commands us to do when he asks us to pick up his cross and follow him.
Ahhh...February, this is the time of year that I experience my first time walking on water. I know it is frozen but I still walked on top of it! A friend of mine, wanted to take me out to his uncle ice shack so that we could do a little fishing. I had never done this before, and I was a little hesitate when we got to the lake because I had visions of falling through the ice. I put one foot on the ice and then quickly retracted it. My friend turned to see what the hold up was and sighed as he saw me at the shore paralyzed by fear. "Yo Paul, look" he yelled and then proceeded to jump up and down on the ice. "Stop it! You are going to die," I remember hollering back in a panic as I waited for him to fall through the ice. Nothing happened. He came back, took my hand and then suddenly we were on the ice. All the hair on my neck stood up as we walked across the ice to the shack. When we got there my friend just grinned at me "See silly, we are just fine." We were just fine and I felt a little foolish for not taking his word for it.
I wonder if I felt some of the same emotions that Peter did when Christ invited him out of the boat, onto the very non frozen Sea of Galilee? I bet he was nervous. I bet he was a little scared. Peter did take those first steps onto water and started moving toward Jesus. Then he realized what he was doing and he forgot who he was walking toward. Peter began to sink and cried out to Jesus, who prompted came over to him and helped him back onto his feet and then back into the boat. When they got back into the boat Jesus told Peter, "See silly, we are just fine."
Acting out our faith can be a scary thing. It is hard to go against the grain of many things in our current society. It is hard to help people that others have said we shouldn't help. It is hard to not react to people instead of listening to them. When we look around we feel that our faith can't help us, that the world is just that way, and that we may be drowning in all the business of what we "really need to do." Jesus reminds us that trusting in him, we are able to do extraordinary things. We are able to feed the hunger. We are able to help broker peace. We are able to make a difference in this world.
So what are you nervous about this week? Where have you felt your faith calling to you to act instead of staying on the side lines? Where do you feel yourself drowning in? Look up and throw your hand up to Jesus. With Jesus at your side, nothing is impossible. "See silly, we are just fine." When we listen to those worlds we change and so does the world. How does this change how you will behave this week? How will this affect how you will live?
The cold and snowy weather has made my Sundays a little more exciting as I navigate the roads between church and home. I apologize for not getting up a blog for last week, but due to the weather I had to leave the office earlier than I had hoped to which cuts down on my blog writing time.
So this week, we are in the midst of a couple of Parables. When I went to seminary, I took a course from Arland Hultgren on the the Parables. It was an awesome class and it made me understand a lot more about their unique teaching method that Jesus employed. One of the things I came away from this class was Jesus' Parables were really up for interpretation based on where we were as person.
Case in point, if we look at the parable about the woman and the leaven bread, we have to ask ourselves what does has to do with the kingdom of God? Leaven is an agent used for bread to rise. However, Jewish families during the Passover are required to take the leaven out of their bread. So is the leaven bad? 40 pounds of bread which would be the weight for 3 measures of flour, is the amount of flour that Sarah used for the three heavenly visitors that came to see her and Abraham. So does the parable talk about the woman waiting to have a divine visit?
These parables force us to grapple with ambivalent signs. Apparently, the coming reign of God is good news for some, but not for others. It brings both judgment and salvation. These parables also remind us life is not always black and white but shades of grey. What we do know is that God loves us and God wants us to live a Godly life which means we need to say we are sorry (repent) when we screw up. So what do these parables do for you? How do you see this ambivalent teachings? Do you feel they are good news or not so good news? Why?
Praying it is what we as Christians are asked to do on a daily basis, in good times, and bad times. Prayer is suppose to be as precious to us as breathing. Why then is it so intimidating to do? Why do people balk at praying? Why does everybody look to the pastor as the person who is the prayer professional? I think we are very much in the same boat as the people of the 1st century for whom this text was written. We feel that God only listens to the right language. The prayers we hear on television, on the internet, and in church seem to be full of flowery, theological (church language), and polished rhetoric. How can we as people who don't have reverend in our name hope to get God's attention?
This is where Jesus steps in today and shows us how to pray. Some interesting things about the prayer he teaches: (1) it is in Aramaic instead of Hebrew which is the language of most folks at the time where Jesus was at; (2) it is direct, in that it starts out "Our Father...", no fluffy language; and (3) it is for all, Jesus says anybody can do it, meaning you don't need any initials behind your name to pray. What Jesus was concerned with is what is on people's hearts. He wanted to give us a frame work so that we would feel at ease when we talked to God.
Now the prayer we hear Jesus pray in this text is not the Lord's prayer, which is a remix of some text from the Gospel of Matthew as well as the Gospel of Luke. However both of these prayers the one that Jesus uses and the Lord's prayer both help us do the same thing, which is to give us words and a frame work to use when we want to pray.
So what is holding you back from praying? Can't find the right words? Don't know how to begin? Jesus says God knows what is in your heart. God doesn't care whether you prayer is perfect. God just wants to hear from you, talk to you, and listen to you. This week, take some time, five minutes and just pray. Don't worry what to say, don't worry that it isn't "the right thing to pray about", and don't worry if it is too short. Give it a try. Then try it again, the next day and the next. When we do this, we begin to go from just believing in God to believing God. Then we can begin to see how God wants us to live, which is in relationship with God and that changes our lives.