Category Archives: Devotional

Sunburn

sunburn

I recently got sunburns across my legs and torso after lying on a raft in the water for several hours, even though I had worn sunscreen (that apparently washed off). In the days that followed, I felt the sharp sensation of the sunburn under my clothes as I went about my tasks at work and home. I realized that unless I told somebody, no one would know the burning I was feeling.

This made me think of the Emmaus disciples, who said one to another after they saw Jesus: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). They did not hide the burning sensation they felt in Jesus’ presence. They told people about it. “That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together,” the Bible says (Luke 24:33).

When has your heart burned within you, spiritually speaking? While reading the Bible? During prayer? When singing in church? Did you tell anyone about your experience? If not, it’s time that you do. We burn with the power of the Holy Spirit within us to tell others about our encounters with Jesus. The only way for others to sense that Holy Spirit’s fire in you is to speak of it. Say what Jesus has opened your eyes to. Explain what being a disciple of Christ is all about. Exclaim what joy you feel because your Savior is alive in the world. Let your burning heart for the Lord be revealed as often as you can with as many as you can!

The Heart of the Matter

heart matters

In the fourth century B.C., Aristotle proclaimed his belief that the heart was the center of the soul and that it affected emotions and how you were feeling and reacting to things. People in the Middle Ages believed that goodness and holiness could be physically revealed in the heart. Those who were found to have an enlarged heart, for example, were thought to be extremely loving and virtuous.

We in our modern medical age know better, of course. We know that the heart is just a muscle that pumps blood, not an organ that is the source of our emotional state. Yet, our hearts can be affected by emotions that come from our brains. Our hearts beat faster when we are afraid or in love. Our hearts slow down when we are feeling relaxed and comfortable.

The Bible talks about the role of our hearts in the spiritual sense as well. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). The heart is symbolically seen as a place where love comes from and where spiritual wellness resides, even to this day. But John reminds us in his epistle, “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20).

God is of more importance than the beating of our hearts, the condition of our physical bodies and our reaction to things here on earth. No matter how we feel or what our hearts are doing, God is in control and in charge of our lives. He knows us through and through. Out of his own heart, he sent his Son in love to us that we might be free from all that makes our hearts ache or break because of sin. He warms our hearts and fills us with faith that courses through us that we may not be swayed by emotions, but remain grounded in his grace. The heart of the matter in all things is Jesus.

Community

Community

The concept of community has changed a little in these COVID times. It has become much more broadly defined. A community is no longer just a group of people dwelling in close physical proximity to one another. Nor is a community only a collection of human beings meeting together in-person on a regular basis. A community can be a gathering of strangers and friends talking to one another on a Zoom call on their computers from various locations in the country. A community can be people sitting in their own homes watching the same event at the same time on screen. Community now means any way in which people are united through a shared experience.

We in the church must adjust to this new definition of community and come to accept that not all members are as drawn to the common community of worship in the church building. Many are more comfortable for whatever reason in exclusively participating in online Christian communities, even as restrictions may have eased for in-person church. The ways of “going to church” are much more varied and fluid than they once were. That is why so many church are continuing to offer a hybrid mixture of in-person and online offerings. That combination approach to community is not going away anytime soon, it seems.

But that does not mean that we stop cultivating community. On the contrary, we as a Church need to do all we can to offer programs and events and worship experiences that are conducive to community. Are there ways that the online community can reach out to the in-person community through on-screen messages that can be projected to those in the pews? Are there ways that the worship leader can include the online community in church worship with encouraging greetings specifically to them?

No group or gathering of Christian believers should be left out in the cold. Open the door to every group that seeks to enter into the ministry of faith happening around you. That can only lead to growth.

Extra

Extra

There is a new way to use the word extra these days. In modern vernacular, it means “excessive, dramatic behavior; doing the absolute most.” So, if a person skipped out of the room after hearing some good news, we might say that person was being “extra.” Or if someone decorated a birthday party with so many balloons you could not see the floor, we could say that person was being “extra.”

The Bible goes out of its way to express how “extra” our God is. He is “able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,” St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:20. Jesus talks about the gifts we receive when we give as “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over” (Luke 638). Then we can’t help but remember the 12 extra baskets of leftovers remaining after Jesus fed the 5000. He miraculously provided more than was even needed.

This same concept can be applied to God’s love. As the contemporary song “One Thing Remains” by Jesus Culture professes, “Your love never fails. It never gives up. It never runs out on me.” We don’t deserve any of God’s love, yet he gives us more than enough. As the Psalmist says, “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5). There is no place where God’s love cannot reach. As God’s forgiven and free people, we are reminded, “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). His blessings are heaped upon us.

So how about being a little “extra” in a good way in response to God’s goodness to us? Can you give a little extra in your offering this week? Can you give a little extra time helping your children with their homework? Can you be a little extra caring to your spouse? It doesn’t take much. But a little can go a long way. Just ask the boy who had a little extra food to share, which Jesus turned into enough to feed a multitude and more.

The Aaron

Encouragement

So many people are seeking fame these days, that it is sometimes hard to remember that for us as Christians, it is better for us to be the Aaron. What do I mean by that? I mean that we as Christians are more often than not called to be like Aaron in the Bible, who served in a supporting role to his brother, Moses, who was the leader of the Israelites. Once when the Israelites were in battle, God told Moses to stand at the top of a hill with his arms raised to bring victory to his people. But as the battle raged on, Moses grew tired and it was then that Aaron stepped in to hold up Moses’ arms until the Israelites were victorious.

Even when God first called Moses to lead his people and Moses asked if God could send someone else, God sent Aaron to Moses to help him follow through with his call to speak to the people on behalf of God. In the book of Exodus we read:

The Lord said, “What about your brother Aaron, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. In fact, he is now coming to meet you and will be glad to see you. You can speak to him and tell him what to say. I will help both of you to speak, and I will tell you both what to do.  He will be your spokesman and speak to the people for you” (Exodus 4:14-16).

God used Aaron to give his brother confidence and help in his mission for the Lord.

Who are people you know whom you can be the Aaron for? Are there those who need support and strength as they battle illnesses or injuries, difficult situations or enemies of God? You can be there to literally hold their hand through the challenges. You can be there to lift their spirits when they are ready to give up. You can be there to remind them that the victory is ours in Jesus Christ, who saves us and forgives us.

And who are people you know who need a nudge of encouragement to carry out what God has in mind for them? You can be there to speak words of assurance to them. You can be there to speak on their behalf if they are afraid to speak. You can be there to work together with them to get a job done.

In this we are doing what St. Paul told us to do: “Encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). And we are doing what St Peter told us: “Serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received” (1 Peter 4:10).

They say that it takes a village, but sometimes it takes just one person to turn the tide, to make things happen, to fulfill someone’s potential. And that person could be you. Be the Aaron for someone this week and do what you can do behind the scenes to let God’s work be revealed and let Christ’s servant love be known through you.

Livestreaming

livestream

In these COVID times, we are still seeing most churches offering a livestream version of their worship services. People continue to tune into church on their computers at the same time as those in-person at church to have the experience of worshipping God together simultaneously. Some churches post a recording of the livestreamed service on their websites or other video platforms for parishioners to watch at another time. But the livestream version still tends to receive the most viewers, church leaders are saying.

Why is that? I think it has something to do with the fact that even though we may be alone in our homes, we still like to feel like we are part of something that is currently happening. We enjoy being involved in a current event. Our lives are best lived when we are in the now and when we are with people, it appears. When we are alone and stuck in the past or worried about the future, we are not our best selves. I am always reminded about that quote from Jesus, “Do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings” (Matthew 6:34). In other words, live in the now. Be a part of your life today. Livestream it, if you will. Praise God now. Don’t wait until a later time. Be present in the lives of others now. Don’t procrastinate making that call or having that visit. Be live in the lives of others as much as you can. Stream your love to others in real time, even if it is through Facetime or Zoom.

Being in the company of others at the same time is extraordinarily powerful. Jesus knew that well. That is why he spent so much time in person with his disciples and in people’s homes and gathered on hillsides. People were moved by Christ’s presence in the moment. They could feel his authority and might and came to believe in him as a result.

There have been many movies made of the crucifixion of Jesus, which we have watched. But think of what it would have been like if we had been able to livestream the death of Christ on the cross. The experience would have been much more dramatic, much more stirring and much more impactful. There was one centurion who did see it all live, and his response should be the same as ours as we live out our days for Christ: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Our lives should reflect that truth every single day—in real and present ways.

Gravel Roads

gravel road

I took a vacation this summer to South Dakota, which I would recommend to anyone. There is a lot to see. From the Badlands to Mount Rushmore, the Corn Palace and Wall Drug, buffalo in Custer State Park and monolithic stones surrounding Sylvan Lake, there are plenty of things to fill your days and marvel upon.

I used the Google map app on my phone to direct me everywhere I went. And that experience was quite enlightening for me. For instance, the voice directing me would sometimes tell me to turn only moments before the intersection. And oftentimes I would hear nothing from the app for hundreds of miles because I was on the same road the whole time. The hardest thing to accept, though, was when the voice on the app told me to take gravel roads on the way home through Nebraska. “This can’t can’t be. There must be some mistake.” But then I would zoom out on my phone and see that the gravel road was the best and fastest way to get to my destination. So I would continue to bump along in my increasingly dusty car. And I got home fine.

I notice that the car is still a little dusty. And that reminds me of where I have been and how the voice of the Google app did not steer me wrong. This experience recalls for me that life takes us down gravel roads that we don’t think we should be going on. Maybe it is an illness, a death in the family, a rough spot in a relationship. “This can’t be right,” we say in the moment. But then if we take a step back, we can see that it was all part of a bigger road trip that is laid out for us. Think of God as that voice on my Google app that says, “Go straight” and keep listening to that voice that tells you where to go. He will take you safely home.

Ministry of Presence

presence

The church is often (and rightfully so) portrayed as a body at work, doing things and laboring in love for the Lord in hands-on activities. But recently I was reminded that there is just as much value in what has come to be called the ministry of presence, the practice of just being there with someone in need, someone sick in the hospital, someone at home alone or someone recovering from loss. The greatest gift we can give someone sometimes is simply our physical presence. We don’t need to say a word, but we are there to talk if needed. We don’t need to busy ourselves with tasks, but we are available if a job happens to present itself.

I thought about something my uncle said about my aunt that her kids said in later years: “She was just always there.” It is a comfort to know that someone will be with you when you come home, when you encounter a difficulty and when you are seeking advice about something.

I also remember a couple from my parents’ church who sat in the waiting room with us while my dad was going through a complex surgery. We were not sure what the future held at that moment, but this couple remained there with us until we heard from the doctor that my dad was out of surgery and recovering. When I see this couple in church, I remember those hours they sat with us silently and also how they listened and responded to our fears and concerns. Their presence made an impact that will last in my memory as a ministry that got us through.

How can you take part in the ministry of presence in your life this week? Maybe it is asking someone, “How is it going?” and then really listening to the answer. Maybe it is watching TV with your mom while she watches her favorite show to share in that experience with her. Maybe it is sitting on the porch with your neighbor to listen to the birds and look at the trees and shoot the breeze. Perhaps there is a friend who hasn’t been out the house for awhile, so you can come to be with them where they are.

There’s no need to prepare for the time with someone. Just let it happen. Your presence alone points to the constant presence of our Immanuel, God with us, who said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He followed the ministry of presence perfectly.

Erratics

Erratics

I recently learned about the presence of glacial erratics in my home state of Iowa, but they exist other places as well. “What are glacial erratics?” you ask. They are rocks that are dropped by receding glaciers that differ from the size and type of rocks native to the area in which they rest. Scientists sometimes use erratics to determine the movement of ancient glaciers. Erratics can be large or small and can be carried for hundreds of miles by glaciers from their original source.

I found this interesting in light of where God places us. He sometimes places us far from where we started or where we thought or planned we would be. And that may make us stand out from our surroundings. We may not be very much like the elements around us. We are made up of different “stuff,” spiritually speaking. Our faith in Jesus may set us apart as unusual or even an eyesore to others who are not of the faith.

While where we end up sometimes seems erratic, the place where we have settled on this earth is exactly where God wants us to be. Our presence in a certain area at a particular time may be just the right opportunity for the love of Jesus to be planted and grow. Our ability to endure tough circumstances in a given location may provide strength for later times when suffering creeps across the landscape of our lives.

So much of life can be hard as a rock. But in the end, the enduring hope that we are still part of God’s creation, no matter where we are, brings us lasting peace and comfort. No place on earth is apart from God.

Minnesota Nice

Minnesota Nice

There is a term called Minnesota Nice, which refers to the kindness of those who live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Anyone who has met someone who comes from that state understands. Minnesota Nice people are friendly, welcoming, giving, easy to talk to, humble to a fault and willing to help with whatever you may need. I have encountered some Minnesota Nice people who took the time to take me on their boat, show me lighthouses in their area, and serve me a “hot dish” dinner. (A hot dish is what I would call a casserole.)

The idea of Minnesota Nice struck me as significant because it is an attribute that is so engrained in our society that it has been given a name. Would nice be the first word that comes to the minds of people in our society when they think about Christians? Maybe, but not necessarily. How much is our kindness and love toward others engrained in our community’s collective concept of the Christian person? Many other attributes may come to mind before nice when it comes to people’s perception of the quintessential Christian.

Which begs the question, “What should the Christian be known for?” The answer comes from St. Paul who said to the Ephesians, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). We as Christians are called to be beyond just nice.

We are to be tenderhearted as well, Paul says, which is translated from the Greek that means “well compassioned and sympathetic.” We should genuinely feel for others as Christ feels for us.

And we should be richly forgiving, not being judgmental in any way. People can tell if we are being phony. And showing forgiveness “from the heart,” as Christ did for us, cannot be faked.

Jesus told us, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). The things that we say and do should not be said and done so that others can say how nice we are, but they should be said and done to point others to God and to God in Christ. We are not put on this earth just to be nice, but to be a reflection of the heart and mind of Christ to all the world. So be Christian Compassionate as well as Minnesota Nice.