Category Archives: Devotional

Look with Love

Jesus face

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him. Luke 22:61

The Greek word for “looked straight at” in this verse is emblepo. It literally means “to observe fixedly” or “to discern clearly.” In other words, Jesus gazed upon Peter fully, knowing him through and through. At first this might seem to be a scary thought, Jesus looking right at us and knowing all our faults and missteps. But there is a certain added depth to this verb that can give us comfort. When Jesus looks at Peter and “discerns clearly,” he sees a man who is many things—a disciple, a friend, a husband, a fisherman, but also a sinner. And Jesus in his complete gaze sees it all and in his great love, still has compassion on Peter. He already knew that he would forgive the repentant Peter for his denials of him. He already knew that Peter would become the greatest orator of the story of salvation in Jesus and one of the most widespread sharers of the Gospel message throughout the known world.

When Jesus looks at us, he does so in the same way. He sees our triumphs and our failures, our strengths and our weaknesses, our service to him and our sins. He looks at it all and still loves us, still forgives us, still calls us to spread the Good News for him. As St. Paul reminds us, “Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called” (1 Corinthians 7:20). Through Christ we can see in ourselves what he holds dear and focus on that.

Charcoal Fire

fire

Now the slaves and the guards were standing around a charcoal fire that they had made, because it was cold, and were warming themselves. Peter was also standing there keeping warm. John 18:18

When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” John 21:9-10

There are only two places where a charcoal fire is mentioned in Scripture. Think about when these charcoal fires occur: Once in a courtyard outside of Jesus’ trial, where Peter denies Jesus three times. And then once on a beach where the risen Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him.

This detail linking the two scenes is no accident. We are meant to draw a clear connection: We may sin (like Peter did by the first fire), but we are still forgiven (as Peter was by the second fire). How is that possible? Because of what happened between those two fires, which is the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Think of these two fires the next time you light a charcoal fire in your fire pit or start up your grill to cook dinner or smell a neighbor’s charcoal fire burning. We are blessed by Jesus to be warmed by his love and nourished by his Word, no matter how cold or harsh we have been to him in the past. Jesus always gives us a second chance (as he did with Peter).

A Life Changer

wheels on suitcase

Travel got a lot easier for me on a recent trip when I took my new suitcase with wheels instead of lugging my old 1984 Samsonite around the airport. Walking to the gate was a breeze, going up elevators, escalators and stairs was no problem. The “wheels” of my suitcase got me to my rental car and my hotel with much less pain and effort on my part. Dare I say, my new suitcase was a life changer.

On this eve of Easter, I say to you now that we are on the verge of a life-changing moment like no other. The resurrection of Jesus takes away the burden of sin we have been lugging around with us. The resurrection of Jesus makes our journey through this life (even with its ups ad downs) a joy and a thrill because we know that Jesus has opened the way for us to heaven, where we will one day arrive to experience no pain, no problems, no sorrows. Those have all been whisked away by Christ through the heavy lifting he endured on the cross for our salvation.

Easter, more than any other day, is a life changer for us. Enjoy and savor the change.

Connections

dongle

I got a new iPhone a couple years ago, and one of the things that new iPhones do NOT have now is a port for headphones. This is old news to the computer savvy among us, I’m sure, but to remedy this problem, Apple created something called a dongle, a short cord that connects my headphones to a different type of port on my iPhone so that I can use my headphones as I once did.

The experience of having to buy a dongle to connect my phone to my headphones made me think that we live in an age where we are forced to connect in new ways that were not even invented or known before. This tendency toward new ways of connecting is not limited to technology, but is also felt in connecting with one another. Very broadly speaking, people are not as available as they once were, people do not respond as readily to the old ways of connecting, and there is a sense that people have a very low tolerance for interruption.

We feel this especially in the Church where things like door-to-door evangelism, cold calls on land lines and the delivery of paper newsletters in the mail are outmoded or obsolete. So what is the Church’s dongle? What is the new way of connecting? For me personally, I have connected more with fellow members of my church more often through text messages. They are no longer seen as intrusive as in the past and people can respond to them when they have time. I also notice that people are more aware of posts we make on social media and we can connect to people in our church body through comments on posts or through conversations at church later on about what was posted. I have the feeling I know what is going on more with people through social media when I see them in church, so conversations are easier to start. We live in a time when we can be creative with our connections with members of the Church and the results can be just as impactful or even more impactful than they once were. Keep an eye out for making new connections in the name of Christ.

Swaying to the Music

swaying choir

At a concert by the St. Olaf Choir, I watched as choir members gently swayed back and forth to the melody of one particular song. I noticed how they were in sync with each other in their swaying and how the swaying seemed to bring extra energy and harmony to their voices. The swaying proved to be an effective way of expressing the style and message of the music.

This visual brought to mind for me the way we as members of the Church sway in sync with each other in our work for the Lord. When one near us goes one way, we all lean that way. When we get out of step in life, it is easy for us to get back into the rhythm of the life of faith in motion by so many around us.

The following verse comes to mind for me in Paul’s description of the body of Christ:

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. 1 Corinthians 12:26

We sway in the way that one member is going so that we can be a help and support to him or her. We are never alone in the body of Christ. We always have people around us who are moved by the Spirit to care for us and love us and surround us, no matter what we are going through. The song of our salvation in Christ continues in and through us in every major and minor and dischordant key we are in. Our lives blend together when we have a common goal of serving others. Keep swaying with one another until that day when we join with the choirs of heaven in praise to the Great Conductor, our almighty God.

Beware Our Itching Ears

itching ears

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4

I think the wording of “itching ears” is fascinating here. In the NRSV, this verse is translated, “having their ears tickled.” Both “itching” and “tickled” indicate our human desire to want to hear those things that please us and those things that sound good to us. Today we call this phenomenon “confirmation bias.” We tend to seek out, listen to and follow those words that are in line with our own thinking.

But St. Paul warns us that such words may not be in line with God and his will. The message of the Gospel is hard to hear at times. It involves acknowledging our sins. It requires the sacrifice of the Son of God. It means persecution in one form or another for believers in an unbelieving world.

But the Gospel is truly Good News for us, even if it is not as appealing as other messages might seem at first. All other salvation claims are myths. Only the Gospel message that we are saved from sin and death through the death and resurrection of Christ is the truth that we claim with all our hearts, souls and minds and faithfully listen to with eager and ready ears.

Tarshish

Tarshish


But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. Jonah 1:3

The exact location of Tarshish is lost to antiquity, but symbolically speaking here it is meant to describe a place very far away. The connotation in this verse from the Book of Jonah is that Jonah was going as far away as he could to get away from God and God’s call to him.

What is your “Tarshish,” your place very far away to escape from God? For many, it may be our smartphones. We can go down rabbit holes of information that can take us very far from our faith. We can hide away from God in addictions or obsessions. We can sail away on the winds of secular society which often has no place for God in its worldview.

The joy of Jonah is that Jonah does not reach Tarshish. God sends a great fish to swallow him up and return him to where he should be. Jonah then follows God’s call, and the people he was called to preach to listen and repent and turn their lives to God.

We have a God who pulls us out of any “Tarshish” or path to “Tarshish” and places us where we should be that we might serve the Lord as he has called us to. Even a “Tarshish” cannot keep us away from God forever. Thanks be to God.

Jonathans

Jonathans

I have been in the process of compiling the history of the church I attend, and one of the interesting facts I found was that in the 1940s, the church’s men’s club was called the Jonathans. I have a brother named Jonathan, so I have a special place in my heart for that name, but I assume that the men’s club chose that name because of the depiction of Jonathan, the son of Saul, as the epitome of a good friend to David.

The soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 1 Samuel 18:1

Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing and gave it to David and his armor and even his sword and his bow and his belt. 1 Samuel 18:4

Jonathan spoke well of David to his father Saul, saying to him, “The king should not sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you and because his deeds have been of good service to you.” 1 Samuel 19:4

Then Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.” 1 Samuel 20:4

Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own life. 1 Samuel 20:17

At their last meeting Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, since both of us have sworn in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you and between my descendants and your descendants forever.’ ” 1 Samuel 20:42 (Jonathan would later die on the battlefield.)

These verses about Jonathan describe for us all what a good friend is: a good friend loves his friends like he loves himself. A good friend will literally give you the shirt off his back to help you. A good friend will stand up for you. A good friend will follow your lead, and a good friend will recognize that the Lord is a part of your relationship. My hope and prayer is that you have many “Jonathans” in your life.

Bueller, Bueller…

here

I know I am dating myself by referencing this, but do you remember in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, when a teacher is taking attendance in class and calling out, “Bueller, Bueller” with no answer until someone says, “Um, he’s sick”?

I bring that iconic scene to mind as I think of the call of Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-10). God called to Samuel three times: “Samuel, Samuel…” But Samuel did not answer God. He was off seeing if it was the priest Eli calling him. Finally, Eli realized it was God calling Samuel. So when God called Samuel a fourth time, “Samuel, Samuel…” Samuel responded to him, “Speak, for your servant hears” as Eli had told him to.

Are we listening when God calls us? Are we going to others instead? Are we ready when we do hear him and he has a task in mind for us? These are all questions we need to ask ourselves on a daily basis and then do what we can to be better listeners and followers of God.

One blessing that I hear in this story of Samuel is that God knew Samuel by name and was not just randomly calling people. He was calling Samuel personally. And he is calling you by name to follow his will in a very specific-to-you way. Be the best “you” you can be for God.

Wind Chill

wind chill

Most of the country went through a deep freeze recently with temperatures in the single digits and wind chills well below zero. Meteorologists like to say that wind chills are the “feels like” temperatures. The thermometer may say one thing, but our body feels another when we are out in the elements.

The concept of wind chill can apply to other parts of our lives as well. By all outward measures, things may seem fine in our lives, but the “feels like” reality may be something far less than fine. Some people call it the winter blues or blahs. Others may point to the fewer activities or holidays after the new year. But many just may be feeling down for whatever reason.

It is good for us as Christians to read the temperature in the room, so to speak, when we visit someone we know who we think might be lonely or depressed. Jesus was often quick to sense what was going on in a particular situation on a deeper level. I think about the woman at the well who had many issues going on in her personal life which led her to being at the well all alone. Jesus was able to bring those difficulties out and supply her with the living water of himself, which gave her comfort and even joy as she excitedly shared her story with others. (See John 4:7-30.)

We may not be as adept as Jesus, but we can be a voice of support to someone, a listening ear if they want to talk or just a friendly face to bring cheer. Sometimes the simplest things can melt the sadness and warm the heart. Of course, professional counselors might be the best option. But you can be the first to take the chill out of an existence that is below normal. Let Jesus be your guide.